I’m a gear and pedal addict, and I’m always scouring the internet for whatever is catching my eye at the moment (Gibson SG’s right now in fact). I find it interesting when I see magazine articles or YouTube videos about someone’s rig rundown (or when you see some big name artist like Prince or countless others) and their pedal board was comprised of almost all Boss pedals.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it led me to thinking; do we obsess too much over gear? Why do some obsess over “boutique” gear while others are just fine with Boss or some other more budget-friendly brand pedals? Is our pursuit of tone out of necessity to achieve “the sound”? Personal enjoyment? Acquiring the latest and greatest gear? Is it a culmination of all of the above?
I tried to narrow it down to three types of players, in a very broad sense. This is a generalization, so in many scenarios it isn’t quite that static but more of a general observation than anything.
“If it’s not broke don’t fix it” – These are players that love their tone just the way it is and has always been since they found “their sound” years ago. They have no desire to change it at all. Many times the players that fit this idea have great amps that they’re accustomed to and know every nuance about them, and every tone they can produce. There are likely a few base effects, maybe a boost or OD, delay, chorus, wah, or fuzz (among other things). In many cases it’s not a massive pedalboard, but in many cases the player has learned to coax the tones out of a smaller board of older pedals, and they don’t need any more than that. There’s nothing wrong with this mindset, because it allows the player to focus solely on playing the instrument instead of twisting knobs and they know their tone and utilize every piece of gear with precision that fits the moment and what sound they need.
G.A.S. Hounds – (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) – These are the players that love to buy gear and search for new tones. There hasn’t been any official proof of why GAS sets in, but millions of players are stricken with the insatiable lust for “new” gear (new can consist of new-to-you, which is why the used market is massive right now). It could be the newest DSP delay that has been released with MIDI input, or a Distortion with active EQ controls and multiple gain stages, or a new Fuzz that’s supposed to be identical to one of the classic fuzzes Hendrix or Gilmour used. In many cases, it’s solely curiosity that drives players to want to try out the new gear.
New gear also can greatly inspire a player to try new tones and thus new ways of playing, which can be advantageous in growing their skill and finding their own sound. This works really well when a player is stuck in a rut with their playing, feeling like they aren’t progressing no matter how hard they try. There are many factors that could be discussed at a later date, but in general the GAS hounds are consistently on the chase for a new sound.
This leads to “flipping”, where a player purchases something (new or used) and in turn after playing it, “flips” it by reselling it in order to replenish the funds to put towards more gear. This is a major advantage to buyers and sellers in the used market, which is why it’s thriving so well. There are a lot worse things to do with your time and your money. Some people like to go bowling or play golf; G.A.S. hounds like to try new gear.
They just don’t care – There are a lot of players out there that don’t care what brand of pedal they playing, or whether it’s true bypass or buffered or if a pedal has the extra fancy functions. To them it is just a tool that they use to create music. It is like a carpenter who goes out and buys a hammer. He doesn’t necessarily need a certain brand name, just a good hammer that gets the job done. A lot of artists fall into this category. They know they need a certain sound, but they really don’t have the time, or care to compare delay pedal A to delay pedal B. They just need a solid functioning pedal that will get the job done and let them get their music out to the world.
So where do you fit in? Have you achieved your sound and are happy with what you have? Or are you the player that just likes to check out the newest offerings from the gear world out of curiosity? Or do you view pedals as just another tool in the toolbox, and it doesn’t matter what brand it is as long as it makes the sound you were hearing in your head?
The funny thing is, like most things in the guitar world, there is no right or wrong way to be. It really is about what makes you happiest, and what makes you want to pick up your axe and head to the woodshed.
Power, power, power… This has to be the most asked question we get, well, the many variations of it anyway… I’m not kidding when I say it’s probably a daily event that one of us answers the question! So, I’m going to consolidate the headline points into here so hopefully we can provide you with the one stop place to get all the information! A few weeks ago, our friends over at That Pedal Show produced the ultimate geek-out about power, but running at 37 minutes, many didn’t get to the end so I am consolidating it here to make is easy to grab the basics, with a little of my own perspective to keep it relevant...
