So, what’s on the pedalboard and how did I end up with those particular pedals? Well, they all have a story of sorts.
The first pedal I got was the Boss Tuner TU-2. I got this when I bought my first guitar, an Epiphone Casino semi-acoustic, and amp, a Fender Blues Junior. All of this arrived by post to Switzerland from London. I had asked my guitar-playing friend Nick Morgan for advice and when he gave it to me, it seemed contrary and stupid not to take it. I knew next to nothing about guitars and equipment. I didn’t even know that there were clip-on tuners or other tuning gadgets you could get. What I did know was that I would be incapable of tuning a guitar by ear and of course, I still am. You can’t fault the Boss. It gives you a clear visual indication of whether you are in tune and that has to be the most important thing. You could have any number of wonderful pedals, but if you’re playing out of tune…
The next one I got was the Marshall Bluesbreaker II overdrive pedal, again on Dr. Morgan’s advice. The Fender Blues Junior doesn’t have an overdrive channel which is often referred to in various teachers’ YouTube videos and so it doesn’t naturally make that “electric guitar sound” that non-players commonly associate with the electric guitar. If you’re not careful, you just sound like a loud acoustic and there aren’t that many top tracks where the guitar sounds like that. Somewhere along the line you need to add some grit and the Bluesbreaker serves that function. There is no point going into the specifics of overdrive here as there are countless people explaining it on the Tube. The pedal has a “boost” mode and a “blues” mode. Essentially, if you want to use the pedal to provide a fatter signal for other pedals, you leave it on “boost”. If you want a more distorted sound, you go for “blues”. To be honest, I’ve found the pedal a little underwhelming, but I suspect that is because I haven’t played around with it enough. As will all these pedals, there are plenty of knobs to tweak and you’ve got knobs on your amp and guitar too, so the combinations are literally astronomical. It takes quite a lot of time to find something that suits you.
Dr. Morgan then advised me to get a Big Muff fuzz pedal, so I did. What convinced me was that David Gilmour uses one on occasion and David Gilmour is the tone god. If it’s good enough for him… I think mine came from Macaris in the Charing Cross Road, London. Once you have one, you can understand how Gilmour gets that monstrous guitar sound from the opening of Sorrow. The Big Muff is a pedal which doesn’t do subtle very well. It’s pretty full-on and in-your-face and you need to be playing at a certain volume, it seems to me, for it to shine. That might be a volume which could easily annoy anyone in the vicinity, so I am thinking that I haven’t really been exploiting the Big Muff as much as I could. It also has the disadvantage of being a big pedal that takes up a lot of room on your pedalboard and the construction is very tinny compared to the Boss pedals for example. But there you go – it’s a classic and a relatively inexpensive classic at that and I don’t regret for an instant acquiring it.
I think the next pedal I got was the Boss DD-7 digital delay. It’s one of my very favourite pedals. The great thing about delays is that they play when you aren’t playing. Hit a note and you get several back as it repeats. This thickens up the sound hugely and if you’re playing by yourself, you can sound like several guitars at once. The pedal adds “kerpow!” to whatever you’re doing. You can have short “slapback” delays, or create whole soundscapes with longer delay settings and those soundscapes are even more marvellous when you put the thing in the “Modulate” setting where it starts making chorusy noises. I love it and that is where I mostly leave it. The sad thing is that my enthusiasm was not shared by my bandmates who found the sound overly psychedelic. They wanted some more straight-up rock and roll. Musical differences, eh? Stick the modulation effect on after an overdrive or distortion pedal and it just sounds massive and marvellous. You can imagine making that sound at Glastonbury…
Then surely I purchased my Colorsound Wah pedal. Well, you need a wah, obviously, as otherwise you won’t be able to do 1970s blaxploitation funk strumming, or shriek off some of the more famous solos by some artists. But you know what? It’s not that essential. It’s because there is little call for funk wah strumming unless, indeed, you are in a band that is always trying to sound like the theme music from Shaft. Ours wasn’t. As for the shrieking solos, you pretty much need to have them nailed before adding in your wah pedal and that takes a certain amount of practice and ability…
