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.
It’s been a minute since I last talked about my guitars. I thought I’d break down the changes and the reasons I have things the way they are. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!
Currently, I have four guitars that are all unique and in excellent playing condition. They are the Warmoth Partscaster, the PRS S2 Singlecut, the Kramer Pacer, and the Les Paul Studio. Common across all guitars are the strings. I use D’Addarrio NYXL 08-38 strings in standard tuning. I find the lighter strings keep me from playing with too much tension in my hands and wrists and allow me to play longer. They also have better low end definition than larger diameter strings. That’s a little counter-intuitive, but, hey, I love the sound and feel, they last forever, and have helped me overcome the deficiencies of my technique that held me back and caused strain and pain. Each guitar has its own specs, explained below, that bring something to the tonal palette.
The Warmoth is my main guitar. It’s a Seafoam Green Partscaster that I spec’d out and built during the Pandemic. I designed the control layout to provide freedom to play and easy access to intuitively adjust the settings without accidentally bumping anything. I went with a hardtail bridge for the stability. If I want a floating bridge I always have my Kramer with the Floyd Rose on it.
The electronics cavity is shielded, but it was more work than it was worth because I used shielded wire everywhere and humbucking pickups. But hey, it’s cool looking, and I’d do it again just because I like to be thorough. The pickups are both Seymour Duncan with a Jazz in the neck and a JB in the bridge. The neck pickup has a nickel-plated cover to avoid the issue of the high E string getting stuck under the edge of the pickup. If you’ve ever seen someone with tape over the high E side of the pickups, that’s why. They are wired to a three selector switch for bridge/bridge + neck/neck output. They are also wired to the two mini toggles for series/parallel switching. I prefer series/parallel over coil splitting because the tone is similar to splitting but it has a bit higher output and retains the hum-cancelling property of the humbucker. It also reacts with the tone control differently. It doesn’t roll off the highs as much, providing a darker, more sultry tone that still retains definition. I also prefer the toggle switches over push-pull potentiometers because when you’re playing live it’s much easier to perform split-second changes.
The volume pot is wired to retain the high frequencies as the volume is rolled off. This allows the guitar to still cut through but not take up as much room sonically. It’s great for cleaning up a dirty channel or cutting back and thinning out during a verse. The original configuration of this guitar did not include a tone pot. I considered them rather useless, and the only thing I ever used them for was to habitually make sure they were all the way up. I came to realize that the circuit sounds better with the tone pot in it, and I also found that I needed the tones I could get from rolling the highs off. Who knew…
The neck and fretboard are roasted maple with azurite malachite fretboard inlays, luminlay side dots, an asymmetric profile that’s rounder on the thumb side and slimmer on the finger side, a 24 3/4″ scale length, and a 10″ – 16″ compound radius. It also has stainless steel 6150 frets, a narrow 1 5/8″ width GraphTech nut, and Schaller locking tuning machines. This neck is an ergonomic wonder and allows me to play strain-free for long sets. Really, this thing is comfy like your own bed after a long vacation.
PRS S2 Singlecut
The PRS is an Elephant Grey singlecut style guitar. This is the guitar I recorded Shine or Fade and Live On Air with. For most of its life I’ve kept it stock, but since those recordings I modified the electronics more to my taste. I replaced the pickups with a Seymour Duncan Jazz in the neck and a Custom Custom in the bridge. I replaced the toggle switch with a more robust model because I had broken the shaft off during normal play. It turns out the shaft that the knob screws on to was thinner and shorter than higher quality switches. I learned that one the hard way.
I removed the bridge volume pot. I didn’t like the layout of the volume and tone controls. They were laid out logically, but, unlike the Les Paul, it was not easy to work both volume knobs at the same time. I rewired it for a single volume control, added a kill-switch, and rewired the push-pull tone pots for series/parallel operation. I prefer a single volume control because it avoids the embarrassment of switching to a pickup that has its volume turned off from the previous song’s ending.
