Posts Tagged ‘pedals’

Five years ago I wrote this on effects pedals. To save you the bother of reading it I was basically singing the praises of having lots of pedals and how I didn’t think Multi-FX boxes really cut the mustard.

Now – I just bought a Roland GT-1000 Multi-FX pedal to replace my ‘main’ pedalboard. Possibly.

There are a number of reasons behind this decision. The first of which was that I hurt my back – I’m not sure how, it’s almost certainly music gear-related but probably not the pedalboard itself. And this got me thinking about the weight of the gear I carry around and how much I can change my current setup to be lighter. My current pedalboard needs changing anyway (just the board, not the pedals) as it’s old and worn out. I looked at new boards that would allow more flexibility but soon realised that weight was going to be a real problem.

My next thought was inspired by the SY-300 ‘guitar’ synth and that I mentioned it was good enough to be used an occasional multi-FX pedal and wondered what the latest in actual multi-FX pedal technology was like. It just so happened that Roland were about to release the GT-1000, so this would be the very latest in the technology. I did look at other competitive units, but this seemed the best fit for what I need as regards weight and flexibility and Roland have an excellent reputation for quality.

One of my original arguments against multi-FX pedals was that it made all your effects come from the same manufacturer which gave a homogeneity to the sound – then I looked at my pedalboard and noticed that 60% of them were Roland BOSS pedals anyway! Also the quality argument has, inevitably, gone away too. The quality of modern digital effects is outstanding, Roland’s ACB technology is making excellent ‘analogue-like’ synths and quite a lot of effects pedals are digital these days anyway – including my beloved RE-20 ‘tape’ delay.

Another consideration is that pedals are a part of my instrument almost as the violin is, they have a profound effect on the sound I produce. That’s true up to a point but something I’m less worried about than I used to be, to be honest. I was always adding and removing pedals on the main board (apart from the RE-20 delay) and my sound is now much more based on the violin itself and the way I play than strange noises I can make. The main sound change will probably be using the tape delay in the GT-1000 instead of the RE-20; while both are from Roland, the GT-1000 tape delay is not explicitly an RE-201 emulation so there is a detectable difference there. It remains to be seen how important that is to me. Of course there will be a huge ‘user-interface’ change for me to manage but I can handle that.

Apart from the (lack of) weight, one thing that really appealed to me about a high-end multi-FX pedal was the flexibility of having the effects soft-wired. With a discrete pedalboard you have to position the effects boxes in a way that will be of use for most cases. With a multi-FX that can change as much as you like. I don’t actually envisage changing the pedal order a lot, there is definitely an optimal order that does serve for most purposes, but there have been several times when I had wished that a pedal was somewhere else in the chain or (and this does happen fairly often these days) that I could split the chain into 2 separate streams and join them again later. This is especially useful where my ‘extension’ pedalboard is concerned.

Because the extension board serves a couple of purposes – drones from the superego and ‘odd’ effects from the more boutique pedals – it often needs to be wired in different places and often should bypass the main effects chain entirely. I only really do this when recording because of the hassle, but having that board as a ‘send’ from the GT-1000 means it can be moved around easily with just a pedal press. The same goes for the looper which can now be before the final reverb rather than after it without having more sets of leads and sockets.

Of course soft wiring also gets rid of the mess of cables on a conventional pedalboard – with all the attendant reliability and noise issues. It also removes a lot of complications about powering them all adequately – which is not as simple as it might sound.

As to weight, you’ll notice that I mentioned the extension pedalboard. That might also disappear too, now I have mastered the art of making drones and other fancy effects with the SY-300. With the addition of a looper, the possibility is that I could do a full solo gig with just (shock, horror, probe) ONLY THREE pedals!

One thing I suppose I’ll miss is the “She’s got more pedals than <x>” jokes at gigs. But as nobody asks me to do gigs any more it’s not really an issue. Even if I did start gigging again (I’m available!), surely it’s more impressive to get all of that noise out of only 3 boxes. The other thing I *might* miss is looking at and playing with new pedals. Having thought about this though, a lot of new pedals these days seem to be more in the realm of ‘strange noises’ and have fairly limited application. I’ve seen this happen a lot where a supposedly interesting pedal gets one or two uses for its particular sound and then gets moved into the box of unused effects. Mostly these days I find myself concentrating on making music using the proven ‘useful’ ones rather than looking for a ‘new sound’ from a different piece of electronics.

Here’s a quick improv I did using the GT-1000 a few days after I got it

The accessory FS-6 footswitch is insanely stupid. It has LEDs that light up when they are on in ‘latch’ mode, which sounds really useful. But it only works with the GT-1000 and SY-300 in ‘momentary’ mode – where the LEDs only light up when your foot is pushing the switch. So those LEDs are totally useless for indicating the state of the pedal effect they are connected to. But just in case you thought, “oh I won’t bother putting a battery in it then” – it needs power to work at all. Mad. Totally fucking mad. Come on Roland – fix this please, how the hell hard can it be to read the state of a switch instead of using it as an edge-trigger?



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Effects Pedals

They say write about things you know love, or things you know about, so here’s one about effects pedals.

I have a bit of a reputation for being a ‘collector’ of effects pedals, and not without reason. My website (which is up-to-date as I write this) lists 30 of which I normally gig with 16 – two of which are loopers. That’s a lot by most people’s standards I suppose though I’m sure there are plenty of people with more. They are heavy, and expensive, and I need to keep checking the cables (power and signal) to make sure they are working properly and sounding right, and that the control knobs haven’t mysteriously changed position in transit or while the cats were asleep on them – this does happen.

Sometimes I look enviously at the multi-effects units that people make and wonder if one of those might be easier. All the presets digitally stored so they never get lost or accidentally changed. Hundreds of different effects all on one easily portable box. It sounds ideal really.

No, not really. I’d never swap my motley collection for one of those, not really.

Those pedals are the instruments of my orchestra. They all have their own characteristic sounds that I know and (mostly) love. I know, for instance, that when I press the footswitch on the MXR delay pedal that it will give me a different sound than the RE-20 delay, and I know what that difference is and why I should use it in any particular context. The 16 pedals on those boards are the ones that I have chosen out of the larger collection I have to suit the sounds I want for most purposes. I know the sounds they produce, intimately, they are textures I know and can trust. I know the sounds they make in combination and I know in what order they should go to produce the sounds I want. I also know, when a sound isn’t quite right, what knob on which pedal has been moved and where it needs to go back to to restore normality and how far I can twist it to get one-off effects for special colour.

I also like the array of lights that blink and display the state of the sounds as I play, and the dance I do while playing is almost as much a part of the performance as the notes. I often do ‘footpedal practice’ to make sure that my feet are as trained as my fingers to get the music coming out right. In fact I was surprised, when recruiting another violinist to play a piece with pedals that she couldn’t really cope with it at all. I suppose I was like that once.

I’m sure the multi-FX units are useful for certain types of people but I’ve decided that I like the ones I have – to change to one of those would be like sacking a factory of crasftspeople and replacing them with a robot. Maybe more efficient but with the loss of the soul and individuality that the people bring. Buying all my sounds from one manufacturer can make the sound homogeneous. Even though these multi-FX units emulate all sorts of different pedals from different companies, they never quite capture the essence of the real thing. Yes, I know the RE-20 is a digital emulation of a tape-echo, but it works extraordinarily well, and is made by the same company that made the original.

And, to be honest, I do like the looks of amazment, awe, suprise or incredulity as I spread my pedals out on stage, covering a large proportion of it in the process, and the “she’s got more pedals than <xxx>” jokes that often follow 🙂

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