The One-Knob Manifesto

Duh Pedal

Can you help me figure this thing out?

It’s almost always a bad idea to label something a manifesto. It’s pretentious, and it makes you sound like a crank, especially if you were born between 1890 and 1990. But it is dramatic. And would anyone pay attention if I gave this post a more accurate title, like “Please Participate in My Stompbox User Interface Focus Group?”

Anyway, I’ve been having this recurring workbench experience. (No, not the solder burns.) Every time I breadboard a stompbox project, I poke through the circuit, looking for places where I might add a switch or knob to unlock cool sounds. I usually find nice variations and build accordingly. But as soon as I plug in the pedal, I always seem to like one setting a lot more the others. Then I rebuild, hard-wiring the preferred value and ditching the switch or pot. Eventually almost  everything I build winds up with only one or two knobs. (Unless I’m making it for personal use, in which case it often has no knobs.) It’s not a love of minimalism, and it’s certainly not an assumption that users are too stupid for anything more complex. It’s just that time and again, the simplest solutions sound best to me.

Meanwhile, I just had an interesting experience reviewing a (gulp) $5,000 amp for Premier Guitar, which crystallized some of my thoughts. The amp in question is a Little Walter 50/22 (which is actually two independent amps in a single housing), and I’ll link to the review when it goes live in a few days. But suffice it to say that Little Walter amps draw their inspiration from the earliest Fender tweeds, and have minimal controls to match: one volume knob and one tone knob. Furthermore, builder Phil Bradbury all but advises against using the tone control, pointing out that vintage-stye tube amp tone controls are strictly subtractive, and that you get maximum impact and richness with the tone circuit wide-open. And Bradbury is right. As on many great vintage amps, the Little Walter controls are practically superfluous. If you locate the right sweet spot, you can park the controls there and make any needed gain or tone adjustments the old-fashioned way: by playing them. Dig in harder for more distortion. Back of the volume to clean up. Use your angle of attack as a tone control. Like that.

But you don’t encounter many new-production amps that adhere to the philosophy. I get the sense that a lot of designers would like to create minimalist amps such as these, but they fear that the public wouldn’t get it. How could the one-knob amp possibly sound as good as the one with 11 knobs? But I suspect that the more experience you have with amps, the likelier you are to believe that simple sounds better. Now I want to build a great-sounding tube amp with only an on/off switch.

Three knobs?! What, do I look like Einstein to you?

Three knobs?!
What, do I look like Einstein to you?

I’m finding the same to be true with distortion/fuzz/overdrive stompboxes. For many players, the minimum complement of controls is gain, tone, and master volume. But almost every circuit I’ve explored sounds better without a tone control, and it’s hard to make a gain control sound great throughout its entire range. So more and more I find myself fine-tuning circuits to what I feel are the best gain and tone settings, hard-wiring them there, and then just slapping on a master volume for level-matching. (And if the pedal doesn’t add a great deal of volume, I often skip the master as well.) If you “tune” the distortion, you can control the gain perfectly well via your hands and guitar.

“But,” I hear the inquiring player ask, “don’t you need a tone control so you can use the same pedal with different guitars?” (Sadly, I sometimes believe I’m hearing the voices of inquiring players when I’ve neglected my meds.) Increasingly, I think not. In almost all cases, there’s a sweet spot where a circuit sounds good on everything from a bright Tele bridge pickup to a tubby neck humbucker. Those extremes don’t sound the same, of course. But if you’re playing distorted on a Tele, can’t we assume that you want a bright edge? (And vice-versa with the neck humbucker.) And if you do want to modify the tone, isn’t doing so with via fingers, amp, or mixing board a better solution than using a tone-sucking stompbox tone circuit?

Another example: I spent countless hours pursuing a stompbox vibrato circuit. (I mean true pitch-shift vibrato, not tremolo.) I’d obtained great tones, but I couldn’t get the effect to sound good at all rates and depths, because the perceived depth changes along with the rate. Finally, it occurred to me to go the one-knob route, using only a rate control, and letting that determine the depth. That may sound like a half-assed non-solution, but I’ll be danged if I didn’t suddenly have the most gratifying vibrato pedal I’ve ever played. Like the minimal controls on ’50s amps, the arrangement just worked.

Other factors influence my one-knob attitude: Since I’ve spent much of the last few years in the digital guitar realm, analog guitar has become a refuge from that sometimes math-based approach. When I switch on the analog rig, my goal isn’t maximum user options, but a primal experience. Also, there’s probably an element of advanced-player snob appeal. I don’t know much about cars, bicycles, motorcycles, or sporting goods, but there’s probably a parallel between minimalist musical tools that demand a fair amount of technical  finesse, and vehicles and sports gear with stripped-down, featherweight, only-for-pros features. Not every bicycle needs a kick-stand, and not every fuzz pedal needs a gain control. (Or something like that.) Additionally, I hope to bring my pedal designs to market, and what a crowded market it is! Sure, it’s mainly crowded by clones, but many brilliant builders are creating complex mad scientist boxes. Maybe there’s a niche for one-knob mad-scientist boxes…

I’m not sure it’s kosher to conclude a manifesto with questionnaire. But I’m eager to hear your replies to these queries—or anything else you feel inspired to add. Thanks!

  1. Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?
  2. How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?
  3. Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?
  4. Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”
  5. Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?
  6. What’s your favorite Nickelback song?

91 comments to The One-Knob Manifesto

  • smgear

    I love it. Since I split my time between the stage and the sound desk, I have pretty clear and entirely subjective delineations between how and where I like to modify the sound. Factors like the overall tone/eq I’ll adjust later in the chain if needed to get the instrument to sit well. But when I’m on stage or playing, I invariably settle into a couple sweet spots and could care less about what it sounds like to anyone else. I keep the chain small and tend to tune the settings at the rig level, but then I set and forget. It’s not about finding ‘a’ sweet spot, it’s about finding ‘my’ sweet spot. But perhaps that’s a little easier for me because I don’t do covers or try to recreate anyone else’s particular sounds. So I’m 100% on board with the manifesto, but I’m not certain whether it works in a broader market context. Certainly there will be other people who also dig any particular, albeit precisely defined, tone, but is it their sweet spot too? Do we want everyone playing at the same setting? I don’t know. Maybe we all have to build and tune our own?

    An interesting research activity would be to comb through all the PG rig rundown photos and compare settings on identical pedals. Perhaps there are a couple universal sweet spots.

    As for the questions, I rarely use the tone knob, heavily use the volume to drive the effects/breakup (well, usually just slight, but frequent, adjustments around the breakup point), and am all for a responsive no-knob pedal. I’ve been collected single knob and no-knob schematics for awhile now for potential onboard inclusion in the mythical guitar-designed-for-looping that I keep telling myself to build. There’s some great stuff out there, but we could definitely use more. What do you think Joe, Would it make your solo playing easier to be able to trigger 5 or 6 of your favorite effects with your thumb?