The back of the neck has been slightly sanded. The gold Paul Reed Smith signature logo on the headstock had started to fall off, which really made it look a little trashy in my opinion, so I removed it completely and like it much better now. I can tell I’ll need to replace the bridge soon. The strings are cutting in to the metal where they wrap around the backside. I’ve filed them down to prevent strings from breaking, but it’s only a matter of time before I need to upgrade the bridge.
My overall feelings on the S2 are that it is a solid guitar, very ergonomic, but the electronics and hardware were inferior. I also had to level and crown the frets much sooner than I had anticipated. They seemed to wear very fast, but part of that could’ve been my poor technique. I’ve since learned to play with much less tension, so we’ll see how it goes from here. If I ever end up refretting it, I’ll definitely go with stainless steel.
I’ve had the Kramer since 1987. It’s an American made Pacer model. Originally, it had a gloss black finish. This is the guitar I cut my teeth on in my early years. I’ve beat the hell out of this thing with zero regard for its well-being. I modified it without knowing what I was doing by removing the finish and chiseling out the body behind the bridge – poorly. I wore massive groves in the frets, which had already been replaced once. I’ve yanked the bridge off it on stage, and replaced the pickups so many times I’ve lost count. During the Pandemic I upped my guitar repair skills and decided to refurbish it. At that point it was in an unplayable condition and was just wall decoration.
I started by leveling and crowning the frets. I found the neck screw holes were stripped so I had to drill and fill those as well. I replaced the bridge pickup with a Seymour Duncan JB. When I took the bridge out to clean and oil it I found that my previous “improvements” and stage antics had gouged out the wood surrounding the inserts for the bridge studs. I filled in the lost material with epoxy. Now it’s rock solid and it’s unlikely I’ll be tossing my guitar around by the whammy bar anymore. There’s always a chance, though.
Another issue caused by sanding the finish off was the loss of material had changed the gap between the fretboard overhang and the body. The height of the pickups and bridge also looked like they were precariously high. It was a risky procedure, but a friend helped me route the neck cavity down nearly 5mm. Now the neck, pickups, and bridge all sit nice and low. I was definitely sweating bullets trying to keep a calm demeanor while the router was ripping in to my guitar body. Thankfully, it all worked out.
The Kramer originally had three mini toggle switches for individual pickup activation. That sounds great in theory: every single pickup combination is possible. However, in practice, it really hinders quick pickup changes, so I replaced them with a single 5 position slider that’s wired for bridge humbucking/bridge coil-split + middle/middle/middle + neck/neck. Every position sounds good, but in practice I only use the bridge or neck pickup.
This guitar is a rocket ship. It’s built for speed. I love where the volume knob is placed, but the pickup selector switch is difficult to get to due to the volume knob and whammy bar. Still, I love this guitar and every scar on it. It’s a Super Strat from the era when they were born.
Les Paul Studio
The Les Paul was my main guitar after I beat the Kramer into an unplayable condition. This guitar made me fall in love with dual humbuckers and fixed bridges. It’s an early 90’s Studio model with dot inlays. I replaced the pickups because the stock ones were very microphonic. I can’t remember exactly which models are in this thing, but they have a beautiful low-output growl that’s has nice definition in the low end and a slightly rolled-off high end that’s perfect for rock tones. I’m a Seymour Duncan guy so I’m sure they’re something in their line. I replaced the volume and tone pots with a kit that included push-pull pots for the tone knobs. One splits the coils on both humbuckers and the other throws the pickups out of phase. I lightly sanded the back of the neck and removed the pickguard. A friend replaced the worn out frets with EVO gold fretwire and carved a new nut.
This guitar is a workhorse. It’s not as ergonomic as the PRS, it’s solid, heavy, and the higher fret access sucks, but I still love the sound out of this thing and the playability is excellent. Those EVO frets are silky smooth.
Next up I’ll go through my pedal board. I’ll break down the pedal order, why I swapped out some pedals, and the problems I hit along the way. I’ve made quite a few changes and discovered some signal-path configurations that really make a difference. Stay in tune!
