Once a guitarist is bitten by the pedal bug, it’s already too late. They are doomed to a nearly unending quest to find just the right tone. My pedal journey started with a Zvex Box of Rock back in 2007 and, man, has it been a wild ride.
My main board is a 24″ by 12″ custom board made by a company called Solid Rock Customs. Unfortunately, shortly after finishing my board, Solid Rock Customs indicated they were leaving the business, which is unfortunate.
Since starting the process of recording Skylines and the Horizon in 2017 the pedals I’ve used have changed considerably, with very few staying the same. Due to the way my collection has grown over the years, and wanting to incorporate as many options as I can, my pedal chain is set up in three stages.
My Current Pedals
When one is putting together a pedal board, there is an order that gear heads would agree on
- A compressor or wah pedal is at the front
- Pitch bending pedals
- Overdrive, distortion, and fuzz pedals
- Delay and reverb pedals are the caboose to the pedal train.You can always play with the order, and let’s not get into stacking drive pedals together to get all sorts of interesting sounds.
To be honest, there’s not really a need for me to have a traditional pedal board. I could just pull out what I need when I need it. I just like the convenience of turning everything on at once and having a board with the pedals as neatly arranged as I could get them.
Let’s group these pedals by maker, in ABC order. Colors are explained a bit further below
- Blackout Effectors: Musket (Whiteout Edition)
- Danelectro: CF-1 Fuzz (Peachfuzz clone)
- Disaster Area: Micro Clock
- Dunlop: MC404 CAE Wah
- Electro Harmonix (EHX): POG 2
- EQD: Dunes and Black Ash
- Keeley: SuperMOD Workstation
- Line 6: M5 Modeler
- Loophole Pedals: Grey Matter
- Lovepedal: Jubilee, Plexi Pro 100, and Purple Plexi Plus
- Mooer: Black Secret
- Mosky: Plexi-M
- MXR: Timmy
- Strymon: El Capistan
- Tapestry Audio: Fab Suisse
- TC Electronic: Ditto X2, Nova Delay, Polytune 3, and T2
- Wampler: Ego Compressor, Sovereign, and Tumnus Deluxe
- Zvex: Double Rock
These are powered by a Voodoo Labs ISO 5, a Trutone CS12, and a few adapters. There might be a couple of y-cables in there to allow for extra pedals to get plugged in.
I have the following pedals sitting up on a shelf either waiting to be used, or a couple potentially on the chopping block to be sold:
- Diamond Pedals: Memory Lane Jr.
- Digitech: Mosaic
- DOD: Rubberneck
- Donner: White Wizard
- Kokko: Compressor and Distortion
- Loophole Pedals: Zvex Wooly Mammoth clone
What the Colors Mean
- Fuzz – Drive effect that is generally very saturated. Billy Corgan helped make this even more famous via the first Smashing Pumpkins albums
- Overdrive – Overloads the signal to replicate the sound of a tube amp breaking up. Overdrive is generally a less saturated sound
- Distortion – Similar to overdrive but is more distorted/saturated. Think of 80s metal, 90s grunge, and 00s post-grunge rock
- Modulation – Changes the texture of the signal. Examples from famous songs include “Come As You Are” for chorus, “Lightning Crashes” for phaser, “Unchained” for flanger, and “Black Hole Sun” for a rotary effect.
- Delay/Reverb – Delay takes the notes you’ve played and repeats them. Reverb is like an echo in a room, only more complicated.
- Utility – Other things, like pitching shifting, compression, wah, etc.
- Fuzz – Drive effect that is generally very saturated. Billy Corgan helped make this even more famous via the first Smashing Pumpkins albums
Why so many overdrive and distortion pedals!?!?
If we count them up all of the sky blue names above, I have a whopping FIFTEEN different drive pedals. One might be inclined to ask, “Why in the world would you need fifteen different pedals that do the same thing?” and that’s a fair question. At the beginning of 2022, interestingly enough while in the middle of a stint in the ICU, I read what is probably the best comparison: Is one type of chocolate sufficient for someone that enjoys chocolate? I’m not even a chocolate lover and I can think of at least four different chocolates that I enjoy, even more if you add in toffee, nougat, caramel, or rice crisps to the mix. Let’s do a quick Q&A of things I’ve been asked before.
