Showing posts with label effects chain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label effects chain. Show all posts

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Maybe I Am Recommending Premium Guitar Cables

I did a recent post comparing a really bad guitar cable to a pretty good one. I closed by indicating that while I wasn't necessarily recommending premium cables I was dis recommending really bad ones. That changed for me today when I made an impulse buy of a premium guitar cable.

I was in the checkout line of my local guitar store moving through the consumer gauntlet and they had a selection of guitar cables displayed for my convenience. As I had just done a post on pretty bad and pretty good cables I couldn't resist picking up a "really good" example for testing.

As you can see in the photos, the packaging is certainly premium. No saving the planet here. On opening the package I was a bit concerned that I was getting a basic cable with a pretty wrapper to justify the higher price.

Extracting the cable from its illustrious packaging took some doing but I finally got it free. One nice feature is it comes with its own integrated cable tamer (Velcro strap). I did my comparison with an American Stratocaster going into the clean channel of a Marshall DSL 401. My rationale was the single coil pickup would introduce the most noise while the clean channel would be neutral and better highlight the noise or coloration that each cable could introduce. The difference even compared to my pretty good cable was still dramatic!

I was surprised to say the least. I had a lot less noise and more dynamic range with the premium cable. Now if you are using lots of gain on the overdrive channel you'll note less difference. However, if you think about it, the less you introduce into your signal chain that isn't you, the more of you that will come out on the other end, regardless of what effects you add from there.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Play Acoustic for Improved Electric Guitar Tone

Practicing regularly on an acoustic guitar is one of the best ways to improve your electric guitar tone. While this sounds counter intuitive bear with me because this really works.

Think of the adage garbage in garbage out. Your signal chain starts with your fret and picking hands. No amount of adjustment will overcome garbage going in. Practicing on the acoustic will fix this as nothing comes between you and your sound. If your playing is not clean and accurate it shows up in stark relief. This is great because you also get instant feedback on what adjustments create improvement. Think of it like the behavioral modification scenario where you get a treat if you do what the mad scientist wants; do the wrong thing and you get a shock (bad tone in this case).

After a week or so working with the acoustic, you will notice how much better your electric tone starts to become. The cleaner and more accurate your playing going into your effects chain, the better it sounds when it comes out the other end, no rocket science here. An added benefit is that the heavier gauge strings on the acoustic with their higher tension really helps build your chops and makes playing the lighter gauge strings on your electric seem effortless.

Try it and you will be enjoying your tone treats in no time.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

How to Choose the Correct Signal Chain Order for Your Effects Pedals

You’ve gone to your local guitar store and bought some pedals and the next question is “what order do I put them in? Try this common order first:

  1. Dynamic Range – Compression
  2. EQ – Wah Pedal, Equalizer
  3. Drive – Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz
  4. Modulation – Phaser, Flanger, Chorus
  5. Time-Based – Reverb, Delay
Here's why:

Each pedal imparts its own coloring to the audio signal. This order goes from least alteration of the signal to the most and minimizes the chance that the effects introduced at each point in the signal path cancel the previous ones out.

Dynamic Range
If you have a compression pedal this should be first in your default signal chain order. Compression automatically “rides the gain” by pumping up volume when levels are low and cutting it when levels peak too high. The behavior of the rest of your effects chain becomes much more predictable by receiving this more uniform and consistent audio signal.

If you have an EQ type effect it is most likely a Wah pedal, which creates its distinctive effect by sweeping a narrow frequency range up and down as you move the pedal. Placing the wah pedal next in this suggested default order enables it to benefit from the consistent audio signal coming from the compressor and it yields a more open vintage sound. In addition its output is more predictably colored by other effects down stream in the signal path such as gain and modulation.

Drive pedals emulate the saturated gain sound of a tube amp turned up to 11 by clipping the audio signal. Since this effect adds lots of gain to your signal it works best in this next position as we’re still dealing with a clean signal from the compressor and wah pedal; thus you avoid boosting unwanted noise.

Modulation type pedals operate by splitting off a portion of the signal and applying slight delays and or altering the pitch of the incoming signal before mixing it back together with the unprocessed portion. This signal treatment increases the likelihood of cancellation effects if modulation is placed earlier in the signal path.

Time-based effects are last in this suggested default order because they repeat the original signal without alteration. This treatment earlier in the signal path will conflict with other effects that alter the waveform if they were later in the signal chain giving you unpredictable results.