    Regarding Nickelback, They just had a press release last week and I could decide which was funnier: “Nickelback’s Greatest Hits” or “Volume 1″

    • joe

      Yeah, I think a lot about having more effect control built into the guitar. But on many guitars — or at least the ones I own — there’s usually only enough room for a battery and a little strip of circuit board, though I suppose someone really industrious could route out the body for more space.

      What I’d REALLY like to see someone make are small effect circuits made with tiny SMD components, integrated into the pots themselves, and activated via switch.

      Oh man — there are SO many possibilities for one-knob circuits, and not just the ones that “officially” have more knobs. Almost any common effect circuit can be adapted to one-knob use.

      • smgear

        the SMD option would definitely be great, but it’s beyond my diy competencies ). What I’m thinking for the ‘alpha’ version of the looping guitar is to make a poor man’s steelcaster with a removable cartridge or mounted-panel on the upper bout so you can easily make adjustments or swap effect sets. Adding a high cap battery would be easy there, but it would also be easy enough to feed it with a stereo cable from power’ pedal.

        Side note: I was just reading today about the new Gibson Captain Kirk Douglas SG and they have what they call a TogPot™ which is a selector switch where the toggle can be twisted as a pot. I couldn’t find anyone selling them online, but I emailed a couple gibson distributors to see if they can special order them. Hopefully someone will get back to me. Something like that might be ideal for onboard effects because it would give you on and bypass and one knob if you need it. If anyone knows where to buy those, please share.

        • joe

          Devi Ever told me how she and her partner sit around epoxying SMD components for her pedals. I’ve heard it’s not all that hard. But I haven’t attempted it yet.

    • mwseniff

      Smgear said:
      “An interesting research activity would be to comb through all the PG rig rundown photos and compare settings on identical pedals. Perhaps there are a couple universal sweet spots. ”

      Probably might be interesting however there are those folks that guard that info and may turn knobs to protect their “tone secrets”. JJ Cale (recently deceased hero of mine) used to hold up an old backless acoustic guitar filled with pickups and wires for photographs back in the 70′s when asked how he got a particular tone on a song, either to throw off folk or as comical reply. I personally think he was making a joke as he had a lot of mods on his guitars and got the most exquisite guitar tones this side of paradise IMHO.
      If you’ve never heard any of his music besides others doing his songs (a well known example would be “Cocaine” that many people still think Clapton wrote) you really need to check out his albums they are amazing. Great guitar, great vocals and a lot of heart in every release. I recommend “Naturally” and “Really” as the first 2 albums to start with but there ain’t a stinker in the bunch. Sorry for the soapbox but he is a true American treasure and no musician or songwriter should be unacquainted with his genius for beauty from simplicity.

  • I think maybe it has something to do with what you are trying to achieve and how you go about achieving it. I know there are quite a few DIY pedal builders out there who just try varying every component in an effect circuit hoping to hit on some sounds they like, a bit like the circuit bending approach.

    Personally I’m more in favour of gaining a really good understanding of the principles and circuits involved, in developing a really discriminating ability to analyse what you are listening to and then constructing a effect circuit to do exactly what you want by design, and not by random trial and error.

    As to tone controls – most tone controls on guitar amps just aren’t very effective. The early amp designs all used single stage passive subtractive tone stacks and then everyone seems to have kept using them because that’s how it’s done. Tone controls on amps also seem to have suffered from the marketing principle of ‘more knobs are better’ in the case of the – bass – mids – treble tone stack, since you can get more mids by turning down both bass and treble and less mids by turning both treble and bass up. Even active controls on a lot of effects pedals are often just a simple variable low pass.

    There is an app available, I think its called something like Duncan’s tone stack, which plots the frequency response of all the tone stacks from the classic amps. It is a real eye opener to see what those things actually do to the frequency response.

    On the other hand once you design a multi-band boost and cut tone control – more like the equaliser in a mixer channel – they get more complicated to use and you kinda need to know what you are doing.

    The whole ‘control the sound from your guitars knobs’ thing depends on your pedals and your amp being very interactive with the guitar. As far as I know only a few distortion pedals are designed that way. The old Fuzz Face is the prime example where the guitar controls literally become part of its input circuit.

    As far as doing the same thing with amps I’m under the impression that it requires you to set the amp for a certain volume level so that when you turn down a little you are near the clean limit for the amp and then when you turn up the sound gets dirty but not much louder. Doesn’t that mean that to some extent you have to use different sizes of amps for different sizes of venue?

    I do like the way that pedals with envelope followers – auto wahs and compressors, can feel very touch responsive.

    • Yes, that does require the right amp for the right room…Generally speaking, the smallest amp doing the hardest work yields the best results as far as touch is concerned. Lately I’ve been working solo gigs with a 2×5 cabinet and a single-volume-knob 20watt stompbox amp. I miss nothing and the thing behaves like a nice old champ, but with more available volume. Sweet. Cheap. Whole rig -> thirty bucks. With a spare cabinet/speakers to boot.

      • joe

        Are you at liberty to disclose which stompbox amp? A few years ago Art Thompson from Guitar Player showed me something cool like that, though I can’t remember what it was called.

        You can drive cabinets with any number of Smokey amp-style stompboxes, which use an LM386 chip — though they usually don’t sound that awesome.

    • joe

      Personally I’m more in favour of gaining a really good understanding of the principles and circuits involved, in developing a really discriminating ability to analyse what you are listening to and then constructing a effect circuit to do exactly what you want by design, and not by random trial and error.

      I love that idea too! I’m just not smart enough to live up to it. Laborious, time-squandering experimentation is my only method. Wish I could say otherwise!

      There is an app available, I think its called something like Duncan’s tone stack, which plots the frequency response of all the tone stacks from the classic amps. It is a real eye opener to see what those things actually do to the frequency response.

      Yep — you’ll find the extremely useful Duncan Tone Stack Calculator here. It’s a great tool, a web-based tone-control calculator covering several of the most popular tone-stack topologies. I’ve used it in the past, and I’d use it more frequently today if I weren’t so gung-ho on deleting tone stacks from stompbox circuits. ;)

  • BTW I have just realised that no one made the obvious comment that your last blog should have been titled – Gore on the workbench. Or were you holding back on that ?