Do I NEED all of them?
No. Even I cannot deny that I do not need all of them. I have a lot of them because I’m a sucker for 48 month 0% financing that costs me $4 or $5 a month each.
Do I know which ones I’d keep if I had to start selling them off?
Do I have favorites that I tend to use more than the others?
Why so many pedals then?
In a situation where all I do is record music, and not just for myself, I want to have the right tool for the job. I compare drive pedals to chocolate. There’s not just one type of chocolate and not all chocolate is meant to fill the same role. The same goes for drive pedals
Let’s take a deeper dive into that last question and point. These are not arranged favorites, rather by order they are on my board.
These are the pedals that you use to recreate the sound of a tube amp that’s loud enough that the clean signal is starting to break up and add a bit of distortion to the signal. If you play the guitar right, you can even keep the sound clean and then really dig into your playing to bring that overdriven sound back into focus…you can add some really cool dynamics with this kind of pedal. When I think of recognizable songs to reference, I immediately think of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Free Fallin'” , Genesis’ “The Way I Walk”, or Joe Cochran’s “Life is a Highway” as three examples of songs that, in my opinion, incorporate light overdrive.
- The Loophole Pedals Grey Matter is actually a really cool pedal made by a local pedal maker. I believe I have #3 ever produced. It is a clone of the grey DOD Preamp 250. It’s been a while since I’ve tinkered with it, but there’s a lot of flexibility within the pedal and even after owning it for some time now, I still go back to it. It was actually a primary reason I made the smaller board and stuck it on the floor
- I picked up the Tapestry Audio Fab Suisse after my old BPM pedal, the Time Traveler, stopped working right. The folks at Tapestry Audio were pretty awesome and I’d been interested in the pedal. After talking back and forth with the rep, they cut me a good deal and I picked it up. It’s based on a Marshall Bluesbreaker, a pedal based on an older Marshall amp, but I’m not familiar with either one. As of 2/25/22 I’ve added this to the signal chain to replace the Subdecay Vector I had in that place
- The MXR Timmy is a mini version of one of the best light overdrive pedals ever made. It’s considered a “transparent overdrive” in that it doesn’t really add it’s own “color” to what your amp sounds like. It just amplifies it. The tone controls let you cut frequencies, so it gets really interesting to use. I used it on the kcwm albums a lot. It’s one that was SO popular that a big pedal maker like Danelectro actually cloned the pedal (the CTO-1) and sold it for something like $35, Heck, in fact, it was so much of a clone that the president of Danelectro reached out to the creator of the Timmy, had a conversation, and Danelectro paid the man. This comes from the dude’s own words on The Gear Page, though you’d have to spend a few minutes finding the post where he talked about it
- The Wampler Tumnus Delxue is another pedal. It’s Wampler’s take on the legendary Klon pedal. There’s a toggle that you can use to add some extra gain and push this into an almost medium overdrive sound, but I have other tools for that sound. It’s similar to the Timmy, but yet it’s different. Can most people hear those differences? Probably not. Can I? Maybe not…probably not
- The EQD Dunes is a take on the classic Ibanez Tubescreamer pedal. A few years back, EQD made this large pedal called a Palisades which had all of these different settings. The Dunes is the most popular of those settings in a smaller enclosure. I actually owned a clone of this pedal that I ended up selling to a friend because I bought this. I have a demo I made of the clone floating around somewhere. Very solid pedal, though one I don’t use as often as I thought I would
- I picked up the Lovepedal Plexi 100 because I had some gift certificates to Guitar Center after buying our youngest child an electronic drum set. I think I paid $40 out of pocket for it. I saw it for sale at the local Guitar Center and did some reading, liked what I read, and went and bought it. When I got it home, it just didn’t have the gain I thought I’d read it had. Then I realized I’d read about the Purple Plexi. It sound good so I didn’t take it back. I mean, $40 for a pedal that runs $200 on Reverb?
To me, this is the meat of rock songs. The Who, Led Zepplin, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden…all great examples of the range of what I think is the sweet spot. Sure, did the latter two swing into harder rock sounds? Yeah, probably, but Pearl Jam has stayed in this realm for most of their studio releases.