Now that I’ve laid out the “rules” I can move to the inevitable exceptions.
  • If you have a Fuzz Face pedal you will need to plug your guitar into it directly. I learned this the hard way. It goes nuts if you have anything other than the guitar in front of it.
  • Try the wah pedal just after drive pedals for a thicker sound.
  • While modulation effects generally go after drive try placing phaser effects in front of your overdrive and distortion pedals.
Be sure to balance the volume across the signal chain (ensure the same volume when an effect is on or bypassed). Lastly, don't forget the most important effects; your guitar volume, pickup selector, and the type of guitar pick you use. Since these are the very beginning of the signal chain they have the largest impact on your tone.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How to Replicate the Tone for Brian Setzer’s Sleepwalk

"Sleepwalk" is a great tune, especially Brian Setzer’s version. I experimented with gear I already have to see how close I could get to his tone as heard on “The Dirty Boogie” CD.

The signal chain for "Sleepwalk" is a single coil pickup (Gretsch®) with slight distortion, slapback echo, running through a Fender® amp. I came up with my approximation using an American Standard Stratocaster®, MXR Distortion +, Ibanez Analog Delay, and a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe™ .

I use the bridge pickup on the guitar with volume around 80%. The diagram above (you can click on it for more detail) summarizes the settings for the distortion and delay pedals. I am using the clean channel on the amp with the “Bright” mode activated.

In testing this setup along side the recording I find a passable match with the exception of my technique compared to Brian Setzer. Unfortunately, there is no effects pedal for that. I just need to keep practicing!

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How to Tweak the Tone on Your Analog Delay

I added an analog delay (Ibanez AD9) as part of my ongoing project for building a pedal board. I haven’t used it much until recently because I didn’t feel it sounded good. Here’s where I went wrong in hopes it helps someone else out.

My main problem with this pedal was I misunderstood the use of the Delay Level control (right hand knob). This knob is simply a wet/dry control. If it is turned all the way up, the entire signal goes through the delay and is affected by the settings of the other knobs; Delay Time and Repeat. A totally dry signal bypasses the delay effects. Duh! Once I realized that, the AD9 has become my favorite effects pedal second only to the Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer.

You set how long of a delay you are looking for using the Delay Time knob, set how many repeats using the Repeat knob, and then the Delay Level allows you to control how prevalent (wet) you want those settings to be in your signal chain.

I’m working on two songs right now that use slap back echo; Brian Setzer’s version of “Sleepwalk” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House”. I included an example of slap back echo for the AD9 in the diagram above. Given the slow tempo of these songs it is a fairly long delay with one repeat. Once I have that I just play with the Delay Level until the effect is prevalent enough but doesn’t overwhelm the signal chain and I’m off to the races.

One other point in closing is that the AD9 pedal has two outputs; Out and Dry Out. The “Out” output carries the delayed signal. The “Dry Out” is a totally dry signal that you can route to another amp. The labels are difficult to read because of glare on the surface, just be sure you use the correct one based on what you are trying to do!

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Guitar Tone: Tips and Tricks on What Works for You
How to Build a Pedal Board for Electric Guitar
Guitar Tone: How to Tweak Your Signal Chain and Nail those Elusive Tones

Friday, December 28, 2007

How to Build a Pedal Board for Electric Guitar

In my previous post I described the approach I took to building a pedal board and the finished product is pictured at the right. Notice there are some open slots just waiting for the next hobby oriented purchases!

I went with the hard case from Coffin Case because of its relatively small size and I can close and latch the cover when not in use. This helps reduce clutter in the house and also protects the equipment from the family cats who like to eat wiring for some reason.

The two-level pedal surface pictured above is covered in the “loop” material that makes up one half of the Velcro fastening system. Putting together the pedal board is just a matter of attaching the “hook” portion to the pedals and power supply, arranging the pedals, and running the power leads and guitar cables to each pedal in signal chain order.

My signal chain is arranged in the order depicted above starting with the Fuzz Face. The wah pedal is next, then overdrive pedals followed by modulation oriented pedals such as Phaser, Chorus, and time-based effects such as Delay. I have them in order based on rule of thumb but it is really a matter of experiementing to find the effect you like. For example, a wah effect is usually early in the signal chain. However, the Fuzz Face pedal is finicky and it went nuts if I had the wah in front of it so I adjusted accordingly.

The Velcro kit is straight forward; you just cut it to size, peel a protective backing off, and apply it to the back of the pedal. However, I didn’t want to apply the backing directly to the pedals in the event I ever sell them so I used two different approaches.

I had wood from a crate that held Port wine that I cut to size for each pedal base. I put holes in the cut pieces that matched the holes in the pedal base, countersunk the holes, unscrewed the base and reattached everything with the thin wood piece on the bottom. From there, I added the Velcro to the wood. This way, I can quickly return the pedals to their original condition without having to deal with peeling Velcro off the original base. I've inserted a picture to the right to show how this came out on a wah pedal.

Once you have your Velcro “hook” side of the backing on the pedal base you just line up where you want the pedal to be and place it on the two-level pedal surface. Be accurate because the Velcro sticks amazingly well. You will be able to drop your case from a truck and your pedals will not come loose!