  • This is kinda’ weird, ’cause a few people have asked me what my magic tone recipe is (this week alone). And my answer is “Joe Gore’s Codpiece booster, a cheapo Frankentele Cabronita and hands”. Joe, I crank the thing and never turn it off. It has two knobs, but doesn’t need any. Crank it. This thing is freakin’ magic. From clean and focussed to singing, biting, sustained crunch depending on where your volume knob is set.
    To answer your questions:
    1. I make some minor tweaks on the amp front when changing guitars of different tonalities, generally leaning out the bass on darker guitars, and leaning out the top on brighter axes. Pedals only get tweaked for modulation tempos and depth. I’ve written here before about my experiences recording whole albums with one-knob Fender Champs. Beautiful. All touch. Mesa Boogie et al.? Too much tweaking for the rewards on offer. I don’t need twenty okay sounds, I need one great one.
    2. Only as much as I need to tweak delay times or mod rates. Gain devices are constant. On or off.
    3. Yup. There are so many shades locked up in any guitar. Brightening dark sounds can be cool, but mostly I like neutering a bridge pickup to yield gnarly, primal gunk.
    4. Yup again. The Codpiece is always cranked, my guitar usually only cranked in the heat of some (attempt at) heroics. Much like the above comment, so many shades available from any guitar…
    5. Send me a Codpiece perma-cranked and I’ll never, ever, ever turn it off. Have I mentioned that this circuit is magic? My ultimate fuzz also has no knobs… My guitar has two to four knobs on it, that’s enough to control just about anything.
    6. As a Canadian this is about as hard to answer as “What’s your favourite song by Celine/Biebs”, or up there with the classic “Have you stopped beating your wife? Answer yes or no”.
    Seriously brother, get these pedals to market. Trust those diamond ears. And knobs be damned. I’ll be the first in line.

  • Quick question: have you ever built a ’2-in-1′-style double Codpiece? That would rock like Lee Brilleau’s stinky suit…

  • Moerk

    Uhhh… finally my first post….

    1 Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?

    Never – why should I switch guitars to make them sound the same?

    2 How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?

    Usually not – I dial in the sound I want before… sometimes readjust the overall volume

    3 Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?

    Just to go gentle easier – doing soft and smooth tones just with the fingers is easier if some treble is rolled off.

    4 Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”

    I think that idea is overrated as in most songs you need to go from clean to dirt really fast. I personally don’t go from clean to dirt but vary the gain and tone with it (acutal usable gains to stoooopid ;) )

    5 Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?

    Stompbox as a teacher? No thanks. But if it’s a good device that has the sweet spot set – throw it! Most pedals have only one setting for me anyway.

    6 What’s your favorite Nickelback song?

    What the…? Maybe the one from Hendrix?

    I dig the minimal control mantra – rock it!

    • joe

      Hey Moerk — thanks for chiming in! :)

      Never – why should I switch guitars to make them sound the same?

      I agree, and a lot of us probably would. But much music gear is designed with exactly the opposite mentality. For example, the “Tone Wizard” tool at Seymour Duncan, which helps you select pickups to suit your guitar, is based on the notion of averaging: If you have a guitar made of bright-sounding materials, it recommends a darker-sounding pickup, and vice-versa. That method is probably quite effective in many cases, but it doesn’t allow for, say, the player who chooses a brighter-than-average guitar because they want a brighter-than-average sound.

      I think that idea is overrated as in most songs you need to go from clean to dirt really fast. I personally don’t go from clean to dirt but vary the gain and tone with it (acutal usable gains to stoooopid ;) )

      Hmmm — what about a switch that dropped you from 100% to 80% volume? With typical volume pots and typical tube amps, a lot of that nice cleanup happens in the last 10 or 20 percent of the pot’s range. Gonna have to play with that idea…

      • The averaging out to luke-warm water thing is something that gets me, too. Yes, sometimes a particular guitar is just too X but is otherwise quite nice so a little push helps. But ironing out all the interesting quirks and shading can go too far.

        The late 80s and early 90s got a lot of ugly trends going on this front. I think many “calibrated” pickup sets, especially for Strats, overdo it in fattening up the bridge and middle pickups. The bridge pickup is supposed to be brighter and edgier. That’s just physics and you do yourself few favors fighting physics. If you want a deeper, smoother, and louder sound, that’s why you have the other pickups. I remember Dimarzio recommending a combo of their HS-1 in the neck, HS-2 in the middle, and HS-3 in the bridge, which is just a pure fight against physics. And don’t even get me started on SSH . . .

      • Moerk

        Thanks for the nice welcome!

        Hmmm — what about a switch that dropped you from 100% to 80% volume? With typical volume pots and typical tube amps, a lot of that nice cleanup happens in the last 10 or 20 percent of the pot’s range. Gonna have to play with that idea…

        I have a long time problem: When playing an amp dirty enough, I can’t clean it up really. Vice versa: When I can go to clean, I don’t have enough dirt and sustain to really drive…

        I would love to solve that as I can than really go with just a guitar and an amp…

  • Oinkus

    1. No 2. Not Very 3. Not a lot (except on my Tele with the Greasebucket Mod it has good sounds all the way through the rotation) 4. I see a lot of guitarists that don’t use knobs or pedals much at all. I do use the volume knob for clean/dirty effect. And yes , it could be wishful thinking ? 5. I don’t like anything that REQUIRES me to do something. P.S.Would consider most anything. 6. What is a nickel back ? For the most part I find what I like and leave things the way they sound best to me. I use tap tempo the wah and a volume pedal a good bit but as far as kneel and fiddle I think that is only for an emergency situation. I have several ways to boost my signal and each one has a different feel to it ,generally for some focus for distortion or volume during leads.The Kalamazoo is just great all around , TS for that midrange bite for the Strat , EQ boost works well with the Tele. Echophonic for all around extra dirt and crazy delay/volume pedal swells. :borg:

  • Benjamin

    Is it considered fraud if I rarely use pedals live for anything more than splitting into two amps (which then remain on all the time)? I actually still OWN a whole bunch of them, but the way I use them when I’m messing around and the way I do things live are very different. This being the case:

    1. I don’t switch guitars much. I go through phases with them. If I do switch, it’s because I want a different tone or a different experience. Otherwise, why bother switching guitars?
    2. Well, never I guess. The once in the last few years that I used pedals live, it was a booster and a wah, and unless you count the wah action, I didn’t touch any knobs, because both pedals were there for a very specific purpose and they were both set-and-forget.
    3. No tone knobs. I don’t have them on most of my guitars. I tend to play music where rolling off the treble gets me lost in the mix. I try to balance that with my desire for a warm tone. It’s kind of a battle. This practice was set about 15 years ago when I started playing in punk bands, and figured that the subtleties of having a knob set just right were not going to fly with the mayhem of playing obnoxious music in basements, garages, and the back rooms of pool halls.
    4. Yes. This is how I vary my tone. In fact, most of my two-pickup guitars have their neck pickups disconnected, and are wired so that the switch activates the volume pot. I have to tweak this at the beginning of a song, but I end up with two “channels” controlled from the guitar switch. Yes, I could get cleans by rolling off the neck pickup, but that’s just not how my tone evolved.
    5. Yeah. Still probably wouldn’t use anything other than the volume though. I recently saw Fuzzboxgirl’s YouTube review of the Bluebird Fuzz from Henretta Engineering. It has no knobs at all, and it occurred to me that I buy pedals for interesting experiences that inspire creativity. If I just tweak knobs to get closer to something that’s in my head, then I’m less likely to find something new, aren’t I?
    6. My favorite Nickelback song is actually their cover of John Cage’s 4’33″

    • joe

      6. My favorite Nickelback song is actually their cover of John Cage’s 4’33″

      Dude, you have just made two years of painstaking work on this blog totally worth it! :)

      • Benjamin

        Joe, I’ll just go listen to a bunch of tracks that I’ve loved over the years and didn’t know who was playing the guitar until I started reading your blog – and we’ll call it even.

