Issue # 406 May 2016
So I arrive for one session – Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn The Beat Around”, and the producer wants me to add that ‘something special’. There were already multiple guitar parts on the recording, and they were great. Rhythm tracks, fill tracks, really full. What to do? This track had a very insistent, percussive beat, and I had the realisation that whatever I did, it would need to be mega strange. Well, my trusty ol’ leather bag filled with pedals had a recently invented box called the MuTron Bi-Phase. Not your ordinary phaser. It swept the phase a full 180 degrees, grabbed amazing frequencies with its notch-filters, and could do a stereo figure eight. Aha! I know – this needs ‘phasers on stun’. Whacked the baby up full 180 degrees, max ‘feedback’ (depth), a very slow undulating phase. After playing around with the chords a bit, I felt that it might be too musical and even a bit superfluous. The solution was to tape up the strings, so that they were fully muted, and to apply a sixteenth note-based rhythm to the track …and it worked like a charm, Odd and ‘out of the box’ worked again!
Let’s talk pedal boards. Other than the odd home-made pedal board, the first ones were made by Boss. They were as much pedal ‘containers’, made from durable plastic, and with no onboard power supply. Batteries still reigned supreme in the mid-’70s. In the early ’80s, Korg introduced the PME-40X. It was a modular system which could chain a total of four effects boxes – but you had a choice of dozens of these special-built effector modules. I still use it, though less frequently. Analogue!
The ‘digital revolution’ heralded a huge increase in the production of stomp boxes and rack-mounted FX. Now one could purchase a ‘one-box-does-all’ device. These were basically computers – packed with ram and IC boards with algorithms which would to instruct portions of the memory to simulate echo, distortion, phase shifting, octave division etc. They don’t do word processing, but programmed a bit differently, they could! Some were/are very good.
These days, many FX boxes offer ‘true bypass’ – which means that when the effect is in the ‘off’ setting, your signal does not travel through the multitude of electronic bits and pieces of the unit, thereby giving you a more ‘pure’ sound. To be honest, it never made much difference to me.
The modern day pedal board can be fitted with more optional extras than a Cadillac. You can design your own, incorporating patch bays, power buffers, a second set of on-off buttons for each effect when used through the patch bay, link-ups (USB and midi) to computers with which to further enhance your sounds, and I wonder what they’ll dream up next.
I’ve been directed to various videos on YouTube, demonstrating just how great some of these modern pedal boards and components are. Let’s be real – audio coming from a YouTube vid? No matter how your system hypes up the sound you hear from your ‘puter, trust me, by the time the audio goes through the various codecs that allow streaming to appear ‘good’, this is not the same sound that is being produced in front of the camera and mic. So for the sake of absolute audio integrity, that one is off the table, OK?
Randall’s Bottom Line: Back to the word ‘appropriateness’. There are times when having a slap or 2 of echo, or a wild sounding fuzz, further enhanced by flanging can really add positively to a performance. There are also many instances when nothing sounds better than the ‘combo of three’ – guitar → cable → amplifier. Choose wisely.
By sheer coincidence, I received an email a few weeks ago, asking me four questions. (The author of the email did not know that I was about to begin my two columns on pedals.) Two if the queries: 1. Aside from a tuner, if you could have just one effects pedal – what would it be? 2. Aside from a tuner, if you could have just two effects pedals – what would they be? (My thanks to Gordon Boath for asking!) I will not give you my answers (yet). But I would encourage you to think about them. We’re talking ‘desert island pedals’ here. Cool food for thought. And multi-fx pedals are not allowed.
Maybe later we can discuss computer-based ‘Amp Simulators’…
Ciao for now