Friday, July 25, 2008

Guitar Pedals...Get the Effect Part III!

PHOTO: Custom road cases like these allow you to transport your individual pedals or floor multi-effector unit safely and securely. Once at the gig, simply lift the lid, plug in and play... right out of the case. Easy! Left to right: BOSS Digital Delay, BOSS Super Chorus, Keeley Fuzz Head, Keeley Compressor, Ibanez WD-7 Wah, BOSS TU-2 Tuner, in the back VooDoo Lab's Pedal Power II Plus. Fatso Flex Silent Plug Guitar Cable & Pedal Cables by Spectraflex. Pedal Board Case by Tarcase Co. USA. Guitar, Fender Strat.

Now we are going show you how to set up and transport your own custom pedal board with the individual pedals we're reviewed in Parts I and II. Likewise, you'll need to know the best way to power your individual pedals and effects rather than constantly buying 9 volt batteries or dragging along an adapter for each effect.

The Chain of Effects:
Now, you have these great pedals, distortion, phaser, digital delay, reverb, etc. ready to rock. Maybe you started out with a few but now you have a small herd you'd like to put to work. There are some basics, (not written in stone mind you), that will make sense as you daisy chain these pedals together. So from your guitar to your amp, you're going to have a set pattern in mind so that each effect can shine and allow the others to do their job as well. Here is a common set up for your pedals according to what they do:
Guitar > Buffer, i.e. TU-2 Tuner > Wah Pedal > Compressor > Distortion/Overdrive> Chorus/Tremolo/Flanger/Phaser > Delay / Reverb > Amp
If you use a volume pedal, that would fit in before your delay or reverb or next to last effect in your effects chain to the amp. This is so the fadeouts continue to decay after the volume is cut. Compressors are actually amplifiers and will increase the content of whatever is before them in the signal chain. Modulation pedals include chorus / tremolo / flangers and phasers. Since chorus likes to work on the entire tone, putting it before the overdrive or distortion will end up distorting the whole sound. When used after the distortion / overdrive, the tone is balanced. This is a basic set up according to many touring pros. You can and should experiment to switch things up for your own signature effect. Still, to optimize the individual characteristics of the effects you are using, this is pretty much the way it goes.
Pedal & Guitar Cables
Your pedal cables are just as important as your guitar cables. Noisy, poor connections will rob your guitar from the tone all these stomp boxes want to offer. That doesn't have to happen. I use Spectraflex's, Fatso-Flex Silent Plug guitar cables which were voted into the winner's circle of best cables in this year's Guitar Player Magazine. I use their Right Angle Pedal Cables between the boxes. They are fully shielded and colorful just like the longer guitar cables which helps me to organize my pedal board. For example, you can hook up red cables to your distortion and overdrive boxes to quickly identify them visually. Sort of like zoning your effects by color. Made in the U.S.A. Very cool!
PHOTO: Spectraflex Pedal Cables
Price: $18.95

Power it Up

The next and perhaps most important box on your pedal board is going to be your power supply. There are many on the market but the one that I see most consistently on the
pedal boards of the touring artists is VooDoo Lab's Pedal Power II Plus. Unlike some of the others that claim to take up only one outlet, the Pedal Power acts like 8 separate adapters. What this means is that there is less of a chance of loops forming between your pedals because they are essentially sharing one power source. This is not the ideal set up for your pedals. The Pedal Power II Plus comes with all the cables to connect up to 8 individual stomp boxes or effects. No noise, no hum. Packed in your pedal case, it looks like one of the gang but you'll find better performance from properly powered effects. Handmade in the USA.

Gotta Gig!

Undergirding all of this is my custom made Tarcase. Made in the USA, these individually designed pedal boards can accomodate individual pedals, wahs and floor multi-effectors. These are really well made and the fit is impeccable. It even has a built in rise for your volume or wah pedal. As they can be built to your exact specifications, the sky is the limit for your pedal board set up. Your stomp boxes, wah, volume pedal and power source can all stow neatly for safe transport to your venue. Lift the lid, plug in and start playing! Contact Jay at Tarcase Co. at: for more information on his custom road case pedal boards. You can check out all of the gear featured in this article by clicking on the banner ads to your left.

Next up!: The floor multi-effectors are coming! See what BOSS and DigiTech have been up to in the way of guitar and guitar/vocal multi-effectors. We're also going to discuss the pros and cons of using single pedals vs. a floor multi-effector. Don't miss this one!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fender Strat Gets N-Tune!

