(I know my board is a mess….that’s just how I live)
I love keeping things simple. I would love to show up to a gig, plug a cable straight into a single channel amp, crank it up, and just start rocking out, using only the volume and tone knobs on my guitar to coax different tones.
I’ve gone the way of other aging rockers whose life has superseded hopes of rockstardom. I’m talking about being in a weekend warrior cover band. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a way to justify going out and playing in front of people while earning a little scratch in the process. It’s also an excuse to the Mrs. for me to spend time with my friends.
This situation has lead me to the theme of this blog post: why my live rig is pedalboard based instead of just an amp. This is mainly because on the level we’re playing, we can’t afford to hire a sound guy. If we did at the going rates of sound engineers in my area, we’d be playing for free. Therefore, our PA system is “set and forget.” I sound check at the beginning of the night, and no one better touch their amp dials once it’s set.
Due to these circumstances, I need to be able to control the different variations in volume and dynamics with my feet, as well as approximate several classic tones and effects. We’re a two guitarist band, that means we have two guitars fighting over the same sonic space. Luckily, we have developed a division of labor where the other guitarist is strictly rhythm, and I handle all the solos. To do this, I give him a slightly scooped-mids sound with plenty of low end for a bigger sound and I go for a more boosted-mids tone, which kinda fits together like a puzzle. When we’re both playing rhythm, it’s a big full sound. When I switch to solos, his tone still fills up plenty of space and mine can poke through.
Without a sound guy to watch like a hawk and give my solo’s a volume boost, I’m on my own to do it. The most effective way I’ve found to do this is to have a post-gain clean boost. In my case, I use a Mammoth Electronics boost I actually won in a Facebook contest. I place it last in my signal chain, which just takes my whole signal and makes it louder. My goal is to make my solos the same volume as the vocals, that seems to be the sweet spot for the people that want to hear the solos. I’ve tried pre-gain boosts, like slamming the front of an amp with a tubescreamer, but it just doesn’t do the same thing as boosting the entire signal post-gain.
Because of this I’ve also relinquished myself to relying on dirt pedals instead of an amp’s distortion too. This is purely for convenience sake. If I were to have a post-gain volume boost, it would require the cable method. Quite frankly, I’m just too cheap to have 4 cables, and too lazy to set up 4 cables. I bring our PA, so usually by the time I get that set up, I’m rushing to throw my rig together in time for the start of the gig. Just being able to throw my pedalboard on the floor, put on my wireless body pack, and running one cable back to my amp is just the easiest.
There are also several effects that the song we’re playing just have to have. Imagine the “Enter Sandman” without a wah on the solo (plus, wah is just fun to throw in every now and then), or “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 1” without a delay (plus delays are fun to throw into solos every now and then too).
Another added benefit of being pedalboard based is I can bounce from amp to amp and have the same general tone. I have amps off all different sizes, and I bring different amps depending on the size of the room we’re playing. I also have backup amps I bring with me. Being pedalboard based, I can just dial in a clean tone at the volume I need and the pedalboard does the rest. We can also show up to gigs where we share amps with other bands, and as long as the amp has a clean channel, I can get the sound I want.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the cons of being pedalboard based. The biggest con is it becomes an expensive, unhealthy obsession. There are so many pedals on the market, you just want to try them all. I’ve had so many pedals come and go, and it’s hard to flip pedals to at least break even. Also, pedal-based again, while it can sound good, just isn’t the same as a tube preamp. Lastly, pedalboards turn you into a tap dancer. When you have to turn a chorus on, delay off, and lead boost off at the same time, it gets tricky.
Anyways. That’s enough rambling for today.
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