- August 28, 2014
- in TFH Guitars
DISCLAIMER: This post is about pedals and not about building the pedalboard itself. That post will be coming soon. In this post, I'm going to talk about the basic necessities of any blossoming pedalboard.
So, you’re a guitar player, and you’ve just started playing at church. Perhaps you’re a worship leader who has lead primarily from acoustic, and you’re making a jump to electric rhythm. You might be younger and will be playing electric guitar, and you’re not sure where you should start gear wise. In any case I hope to make this post helpful to you.
Now since you’re playing electric you will obviously need a guitar and an amp. Ideally a guitar and amp that you like. A good guitar through a great amp can get you pretty far. But I digress.
THE BARE NECESSITIES
First and foremost, you will need a tuner. Being in tune is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL, regardless of musical context. Nothing you play will sound good if you’re not in tune. The very first pedal you buy should be a tuner.
There are two other types of pedals that will get you up to speed immediately for the requirements of “modern worship music”: Overdrive and delay. On these two pedals hang all of worship music...and the majority of musical contexts in which you may find yourself.
So lets start with overdrive pedals. An overdrive is a pedal that, without getting too technical, takes your amp from clean to dirty. It can also add gain to an already dirty amp to make it dirtier. Think hard rock, metal, Planetshakers territory. There is no shortage of overdrive pedals to choose. Most are based on Tubescreamer circuits (eg. the Route 808 as pictured above is Visual Sound’s take on the Ibanez TS-808). This pedal is one that will probably get the most use as most worship songs and sets tend to have a wide range of dynamics.
The final essential pedal in any rig and especially in many church settings is a delay pedal. Ideally one with a tap tempo function. This function will allow you to tap the tempo of the song you are playing into the pedal, so that the repeats (or echos) the pedal produces will be in time with the music. Tap tempo delays will often have different subdivisions such as quarter, eighth, dotted eighth (invaluable when playing the majority of U2/Hillsong tunes), eighth triplet, etc. This allows you to simply tap the tempo, and the pedal does the math so that the timing of the repeats is correctly subdivided. Delay can be used as a subtle texture to add some space and dimension. It can also be used as an obvious effect (e.g. Hillsong United’s “The Time Has Come”).
These effects will invariably be the foundation of most the sounds you produce. Other effects such as reverb, octave generators, tremolo and a host of others will be extras that you can add as you go along. Perhaps we will address those in another post.
Some other bits and pieces you’ll need are good quality cables, a power supply and the pedalboard itself.
Good lead (guitar to board, board to amp) and patch (pedal to pedal) cables are a big part of getting a good sound. Poor quality cables (or poor quality anything) WILL contribute negatively to your tone as they conduct poorly and increase capacitance. Capacitance, omitting all the math, is the degradation of a signal as it travels. This results in less clarity and punch. There’s not much you can do avoid it entirely, but you CAN reduce its effects by using good quality cables and using only the necessary lengths.
I personally recommend Lava Cable’s ELC Solderless Cable Kits or George L’s Cable Kits for patch cables. They ARE a bit pricey, but if you make them right (it's not very dificult, just take your time) you will have quality patch cable that could last you years. As far as lead cables go, there are many companies making great stuff. Planet Waves and Monster cables are good quality as well as affordable. Mogami and Evidence cables are awesome if you’re looking to get crazy. No shortage of options for good cables.
Good power will also contribute to good tone. It will result in better sound, less noise, and fewer headaches. Ideally you want a regulated power supply with isolated outputs. This means that every output has its own ground as opposed to sharing a ground ("daisychained.”) This results in less noise. Additionally, power supplies won't die on you after a few days like batteries will. (Seriously, a digital delay will drain a battery in no time.) Some such supplies include but are not limited to: Voodoo Lab’s “ISO-5”, Decibel Eleven’s “Hot Stone SM” and CIOKS’ “Big John”. If you're on a budget, Visual Sound's "One Spot" is an option - it is daisychained, but I've used one for years with no problems. These supplies and others like them should be able to fulfill any player's needs.
When it comes to pedalboards you have a plethora of options. There are many great manufacturers out there making fantastic products. I tend to favor Pedaltrain pedalboards - they are well made, affordable, many models have hard or soft case options, and I can route all my cables and power under the board. They also have a site called Pedalboard Planner. This site allows you to plot and plan how you’re going design your pedal layout. The image above is actually from Pedalboard Planner. The board pictured is their “Nano” model, but I would actually mostly likely start with the “PT-JR” or the “PT-2” so that I have room for growth. And there will be growth.
A few final thoughts before you step out into the world of wonder that is gear.
1) Eyes on the prize. Always remember that the gear an extension of the skill. The skill facilitates the heart. The heart is to serve the Body by helping to create an atmosphere where they can worship God unhindered.
2) Practice before you purchase. You have to put in the time practicing and honing your skills to sound good. No amount of high-end gear will make you sound good if you can't play a G-chord.
3) Use your ears. Don't buy a piece of gear simply because (insert guitar player) uses it. Buy a piece of gear on the basis of a sound that you are trying to achieve. Also, be sure to do all the research you can before you purchase anything.
*If a well-known and well respected guitar player uses a particular piece of gear it may be worth at least looking into that gear
4) Every Luke needs a Yoda. Find somebody who plays well and really knows tone, gear, and serving the songs and the people. This relationship will prove invaluable. It can be an older wiser player at your church. It can be a guy on YouTube. Obviously you're going to want to follow people who are where you would like to be. Take their advice and you'll move along much faster, and you'll save yourself some trouble.
Now that you've got some knowledge, some insight, and some Star Wars references, you should be off to a good start in what can be a rather nebulous and confusing world. Go forth and rock - in Jesus’ Name!
- Carlos Torres