        …As far as the switching goes, mine’s a minimalist approach, to be sure, but you’re a tinkerer – if you’re messing around and want to add some passive filters (maybe even with inductors – I have no idea how to incorporate those) like I don’t have time to do, let us know how it works out.

    • joe

      3. No tone knobs. I don’t have them on most of my guitars. I tend to play music where rolling off the treble gets me lost in the mix. I try to balance that with my desire for a warm tone. It’s kind of a battle. This practice was set about 15 years ago when I started playing in punk bands, and figured that the subtleties of having a knob set just right were not going to fly with the mayhem of playing obnoxious music in basements, garages, and the back rooms of pool halls.
      4. Yes. This is how I vary my tone. In fact, most of my two-pickup guitars have their neck pickups disconnected, and are wired so that the switch activates the volume pot. I have to tweak this at the beginning of a song, but I end up with two “channels” controlled from the guitar switch. Yes, I could get cleans by rolling off the neck pickup, but that’s just not how my tone evolved.

      Those are very compelling ideas, and ones which I suspect a lot of player would feel very comfortable with, even if they don’t know it yet. :)

      Like Moerk’s comments above, this makes me want to play with a switch that toggles the volume between wide-open and one or two lower-volume presets.

  • RichF

    1) Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?
    No, just volume changes when switching between humbuckers and single coils.
    2) How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?
    Almost never
    3) Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?
    Not much. I’ll back off the tone if I need to cut back on a too edgy sound.
    4) Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”
    Doesn’t work. When I back off the volume to clean up the tone the volume level is now too low to be heard. Have to turn back up.
    5) Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?
    Absolutely. The fewer knobs the better.
    6) What’s your favorite Nickelback song?
    You’re just testing to see if people are paying attention. How You Remind Me. The one that started it all.

  • Tom Mulhern

    Joe, you touched on points I’ve often pondered. The pots in my guitars and basses are almost useless protrusions, since I never use them. If there are multiple pickups, I use the selector, but that often sits in one position, waiting, waiting…. And, if I need to change volume? My right foot is usually just hanging around, doing nothing, so I put it to work with a volume pedal. That way my enslaved right hand can’t wander off its picking or plucking duties. As for stomp boxes, I never tweak knobs while playing, but I do at home when I’m trying to find a new sound, or right after I buy a new effect and want to find ways to either get a good sound out of it or subvert it. What I’d rather have than knob-based flexibility is a way to plug in an expression pedal to whatever parameter I’d like to tweak on the fly. However, it would probably be impractically expensive to have, say, five knobs on a pedal AND five input structures to support someone who will plug into each of these a total of about once and then leave the expression pedal plugged into only one. Or, not plugged into any of them after all. On some fuzzes, such as BYO’s Leeds Fuzz and the Foxx Tone Machine, there’s one toggle switch that I like to use for different effects (brightness and octave, respectively). So, I replaced the toggle switches with stomp switches. That way they become useful, and because they completely change the character of the pedals, I feel I’ve gained something.

    • joe

      Hiya Ferd! :)

      What I’d rather have than knob-based flexibility is a way to plug in an expression pedal to whatever parameter I’d like to tweak on the fly.

      There are many reasons I’m reluctant to recommend laptop-based gigging to my worst enemies, let alone old friends. But man, one of the biggest advantages is exactly that sort of my control. For my digital rig, I use a single expression pedal whose role changes from patch to patch, controlling the most musically meaningful parameter(s) on a sound-by-sound basis. (I’m pretty sure you can do the same thing with hardware-based digital amps like the Ax-Fx as well.)

      You’re a bassist, of course. And I can’t help mentioning that the virtual bass amp in Logic/Mainstage is just ridiculously good. (I can say that with modesty, ’cause I had no role in creating it, though I did get to write some library sounds for it.)

      I love the Fishman TriplePlay MIDI pickup — but man, I soooooo wish they’d included an assignable expression controller in the pickup hardware.

  • jeremy

    You’ve only to see how many taped-down knobs appear on the pedals on Rig Rundown videos to know how in practice players don’t feel the need to tweak once they’ve got their sound – but maybe trimmers on the PCB would at least allow that initial experimentation/customisation, leaving the one remaining knob for where more frequent adjustments are required.

    • Moerk

      Great observation there! Never thought about that this way…

      It seems that most people have there personal ‘sweet settings’ on each pedal.

      The question is: is it the same for everyone? I don’t know, but right know one example comes in mind: The RAT! I mean, did anyone ever get a good sound with the filter less than 1 o’clock?

      It also seems that there are two camps: the ones that dial in the gain at 9 to 10 and the ones that crank it.

      I just wonder: Has each pedal just one or few ceratain settings? For RAT control a smoother filter and a gain switch (nice guy – bezerk) could do it.

      And if it’s not a boost – can the right volume be automatically set?

      Anyway – I personally don’t like trim pots. I’m always confused if I’m lacking something. Don’t wanna screw the bottom plate always and take my dwarf screwdriver…

    • joe

      Absolutely! When I go on tour, everything gets taped down at tech rehearsal and doesn’t budge for months.

  • I’ve started to move to the “less is more” camp over the last several years because I’m getting older and don’t have the time or, frankly, the memory to fiddle with lots of knobs. I’ve gotten addicted to the tone of Les Paul->cord->Fender EC Vibro-Champ. 6 knobs in total, yielding a huge variety of tone options.

    That being said, I’m not averse to a few useful stomp boxes here and there.

    To answer your questions:
    1) Nope. I set a pretty bright and lively tone (if possible) on the amp and use the knobs on the guitar to dial in the mellow when needed.
    2) Never. Can barely work a pick and chew gum at the same time.
    3) Yes. Usually to dial in the tone in conjunction with gain differences with the volume knobs.
    4) Isn’t that the easiest way???
    5) Sure, if it sounds good with one of my amps.
    6) Ack! Thbbft!

  • 1. No, because that’s usually why I’m changing guitars.
    2. Constantly. You’ve probably seen me do it with my feet. I’m like Fred Astaire.
    3. Periodically, yeah, but mostly to force a “jazzy” neck humbucker tone, or ease a piercing bridge pickup. But that’s usually because I wish I was playing a different guitar but can’t switch or didn’t bring it.
    4. Both. Usually if I have the tones available by electronic selection I will choose that route. Turning the volume down flattens the pickups’ resonant peaks. Basically to a small extent it takes the pickup’s character away. I like pickups and their synergy with the instrument. “Gain by guitar volume” is an additional paintbrush that I use too, just for different objectives. It’s not just gain, it’s textural.
    5. Is that my only option? I’ve tap danced my way through gigs with midi rigs and well timed mid-song change-ups. But I’ve also done the one-channel amp gigs too. I’ve done complete gigs with “one sound” electronically and done it all with the guitar. I can dig it. It’s liberating, makes you think differently, you end the gig feeling empowered. I totally feel you, Joe. As far as selling pedals there’s always room for all of the above!
    6. The one unplayed.