What power do your pedals take?
ALL of our pedals are designed to run at 9v DC, center pin negative (The DC and center pin negative is essential). Some of them can be run at 18v (you can see a list of those in our FAQ section here). So, most power adaptors will be just fine. We don’t recommend specific ones, but any one made by a reputable company should be good. If you need to double check, or a second opinion, you can ask us or any gear forum, or your local store! There’s always a load of people willing to discuss power... 9v is the amount of power (voltage) the pedal takes to work under standard operating conditions so if you want to hear it like Brian hears it, run it at 9v. However, Tom Quayle uses his Dual Fusion at 18v and I find it works best for me at around 15v.
What are mA?
Well, basically, this is how much juice your pedal is taking from the supply. This is the current. So, if your pedal takes 30mA, a 700mA adapter will be just fine. Anything up to the amount listed on the adapter theoretically will be good. You won’t melt a 30mA pedal down by putting a 700mA adapter in it, the pedal will just take what it’s needs and the rest is just not used. So, if you have 3 drive pedals; one at 30mA, one at 15mA and one at 25mA, your total draw will be 70mA which in theory still leaves 630mA ‘headroom’.
A simple way of putting it is that the voltage is the strength of the current and the mA is how much of it is used. Most plugs here in the UK have a 5A – 13A fuse in them, the US usually has 15A, so even if you are chain up a lot of 50mA pedals, you can draw tons of them at 9V until you start to run out of “headroom” from that plug. Hope that makes sense...
*One thing though, I wouldn’t try to push the adapter to the limits, leave some room. I’ve heard it say that if you draw over 60-70% of the adaptors power, you might see a drop in basic voltage which will affect the way the pedal sounds.
What is center pin negative?
Well, the tip of the plug (barrel type, usually 2.1mm) that goes into the pedal has two connectors, one on the inside and one on the outside, the one on the inside is the negative and the outside is positive. Who ever thought this up was clearly insane, it would be better to have the hot part on the inside out the way, but there you go. All of our pedals take DC, if you put AC into it smoke will appear, you will hear a pop and then you’ll have to send it back to us to be fixed – and the smell… it’s horrible. Remember, it's the magic smoke in the pedal that makes it sound so cool, so if you put the wrong power in and the magic smoke is released then it won't work anymore! We ensure there is protection inside each pedal if AC is put in, but all it does is limit the damage, it doesn’t resist it. So, please please please please do not put AC into the pedal! It’s highly unlikely that a warranty claim can be made due to incorrect power being applied.
What is isolated power?
Basically, it’s the process of separating the power from each circuit from others present in the signal chain. Some pedals disrupt others (especially if you mix up analogue and digital) so the best thing you can do is completely isolate them from each other. Now, I could talk for hours and hours and we’d just scratch the surface, but I’ll keep it simple. If you are running pedals that are friendly to each other (modern overdrives/distortions) you should be fine to daisy chain them together (providing the above criteria is met). However, if you stick a digital pedal in the chain noise can be picked up and amplified by the ‘gain’ pedals. During the episode of That Pedal Show, Dan said that this is because digital pedals dump a lot of noise on to the ground (I didn’t know this) – isolation will take that away and doesn’t allow a pedal to disrupt another across the ground. Some people call this clock noise, some digital noise… it has many names but the only thing you need to know it’s just not a nice noise at all and you don’t want it. The more you isolate, the quieter your board will be!
So, there are the basics of the power conundrum. This is just scratching the surface but it should give you enough information to keep you ticking over (but not with clock noise) and have a happy, yet quiet, pedalboard!
When it comes to pedals, there are endless possibilities of combinations to create the perfect tone for the scenario that you’re in, whether it’s just jamming at home with a jam track or in a live band setting in front of a packed venue.
