Whew, it feels like it’s been forever, but I’m finally done with Physical Therapy from my shoulder surgery. I also had the cast removed from my broken hand earlier this week, talk about relief! Feels good being able to hold a guitar properly or play a keyboard, not to mention just being able to type like a normal person again 🙂
All of which means…. I can now get back into writing regularly for the blog, woo hoo!
I figured now would be a good time to go over the guitar pedal board I’ve been assembling over the last few months while I was healing, as well as offer some quick reviews on the pedals I ended up using. While I’ve long been a fan of modeling devices like the Line6 Pod series, I’ve always wanted to put together a really nice custom pedal board too. Since I’ve mainly been using my Taylor acoustic guitar these days, the pedals I ended up going with were bought largely to use with that guitar. But, guitars are guitars, so I know they’ll work well with my Parker electric too if I need to.
This whole idea started when I got the Boss Tera Echo pedal last year. I was really happy with my HD500 at the time, so I’m not sure what prompted me to buy it other than it sounded like a unique delay pedal (and I love delays!). I ended up liking the simplified editing and small form factor so much, that I started giving serious thought to taking a break from modelers and focus on individual pedals instead.
Here’s a (sorta) quick break down of what I ended up getting and why:
1. Pedaltrain Jr.
When looking at all the options out there for a board to place the pedals on, I kept reading a lot of good reviews about the Pedaltrain brand of pedal boards. I knew I didn’t need a huge amount of pedals to place on it, so the smaller Jr. version worked the best for my needs. The board itself is a nice light-weight aluminum that has just the right amount of angle to it, along with plenty of ways to hide all the cables for the pedals to keep them out of the way.
It comes with a nice gig bag, and more than enough velcro to attach many pedals to the board and move things around while you find the best layout. I have to admit, I still find it weird attaching expensive electronics to something using sticky tape with velcro on one side, but so far it seems to be working well 🙂 There’s also two brackets included if you want to mount a power supply (PSU) for the pedals underneath, though you’ll need to drill your own holes into the frame depending on the PSU you pick. Easy enough.
2. Decibel Eleven Hotstone SM Power Supply.
I knew I wanted a dedicated PSU for the board, something with isolated outlets for each pedal. There’s not a ton of options out there for this, and most of the more popular ones are pretty expensive too. I almost went with one of the Voodoo Labs PSU’s since they get such great reviews, but then I found the Hotstone SM for half the price. It has just the right combination of power outlets for my needs too, since the digital pedals I use can draw a lot of power.
I had to hack together a way to get it to fit with the brackets the Pedaltrain came with, but once done it’s a nice snug fit underneath. Nothing too exciting to add about the Hotstone, it powers my pedals just like it’s supposed to 🙂
3. George L’s Cable Kit.
Cabling up all the pedals turned out to be one of the more frustrating aspects of this endeavor, something I didn’t expect. I tried a lot of the shorter cables intended for guitar pedal boards, including some from Mogami and other higher-end brands. But I kept having issues with the cables being too short or too stiff for my needs, it looked sloppy too.
Right when I was about to hunker down and solder my own, I came across the George L pedal cable kit. You get 10 right angle connectors, and 10 feet of cable you can cut to exactly the lengths you need. The cable is super flexible for easy routing, and best of all you don’t need to solder the connectors. It’s an ingenious system and it worked perfectly for my needs, I can’t recommend it enough.
Let’s move on the the pedals, in order of the signal flow coming from my guitar:
4. Xotic EP Booster.
The downside of pre-amp in my Taylor acoustic, is that the output signal is quite low, too low to feed normal guitar pedals. I tried a few pedal pre-amps, but most had a lot of functions I didn’t need or altered the tone of the guitar too much for me. Eventually I found the EP booster, which provides a simple gain boost with a tiny bit of color. Combined with a mic to line transformer prior to it in the signal path, I can easily boost the acoustic guitar signal to useable levels. Sounds great too!
5. Boss Multi Overtone.
After being so pleased with the way my Tera Echo sounded, I wanted to try out another pedal from Boss’s new line of pedals. The Multi Overtone (MO-2) has three settings altering the pitch of the overtones, from bright and shiny, to an added 5th, and then an octave lower. But it’s more than just a pitch-shifter or harmony pedal, it responds dynamically to how you play, and alters parts of the frequency spectrum differently. It’s a very unique effect, definitely digital sounding, though the Tone knob takes the edge off things some to give it a bit more warmth.
I find that having too wet of a signal from the MO-2 just sounds too weird, even for me. Used subtly though, it really thickens up and sculpts the sound in a pleasing way. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep this one, but the more I use it the more I keep finding some great and unique sounding tones.
6. Boss Tera Echo.
I’ve already covered the Tera Echo in a review, so I won’t go into it again. Still an effect I enjoy using for that cascading waterfall of delays sound. Like the MO-2, best when used in moderation or it can be too much.
7. TC Electronic Flashback X4.
Did I mention I like delays? 🙂 I knew I wanted a pretty well-featured delay pedal given how much I’d use the device. I briefly considered something from Strymon or Eventide, but both were pretty expensive and seemed to require a lot of menu diving to program. In the end I settled on the Flashback x4 since it has quite a few options without needing to deal with any menus.
The best part is that TC Electronic has the Toneprint function if you DO want to dive in deep and program your own patches. With the iPad or computer software they supply for free, you can edit all of the underlying parameters for each of the 11 delay algorithms accessed on the front panel. Each algorithm has different parameters too, so there’s a ton of depth here if you want it.
The neat trick is that you can save the patch to pedal via USB, or by holding your iOS device speakers near the guitar pickups and hitting send in the app. This causes a loud noise burst similar to a fax machine to play from the speakers, which the pickups on the guitar hear and transmit to the pedal via your regular patch cable. It’s dead simple, takes a couple seconds, and feels like magic in use 🙂
I don’t plan on editing my own patches too much right now, trying to avoid doing sound design when I want to play. Nice to have that option though, and you can store up to 4 Tone Prints on the X4 at a time (well 7 if you save three to the footswitch presets).
The Flashback also has a looper built in, great for doing cool ambient droney things. All in all a great pedal, my only complaint is that I wish there was at least a Tone knob to alter the sound of the delays. Other than delay time, feedback, and note division, there’s no control over the sound of the delays from the front panel. They sound great though, so it’s not a huge deal.
8. TC Electronic Hall Of Fame.
I was so impressed with the Flashback x4, that I knew I wanted to go with TC again for my reverb pedal. It only has one Tone Print slot, but that’s fine for me. The rest of the reverbs are lush, smooth, and sound different enough from each other than you get a lot of variety in one pedal. It kind of freaked me out the first time I used this pedal, the sound is incredible and feels so weird coming from such a tiny box on the floor.
The Tone and Decay knobs do more than just simple EQ and Time tweaks, they can control multiple parameters at once over defined ranges (via the Tone Print Editor). You get a lot of control and tweakability from just a few controls, it’s a brilliant way of doing things and reminds me in some ways of my Ableton Live DJ Racks!
Well, that’s the run through on the new pedal set up. I still have room for one more, likely a modulation-based pedal, but for now I’m going to wait awhile before I buy more pedals! 🙂 Really happy with the range of sounds I can get out of this set up though. Combined with the looper on the Flashback, I think it would be a really fun thing to use in my live sets.
But first I need to find a new drum machine….
… Stay tuned!