Stompbox Talk: 5 Ways to Cut Through the Guitar Pedal Puzzle

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Four punk and metal guitarists talk about the essential stomps they can’t live without.

When your granddad played electric guitar he plugged his instrument cable into a tube amp. End of story Maybe he was a rocker and turned his amp to eleven to get a little breakup.

But then he started wanting more: a hairier fuzz, more tone control, some cool delays, and that weird vibey thing. Over time, many guitar players’ signal chains have grown exponentially and pedals are an essential part of their rigs.

But with hundreds of different guitar and bass stompboxes out there, the possibilities are endless. We talked to four guitarists on the punk and heavy metal scenes who gave us five tips for honing in effects pedals that make sense for beginners.

Browse the monster Musician’s Friend selection of effects pedals.

1. Think critically about what you need

Lots of players make the mistake of buying more pedals than they can fit on a pedalboard or effectively manage onstage. Don’t be the guy showing up at a coffee shop gig with a huge Pedaltrain Grande pedalboard loaded with overdrives, distortion pedals, wahs, delays, etc. out the wazoo.

Tony Rombola of Godsmack

Floor space, volume restrictions, and good tone are the three most important things to think about when picking pedals. Be the guy who has effects that complement his rig and genre. For instance, Tony Rombola of Godsmack fame doesn’t tour with a huge board, taking a less-is-more approach.

In Godsmack, I don't have much for pedals. So far we have gotten our overdrive with high gain amps. I use a Dunlop Wah and a BOSS Noise Gate.

A metal guitar tone without a bunch of distortion stomp boxes? Say it ain’t so. Rombola does have a different board at home. After all, when not on an amphitheatre stage you can’t really crank a high gain amp up to saturation levels.

At home I have a pedalboard, and on that is a Dunlop Wah, 808 Tube Screamer, King of Tone, BK Butler Tube Driver, Analog Man Sun Face Fuzz, Mojo Hand Colossus Fuzz, Maxon Delay, and Boss Tuner.

Getting the most out of your effects pedals starts with striking a balance between what you really need and what you might want when imagining every situation.

2. Tune it

Matt Elkin of The SoSo Glos

Your grandfather probably tuned his guitar relative to the piano player or the other guys, but today the best way to be in tune with yourself and the rest of the band is to use a pedal tuner. While not an effect, three of our four experts mentioned the tough Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner by name. BOSS enthusiast Matt Elkin of New York punk rockers The SoSo Glos puts it best:

[A tuner] is the most important pedal of all.

Rombola and Luis Cabezas (see below) also use the TU-3. The only thing that touring is harder on than the body is your gear. With its tank-like enclosure, very legible display and support for 7-string guitar and 6-string bass tuning, the BOSS TU-3 is a consistent top seller.

Pedal tuners have grown increasingly more sophisticated. The TC Electronic Polytune 2 lets you tune all six strings simultaneously—just strum and the ultra-bright display shows you which strings need to still be tuned. Using strobe technology, the Polytune 2 is precise enough for the most exacting studio work.

3. Start with proven basics

Luis Cabezas of The Dollyrots

We asked our experts about the best starter pedals. Their answers included pretty much the bread and butter of effects pedals—the ones that everyone knows and loves. Luis Cabezas of punk duo The Dollyrots tours on both sides of the pond and needs rugged gear to make that happen.

The BOSS DS-1 Distortion Pedal, which I was initially clued into after reading that Kurt Cobain used it live, is a great starter distortion pedal—reasonably priced and super rugged. I used one for years when we were first starting out.

 

 

 

 

The versatile DS-1 Distortion Pedal serves up everything from subtle crunch to all-out massive distortion to match your music and dynamics.

Dig deeper with our buying guide, Essential Six Pack of BOSS Stomps will get you started.

Rombola recommends the classic Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer.

Ibanez TS808—it's great for a clean or overdriven tones and works great on any amp.

Elkin, on the other hand, first mentions a classic phaser.

MXR Phase 90: endless fun. I especially like it with the speed turned all the way up.

 

Check out some of the outrageous effects the MXR M-101 Phase 90 makes possible.

But Elkin also has high praise for the Tube Screamer and pedals like it. We asked him what pedal he would use if he could only use one for the rest of his career.

I don't know. Maybe a Big Muff or a Rat? Or Tube Screamer? I was a nineties baby; my holy trinity is Kurt, Rivers, and Billy. I like overdrive, I use it a lot to varying extents, and I love a pedal that has enough versatility to allow me to achieve everything from cuttingly nasal-sounding lead junk to sludgy drop-tuned power chords.

There are thousands of guitar players out there who use the DS-1, TS808, and Phase 90 every night. They’re so famous because they work and keep on working.

4. Consider multi-effects

Henrik Flyman of Evil Masquerade

Henrik Flyman of melodic metal band Evil Masquerade travels the world year after year, but his schedule wasn’t always like that.

Several years ago I used to depend on my Engl; stack to supply most of my needs, but since the last six years I have been touring all over the world—which of course means going by plane. When my reality changed to mainly playing on rented amps I decided to go with another approach and rely on a Line 6 POD HD500X floorboard. This makes it less critical what amp I use since I go through the effects loop directly into the power amp. Now on tour, all sounds come from the POD.

You’ll find a vast selection multi-effects pedals available. They run the gamut from wallet-friendly starter units to powerful pro guitar processors used to run major touring guitarists’ rigs. For the budget conscious, Digitech makes the RP55 guitar multi-effects pedal, which offers a healthy selection of amp, effects and cabinet models. On the other end of the spectrum, the Line 6 Helix is engineered to handle the most demanding professional needs with stunning realism and performance.

Check out the entire selection of floor effects pedals available from Musician’s Friend.

5. Keep it simple, learn to play better

Our experts know what they’re talking about. They slug it out night after night on the road, but they don’t all use the same effects pedals. (With thousands out there, how could they?) Experimentation is key. Try out your buds’ pedals. Find out what FX were used on your favorite guitar tracks. Explore the hundreds of guitar effects demo videos on the Musician’s Friend site.

One thing all our interviewees have done to get where they are is to incessantly work on their skills. Effects pedals can open up whole new realms of sound to you, they’re no substitute for great chops. Beware of getting caught up in endless FX tweaking when you should be working on your rudimentary skills.

Learn more with our Guitar and Bass Effects Buying Guide.

Tags: Effects Pedals

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