Sound

The Anatomy of a Pedalboard

  • By Aaron Shapiro
  • April 12, 2021

Like many guitar players, my effects pedal collection has changed substantially over the years. I sold most of my large-sized pedals in exchange for new mini-sized pedals and am pretty happy with what I ended up with. These tiny stompboxes are an emerging trend on the effects pedals market and it seems by now most manufacturers are getting onboard with it. I like mini pedals in my chain because they allow me to fit more pedals (with wildly different sounds) on a relatively small sized pedalboard- the Pedaltrain Jr. The tradeoff with the smaller pedals is that they sometimes offer less control knobs to adjust the sound but I actually enjoy their simplicity, especially in live settings. I’ve had a few people ask me about my choice in guitar effects and was inspired to share a bit more about the ways I use these pedals live and my personal influences for each sound. I also included a short audio demo of each pedal to give an idea of the possibilities they offer. With my pedal choice changing so frequently, I plan for this blog post to be a perpetual work in progress. Check back here in the future to see and hear how my pedalboard has changed!

V847A Wah (Vox)

Vox V847A Wah-Wah

One of the first guitar pedals I ever purchased was a Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, which has become an industry standard for wah pedals. After ten years of using a Cry Baby, I become unhappy with the sound I was getting from it. The high end frequencies sounded too tinny to me. I ended up switching to the Vox V847A Wah and am much happier with its sound no matter where I position the foot pedal. The V847A is a very expressive and dynamic wah that sounds great in combination with my other pedals, especially fuzz and delay.

octaver

Sub 'N' Up Mini Octaver (T.C. Electronic)

The mini Sub N Up Octaver works by splitting my guitar’s signal into three different tones, each one octave apart. The octave below (called SUB), dry signal (DRY) and octave above (UP) each have their own volume knob that controls its presence in the output sound. In certain live groups where there’s no bassist (which for me is usually a guitar/drums or guitar/vocal duo) the SUB octave on this pedal can do a pretty good job at filling in the low end of a group’s sound that would normally be occupied by the bass. Mind you, it is by no means best substitute for the sound of an actual bassist, but it does the trick at filling in the low frequencies in its own way. I’ve also found that it can get pretty close to the sound of an Octavia when combined with my fuzz pedal. Although I’ve used the Sub N Up in only a few different group scenarios I usually have the most fun playing with this pedal when I’m composing or improvising on my own.

fuzz

Black Fudge Fuzz (Chicago Stompworks)

I found the Black Fudge fuzz pedal on a search for something that could get me close to sound of the classic 60’s Maestro Fuzz Tone pedal used by Eddie Hazel on “Maggot Brain”. Keith Richards also the Maestro Fuzz Tone on the opening riff of “Satisfaction”. Chicago Stompworks, a local pedal manufacturer, creates their own replications of dozens of vintage distortions in a compact and budget friendly package. They call their Maestro Fuzz Tone replica “Black Fudge” and it even uses the same op amp as the original to give the pedal a more expressive and saturated tone. This pedal makes me glad I switched out my old overdrive pedal for a more iconic fuzz sound that’s heard on some of my favorite records.

phaser

MXR Mini Phase 95

I’ve been a longtime fan of MXR’s stompboxes and was thrilled when they started to manufacture mini versions of their most well known pedals. The M290 mini phaser is actually two vintage MXR phaser models combined into one small pedal. There is a button that lets me toggle between the sound of their Phase 45 pedal and the more well known Phase 90 pedal. I prefer the 4-stage sound of the Phase 90 and sometimes push the “script” button to get a more pronounced sweep effect. I’ve been using this mini phaser more and more in my compositions to get a unique spacey, wobbly timbre. I grew up hearing to the sound of the phaser in the music of the Isley Brothers and Funkadelic and the Phase 95 has been a great tool to work similar tones into my own music.

mf_trem

Minifooger MF Trem

For over 50 years Moog has been known to manufacture some of the top analogue synthesizers on the market but they also offer a large selection of boutique effect pedals that have always impressed me. A few years ago Moog released their Minifooger pedal series. Although the Minifooger series have less features than Moog’s larger pedal options I like that the compact size occupies less space on my pedalboard. I use the Minifooger Trem pedal to add some more motion to my sound, which works especially well when playing ballad tempo songs. The MF Trem pedal reminds me of the sound of a rotating axle on a vibraphone or the spinning horns on a Leslie speaker. I’ve been using this pedal more and more in my trio set and love the way it contrasts with the tones coming from the organist’s Leslie.

delay

Flashback Mini Delay (TC Electronic)

Delay is one of the effects that I use the least right now. I don’t find myself in many live or recorded situations that call for guitar delay, but I like having access to the effect when it’s needed. Some of my favorite uses of the delay effect are in Dub music, and also in the guitar playing of Wah Wah Watson who uses delay to give his tone a trailing off effect (you can hear him do this on the intro to Herbie Hancock’s song “Bubbles”). Although the Flashback Mini Delay comes in a very small design, the three control knobs give me plenty of options to change the duration and tone. Although I’m not using this pedal a ton right now, I think it will come into use in the future. At just under $100, this pedal is a great value plus its sound quality and compact size make it a worthwhile pedal to keep around.

reverb

Hall of Fame Mini Reverb (TC Electronic)

Reverb is an effect I normally use in moderation, but when I’m playing slide guitar I sometimes like to crank up the reverb to add lots of sustain to my sound. The initial appeal of the Hall of Fame mini reverb was its simplicity. I like the compact size and the fact there’s only one knob on the pedal. The caveat is that there’s no way to change the tone of the reverb unless I plug it in and use computer software. These days I’m wishing I had more control of the reverb’s duration and tone without having to use my computer- so I may be looking into a new reverb pedal soon that has more options onboard to change the sound.

ditto_looper

Ditto X2 Looper (TC Electronic)

I was first drawn to the Ditto X2 Looper because of a couple added features it has. First the reverse setting intrigued me and I liked having the ability to hear my loops played backwards. The first time I tried the reverse feature, the sound reminded me of the reversed muted guitar intro played by Jimi Hendrix on Are You Experienced. Also the pedal had stereo inputs and outputs which allows me to record my loops through two amps at once. The Ditto Looper is one pedal I use tons in the practice room and sometimes in the studio but barely ever in live performance. I’ve recently been thinking of some ways I might incorporate it into my band’s live show, but this pedal can sometimes be tricky to maneuver in a live setting with so many other moving parts.

Sound Examples

Vox V847A Wah-Wah - In this demo recording of my song “Hieroglyphic” I use the Vox V847A Wah on two layered guitar tracks.

Sub 'N' Up Mini Octaver - Here I’m using all three octaves of my Sub N Up Octaver to play the bass line to my song “Quasar”.

Black Fudge Fuzz - The opening riff to “I Wanna Know if It’s Good To You” (Funkadelic) being played through my Black Fudge fuzz pedal.

MXR Mini Phase 95 - I use the M290 Phaser pedal to give my guitar a spacier sound on my song “Quasar”.

Minifooger MF Trem - When I perform Joe Chamber’s composition “Pastoral” I like to add the MF Trem pedal to give an effect similar to Bobby Hutcherson’s vibraphone on the original recording.

Flashback Mini Delay - Noodling around with the Flashback Mini Delay with some added wah and reverb.

Hall of Fame Mini Reverb - When I play slide guitar I like to use the Hall of Fame Mini Reverb to add some longer sustain to my sound.

Ditto X2 Looper - A reverse loop I made using the Ditto looper recorded in stereo through two amps.