Is it just me, or do many guitarists these days find themselves alternating between separate analog and digital setups?
I’m posting some pics of my current pedalboards (bearing in mind that, for reasons I’ll get into in a sec, my pedalboards only tend to stay “current” for a few days at a time). Both were assembled using store-bought housings, though I’ll talk a bit about total DIY boards as well.
First, the mostly analog setup (the exception, of course, is the digital Boomerang III looper).
The case is a newly purchased SKB Stage Five, a full-featured unit in a relatively rugged molded plastic case. These retail for a whopping $540, but you can find them heavily discounted. (I forget the exact price I paid for mine, but it was under $300.) It’s loaded with cool features, like dual effect loops, a built-in buffered preamp, and support for 9- through 24-volt DC power, plus 9V AC for those digital pedals like Line 6 modelers and many loopers. There are even trim pots on a few power jacks to simulate dying batteries. I’m less impressed by some of the fittings (like the cheapo plastic jacks), though I suppose they keep the weight down. And make no mistake: This thing is heavy!
Verdict: Too early to tell, since I haven’t subjected it to road abuse, but I trust it enough to at least give it a go. I think I’d be a bit disappointed had I paid full pop, but it strikes me as a fair deal if you can find it at a 40+% discount.
A few words about those homemade pedals: Two of them (the reverb and the phaser) are Build Your Own Clone kits. I’m a huge fan of their products. Not only did they help me learn volumes about analog circuitry, but most of their kits offer clever options and added features that inevitably make them better than the originals. Their documentation is good as well. I’ve built most of their kits, and the results have ranged from cool to unbelievably cool.
Two other pedals — the delay and the tremolo — are non-kit clones. The delay is a straight-up copy of a first-generation Way Huge Aqua-Puss, as reverse- engineered by the brilliant freestompboxes.org community (who confirmed in the process that this coveted analog delay is pretty much a straight-up clone of another coveted analog delay, the Boss DM-2). The trem is made from a popular DIY circuit known as the “EA Tremolo,” because it’s based on an unattributed schematic that appeared in Electronics Australia magazine decades ago. It’s a simple but great-sounding circuit that’s also available as a kit here, here, and here.
The vibrato, fuzz, and overdrive are my own designs — or more accurately, highly customized versions of various old-school analog circuits. The tuner is a nice little model from Planet Waves, though to be honest, these days I’m more likely to rely on the iPhone/iPad Cleartune app. The cables are all George L, which I like because they sound great, they’re reasonably priced (for audiophile cable), and you can make are repair them using just scissors and a screwdriver.
Now, the digital rig:
Ah — nice and simple! There’s another Boomerang III, this time accompanied by the Side Car unit, which does no processing of its own, but simply provides an extra set of switches so you can access more of the looper’s features without having to reassign the footswitches. Below these is a Keith McMillen Instruments SoftStep, a light, sturdy, powerful, and ergonomic MIDI controller. (Disclosure: I’ve been paid in gear and money to do demos and consulting for KMI.) It’s also one of the few USB-powered foot controllers.
My signal goes from the guitar through an audio interface (I have many, and am not 100% satisfied by any of them), which I usually keep alongside my laptop. The processed sound returns to the looper via the interface, and then goes directly from the looper to either my mobile PA or the house sound system. When using the latter, I employ the stereo DI box you can see in the pedalboard case. Next to it is the generic expression pedal I often connect to the SoftStep.
The pedalboard frame and case are from Pedaltrain, whose products I’ve been using for over a decade. They’re light but sturdy, and you can choose from various case options, including the truly roadworthy steel-reinforced one shown above. The open-frame architecture of Pedaltrain boards is great for routing and concealing cables, and it makes it relatively easy to reconfigure things.
Unlike the Stage Five, Pedaltrains include no power supplies. I only need an outlet or two for my digital setup, so I just use a small power strip. But when I’m using a lot of stompboxes, I go with various Voodoo Lab Pedal Power products.
Anyway, these are my setups as of today. But my pedalboards only remain unchanged for very short periods of time, and not just because I’m restless and twitchy by nature. There’s always some new piece of gear I’m excited about, or some new sound I’m trying to obtain. The only time I come close to locking in a particular setup is when I’m on tour, and even then, things can get shuffled around. (Especially when I’m lucky enough to have a gifted tech to do the dirty work. Thanks, Brody, Wolfie, Barry, and everyone else!) I used to try assembling an ad hoc pedalboard when I went in to work on an album project, but as Rocky the Flying Squirrel likes to say, “That trick never works.” Before tracking a single song, everything would be torn up, and I’d be sitting in a Sargasso Sea of cables and connectors. These days I just bring a generic velcro-covered surface and a mail crate stuffed with stompboxes, and assemble things on the fly. If you’re the sort of player who’s dialed in the tone of your dreams, maybe you can use a single setup for years. But I, for better or worse, am the opposite of that sort of player.
Speaking of generic velcro-covered surfaces: While I’m currently building my boards on fancy store-bought boards, you can make perfectly great boards from plywood scraps, old cutting boards, and many other dirt-cheap materials. If you want something that looks fairly clean, try laminated cutting boards or shelving from Ikea or another flat-pack monger. I especially like using plastic cutting boards because they’re so light yet indestructible.
Okay, I’ve showed you mine. Now show me yours!