One secret to finding that elusive perfect tone is to use two dirt pedals stacked together to cascade your gain structure instead of just running a single drive pedal with the gain all of the way up, or running a dirt pedal into a cranked amp. There are several advantages to doing this, including extra control of the nuances of your EQ to how the gain reacts in terms of the bloom of the notes. Here are a few tips when configuring your stacking setup to maximize tone:
- When stacking 2 dirt pedals together, the key thing to remember is that the 2ndpedal in the chain dictates the overall tone of the stack. What does this mean? Let’s use a tubescreamer and the Plexi Drive (JTM-45 style overdrive) as examples. If you run the TS before the Plexi Drive, whatever signal is leaving the TS is going to use the Plexi as a “gateway” of sorts. This means that the EQ and the clipping on the Plexi Drive will change the way the TS sounds. By nature the TS is mid-heavy, which is great for cutting through the mix. Once it reaches the Plexi Drive, the circuit itself will take that signal and adjust the frequencies it sees according to the knob position treble and gain positions. So if you have the mid hump from the TS, but have the natural light mid-cut from the Plexi Drive, that mid-hump will be less pronounced and the gain will just add to the overall level of saturation. This will give your gain a larger, “wall of sound” effect, while placing the TS AFTER the Plexi Drive, the TS will impart that more noticeable inherent mid-hump. If you have a favorite pedal that you like as your “base tone”, you’lll either want to put that last, or put a very transparent boost (even just a clean boost) after it.
- Cranking the volume on the first pedal in the stack will not raise the volume, but will increase the clipping (gain) in the second pedal. When stacking 2 pedals, remember that volume before dirt = more gain, where volume after dirt = more volume. Again, the 2nd pedal acts as a “gate” and dictates the overall volume. Cranking the output of the first pedal will push the input higher and clip the signal harder. This will make a big difference, because if you want a volume boost for a solo, you’ll want to put it 2nd in the stack.
- Using an EQ pedal after your drives can help better sculpt your dirt tones. When you add an EQ pedal into the stacking equation, your options open up tremendously, especially based on what EQ pedal you’re using. We live in the golden age of effects pedals, so there are loads of great EQ’s out there, some that just adjust basic 3-band EQ (Bass, Mids, Treble) and there are some that let you fine tune the exact frequency of the signal to add or cut whatever you want in your tone. Getting lost in the mix using a big muff? Crank up the mids a bit. Want a little bit of added depth in a smaller venue? Adjust up the bass frequencies to fill out the sonic canvas. This also applies when using the amp for dirt, by sticking the EQ pedal into the FX loop of your amp, then you have access to a boost and can adjust your amps gain tone to the closest detail to get that perfect tone.
- Stacking dirt pedals into an already distorted amp can add a depth and level of saturation to your tone only capable from stacking. Players have been using this method for decades to achieve their signature tones on classic records. A favorite of many people has always been a Plexi paired with a TS, which is used to boost the mids for solos. Another stack that happens often is using a Fender amp on the edge of break-up, and a Klon-style boost/OD to kick it into the stratosphere. One of the most popular and widely known stacks revolves around running a cranked fuzz face into most any type of amp (especially Plexi-style amps). The fuzz face provides a thick, wall of sound that’s great for fat sustaining leads or for chunky rhythms.
The main thing to remember is there are no wrong ways to stack your gain! Some of the most surprising stacks may lead to the coolest tones. Don’t be afraid to experiment and create unique combinations that can fit any scenario you need, from two low-gain drives to provide a base tone that you can stack on more gain for solos, or a boost hitting a distortion for sustain and saturation galore.
A few fun Wampler-related stacks that work really well together:
- Tumnus into the Pinnacle Distortion. It adds a low-mid presence that just punches through the mix and sustains for days.
- Clarksdale into the Plexi Drive. Reminiscent of cranked Plexi tones that have an added presence and depth from the EQ shape on the Clarksdale
- Velvet Fuzz into Plexi Deluxe.From tube driver-esque tones to full on Hendrix, this is the go-to combo for great classic fuzzy blues.
- Tumnus into the Euphoria. The perfect yin and yang. The Euphoria sounds like your amps natural OD with a D-style amp feel, and the Tumnus’s low-mid presence and warmth creates a 3D tone that works for a plethora of styles of music.
There are a lot more out there. What are some of your favorite stacks?