Then there is the pedal itself. Why did I end up with this one? The answer is that I had had a particularly superb lunch at Terroirs near Trafalgar Square and so I was pretty drunk when I walked up to Macaris again to investigate wah pedals. Essentially, the bloke in the shop sold it to me as it is made by Macaris. The Colorsound has its devotees, but not that many famous guitarists use one. In fact, I can’t think of any. It also has disadvantages. It is quite large for a start and is thus taking up more space than it should, seeing as I’m not using it that much. I am thinking that I may replace it with a Dunlop mini Cry Baby which will take up a lot less space. The next most annoying thing is that it only works on batteries, so you can’t plug it in to the power supply. Now, the thing with pedals is that even when they aren’t switched on, if you put an input and an output jack into them, then they sort of are switched on as far as the battery is concerned and if you leave them like that, the battery will drain. This means that the Colorsound has to be disconnected entirely whenever I am not using the board. It’s just a hassle. The whole point of the board is that you plug it into the mains and you’re good to go instead of farting about plugging pedals together. This is what I most dislike about the Colorsound. I also don’t like the way it sort of saps volume when it’s actually working. I bet I can get a smaller wah which will work on the mains and sound just as good for my purposes and I suspect that I am going to get one of those quite soon and pension the Colorsound off to eBay where someone will be happy to acquire it. Moral of the story – don’t make purchases when you are drunk. Many years ago, I bought a Pierre Cardin suit shortly after a lengthy pub visit. It was about two sizes too big for me.
Favouring as they did the heavier end of the rock and roll spectrum, my bandmates told me that they didn’t think my guitar was sounding metal enough for their tastes, so after a fair old bit of YouTube research and surfing I ended up buying a Proco RAT distortion pedal. The brilliant thing about the RAT is that you can set it from mild overdrive to something which is almost fuzz. I reckon that if you only had one distortion-style pedal, this is the one you’d want to have. It is a superb acquisition and once again a classic and reasonably inexpensive pedal, and also, once again, favoured by Mr. Gilmour, along with god knows how many other artists. It also looks as if it is built like a tank and is somewhat weighty. After many reviews, I decided to get a “White Face Reissue” version as this is the one which appears to have the best tone. I sounds great, but it has one drawback and that is that it doesn’t have a little light to tell you when it’s on. All my other pedals do, with the exception of the wah. Now, it quickly becomes apparent when you’re playing that it is either on or off, but you can still be momentarily surprised and it’s just vaguely annoying not to know before you start playing.
Still, this is but a trifling annoyance compared to the problems I have had with the on/off switch. It failed after about less than a year but as the pedal came from the States – as the reissue version wasn’t readily available in Europe – the guarantee was only valid there. Postage and customs ruled out sending it back so I had it repaired at my expense in Switzerland. That would have been just one of those things, but bugger me if the switch didn’t break again at the beginning of this year. I took it back to where it had been previously repaired but apparently the bloke who had done it (perhaps not very well…) was no longer available to do it. Some bizarre switch apparently – although it looks pretty standard – and impossible to find. So now I’ve found some people in the UK to repair it, Pedalmods, but I am waiting to visit the UK to send it as the cost of postage (and customs…) will make it onerous to mail off. I had a lengthy email exchange with the manufacturers in the States but the upshot was that they don’t make the White Face Reissue anymore and don’t have the bits to repair it so even if I sent it to them, they’d just replace it with a RAT II. Hardly satisfactory. But I can’t play for months without a RAT, so I just went and bought a RAT II myself to use until I can get my White Face working again and that is what is on the board. Does it sound different? Hard to say without A/B’ing them but at least the RAT II has an LED that lights up when it’s on…
I had wanted a Boss Chorus pedal for some time and asked for one for Christmas. You need a chorus pedal because there are many songs which use one, such as Nirvana’s Come As You Are, for one, or a lot of the Cure stuff for others. In fact, chorus pedals are used the whole time. However, when my wife went to get one for me, the guy in the shop sold her a multi-effects pedal instead. Why, he said, would I want a chorus pedal when for only a bit more I could have an “everything” pedal? As she knows nothing about pedals, she fell for this argument. Any guitarist who has a load of pedals like I do knows that the reason you have them is because they aren’t copies of the real thing – they are the real thing. And those are the pedals that have made the music we all know and love. Pedals are simply cool and a multi-effects pedal, whilst perhaps producing a great sound, is just something different. I am indeed very happy with my Zoom G3 multi-effects pedal but I see it as an alternative to the pedalboard, not an add-in. Let’s be honest here, though. If you could only afford one pedal, you’d get the Zoom and have done with it. It is even a tuner and a looper too. Sadly though, the thing is a bit like a spaceship: there are just so many controls and settings that understanding it takes an age. The Boss does the job although you need to tweak the settings a fair bit to get that very liquid chorus sound, otherwise it is just too subtle.
