Photos courtesy of Mark A. Martinez
Photos courtesy of Mark A. Martinez
Photos courtesy of Mark A. Martinez
I swear I wanted to keep my pedalboard simple. Just a few pedals to add some color when I needed it. I didn’t set out to make a double-decker with fifteen pedals and two patchbays, but here we are. I decided to go the pedal board route rather than an all-in-one solution like the Line 6 Helix after using a Boss Katana MK II 100 watt amp with built-in effects. I didn’t like having to get into the programming to really make it sing. Also, when you take your rig out of your living room and to anywhere else it will sound differently, and you’ll want to make adjustments. Adjustments that may be buried in a menu somewhere and not accessible via a button or knob. I prefer to look at the thing I want to adjust, and make the change as quickly as possible without hindering my creative flow. Now on to the pedalboard. Let’s start at the connection points – the patchbays under the riser.
I built two patchbays to handle the ins and outs. I chose to build two instead of one big one because I wanted to keep things modular and I couldn’t fit everything I wanted into a box that would fit nicely. I modified plans I found on Vertex Effects to suit my purposes and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
I run a four cable system which means one cable from the guitar to the board, one from the board to the amp, and two for the effects loop. I put them all in 3/4 inch flex tubing and labeled them for quick connections in dark places.
The bottom patchbay is unbuffered so I can put my wah pedal before the input buffer. Supposedly, wah pedals are sensitive that way. The left half of the patchbay has the input hardwired to three direct outputs. The direct out on the backside is for recording purposes. On the board side, one direct out goes to the tuner, allowing it to stay on all the time while also keeping it out of the signal chain. The other direct out goes to the beginning of the signal chain for any pedals that don’t like buffers in front of them, such as wah and fuzz pedals. The right half of the patchbay has two TRS passthroughs for footswitches or expression pedals or whatever. The top patchbay has a buffered output to the pedal loop, an effects loop send, a buffered effects loop return, and a buffered output to the amp. This rig can handle long cable runs, no problem.
MXR ISO Brick Power Supply
For power I chose the MXR ISO Brick. Between it, the NS-2, and the Korg tuner, I have the power I need. I did have to chain a couple pedals’ power together, but for many pedals that’s not a problem and doesn’t introduce any noise to the signal path. I used prebuilt power cables where I could and custom built where I needed to.
The Signal Chain
I played around with the pedal order quite a bit to get it the way I like. Besides the signal path, I also took into consideration the placement of the pedals on the board for ease of use. The pedals should be placed in such a way as to minimize the length of cable between them. They should also be situated based on how they will be used in a live setting, making everything easy to get to without accidentally switching anything else. That’s why the wah and volume pedals are to the right, the tap tempo switch isn’t next to the delay pedal, and the amp footswitch is next to the TS9. It keeps distractions to a minimum so I can focus on my performance, not my gear.
I used Mogami 2319 patch cable and Square Plug SP500 right angle and SPS5 straight plugs for all the connections. Soldering the cables was a big part of the fun for me.
Guitar > unbuffered patchbay in > wah > buffered patchbay in > Boss NS-2 Input > Boss NS-2 Send > Keeley Compressor Plus > MXR Uni-Vibe > MXR Phase 95 > Ibanez Tube Screamer > Wampler Ratsbane > patchbay buffered amp output > amp preamp > patchbay effects loop send > EHX Soul Food > Boss NS-2 Return > Boss NS-2 Output > EHX Intelligent Harmony Machine > Dunlop mini volume > Boss DD-7 > MXR Reverb > patchbay effects loop return > amp power amp > speaker
Korg Pitchblack Advance Tuner Pedal
I wanted a tuner pedal that I could leave on all the time and read easily on stage. I chose the Korg Pitchblack Advance because of the large readout and ability to pass power to other devices. I have the tuner connected to one of the bottom unbuffered patchbay’s direct outputs to keep it out of the signal chain and to enable it to stay on all the time. If it was at the beginning of the signal chain, like it would usually be used, I could only turn it on when I wanted the output signal muted. Keeping it out of the signal chain and relying on the volume pedal to mute while tuning has the added advantage that if I accidentally step on the switch while using the wah or volume pedal I won’t cut off my signal to the amp.
Dunlop Cry Baby Mini 535Q AR Wah
I needed a wah with a small footprint. I also wanted an auto-return wah that switches on and off automatically as you step on and off of it. I really hate wondering if I left my wah on. Worrying about it steals my focus away from my performance. With this model I don’t have to think about it.
Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor
I like to stack gain pedals and things can get out of hand. The NS-2 is great because it separates the noisy pedals in a loop and watches the input for signal. It works well for playing screaming loud and with the guitar volume rolled off. The loop starts with the compressor and ends with the Soul Food. I send the output of the NS-2 to the harmonizer. I placed the NS-2 on the board above the wah because if I accidentally step on the NS-2’s switch I won’t cut off my signal, it will just turn off the noise suppression, which is preferable in a performance setting. It means I don’t have to break my concentration frantically switching things back on.
Keeley Compressor Plus
The Keeley is a great compressor pedal. It stands out from the rest because it has a blend knob that mixes the uncompressed signal with the compressed. It allows for dynamic playing while still bringing up the light touch parts and keeping the hard hits under control. This is an always on pedal for me. It helps me get the emotion out of the guitar without pushing my hands and wrists too hard.