Connect to the real and feed your soul. Remember what great live music and a shared experience can do for your spirit. Come out and spend an evening at St. Charles Tavern with Then When.
Hey Then When Fans, It’s been a while since we posted anything, so I thought I’d give you a quick update and then go over my guitar rig just for fun and because it ties in to what we’ve been up to.
Then When are writing new material for our next release. The tunes are really shaping up nicely and we can’t wait to share them with you. We plan on going into the studio in the next month or two and laying down six to seven new songs. We’re going to have a new logo and new merch when we launch the release. Tentatively, the title of the new release is “Strange Lost World”.
In preparation for recording, I was getting my guitars and pedal board ready and thought it would be cool to put together a rig rundown post to share my methodology, signal chain, and inspiration for the build.
I have a few electrics, A PRS S2 singlecut, an ‘80s Kramer Pacer, a Les Paul Studio, and a Warmoth partscaster. Without a doubt, the partscaster is my favorite. I chose all the specs for it, designed the control layout, and put it together. The Warmoth neck is 24 ¾” scale with a 10” – 16” compound radius fretboard. The neck and fretboard are roasted maple, the nut is a 1 ⅝” Graph Tech TUSQ, the frets are stainless steel 6150s, and the neck also has an asymmetric curve that makes it just so comfortable. The pickups are both Seymour Duncan. There’s a Trembucker JB in the bridge and a Jazz in the neck. Both have individual coil tap switches that provide surprisingly good single coil tones. The volume knob is placed just out of the way for strumming, picking, and getting to the pickup selector switch, but close enough to use quickly. I opted for no tone knob because for my entire guitar-playing life the only thing I’ve ever done with a tone knob is obsessively make sure it’s up all the way. I could geek out for hours talking about every little nuance of this guitar. It plays like a dream and I get a variety of great tones out of it.
I rebuilt my pedal board in preparation for going into the studio, but I also wanted to make it simple to set up and use live. I needed something that was going to be quiet, versatile, and solid. I wanted the ability to go straight to the board for reamping but also hear my rig when I lay down the tracks. To accomplish this, I built a patch bay and a buffer bay to route my signal through the pedals, effects loop, and provide direct (dry) outs for my tuner and recording.
Here’s the signal chain:
Guitar > patch bay in > Cry Baby 535 Wah > buffer bay in > TC Electronic Subnup > Kokko phaser > MXR Uni-Vibe > Ibanez Tube Screamer > electro-harmonix Soul Food > buffer bay amp out > amp preamp > amp effects loop send > buffer bay FX in > Boss FV 500 H Volume pedal > Boss DD7 Digital Delay > buffer bay FX out > amp effects loop return
Things that are not in the signal chain:
patch bay direct (dry) out > Korg PB01 Tuner
patch bay TRS > dual button footswitch
Here’s the ins and outs of the patch bay and buffer bay:
guitar side: in, direct out, TRS, TRS
board side: direct out, direct out, TRS, TRS
guitar side: in, effects loop send (to pedals), buffered effects loop return (to amp), buffered amp out
board side: buffered pedal loop out, effects loop send (to pedals), effects loop return (to amp), amp out
I found the plans for the patch bay and buffer bay on vertexeffects.com after watching YouTube videos on the Vertex Effects channel. I modified them slightly for my purposes, basically just combining different options so I could route the signal the way I wanted.
My main amp is a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Tremoverb 100 watt combo. It sounds amazing, but it’s a big-ass heavy tube amp that has its idiosyncrasies. I only take it out for recording and bigger gigs. For practice and most gigs, I’m using a Boss Nextone Special. It’s very close sounding to a real tube amp, light weight, and reliably consistent. It’s also incredibly loud. The power level can be set at 0.5 W, 20 W, 40 W, or 80 W. For practice I have it at 20 W, and we’re a pretty loud band.
That’s a wrap
Thank you for spending some time with me. I can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on. It’s gonna rock your strange lost world.