Another approach I took for the pedals was to strap them to the wood using nylon zip ties, and then apply the Velcro strips. This was for pedals that had overly short screws in their bottom panels. I couldn’t find longer equivalents that would fit without risking messing up the threads. Again, I was just being accommodating in the event I ever sell any of the pedals.

From there, it is just a matter of connecting each pedal together with cables in your signal chain order. I chose to purchase prebuilt ¼” cables although there are kits where you can cut and terminate them to custom lengths. Last step was routing the power cables from the Voodoo Power supply to each pedal. The Coffin Case provides a slot to accommodate your power strip or power supply. I actually used this to hold my Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal and attached the Voodoo Labs – Pedal Power 2 Plus directly to the two-level pedal surface with Velcro. I inserted a detail of this on the right.

I like this setup because it provides for quick setup for practice. As I always stress, us aging wannabe rockers want maximum results in minimum time. You get effective guitar practice by using an efficient practice rig where you do not waste time on setup and tear down. Another great thing about the setup is it provides hobby value; gadgets are an important element to any hobby.
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Thursday, December 27, 2007

How to Build a Pedal Board

As you continue with your guitar hobby and accumulate effects pedals you will need to organize them as a pedal board. When I got to that point I was amazed at how little information I could find on how to make a pedal board. Hopefully this post will provide you some shortcuts.

First of all, a pedal board can be literally that; pedals attached to a piece of plywood. Here is one of Eric Johnson's arrangements as an example. Maintaining an efficient practice rig and portability is a priority with me. The approach I ultimately took after searching the Internet, talking to friends, and getting advice at the guitar store was acquiring a hard case, a power supply, and using Velcro to secure the pedals in the case.


Hard case from Coffin Case – Model SK-110: This was a rugged case that provides a platform on which to affix the pedals plus you can close it up and latch it when not in use.

Voodoo Labs – Pedal Power 2 Plus: This device will power all of your pedals on the board in minimum space as opposed to getting a bulky power strip and using the transformers you typically have to buy as an option for your pedals anyway. This way you do not have to deal with batteries or excess cord clutter.

Velcro – 3M Industrial Strength: This is just a roll of Velcro hook and loop fastening material, each with a self adhesive backing. I used the “hook” portion of the Velcro to affix the pedals to the Velcro “loop” like material that is used on the surface of the pedal board.

Cables: Short guitar cables with ¼” plugs you use to attach the pedals together to form your signal chain.

How to Build a Pedal Board Continued

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How to Build a Pedal Board Part 2
Guitar Tone: How to Duplicate Your Favorites
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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Guitar Tone: How to Tweak Your Signal Chain and Nail those Elusive Tones

This is the continuation of my previous article on duplicating your favorite guitar tones.

Once you hook everything up, the first order of business is to address the settings on your guitar. Since the guitar is the first element of your signal chain, it only makes sense to tweak that first. Brief experimentation showed that the pickup selector needed to be on “Treble” so it is using the bridge pickup only. Many references assume you already know this and do not mention it. Big difference, so before you begin tweaking anything else, experiment first with your pickup selector, otherwise you will be chasing an elusive tone all over the place without dealing with the source first. Ditto on the volume and tone controls on the guitar. From there, it is a balancing act.

Each setting of each element in your signal chain affects your tone. Cranking the overdrive on the Tube Screamer to the firewall only served to create a muddy tone. One thing that immediately became apparent is that “Heavy Metal” or “Rock ‘n’ Roll” as AC/DC characterizes themselves is not simply mega distortion. The tones are cleaner than that. Where I ended up after experimentation is as follows:

Guitar Pickup selector (figure 1) – Treble
Guitar Volume (figure 1) – 90% - to compensate for not having the driven Marshall amp sound I used the guitar volume knob to put more gain into the Tube Screamer.
Guitar Tone (figure 1) – 100% treble
Tube Screamer (figure 2) – Overdrive at 70%, Tone at 60%, and Level at 50%.
Amp (figure 3) – Clean channel, reverb at 30%, treble at 90%, bass at 90%, middle at 50%, Normal/Bright set to Bright.

I tried ramping up the drive on the Hot Rod Deluxe but it did not have the crunch of the recordings. Added drive from the guitar volume, brightness from the guitar tone, the Tube Screamer, and the clean channel of the amp created the crunch that matched up well with the recordings.
After rereading this, going to this level of effort may seem obsessive to some readers. It does to me anyway. Keep in mind though; this effort is not just for duplicating the sound of “Shook Me All Night Long”, as fun as that was. Your goal as a player is to develop your own style and tone. An important part of that is learning the relationship between the settings in your signal chain and their effect on your tone.