Fender's Standard Stratocaster in Chrome Red
is North American made with lots of classic tone!

Just in case you wanted to know what we're using to test our pedals and multi-effectors it is, our Fender Standard Stratocaster. Otherwise known as the "Pedal Meister"!
This is a rock solid, all time favorite with a fast maple fretboard, three pickups and tremolo bar. The Chrome Red finish has a semi-metallic look without being flashy. Its just a good, straight-forward axe! To make it even sweeter, we had the NEW N-Tune onboard tuner installed. This is a lighted, battery powered tuner from Zero Crossing, that fits under the volume knob of your Strat. It will even fit the volume knobs of other models, with different colors to match or contrast your pickguard.

N-Tune On Board Tuner
by Zero Crossing
List $99.99 - Street $79.99

We road tested the N-Tune Fender Style Package. The N-Tune onboard tuner installs under your volume knob. Offers a quick and very accurate tuning, (we compared it with the BOSS TU-2). Now you can tune up anytime, anywhere, even on a dark stage, without having to pack an extra tuner. A definite must if you are on tour or playing lots of consecutive concerts. You will need to be able to solder two wires and installation / battery changes require removal of the pickguard and strings. We suggest you use Duracell 9 volt Procell Alkaline batteries, (PC1604) and coordinate changing the tuner's battery with replacement of your strings. I do this with my Martin D-16 which has a battery powered, under the saddle pickup and it's no big deal. To prevent accidental draining of the battery, there is even an auto-power off feature designed into the N-Tune. If the tuner does not detect a note being played for 3 minutes, it automatically powers itself OFF to save battery life. Excellent!

Meet our Pro Guitar Tech Team, Ian West, (left) and Randy Cauvanaugh. They are known as the "Fender Experts" and keep all of our road gear in top, gigging shape. We rely on their expertise and knowledge of electric guitars, pedals and set-ups. They actually did the installation of the N-Tune on board tuner for us. Here's what they had to say:

Ian: "Very cool idea! I especially like the true bypass feature."

Randy: "It works great. The only thing I don't like is that you have to remove the pick plate and strings to replace the battery. Just like a pedal, don't leave your guitar cabled into your amp after playing or it will drain the battery."

Many of the top named guitar companies are installing onboard tuners on their newer models. I've seen a few in action and was not too impressed. They seemed to be hard to see and not very accurate. The N-Tune onboard tuner works as if it were custom made for your guitar as it fits unnoticably under the volume knob. Pull the knob, it lights up and flashes green when you're in tune. Push it back in and its true bypass feature lets your guitar perform business as usual. I really like this feature and the freedom of being able to tune up, even on a dimly lit stage, with ease. It was very close in accuracy to my BOSS Tu-2 which is in my opinion the best tuner on the market. So now I can leave all my tuners in the studio. With my N-Tune onboard tuner installed, I'm good to go!

Fatso Flex "Silent Plug" Guitar Cables
By Spectraflex
Price: $42.95 (10 ft) - $57.95 (25 ft)

Spectraflex guitar cables are the cables we use for both performing and recording. I've used Spectraflex for years now. In fact, this was the cable I purchased when I brought my first electric guitar, the Aria Pro II. What impressed me then as now was the quietness and beauty of these braided guitar cables. All of them are still going strong after all these years. The Fatso Flex, shown here, was voted among the Winner's Circle of best guitar cables this year by Guitar Player Magazine. Not surprising. Spectraflex makes incredible sounding cables! Ultra quiet and reliable now with "Silent Plug", I have the ability to switch guitars quietly without disconnecting from my stage amp. The best of both worlds. This is hands down, the best guitar cable I've ever used. Made in the USA, Spectraflex does it again!

Spectraflex Pedal Cables
Price: $18.95

This is our choice for pedal cables. These link up your individual pedals with the same noiseless quality you get from the Spectraflex line of guitar cables. Shielded, braided, high quality cables made just like their big brothers. Made in the USA. Multiple colors and patterns help you to organize your pedal style! See how we put it all together in our next installment of Guitar Pedals...Get the Effect: Part III
Always disconnect your pedals and instruments with onboard battery powered devices such as preamps, pickups and tuners, after use. Even if they are shut OFF, leaving them cabled will cause the batteries to drain! Simply disconnect all your cables when you're done playing and you'll be fine. Duracell's PC1604's are cheaper than the consumer marketed "Copper Tops" and can be purchased in bulk packs for less. Best choice is to use a single power source for all your individual pedals. We'll tell you which one the pro touring bands use and why, up next!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Eve of Distortion

Photo: Dr. M. with the Keeley Fuzzhead on the right and DigiTech's Artist Series, Scott Ian pedal on the left. Rolling Stones promotional "Shine a Light" tee courtesy of Fender

Guitar Pedals Part II: Distorted Ideas & Wah-ing for fun & profit...

