Pedalboards are for tone seekers.
I am one.
It’s 2017 and I’m an amateur, an avid enthusiast in all that related to the electric guitar sound… when it comes to the 6-string instrument, and cutting a long story short, my ideal guitar will be an H-S-S or H-S-H, 22-fret, rosewood fingerboard, Alnico-II equipped, and I’m moving along the signal path chain to make it sound rich, spicy, full, but always in a versatile context.
On to the amp: after some years accepting that the clean channel of a Marshall amp will only get you so far, I happened to stumble upon a second-hand JCM900 4100 Dual Reverb; myth debunked, as I am in love with that sparkling, rich, and full sound of an amp that uncompromisingly will allow me to plug a Strat or a Les Paul, and bring out the best in each of them (btw, a 1936 2×12 cabinet fitted with a pair of Celestion Vintage 30 speakers is what follows the amp head).
Clean sound, distorted sound, independent reverbs… what else?
Delay, wah, and (mild) fuzz… those are the initial reasons for having pedals between the guitar and the amp’s power section (yes!, I’m implying that I always use the effects loop of my amplifier of choice).
One can never have enough of delays: so many options, so many uses: from the Keeley Magnetic Echo to the TC Electronics Nova Delay iB Modified, from the “gadget-of-the-moment” Wampler Ethereal to the “Swiss army knife” Eventide H9.
As for wah pedals, two only: G-Lab Wowee, Jim Dunlop’s Cry-Baby 95Q (both switchless units, easiest things to operate), but let me credit the Morley Bad Horsie for pointing me the way of switchless wah; it’s also a great unit, but I don’t like its sound, that’s all.
Fuzz boxes really got on my nerves when I started using them… why would people “downgrade” their sound with these old-fashioned units just for that 60’s sound nostalgia? Well, to each is own, I would say to myself; but for me, “that” game changed when I got to try the Mojo Hand FX Zephyr and its fuzzy-flavoured overdrive sounding; getting to play my rendition of Clapton’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and keeping a coherent sound identity then became an easy feat… and I can honestly say that the same happened when I plugged in the Keeley Son of Fuzz Face, the EWS Fuzzy Drive, or the EarthQuaker Devices Dream Crusher (now discontinued, and replaced by the Spires); this last one was my first 9v-powered “center positive” pedal, and I had to ask my friend Edu Krithinas to turn it into a “center negative” (he can solve anything!), which he did.
[ update – 2017.Jul.17 ]
I decided to go for versatility and replaced the Suhr pedals for a pair of Earthquaker Devices (fuzz and overdrive) and a Carl Martin (distortion).
Instead of a “fuzz-distortion-overdrive” sequence, I now chose to have a “distortion-fuzz-overdrive”, which is a minor change and is only going to have some impact in the unlikely event of me using the distortion and fuzz at the same time.
It’s not that I don’t like the Suhr (especially these Reloaded ones), quite au contraire… it’s just that I feel the Suhr are somewhat “moody”, given to exact/precise uses, so I will give them a better use in the studio rather than on stage, where I can use pedals who are easier to “dial-in” by being more receptive to amp/guitar variations.
Well, actually, this is more about the Riot… its “searing” sounds are nothing short than amazing, but it’s easy to go overboard when dialing it in, at least for me. Anyone with me on this?
No more tap dancing, enter remote switching
Why a multiswitch, and why the Octa-Switch in particular?
Well, I usually stick to 4 to 5 sounds, which vary on the gain I use (either from the amp or pedals), but it is very common for me to add different types of modulation if only for a brief period.
In those situations, I would probably have to “kill the distortion or fuzz, ignite the overdrive with a little reverb and tape delay”, meaning I would have to step on three pedals in a short period of time, a second or so.
Not a good idea, if one is playing live…
So, a multiswitch allows you to have a number of prefedined combinations and set-up your combination by pressing one only button.
There are several top-notch solutions in the market (even custom, built-to-specs), but they will cost you over $500 easily.
So, I went for a mint second-hand Octa-Switch made by the Danish company Carl-Martin, the creators of the renowned Plexi-Tone, Hydra-Boost, DeLayla pedals, which costed me under $150. It helped going for a discontinued model, as they have put out the MkII and MkIII versions of this one.
What did I have in mind originally?
