July was an interesting month for listening. I was a bit over-obsessed with French pop/hip-hop and the grandiose new release from Aussie prog-rock uberheroes Karnivool, but still fit in some old Beastie Boys and a spattering of west-coast American hipster pop fluff. Makes a fun mix for a bright summer’s day.
Love me some pedalboard. I really do.
For decades I refused to use any effects on my bass guitars, being strictly fingers–only when it came to dressing up a note. I can’t deny that self–imposed deprivation helped me master my instrument early on without distractions, and taught me volumes on restraint and articulation I wouldn’t have learned had I jumped right into the effects world. However, after 20-odd years my tone had started to get a bit routine, my phrasing uninspired, and I found myself looking for ways to break out of the rut. Salvation came by way of a critical, distorted bassline I needed to cop for one of my fill-in sessions with a Bay Area electronica band – but cranking preamp gain in my painfully-clean SWR SM–900s was a non-starter. So I grabbed a friend’s Big Muff Pi for the gig, and the rest is history. Years later, I’ve worked and gigged through so many effect combinations, sizes and themes to my pedals and pedalboards that I’ve got my preferences and sounds down to a pretty solid philosophical, aesthetic and ergonomic art.
Philosophically, it’s all about having *the right* assortment of tonal choices when I need them, easily accessed, with as little impact on my basic tone as possible. I still prefer a tone that’s piano-clean yet asskickingly fat via mostly 18v active basses- any effects are simply additive to my primary fingers/instrument/amp sound. That way they stick to their role as the spice in my steady diet of groove, never the main course.
Aesthetically, my effects have got to allow me to enhance my normal tone gracefully (compression, EQ, and chorus), distort the signal six ways from Sunday (boost, distortion, overdrive and fuzz), and filter/add to it (envelope, pitch & synth effects). Efficiency is also a factor (wireless receivers, digital tuners). And it’s simply got to look clean and usable, not some random tangle of wires and boxes that could be kicked astray with a errant toe.
Ergonomically, my pedalboard has got to be playable like an instrument, portable and reliable, and fast to set up & tear down at gigs. It needs to be laid out in common pairings/groupings of pedals in close proximity to one another so I can trigger the more complex, multiple effect settings with a single ‘stomp’ (or at least without signficant tap-dancing onstage).
Tall order, but well-filled now in my current pedalboard. Lets take an overview of my main groups of effects.