You’ll have noticed that Boss are my fallback for pedals and this is because they have a great reputation, are widely used, very well built, easy to find, competitively priced and not very big. Their only real disadvantage is that they don’t have silly names, wacky logos and are the sort of bog-standard purchase. Maybe I should be wilder in my pedal choice.
Next up, the MXR Phase 90 phaser pedal which produces that swirling, swooshing sound that is not uncommon in rock music. The Phase 90 is the classic one to have and once again has been used by David Gilmour. Some of the things I like most about it is its weightiness, bright orange colour and ludicrous ease of operation. It’s only got an on/off switch and a knob for more or less phase. In practice, I find that you only need it slightly on to get quite enough of that sound. This was also a Christmas present but this time I made it quite clear that this was the pedal I wanted; this and nothing else. MXR have done other interpretations of this pedal, but there is no reason to have anything other than this one, the original.
When I finally decamped from the now almost non-existent band, I decided to take the Boss Compression Sustainer with me. Our rehearsal room had a variety of small cupboards and in those cupboards could be found some odd pedals of a certain age. They didn’t appear to belong to anyone. No one used them. Now, this is strange as we the band, the four of us, were responsible for everything in that room which had been let to us completely empty. Consequently, as the old pedals didn’t belong to me, they must have been accumulated by the other 3 band members and yet no one would admit to owning them, let alone wanting them. We’d been renting the rehearsal room for about 4 years or so, plenty of time for someone to use the pedals if they had been of interest. I had read about compressor pedals and how they increase sustain for solos and even out volumes. I probably wouldn’t have bought one, but it seemed stupid to pass up the opportunity to get a free one, so I liberated this one and took it home and put it on my board. I’m not sure it’s something you must definitely have, but it is quite useful, I find, and once again is a pedal that has been used by many artists including the Pink Floyd guitar supremo although I am not sure he favoured a Boss for his compression.
Which only leaves the Tone City Golden Plexi. This is a newish pedal which came to my attention through watching YouTube videos. It is absolutely tiny and inexpensive. The idea of it is that it is an overdrive pedal that produces a sound like a classic Marshall Plexi amplifier being turned up to 11. I don’t have a Marshall amp and even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to turn it up loud enough for it to produce all its famous Marshallness, so this pedal looked like a good investment and it is. I now play with it on a lot of the time, but the gain knob is very sensitive and I find it is best only to have it on a smidgeon or it gets a bit out of hand. It’s also quite a “noisy” pedal, prone to hum, but for that kind of money, can you complain? I can certainly get my Strat to sound more like John Frusciante’s by using the Golden Plexi, which isn’t overly surprising as Frusciante favours Marshall amps.
So that is pretty much the pedalboard. It’s a versatile thing and you can get a lot of classic tones out of it. It also provides endless scope for fiddling. I can’t think it will change a great deal in the foreseeable future although I am suspecting that a change of wah is imminent as mentioned.