  • Great article! if you can hardwire the sweet spot, that is ideal,IMHO. I would like to be able to lock in settings and never change them again once I’ve dialed in that sweet tone. A single wet/dry knob with hardwired circuits and on/off/bypass switch should be all you need for a stomp box. EQ, gain and other settings can be adjust through the amp, sym software, oor specialized tone shaping hardware or virtual gear.

    The only issue about hardwiring the sweet setting in a stomp box is that this sweet spot can be different guitarist. So you’ll be segregating those with distinctively varying tonal tastes.

    • joe

      Partially related: I recently edited a review of a T-Rex bass pedal with a clever recessed knob design for the master volume: The pot is mounted on a spring that let you press the control into the enclosure once you’ve dialed in your set-and-forget

      The only issue about hardwiring the sweet setting in a stomp box is that this sweet spot can be different guitarist. So you’ll be segregating those with distinctively varying tonal tastes.

      You’re probably right — though it would be very illuminating to systematically explore exactly how much variation there is. Depending on the circuit, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that a lot of players wind up with highly similar settings. Great question!

  • Willie

    1. Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars? No.

    2. How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance? Rarely, except to tweak volume level, since relative volumes are affected by how loud everyone else is and how crowded is the room.

    3. Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?

    I mostly play a telecaster and I usually keep the tone knob rolled back a bit, but I adjust it pretty frequently depending on how my fuzz pedal or RAT pedal or amp is behaving.

    4. Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”

    I use my guitar volume knob extensively to adjust distortion. I play through a Twin Reverb, with a RAT distortion as sort of a foundation sound for a lot of what I play, and the guitar volume determines the distortion level.

    5. Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?

    Yes, that sounds fun. I’m fond of one-knob pedals. No-knob pedals would allow me to not have to search for the sweet spot all the time but instead just to play my guitar.

    6. What’s your favorite Nickelback song?

    I prefer the brief silence between their songs, but I wish them all the best.

    • joe

      Hi Willie! Actually, I’ve had the RAT on my mind lately, ’cause I just reviewed a cool boutique clone called an Acid Pig. I hadn’t played a RAT in years, and it was fun to revisit the sound. It does real interesting things as you vary the input volume — it never cleans up all the way like a good Fuzz Face, but there are a lot of nice variations nonetheless. Also, it works amazingly well on low-tuned guitars, and I’m surprised that it’s not even more popular among modern metal and hard rock players. I’m curious to hear how it sound with your Tele and Twin, though I can sort of guess: incredibly articulate. Your notes must sound like they’re chiseled in stone.

      My fave Rat, though is the brilliant BYOC Mouse kit. Killer vintage RAT sound, plus all the cool mods. And a fun, fairly easy build.

  • GregO

    Though my vintage Big Muff Pi has knobs for VOLUME, TONE, and SUSTAIN, a footswitch, and a power switch, it really only does two things: OFF and ON. The volume makes it louder, but the pedal is like a teenager driving and Mustang, it’s either off or full-on.

    • joe

      Oh man — Muffs sound SOOOOO good when you nix the tone stack. I think most players have a lot of greasy-kid-stuff nostalgia about that scooped-mid sound. But it’s just so hard to work with!

      Philippe Herndon from Caroline pedals build some great-sounding fuzzes based on the no-tone-control idea. It’s a really cool direction.

  • 1. I’m only apt to change the bass setting on my amp if it was dialed in for a leaner guitar and I go to something fatter. Unlikely to care the other way. None of my pedals have a proper bass control, but I might alter the input-cap switch on the Tweak Fuzz or the stop on the THD Quintet vari-tone-in-a-pedal. Tone/treble I tend to leave wide open or close on the amp and most pedals. The Rat’s “Filter” knob is an exception there but I don’t really need to grab it for guitar changes.

    2. I grab knobs on delay and modulation pedals fairly frequently. But I like stuff like self-oscillating delay at moments and other shoe-gazey fun. On the usual dirt stuff, it depends whether I need something drastically different all of the sudden. I’d love to have another Zoom Ultra-Fuzz because it does so many things my other pedals don’t, and that’s beyond the silly theremin-simulation stuff. I try to do things with different pedals rather than the same pedal, but you do what you have to.

    3. I’ve gotten into using the tone controls a lot. Along with considering the pickup selector as a tone control. There is no safe assumption that the tone knobs on my guitars are on ten.

    4. I do use the guitar volume as a dirt control pretty often. Works best if the signal chain I’m using will compress to suit. I do that with pedals since I’m a pedal player and most amps that do that plugging right in seem to not work well with more than a handful of very simple pedals.

    5. Depends. On a fuzz face, I could live without the volume knob but not the gain knob, since the gain knob does interesting things with the the feedback loop and the bypass cap that the guitar volume knob can’t get at. So I want at least one there. A simple booster, though, I don’t see a problem going knobless.

  • Paul Boutin

    1. Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?
    No. I leave my amp knobs at 5 except for the Gibson Minuteman, on which I crank the bass to 10. I use tone knobs on backline amps that suck. It’s a sign of suckage to me.

    2. How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?
    Only my delay pedal, to change from short to long echoes. I used to have two identical delay boxes on my pedalboard to avoid that, but I needed to reclaim a slot.

    3. Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?
    No, never.

    4. Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”
    Yes, I do! But mostly by keeping my neck pickup low and my bridge pickup high.

    5. Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?
    Yes, if you built it.

    6. What’s your favorite Nickelback song?
    Rockstar, of course.

  • Thanks!

    Q: Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?

    A: I don’t change guitars during a show. I usually use one guitar for a year, then change guitar. I’ll tweak the amp settings then, but otherwise it’s generally just the volume goes up or down a little bit depending on the room.

    Q: How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?

    I’ll tweak a compressor to suit the amp volume for the room and the reverb for the room ambience at the beginning of the show, but after that I only turn the reverb up or down for the more ambient pieces.

    Q: Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?

    A bunch. I set my base sound with the guitar volume as low as I can get it, usually around 6 or 7, and the tone backed off to between 5 and 7. This gives me a lot of range to control the voice of the guitar mid-song.

    Q: Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”

    I like to, but it depends a lot on the range of distortion you’re trying achieve, the range of volume, the guitar pickups and the amp. I got the best results with hot pickups, I think they were 490T’s in my SG-X’s. I could run them around 3 for a clean sound, and then wind it up as needed. I think the conventional wisdom is that that those pickups are horrible (ceramic!), but I found them to be great. More recently I’ve been using amps or preamp pedals that allow for a range from clean to light distortion–the Mesa Blue Angel or the Wampler Ecstasy–via the guitar volume range of 6-9 or so. As I’ve gotten older, I generally want “a sound” and then that sound a little louder as needed, so I use the pickup selectors and volume/tone controls a lot. Two pickup guitars with separate volume controls are really good for this in the middle position.