The Uni-Vibe is a modulation effect that I use mainly as an always-on pedal to add a slow, barely noticeable, pulsation to the signal. It really helps fatten up the guitar sound, which is ideal for a one-guitar band. Of course, this pedal can do so much more. I also use it for swirly, multi-layered, pulsating modulation that will blow your mind with psychedelic waves of sonic vibrations. Yeah, something like that.
MXR Phase 95
The phase 95 is a simple to use, small footprint modulation effect. I like to put modulation effects before gain stages because, in general, I like the sound of a distorted phase, not a phased distortion. The first sounds dynamic, the second sounds a bit out of control and too fuzzy. I like both, but I’d only use the second for a one-off sound whereas the first is something I use quite a bit. What the hell does that mean? Who knows? In the end you just have to try out different combinations and arrangements to find what you like.
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
The Tube Screamer is an amazing pedal. It’s subtle compared to other overdrive pedals, but, despite its name, it’s not really intended to be a distortion pedal. It really shines pushing other gain stages (pedals and amp) and adding a mid-range boost that cuts through a mix. The TS9 with the MXR Phase 95 is one of my favorite combinations. I put the TS9 before all the other gain stages so I can use it to enhance any of them. I tried putting it after the Ratsbane and it sounded horrible with both on, but when its before the Ratsbane it sounds great. I guess it just wants to be first like everyone else.
The Ratsbane is a ProCo Rat clone on steroids. The Rat is a classic distortion pedal that can also do fuzz tones really well. I have mine setup to pump out a metal tone that has a tight low-end response and great highs without sounding shrill. When I kick in the TS9 the tone is full-blown thrash.
Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
The Soul Food is a Klon clone that I use as a clean boost after the other gain stages (TS9 > Ratsbane > Amp). When the gain is turned down on the Soul Food the pedal doesn’t add a mid-range boost like the TS9 does. When the gain is up, it does boost the mids, but not in the same way as the TS9. I tried going without the Tube Screamer and using the Soul Food in its place, but I prefer the mid boost of the TS9 and like using the Soul Food to boost the whole stack. The Soul Food is definitely a tasty dish.
Electro-Harmonix Intelligent Harmony Machine
I recently swapped out a TC Electronic Sub ‘N’ Up octave pedal for the EHX IHM because the Sub ‘N’ Up added an artificial bloom to the low end to accentuate the two lower octaves. It would swell out and mess up my timing on staccato lines and just sound muddy. The EHX IHM on the other hand doesn’t push the low end when I use it as an octave pedal, and the EHX IHM can do so much more. I experimented with placing it at the beginning of the signal chain just after the compressor. My thinking was that it wouldn’t like trying to harmonize any modulated or distorted signals. The manual mentioned that adding it after the gain stages would make it sound more like multiple guitars playing at the same time rather than a single guitar with a harmony effect. Yeah, it does that. It doesn’t mind the gain or modulation I have in front of it at all. In fact, it sounds amazing with them. Another example of why it’s a good idea to play around with the pedal order.
Dunlop Mini Volume Pedal
I placed the volume pedal near the end of the signal chain just before the time-based effects. This way it can be used to turn the entire mix down without cleaning up the dirt, or it can create swells that carry out through the delay and reverb. Traditionally, a volume pedal is at the beginning of the signal chain, but in that case, it’s serving the same purpose as the volume knob on the guitar – reducing the signal to the front of the amp. I prefer to have both options.
Boss DD-7 Digital Delay
The DD-7 has a variety of delay types that can be controlled via an external tap tempo switch or expression pedal. It has digital, reverse, modulated, analog, and looper functions. I built a tap tempo switch and placed it on the side of the board for easy access. This is a solidly built and versatile delay pedal that I expect will stay on my board for quite a while.
For most of my guitar playing life I never bought a reverb pedal. Most amps I played through had some kind of built-in reverb so I always spent my money on something else. At some point I felt the amp’s reverb was fine, but was just one flavor. I wanted some more options, like spring, plate, room, hall, and spacey-octave reverbs. This pedal does all that in a small package. It even has an expression pedal input that allows you to control the amount of reverb in real-time. I have it wired up to one of the TRS pass-throughs on the bottom unbuffered patchbay in case I want to use an external expression pedal with it. The reverb pedal is the last in the chain before going back to the amp’s effects loop return.
Two Button Footswitch
I built the purple two-button footswitch to use with any amp that can use a latching switch to control channel switching and/or a secondary function, such as turning reverb on or off. A single TRS jack is wired to one of the bottom unbuffered patchbay’s TRS pass-throughs. The switches have LED rings around them. One is green/red and the other is blue/red. I added two toggle switches to flip the colors depending on the needs of the amplifier. I added a third toggle to flip the tip and ring wires, which flips which switch controls which function, but I removed it for space considerations. I’ll add it back someday which will make this footswitch very versatile and work for nearly any amp. Rather than switch plugs around, you just plug it in and flip the switches to make it work the way you want. It’s pretty cool for just a footswitch, if I do say so myself.
Thanks for hanging out with me and letting me gab about my gear. Next time I’ll go over my amps, past and present, and why I went the direction I did.