Today I’m running down my Pedaltrain Pro pedalboard. It’s the largest sized board the folks at Pedaltrain make and comes with a gig bag that holds the board plus an outer pocket for cables and other accessories. Although I don’t use all the real estate this board affords (32x16x3.5 inches) it’s large enough to allow me room for my two one spots, a power strip and the bulky wall wart needed for my EH Holy Grail Plus.
As I mentioned before, the outside pocket gives me room to put mic cables, my cabinet mic, my EH 22 Caliber backup amp, extra strings, 9Vs and picks. The interior of the main part also holds a collapsable guitar stand and my kickback stand for my amp underneath the PT Pro when I carry it out. This makes my trip in much easier. I attach my Hercules stand to the outer handles.
Now to the goods on the board itself. The signal chain begins with a Crybaby into an Xotic EP Boost. It then hits a Fulltone Plimsoul for any higher gain sustain lead tones. A Tim provides the blackface type lead tones for other songs and all of the ODs are then funneled into a Lizard Legs Flying Dragon boost. This allows me to keep the EP on for any extra sparkle while being able to put any of the OD tones more forward in the mix by stepping on the Dragon. The second half of the board is comprised of a Dano Fab Chorus, Fulltone Supa Trem, Hardwire Delay, and EH Holy Grail plus. They all are used for various songs in the band and hence warrant the space on the board.
If I had to shrink this board down to bare necessities it would run as follows:
EP Boost-Tim-Hardwire Delay
The ODs and boosts serve dual functions. They allow me to color my sound with a crunchier or more creamy and sustained tone on one hand and if the boosts are used without the ODs I can push my amp into breakup with both of them. Another cool feature of the EP is the ability to leave it on and keep my 336 dialed low on the guitar volume but still be discerned b/c there’s a brighter tone and more headroom despite the GV being below wide open. Both the Plimsoul and Tim have a wide range of OD sounds in them and provide flexibility and a palette of tones to suit my tastes for what’s being played. The Tim’s extra boost allows me to get a stinging lead tone and when combined with either boost makes a formidable tool in the tone arsenal.
I’ve found that both the EP and Dragon also warm up my tone when I record to Garageband on my Mac. They kick up the signal well and bring the amp models to life better than just going direct into the computer.
I’ve had other stomps on the board. The boxes currently in the dugout waiting playing time are as follows:
Dano Chili Dog Octave
Fulltone Catalyst Fuzz (great Gilmore tones out of this one)
Ibanez AW7 Autowah (moody so it doesn’t see lots of use)
Fat Pants Boost ( a madbean pedal handbuilt by Brian Fones)
The key to any pedalboard is using what you find practical while realizing the stomp is a tool to help you be creative and achieve the tonal nirvana you hear in your head. For some folks that means guitar cable amp. For others it’s a rack mounted MIDI interface with a Bob Bradshaw floorboard. What you choose is up to you and only limited by your imagination and your wallet. I’ve found that in my experience it’s good to have options the biggest thing is to not get lost in them and find what works for you, your style and your means.
Dialing in your board can be simple or complicated. Having too many ODs and Distortions chained can cause a headache when trying to match levels and how they interact with the front end of your amp. If you want to just color the sound you set it at unity gain or even with the volume of the amp when pedal is engaged. If you want it to be noticeable and pop out you have to set it above unity so there’s a differentiation between your clean base and the pedal when it’s on. That’s why I use the boosts. I can set my ODs to color slightly without being too loud and then bring that sound more forward with my pick attack and boost. Too often I’ve seen where someone dials in a lead sound before the show and when the band starts rocking and they stomp on the pedal they disappear into the mix. That’s why it’s important to either limit your lead pedals to a few and/or set them up to be slightly above unity gain so when you step on them you can hear them. It’s easier to turn your guitar’s volume down than to bend over and crank up the pedal. That usually leads to a too loud sound and sonic nightmares for your sound man.
When I hit the OD with a boost first the OD is more defined and crisp. When I put the boost after the OD there’s more girth to the sound and it’s perceived louder than the OD by itself. By using my pedals in rehearsal and solo practice I get to know their sounds, what I can and can’t do with them and how to best affect my playing to have them compliment what I’m aiming for when I use them.
Something else to consider when setting up and getting gear for your board is what is audible to your crowd. If you’re playing an outdoor event it’s highly unlikely anyone will notice the massive hall echo you’ve dialed up on your reverb. That situation makes reverb moot. On the other hand in a small room setting the ‘verb will help add a dimension of space to your sound but if overdone may wash you out in the mix. Delay can be great in sparse usage but can also be hard to hear in most live settings. Ideally if you have a sound man then most of these effects will be heard if the mix is spot on. Another thing to remember is to monitor yourself as you fit in the band’s overall mix. You may have great tones but if you can’t hear the vocalist over your rhythm sound then how can you hear them when you step on the drive later in a song. Blending into the unit so it’s cohesive is of paramount importance. That’s why I tilt my amp back. I can monitor my sound and walk out from the stage to hear how I fit into our overall mix. Our ankles don’t have ears. Putting one’s instrument in the monitor mix opens up a can of audio problems that are best prevented by remembering your purpose as a rhythm instrument- to provide harmonic background to the melody of the vocal. Try to listen to the vocals in your monitors and if you can hear them over your rig you’re in the ballpark of having the proper stage volume. Now you can effectively use your pedalboard to fill your role as the guitarist. Your rhythm parts will be heard and when you step out for a lead your rehearsal and incorporation of musically using your effects will yield the tones you’ve worked so hard to create. Have fun with your setup and stomp on.