    Q: Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?

    Sure! I’d also love to check out that one-knob Brian May AC30 that Vox made a few years ago. But, they were like $3k new.

    Q: What’s your favorite Nickelback song?

    That one, you know–where it starts off quiet in the verse and then gets real loud in the chorus and then has a breakdown after the second chorus? That one’s great.

  • thomas4th

    1. Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?
    I’m without pedals currently for financial reasons, so everything’s straight into the AC15 for now. I actually change very little when switching guitars – if anything, I use the “Tone Cut” knob next to the master volume, which finesses the treble. It makes the transition from Jaguar to Telecaster to HSS G&L Legacy pretty easy.

    2. How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?
    I’m just a hobbyist and don’t perform live, I’m afraid.

    3. Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?
    I do, especially since I run bright guitars into a bright amp. I love my treble frequencies dearly, but rolling back the Tele’s tone control for some middy honk is delightful, and my G&L’s PTB system is a wealth of utility. I even get some use out of my Jaguar’s rhythm circuit.

    4. Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”
    As primitive as it sounds, you could replace my guitars’ volume controls with killswitches and I’d be just as happy. In fact, a single-pickup guitar with a toggle killswitch and a smooth-action ToneStyler would be a lot of fun. I do feel that I ought to learn how to work a Strat’s volume knob Jeff Beck-style, though.

    5. Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?
    This is actually my intent for when I build a Fuzz Face – leave the fuzz pot out of the circuit entirely (using the guitar’s controls instead) and use an interior trim pot for volume. It’s visually elegant (I have something of a minimalism fetish), wards off fruitless tweaking (my ADHD needs no further encouragement), and allows me to be lazy and only drill the enclosure for a switch and an LED. As for other effects . . . probably only drive/distortion/fuzz pedals. Modulation, delay, and filters generally require some amount of tweaking. I do, however, think many pedal functions could be shifted to trim pots.

    6. What’s your favorite Nickelback song?
    *hisses* Corporate frat-bro post-grunge! We hates them, precious!

  • 1. Not really. I set them up for a tone I like, and I expect the guitars to sound different, which is the reason why I’d use different guitars.

    2. I use the guitar’s tone controls all the time. I like to get parked wah sound with them, and other effects.

    3. Sometimes. I don’t use it to go from clean to dirty. I’ll stomp on a pedal for that, but I will use it to vary the dirt on that setting.

    4. I also tend to set them and leave them that way, so maybe.

    5. ??? I don’t know any.

  • Oh and I see: Q: How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?

    Never, unless I don’t like the tone I’m getting.

  • One thing I’d like to point out in regards to guitar tone controls after reading some comments;

    I don’t use them to roll off treble per se. I generally use them on 10 or zero. When on zero they act as a resonant 2nd order low pass filter. They form a resonant circuit with the pickup. The hotter the pickup, the more of the effect you have. If you switch your humbucker from series to parallel, it changes the resonant frequency. Also, you actually get a small boost at that frequency when the control is on zero.

    This is totally different from an amp’s treble control, and real useful for cool parked wah tones, and the infamous “lady tone”. :)

    • thomas4th

      Thank you for explaining that. I’ve noticed that phenomenon with tone controls at 0, and it does have a more pronounced parked-wah kind of effect on my G&L (with a medium-output DiMarzio Norton humbucker in the bridge) than my Telecaster (with SCN stacked pickups). It is a pretty cool sound, and I’m guessing tweaking component values could permit some fine-tuning.

    • joe

      Know what? I’ve done all these web demos showing all the cool tone-knob options and variations. But now that I think I’ve it, I’m almost always on 10 or 0, and I find the latter essential for EBow. I am SO going to try replacing a tone control with 250kHz resistor on a switch. And then use the former tone pot for some other sick thing.

      • mwseniff

        1.) Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?
        I twiddle the tone settings not only for changing guitars but also songs or scenes (I play in a free improv band and scenes is a more appropriate description than songs). I am looking for new tones and feels to stimulate my creative juices.

        2.) How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?
        All the time in fact I use the knobs as a part of the instrument or sound I am playing. I have my pedal board on a small table so they are easy to reach (and I have a totally screwed up back). This no different than always having a wah on to tweak tones ala Mick Ronson

        3.) Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?
        I use the tone knobs on my guitars all the time to do many things like:
        moving my guitar in the mix lowering them to fade more into the background and raising them to come more to the front of the music (I’m not a lead player in the traditional sense but rather more concerned with being an ambient part of the music whether doing improv or more conventional song playing). I also like using the tone pots on my 2- vol 2-tone guitars when playing with both pickups engaged as it gives a near infinite shading of guitar tones.

        4.)Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”
        I definitely do especially when I have a germanium Fuzzface first in my stompbox chain that is the real beauty of germanium IMHO. In fact I think that is where a carbon/zinc old school battery makes a huge difference vs an alkaline battery or power supply (it is one of the few places I use a battery except my Ebow but I use alkaline batteries in the Ebow).

        5.)Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?
        Only for very specific purposes like the box I built for my electric cello that preamps, eqs and mixes the magnetic pickups with the contact pickups. IMHO neither pickup type by itself is sufficient for electric cello the contact pickups are great for pizzicato (plucking) but weak for arco (bowing) while the magnetic pickups are justt he opposite. I built the box to make those two different pickup types work together into a pedal board and guitar amp. No knobs no switches but it has it’s own external power supply to give me a very clean and quiet +-15 volts.

        5.)What’s your favorite Nickelback song?
        Split Parts I-IV by The Groudhogs (1970 or so).

        In general I am a tweak-o-phile and the more controls the better I like it. Of course after 40+ years of being an electronic tech and the early years before that being a mechanical and electronic tinkerer that is not surprising. I understand what is going on inside on a level that most guitarists have no desire to know about so it works for me. I am not interested in duplicating anyone’s sound including my own (according to my band mates, but they love that about me). I am not happy without having knobs to turn and switches to switch. I also like having stuff as easily changeable as possible so I prefer FX pedals vs internal guitar electronics (tho’ I have had a lot of electronics inside my guitars at one point until I realized that putting it in a box I could swap or modify gave me more options. When I was in my FX processor stage years ago I had extensive midi controllers to tweak as many of the internal parameters as possible on the fly (and a rack that looked more complicated than the control board of the Apollo moon lander. Nobody ever asked to sit in on a band I played in and use my setup once they got a look at the pedals and switches I had arrayed in my area of the stage ( and if that wasn’t enough I would hand them my fretless guitar to play :-)…). But then I always felt I played a different role in a band than most guitarists which I attribute to Brian Eno who IMHO invented a whole new role for a musician in a band setting, one of my heroes.
        That being said I have done a lot of customization and design that specifically limited options for musicians as well as in my work at the university and that made a lot of people happier and more secure in their use of the devices. That is a whole lot harder than it seems on the face of it, I call it “Making it easy enough that a PHD can operate it”. PHDs IMHO are even worse than guitar players when it comes to tech, I had to write simple instructions of no more than 10 steps or they were unable or unwilling to even use the equipment bought for their research projects (they were not willing to invest the time reading the owners manuals so I got to make a good living doing it as part of my job). Present company excluded as the folks here are a very different breed than the average guy playing country or rock music in a cover or original band. No offense intended to anyone it is simply a matter of priorities.

