I've been meaning to 'blog' for the first time on this site for ages and was waiting for something deep and profound to base the first post on.
Then I realized I've never offered anything deep and profound in my life.. so thought I best just start writing any old junk.
Let's start with pedals. Pedals pedals pedals... is it weird that I don't use as many as I used to?
My latest touring 'rig' (22 UK dates supporting the Darkness) consisted of 3 pedals, and one of them was a tuner. My approach to my own 'tone' has shifted over the last couple of years, I now try to get as close to what I'm after using only the guitar and amp, then reach for a pedal if I need more than what's on offer from the amp. I have to say, this approach has really helped and as a result I (and Gaz, or FOH engineer) reckon it's the best I've ever sounded.
So what I'm saying is, you don't need pedals.
Nah course not. What I mean is, some people use pedals for the source of inspiration, to spark a new idea or sound. Lately for me, pedals are a tool to help achieve the sound I already hear in my head. In Massive Wagons we play punky/hard rock music, so we're not breaking the mold, but I am one of two guitars in the band, and the other guitar happens to be Stevie Holl, who's monstrously good 70's JMP's are right where they need to be off the bat.
I gotta fit around that beast, and this is where context matters, I can crank the boobies out of whatever I'm rockin', sound freaking epic jamming on my own, then get with the band and vanish entirely under the shadow of Stevies meaty girth (figuratively speaking).
It was through much changing of pedals, tweaking of the knobs upon them and ever increasing pedal board footprints that I realized radical changes of tone are more successfully done 75% of the way with the amp and speaker cab, with guitars, pedals and mic choice taking it the next 25%.
This may sound strange as someone who makes pedals, I realize, so let me elaborate on why that extra 25% is SO important.
Typical MW backstage setup for a support tour. Note the Budda back in action!
We were in Hull on our latest tour. We were supporting, so had limited soundchecks where we didn't have much time to tweak, at this show however we for some reason had more time and loads of space to set up (Hull Bonus Arena). I'd used a JCM 900 for our previous 30 odd live shows, but we concluded there just wasn't enough separation between myself and Stevie, or rather I would sound thin and honky in comparison to Ste! I changed to my backup amp, a Budda Superdrive 18W for this soundcheck, using just the amp and with all dials at 12 it immediately made us 2 guitars again, the same, but different, but importantly the power was there. A bit of amp EQ and we were even better, Ste was happy and Gaz even smiled for a second or two.
While glad the mix sounded better, from a playing perspective I was a bit underwhelmed with my new sound. As I say, it worked much better in the mix where it really matters, but I found it a bit dry, un-inspiring and actually quite hard to play, with less sustain and 'angry growl' than I was used to.
I sneaked back to the amp and upped the amp drive knob a fraction, honestly I barely touched it, we got 2 bars into another song before Gaz stopped us and told me to undo whatever I'd just done, as the balls had now gone from my sound. Some amps you can turn the knobs from 0 - 10 and it seems sod all changes, others have a real 'sweet spot'. Apparently the Budda is very sensitive to small changes, and with the 'Drive' dial it is especially true.
I explained my problem, chords felt a bit flat and there wasn't enough sustain on lead lines, but the tonal character of the amp was perfect and to be left alone for the mix. The solution was to feed the amp a stronger signal, increase the sustain without too much compression or saturation.
Find some footage of this all going down at around 4mins of this video -
So we dug into the stash of pedals we had with us. I use fairly low output pickups so it's always pretty much been standard for me to have a clean-ish boost always on to liven up the signal into the amp. First I grabbed my Tubescreamer of choice, the Way Huge Green Rhino (Mk II - if you care!) but this comes out of the gate petty hard, it's was too much honky middle, even with the classic Gain 0, Vol 10 setting.
Next up was an EHX Crayon, basically an Xotic BB pre-amp clone which was similar, if a bit fizzy, no matter how I set the on pedal, which has seperate bass and treble control. Then out came a new one for me, the Shin-Juku Drive from MXR, I now understand to be a 'Dumble' inspired OD. Well whatever it was designed to do, it hit the spot for me. My starting point with OD's is gain down, output up, and it just did everything I needed to, increased sustain, brighter chords, but retaining that core amp tone. It was just... more! Gaz said we were now a little bright out front, I rolled the tone back on the pedal and it took care of that.
This prompted the design and build of the Royal Fortune, a relatively simple pedal designed to 'stack' in front of your current set up and push it over the edge when you need that extra kick. In 'open' mode it won't dominate, but tastefully embellish what you already have going on. That being said, the additional SIlicon or Germanium modes certainly push it into being it's own beast.
I guess the point I'm making, if there is any, is that I often set out with a goal in mind, and seeked (sought? sook?) out the right tool for the job. This happens in the studio as well, and it doesn't matter if it's what you expect to work, as long as it gets you where you want to be.
So far, the three pedals I have on offer have all emerged from the need to achieve the sound in my head. But of course, that may not be the sound in your head, so as usual, I suggest you turn the knobs and flick the switches until it sounds good for you!
I aim to ramble more frequently here on pedals, guitars, amps, all things music really, so keep checking back if you aren't bored to death yet! As always, thankyou for the support and keep it loud. Adam