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09 June 2016

How to choose a pedal

Playing an acoustic is easy – the sound you hear is the sound you get; okay you might get a bit more bass/middle/treble tone out of different guitars but an acoustic guitar sounds like an acoustic guitar. But pick up an electric, plug it in and the possibilities are endless!

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However finding the right tone can take years, although you can have great fun plugging in a few pedals and listening to what sound you get. However, pedals are in, which means there are thousands on the market, many of which have ‘interesting’ names that bear no relation to what they do. They also vary in cost (from about £40 to £hundreds) and size (from micro pedals to two and three footswitch models.

But what does each pedal do?

Chorus
A delay based effect designed to simulate what happens when two instruments play the same part – makes your six-string sound like a twelve string!

Compressor
Using a compressor boosts quiet notes and reduces heavy signals such as chords, averaging out the natural differences. This makes finger picked passages sound smoother and gives more flow to clean lead passages.

Delay or Echo
Echo-units copy the natural effect of a sound being deflected from a distant surface using analogue or digital means. This makes your guitar sound fuller and alive, rather than flat and monotone.

Distortion, Overdrive, Gain or Fuzz
This should do what it says on the tin and add a grit, and grin factor, to your sound! Think ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ a fuzz pedal, or classic Led Zeppelin – overdrive. A fantastic array of different types of pedal are available giving you a massive choice of sounds – you could spend years and thousands, finding the right sound for you. Classic pedals include the Ibanez Tube Screamer and EHX Big Muff

Flanger
A delay-based effect that originated with tape recorders (listen to some of the 70’s rock records to hear it) where the sound produced is mixed with the normal sound.

Phaser
Mixes slightly out of phase identical signals giving colouration to the sound.

Reverb
A reverb unit mimics the natural effect of overlapping sound reflections that may occur in a large room making it sound less flat or dead – you can get plate reverb, spring reverb, room reverb and hall reverb and all points in between giving you a great choice

Tremolo
The volume of the signal is modulated producing a rhythmic pulsing effect. Don’t get confused with the tremolo arm on your guitar – technically that is a vibrato!

Vibrato
Here the pitch of the signal is modulated rather than the volume of the signal.

Wah-Wah pedal
A foot operated pedal – when the pedal is flat a high treble sound will be produced and when you raise the pedal gradually the bass is increased. Used in funk and blues a lot.

Other pedals include Booster, Octave, Pitch and many more. You can of course plug many pedals in at once to shape and form your own sound. A word of caution though - the great BB King spent all his life trying to produce the sound he 'could hear in his head' which wasn't the sound we could hear!

Putting them on a pedal board
If you have a few pedals you may want to put them on a pedal board (which you can make yourself or buy) and the question then is what order do they go in? You can debate this for hours and get many different opinions so go experiment yourself! Having said that there is a 'default' order which might help you get started:

From the input end: Tuner - Wah - EQ/Compression - DistortionOverdrive - Boost - Modulation (chorus, flanger etc) - Delay - Reverb - Looper

01 June 2016

Digital Modelling Amps, Processors and Pedals – do I need one?

It’s been a few years since the ‘original’ Line 6 POD HD500 came out which brought digital modelling and all its possibilities to the masses. The POD contained sounds of classic amps and effects giving you a huge variety of tones at the push of a button, and in your bedroom in a small unit.

As technology has got better, faster and more powerful so has the choice of modellers on the market, which range from £50 amps through to £2000 top end profilers.

Some of the latest modellers look fiercely complicated and no doubt have a manual to match (or on-line pdf as who gives out manuals these days!), but if you can work a mobile phone or laptop it should be easy! A lot of them now have headphone, MP3 and MIDI sockets, as well as USB sockets for those all-important upgrades, making them fully flexible and user friendly. You don’t even need a real amp with them anymore – plug in your headphones or connect it to the PA – but connecting it to your amp means you can use their effects and tone shaping abilities.

So if you are looking for a modeller, where do you start?

Modelling Amps

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Most of the major manufacturers now have a range of modelling amps, including Marshall who joined the party last month with their CODE range. The range of amps available is now comprehensive from small 5-10W units – think Yamaha THR or Blackstar ID:Core though to 50 and 100W monsters. These range in price from £50 up to £500 so you need to decide your budget and where you will play – I have an ID:Core 10 which is plenty loud enough for playing at home and has a decent range of tones, all for £89 which is a bargain. Check out models from Fender, Line 6, Marshall, Vox, Blackstar and Yamaha.

Floor Processors

The ‘original’ Line 6POD was replaced by the HD500X in 2013 (costing £400) and now the Line 6 Helix has just come out with dual processors and over 1000 presets and models, all for the princely sum of £1200. Others include the Boss GT, at £320, Atomic Amplifire at £470 and Fractal AX8 at £1500 and Fender Mustang Floor. Smaller pedals include the Vox Stomplab IG and IIG pedals, the Zoom MS-50G and Line 6 pocket POD.

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All of these have foot controllers allowing you to change your sound whilst playing in a live setting – you can also find your sound and save it – great for covers bands who need a wide range of sounds available without having to cart around a ton of gear.

For a great new twist on this check out the DigiTech Trio Band Creator and Looper.

Desk-top/rack processors

Many desk-top and rack modellers are pro-level in terms of available sounds, level of complexity and cost! They include the Kemper Profiler at £1500 and the Fractal Axe-FX series.

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A modeller could be the answer to your tone prayers….and give you hours of fun finding new sounds and effects. Throw in a built in looper, drum machine and backing tracks and you’re away!