Yesterday, the power supply on my pedal board (Dunlop DC Brick) went out. It sucked because it’s a great power supply that isolates and regulates the power to each individual pedal. But luckily I had a Visual Sound 1-Spot plus two 5-pedal extensions. With that, I could use one plug on an extension to power up the other extension, and that would cover all nine pedals on my board. So I removed all the wiring from my DC Brick, removed the brick, then got ambitious and took off all the pedals so I could clean my board and get all the wiring right. The result is to the left. Click on the picture and you’ll see. It’s not pretty, but it works, and everything flows.
In any case, I decided to experiment a little bit with my pedals and swapped out a couple of stalwarts for pedals I hadn’t used for awhile. I first swapped my Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2 for a Doodad Guitars Check-a-Board red overdrive. I then swapped my beloved BOSS CE-2 Chorus for a Homebrew THC, then swapped out my trusty Hardwire RV-7 Reverb for a ToneCandy Spring Fever. I got everything wired back up, then did a sound check. Everything sounded great. Then I went to my gig, and that’s where I learned the important lessons that I’ll share here; lessons that I’ve spoken about in the past, but hadn’t experienced them in awhile, so I needed to relearn them.
Lesson 1: Your Rig Never Sounds the Same On Stage
Once I got my pedal board squared away, I ran a test through the amp I would use for my gig yesterday. I was sitting three feet away from the amp. But at my gig, I was 10 feet away, and the settings that I had used for sound check sounded like CRAP! The bottom end was all loosey-goosey, and my overdrive pedals sounded extremely harsh. Ouch! Puzzled, I moved closer to my amp, and everything sounded great, which was good because I rely on the PA for sound projection. But it made me extremely uncomfortable to have it sound so bad; especially with my overdrive pedals. So my solution was actually to turn down slightly and turn the amp a few degrees – and I’ll talk about that in a second. But the lesson here is that until you get on stage, it’s a whole different ballgame; and if you’re relying on the projection of your amp for your gig, be prepared to tweak.
Lesson 2: Floor-Bounce Effect Can Totally Screw Up Your Sound
Floor-bounce is a well-known audio effect that has to do with sound reflecting off a floor that causes cancellation or emphasis of certain frequencies; mind you, that’s fairly simplistic explanation, but the effect is that it could make your tone sound harsh as certain frequencies cancel out and others get emphasized. Actually, reflectivity off any surface could cause your tone to sound harsh, which is what happened to me at my gig yesterday. Close up, there was no reflectivity, but my speaker sits on the floor, plus I had it closer than normal to a low wall, so reflectivity off the wall was coming into play. Because I stack my amp, attenuator and wireless base station on top of my cabinet, tilting the cab back wasn’t much of an option. But turning the amp slightly away from the wall helped quite a bit. Also, turning down my volume (increasing attenuation, not reducing gain) helped as the reflectivity effect was much less pronounced. Since I use the church’s PA for projection, turning down wasn’t an issue. Our sound guy would balance that lower volume into the mix.
It’s hard to describe exactly what it sounded like, but the effect was as if I had ripped my speaker cone. The bottom end was extremely farty, and even at low- to medium-gain settings on my overdrive pedals it was like sanding with 50 gauge sandpaper which is super rough and used for stripping paint versus 400 gauge sandpaper which is gritty but leaves a much smoother finish.
Lesson 3: Affirmation of the Effects Loop
When I got my DV Mark Little 40, it was the first time in a long while that I had an amp that had an effects loop, and now I’m completely sold on the importance of having one. Running mod effects in front of an amp is fine if you’re running into an amp set for max clean headroom, and you put your drive pedals in front of them. But mod effects in front of a distorting pre-amp sounds really harsh – at least to me. Not sure the technical details behind all that, but I do know that running my mod effects in my loop sounds so much better to me. With my current board setup, I run four wires out to my board. Two are for the effects loop, then two are for input from my wireless base station through my drive and wah pedals into the front of my amp.
Lesson 4: Boost Placement
Another important lesson I learned was something I picked up a few months ago from Gene Baker of Fine Tuned Instruments and luthier of the B3 guitar. In a demo he did of the Xotic Effects EP Booster, he said he ran the booster at the end of this effects loop chain. He said it “steps out a lot nicer than trying to hit it on the front end.” I’m a big fan of power tube overdrive, so I tried it out, and put my trusty Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 transparent clean boost at the end of my effects loop chain. OMG! It’s never leaving that position. The cool thing is that it’s like adding a separate gain stage after the pre-amp to slam the power tubes, but not necessarily with a more pronounced volume boost. It also provides a different kind of distortion than the pre-amp distortion on my amp which tends to be a bit bright. When I slam the power tubes, I get a beefier overdrive sound. It’s very cool for doing solos. So now, I put my OD’s in front of the amp, then when I want “more,” I slam the power tubes.