Distortion is by far one of the most distinguishable sounds of rock and heavy metal. It's what gives us the soaring leads we've come to identify with killer guitar solos and riffs. If you are into these styles, distortion and overdrive are going to be your best friends next to a decent electric guitar and amp. I play a Fender Strat coupled with a Crate GX-20M which is a very tough box, (I'm actually standing on top of it in this photo!), and has built in overdrive, chorus, reverb & eq. Another essential effect you'll want to include is a wah pedal. As the name implies, it gives your guitar a "wah-ing" or crying sound made popular by funk and other styles.

Keeley Electronics Fuzz Head

List: $250.00 / Street: $209.00

This is an amazing distortion pedal which is very unique in its design. In fact, it won Guitar Player's Reader's Choice Award for best effects pedal with good reason. This box sounds incredible! It couples a serious sustain and unbelievable boost for your leads with a rich blend of fuzz and overdrive. It will also drive other modulation pedals such chorus, phasers, flangers and tremolo which follow in your effect chain. Add another distortion pedal and it will sing forever. Keeley's trademark blue light and custom paint job assures it will stand out on your pedal board.

Internal Gain Control offers additional tone customization not found with other pedals. Externally you have a two knobs, "no waiting" approach with the Fuzz controlling the amount of distortion and the Head for volume control. The Si/Ge switch offers even more access to transparent tones and increased sustain. Built in the USA, Robert Keeley stands behind his equipment with excellent customer service and product reliability. Sound and quality wise, this is the best distortion pedal I've used. Prepare to be rocked!

DigiTech's Artist Series - Scott Ian Pedal

List: $166.65 / Street: $ 99.99

Do you have a cover band or are you just into a certain artist's tonal vibe? DigiTech's genius with Audio DNA2 & Production Modeling has produced a series of pedals which can offer the same "flava" of effects used by Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Dan Donegan and Scott Ian as shown here. These pedals allow you to dial in the lead guitar sounds on these artist's top recordings.

The Scott Ian pedal we tested featured the tones from Scott's Black-13, (Anthrax), recordings. Seven settings on the fourth knob offer the lead guitar sounds for: "I am the Law", "Madhouse", "March of the S.O.D.", "Protest & Survive", "Room for one More", "What Doesn't Die" and "Finale". Metalheads, needn't only apply. I've found these distortion settings to be seriously fired up and off the hook. I especially liked the phaser on Model #7. Very cool!!! A beautiful pedal in shiny metal, (of course!), but built like a brick. Definitely roadworthy and a great addition to those who want to pull off those blistering leads heavy metal is known for thanks to legendary artists like Scott Ian. Thanks Scott!
Ibanez WD-7 Wah Pedal
List:$179.95 / Street: $99.90
The WD-7 by Ibanez is a revolution in freeing your feet to control your wah and not the other way around. The WD-7 has a large sideswitch and is built to avoid the usual "clicking in" required of most other wahs. The Auto SW mode allows the wah to automatically turn on when you depress the pedal slightly. A spring tension adjuster controls the return of the pedal. It also sports an Auto Off Delay and a true bypass with no hum added to the signal chain.
Perhaps the best additions to the WD-7 are the most over-looked by manufacturers. That is the depressable control knobs. Dial in your settings, depress the knobs and no worries about your values being altered! Even without using the Wah pedal, the preamp on the WD-7 is fantastic. Suggested settings are included such as Vintage Wah, Funky Rhythm, Fat Lead and Bass Wah. My pick is the Fat Lead which offers just enough spank to the mix of my other pedals. Extremely well built, (I've seen flimsier tanks, really), this pedal is very heavy and would need serious Velcro-ing onto your pedal board. Also you might want to use an adapter as this thing eats 9 volt batteries like popcorn. Still, it offers a great quackin' - funk sound and is truly a gig worthy pedal.
Next Issue: Part III is going to pull it all together for you! We'll show you how to build your own concert-ready pedal board for the road. We'll also show you the latest in floor multi-effectors that prove you CAN take it with you!