        I could probably use an amp with less controls for live use as I tend to go for a big clean sound that allows the pedals to do their jobs easily. I love Fender Pro Jrs with a tone and volume only (possibly the best recent amp Fender put out with a few mods). I also have a Fender Pawns Shop Excalibur amp I love (15 watts and a 15″ spkr) it has volume and tremolo rate controls and a switch for bright and dark (there is a switch on the tremolo rate control to disable tremolo and I don’t miss tremolo depth at all surprisingly it sounds great at all speeds). It does have 3 input jacks that are setup for guitar accordion and mic like and old Ampeg and they definitely sound different plugging the guitar straight in but I use the guitar input exclusively.

        • mwseniff

          Not use what happened I didn’t mean overly that long post to be a reply to a specific post. As for Ebow I turn down volume but do very little tone control to it as I like a bit raggedy sound as opposed to a fat violin type tone tho’ I use the tone control to supress the harmonic a bit). I like the older black Ebows more the new dual position switch ones around today they just seem to react to my slide a little more evenly.. My normal hotter tone is more akin to what others use for Ebow.

  • NicPic

    For Me..It comes down to simple,Important things..as far as amps…in the perfect world..I want a 3 channel amp thats basic bass,mid,treble and a prescence control.. clean,overdrive and all out crunch. unlike most of My friends,I have an undying fear of experimenting with My guitar volume as a “tone control”.

    Stomp boxes.. My biggest peeve is “Mix control” the only effects I like are Delay,Reverb and I will swap between a univibe device or chorus. and a standard wah. As far as My crunch/disortion…I like getting it from the amp..the tone controll (on guitar)the only one like is having it wired to the bridge pickup incase I need to add a little warmth. I just find over all good settings and stick with it…whatever comes out. Comesout naturally..I try to rely less on gimmicks and making the tone happen with My fingers mostly.

  • JJ

    1.Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?

    Not really, the fact that the tone changes is the main reason I change guitars.

    2.How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?

    Not very often, just to “fix” something, either I’m too loud or not loud enough or if I’m not fitting in the mix (from where I’m standing anyways..)

    3.Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?

    It depends on which guitar and what amp I use. With my PRS NF3 I use it a lot depending on what textures I want to get with a pickup combination in a particular song. I use it a lot more if I’m not using any pedals and going straight to my amp. With my other guitar, a Yamaha pacifica with a Dimarzio Air Norton in the bridge, I never touch it.

    4.Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”

    Again, this depends on what amp/guitar combo I’m using, not all amps react the same. The main issue is fighting with the volume drop/increase to get it clean/dirty. Also for me the difference is never as drastic as going from sparkling clean to full crunch, its more from cleanish to dirty or from clean to clean with a little hair.

    5.Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?

    Absolutely!! If it sounds good of course :D

    6.What’s your favorite Nickelback song?

    Not really all that passionate about Nickelback; dont love’em but dont hate’em either.

  • Chris Herrod

    1) I don’t switch guitars
    2) Yes
    3) Never
    4) Yes
    5) Scared to!
    6) Go to hell!!! ;)

  • Great read! Here are my answers to the questionfesto

    1) Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?
    I’m a one-electric guy at the moment (and for the foreseeable future), so no.

    2) How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?
    Not often. Sometimes. Especially if I’m doing one of my weird/experimental improvs (in which sometimes I will “play” the knobs).

    3) Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?
    Yes, I use them to “tune” the maximum brightness of my guitar to the room. Most of the mid-performance adjustments, though, come from right-hand attack changes and pickup selection.

    4) Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”
    I do that a lot, but mainly to go from “reasonable quasi-fuzz” to “holy cow that thing is going to explode FUZZ”.

    5) Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?
    Yes.

    6) What’s your favorite Nickelback song?
    Yellow Submarine

    • joe

      4) Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”
      I do that a lot, but mainly to go from “reasonable quasi-fuzz” to “holy cow that thing is going to explode FUZZ”.”

      Yeah, it’s real good for that. :satansmoking:

  • Dennis Rambo

    I’d like to hear more about your vibrato pedal.

    • joe

      It’s a variation on the opto-isolator design you see in a lot of boutique vibratos. I came up with a weird combination of capacitors that adds this weird “drag.” It almost feels mechanical. Also, it’s an effect that sounds noticeably nicer running at 18v.

  • Very compelling idea. A few months back, I did an improv gig with my Moog guitar (an odd beast) going through the laptop running a dynamic randomized pitch-shifting matrix I worked up in Pure Data. Lots of adjustable controls…and it was distracting. I spent more time choosing between the zillionty-leven options than playing. So, yeah–there’s definitely a threshold of too-many-choices. (That’s on me as the patch designer. And fortunately I can do something about it.)

    1. Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars? Sometimes on the amp. Alamo Montclair Reverb top-boost circuit sounds glorious on a single-coil neck pickup. Bridge pickup, off with the top-boost. I’m still fiddling with EQ to find the right setting to screen out the bacon-sizzling hash that comes off the Moog’s pickups. Tone on the Big Muff, sometimes. Tone controls on the guitar…hardly ever.

    2. How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance? The more I do it, the worse the results, with a few exceptions. For a no-input setup, though, the knobs are all you have.

    3. Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? Usually bringing them back up to 10 after my kids have had knob-turning fun.

    4. Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?” I’ve done this. More frequently, though, I’ve done the Roy Buchanan volume swell thing with the pinky. Wore out a couple volume pots that way.

    5. Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs? Totally.

    6. What’s your favorite Nickelback song? I’m with Benjamin up there: their performance of John Cage’s _4’33″_. If they did one that lasted for years, it’d be perfect.

    • joe

      Very compelling idea. A few months back, I did an improv gig with my Moog guitar (an odd beast) going through the laptop running a dynamic randomized pitch-shifting matrix I worked up in Pure Data. Lots of adjustable controls…and it was distracting. I spent more time choosing between the zillionty-leven options than playing. So, yeah–there’s definitely a threshold of too-many-choices. (That’s on me as the patch designer. And fortunately I can do something about it.)

      I want to hear more about the Moog!

      I’m the worst tweaker out there. I actually like having zillion-leven options. My interest in analog minimalism is mainly because I think it sounds best. I’m not being a Luddite just for the sake of…Ludd?

      • joe

        6. What’s your favorite Nickelback song? I’m with Benjamin up there: their performance of John Cage’s _4’33″_. If they did one that lasted for years, it’d be perfect.