Let’s go check the drawing board…
- Carl Martin Plexi-Tone [link]
EWS Fuzzy Drive [link]
- Earthquaker Devices Monarch [link]
Suhr Riot Reloaded [link]
- Earthquaker Devices Dream Crusher [link]
Suhr Shiba Drive Reloaded [link]
- (out: Preamp input / in: Amplified loop send)
- Strymon DIG [link] + Strymon El Capistan [link]
- Strymon Ola [link]
- Strymon Flint [link]
- Strymon BlueSky [link]
…and off it goes to the amp loop return.
Outside the signal path managed by the Octa-Switch, there is a wireless received (probably a Line6 G30), a tuner (likely a TC Electronic PolyTune), a wah pedal (the aforementioned G-Lab Wowee), and a booster/compressor (the Strymon OB.1), all before the Octa-Switch input; on the way to the amp’s power section, a clean boost (the simple-yet-perfect Carl Martin Hydra-Boost).
There are two delay units in this board and it’s unlikely that I will use them at the same time, so that is why they’re both in circuit #5 (meaning that I will turn each of them on/off in between songs, if I have to, likely having one on and the other one off).
But there is also the possibility of adding a third delay setting without turning knobs, just by stepping on the Strymon Favourite pedal button; both the DIG and the El Capistan allow their users to use an extra setting, accessible via this external footswitch.
Note that both the Ola and the BlueSky have their own Favourite buttons on the pedal themselves so, where you see 5 pedals, there are actually 8 sounds accessible by foot. My initial idea is to have two settings on the El Capistan, but I chose a cable which is long enough to connect the Favourite either to it or the DIG.
Construction, cabling, accessories, energy
With all this fun drawing the circuit (it is fun!), one must not neglect two important aspects regarding what connects the pedals:
- patch cables, for the sound itself;
- power supply and power cables.
At a certain point, one will have to consider if a pedal is either true bypass or buffered bypass (and what that means to the sound signal), as personal as decisions stem from that characteristic.
For now, let’s just say we don’t want too many true bypass pedals after one another.
First draft of the pedal connections shows some restrictions in using straight 1/4″ jack connectors; the alternative is the Hosa low profile angled jacks.
Now, the tuner is moved to the top shelf (along with the wireless receiver), and I am adding a fuzz before the Suhr gain pedals.
I am also considering adding a Lovepedal buffer just before the Strymon pedals, in the unlikely event of them sucking too much tone for being “true bypass”.
It took me over 2 years getting the Strymon pedals, as I wasn’t ready to spend the €350 they cost. I can tell you that one of them was over the €240 threshold I imposed myself and 4 out of 6 were under €200 (thank you, eBay and OLX!)… well, this board was never a priority and I truly believe “life is a journey, not a destination“.
So, I can honestly say that I was never anxious about finishing it and, in fact, I added the DiG because I bought it for something like €150, an absolute steal.
As much as they were great deals, the 6 Strymon pedals ended up costing me big, in terms of financial implications.
Yes, the power supply.
For each of these pedals, some 250mA to 300mA are drained from each of the 9v power outlets. Knowing that gain pedals usually need 20mA to 50mA, one of the Strymon pedals alone is “a monster”, in terms of power consumption, less alone 6.
This meant that the backup Carl Martin, 1-Spot, and Palmer power supplies I have will not make it to this board. They are pretty much useless here.
A dedicated new one is necessary. Mandatory.
Specs: at least, six independent/regulated 9v, 300+ mA power sockets.
My choice ended up being the Strymon Zuma, a 9-outlet power supply that has 500 mA of current per outlet; well, in fact, 7 are fixed 9v (500 mA) and the last two 2 are controllable to be 18v (250 mA) or 12v (375 mA) – if you know your electronics and math correctly, you may have noticed that:
0.5A * 9v = 0.375A * 12v = 0.25A * 18v = 4.5W.
That’s correct, the same 4.5 Watt of available power in each outlet.
Geek stuff, but it doesn’t hurt knowing.
And yes, the available power here would make a 40W incandescence light bulb shine bright.
Now I need velcro… pedals and cables will be properly attached to the board.
The result, v. 1.0
The board is big enough for this plethora of sound-shaping units, the connected cables are tied together bringing the sound from A to Z (guitar to cabinet speakers) without becoming a forest of wires, the power supply is carefully hidden, and it’s finally time to hear the sound coming out of this “monster of sound” (so I hope!), which now feels more like an endeavour than anything else.
After replacing the Suhr pedals, just before finishing
[text and video pending regarding the final result, credits to Cabicom]