        In case anyone’s feeling left out of the joke: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4%E2%80%B233%E2%80%B3

      • Down with all kings but King Ludd!

        I owe the Moog entirely to the generosity of Premier Guitar. just happened to win their giveaway of an E-1 in early 2012. (I did think, “Oh, nobody ever wins these, but you’re a good magazine, so sure; I’ll give you some demographic info for your advertisers. Then I forgot about it, only to be surprised and confused a few weeks later.)

        I’ve never played a Fernandes Sustainer, but my impression is that the Vo circuitry goes rather beyond what the Fernandes does: you have the full-on sustain-everything mode, a mode that puts energy into damping the strings, and a combination of the two that sustains over a certain volume threshold, but damps the others below that threshold. The two big pickups do the work, so the energy is sweepable between the two. There’s also a piezo in the bridge, and just for the hell of it, there’s a Moog low-pass filter in there.

        If you’ve ever wanted a six-string E-bow, this does that, and a lot more, with the combination mode. That sweepability helps you get the “Hendrix sustaining a string on the edge of feedback, and then the string breaks into the harmonic” sound. (Apparently, Paul Vo designed it for exactly that.) Put it through a tremolo, and it’s instant Spacemen 3. Put it through a fuzz, and you’ve got SunnO)))…though with a curious bacon-sizzling sound from the sustainer pickups. I suspect it’s a byproduct of the sustaining function, and the explanation for why those two pickups are voiced rather darkly. The only trebly pickup on there is the in-bridge piezo. I also suspect it’s why Paul Vo’s next project appears to be solely for acoustic instruments.

        What it does–give you control over string sustain–it does quite well. Tonal options have some variety, especially with the Moog filter, though in an ideal world there’d be more of a distinct tonal profile.

        • Shizmab Abaye

          Your bacon-sizzling fuzz sound may just be the result of driving the fuzz input with a buffered output. What kind of fuzz pedal is it? Our congenial host has waxed at length about bad things happening when driving a fuzz from a buffered source.

  • Oinkus

    I have entered hundreds of those contest ! I bow down before you Mighty Maurice Master Of Moog Guitar ! Congrats , very cool thing. Want to put a Sustainer in my Futura ,shame Moog stuff is so pricey :(

    • Ah, thanks, Oinkus! I wouldn’t necessarily say “master” yet–it’s definitely an extension of the guitar. And it is cool.

      As for winning, I dunno–just keep on trying, and forget about the entries after you make them. It worked for me!

  • Roger

    These answers are based on my most current gig of perfoming solo-live-looping guitar music. Answer’s may vary for other gigs/situations.
    1. Do you tend to change tone settings on amps and pedals when you switch guitars?
    No.
    2. How often do you fiddle with stompbox knobs mid-performance?
    Alot! Well…sorta….I love, love, love using expression pedals to control effects. Which is basically fiddlin’ with knobs, using your toes.
    3. Do you use your guitars’ tone knobs much? If so, how and why?
    I will ‘sweep’ for wah sounds, or it is usually either full on or full off. In a live situation I find the inbetween sounds too be subtle to make much difference. I do have a strat set up with two “master” tone controls that use different caps (dark & darker)but work on all the pick-ups.
    4. Does anyone out there actually use their guitar volume knobs to veer from clean to dirty sounds? Or is just the wishful thinking of pompous guitar “journalists?”
    This is pretty much”wishful” thinking. I’m pretty sure I have only ever seen Eddie Van Halen and Joe Gore actually use this technique…Seriously though, I have gotten so use to using a volume pedal, that I use rarely touch the knob other than for “swell” effects.
    5. Would you consider using a no-knob stompbox that pretty much requires you to use your guitar’s knobs?
    It would probably not work so well for my use. I have thought about making a fuzz where one switch or knob would change one or two components (using multi-pole/throw switch’s) so you could sorta have “pre-sets”. If that makes any sense.
    6. What’s your favorite Nickelback song?
    I can’t remember the name of the song…but I think it was one of the ones from when they where still recording for Clubbo.

    Roger

  • Colm Kelly

    Loving this thread. I can totally understand the set and forget approach, particularly when playing live, but in a studio situation I like to have a little freedom, I don’t go for the same settings on an amp regardless of what I am doing but a lot of the time they are very similar settings. And some of my favourite pedals are favourites because they produce a variety of usable sounds, the Zvex Fuzz Factory springs to mind, a palette of fuzz tones ranging from quite conventional to quite out there with a lot of stops in between. By comparison when I owned a Big Muff that was more or less always set the same.

  • Jon

    Joe – thanks again for another great column and for bringing up excellent discussions. I’ve learned a lot. One thing I’m surprised hasn’t been asked: is the Codpiece / Boring circuit available. After having read about it, I’d really like to build one and give it a go.

  • Michael Wells

    This is a great article. I’m a beginner and a friend who quit playing gave me his Digitech RP250 for next to nothing. I’ve plugged it in twice in a year, way too complicated. On the other side I bought a used 2002 made in the UK Marshall Valvestate AVT hybrid amp. Awesome amp, the tube preamp drives it sweetly. Funny that one of the reviews I read complained about the lack of features! Really? Keep it simple stupid, especially for a beginner. It has master volume, button for the 2 different channels, gain, bass, middle, treble and a spring reverb knob. That’s all I need.

    • joe

      Hi Michael! Thanks for chiming in! :)

      It’s interesting — you mention keeping it simple for beginners. But at the same time, when you take to the “lifers” — players and builders and designers who have spent a long time with these tools — so many of them confide that they love the simple stuff best as well. Often it really just SOUNDS best.

  • Wade

    I am not sure the tone control thing always applies from an engineering perspective. I hear ya and I agree. I sold off my HD500 because I had such a bewildering array of choices and dealing with the menus etc were just too much. So I went out and bought a T-Rex compressor and a Jekyl Hyde and boy once I dialed them in I never touch the controls and they sound fantastic.

    So a volume knob is just a variable resistor. I doubt there is much capacitance or inductance to it or the wiring, but some of this is frequency dependent but I doubt significant at audible frequencies. So perhaps there is a resistance where you have “dialed in the amp” the best, but perhaps this is the same resistance as if you wired it in. I would love to see an oscilloscope to see if there are other differences but my electrical engineering impulse is to say it is probably negligable.

    As for knobs, what about a Mesa Boogie, where you can reduce the wattage and scale the volume. Also, a knob to go solo in or a different amp to raise above the fray as they say. I don’t have one, but that’s why I want one!

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

:1up: :alert: :ban: :beer: :borg: :coffee: :cuckoo: :cuss: :finger: :goombah: :stupid: :megaman: :mad: :pity: :noshake: :oogle: :pacman: :pill: :poison: :poop: :rant: :satansmoking: :shake: :shiftyeyes: :shroom: :sick: :smirk: :spammer: :stfu: :thumbdown: :thumbup: :turtle: :what: :whatever:

Click to upload a JPG