This is the realm of overdriven Marshall sounds, which is why “Marshall-in-a-box” pedals are so popular. Hell, I have five MIABs on my board. Having never owned a proper Marshall amp, and I’ll never be in a real position to push a Marshall amp to get those tones, these pedals are a godsend to me.
Honestly, for as much as I love the idea of a thick, heavy distortion, it doesn’t translate well to a recording. Even Nirvana’s Nevermind sounds heavier than it is because of how the producer, Butch Vig, layered four or five guitar tracks. Think about their follow up album In Utero. It doesn’t sound nearly as heavy. Raw, maybe, but raw doesn’t equal heavy.
- The Mosky Plexi-M cost me a whopping $30 on Amazon new. It and the Kokko Distortion are actually REALLY good sounding pedals for an incredibly low price. After buying the Purple Plexi Plus I bought this to see how it compared. While it’s a bit noisier (the hiss and hum that comes through when you’re not playing anything), for $200 less, it gets pretty close. At the same time, you get what you pay for. My particular pedal doesn’t have the most useful gain knob…it seems to go from 0-60 at the briefest of turns, but I get what I want out of it…a solid, medium overdrive
- The Mooer Black Secret is a Proco Rat clone that has a switch that turns it into a clone of the Turbo Rat. The Rat style pedal is a classic sound. It’s one of my newer pedals and was only used at the end of the Volume Three album as a lead part
- While some people love the Lovepedal Purple Plexi Plus for how much gain it has, it’s most useful settings fit well within the medium overdrive description. It’s that classic rock sound of a roaring Marshall. To me, it’s the sound I’ve been chasing for a long time. Before it, I’d used a Wampler Pinnacle Deluxe which replaced a JHS Sweet Tea v3 (which contains the JHS Angry Charlie v3 on one side). I even bought the Plexi 100 thinking it was the Purple Plexi Plus. Each time, I got a little closer to what I wanted, but both the Pinnacle Deluxe and Sweet Tea just felt off. Then I found the Purple Plexi Plus. It is the pedal I reach for most often. Add the boost it has built in and it’s really hard to beat
- The Lovepedal Jubilee is a pedal I picked up because a) my Purple Plexi was lost in transit and b) I’d read that it was very similar to the aforementioned Purple Plexi but had less gain. “Great! I don’t need all that gain!” I thought. Yeah…it’s nowhere close to the same sound. Similar? Yes. Same? Nope. It would also be the first drive pedal on my board I’d get rid of. If it weren’t for the idea of having all three Lovepedal pedals lined up, I’d likely have moved it now. That probably means I should sell it. This is the one of two pedals that I have not used on any recording
- OK. So the Zvex Double Rock should PROBABLY be on the light overdrive section, but I use it as a light-medium drive most of the time. I’m telling you, when I first bought the Box of Rock I was in love with it. Sure, it’s known for having a bassier sound, and I love Les Paul style guitars which are, you guessed it, known for a bassier sound.I eventually had to sell my Box of Rock, but years later I was able to buy a Distortron, which was the drive side of the Box of Rock with a couple of switches to a) cut the bass and b) boost the drive. Then I learned about the Double Rock. I was immediately sold. Two Box of Rocks in one enclosure with a bass cut? Score!
- The Wampler Sovereign doesn’t appear to be styled after any particular pedal in general. It’s a good, solid classic rock tone (so maybe a Marshall-in-a-box?). I’ve used it for a number of lead parts. With the addition of the Purple Plexi Plus, I see this getting used less, but it’s been a dependable pedal that’s never let me down when I’ve used it, so it’s a keeper fpr now
While not the originators of the sound, it’s hard to talk about fuzz and not mention Smashing Pumpkins, especially their Siamese Dream album. The way that “Cherub Rock” or “Today” blast off (not to mention “Rocket”), the sound of the EHX Big Muff is all over that album. I own three different fuzzes and they are all very different from one another.
- The Danelectro CF-1 Fuzz is a clone of the Frantone Peachfuzz. Like the CTO-1 mentioned above, the CF-1 sold for about $35 and was, and still is, a fraction of the cost of the pedal it was ripped from. Like the CTO-1 (and CO-1 that was a clone of the Fulltone OCD), the CF-1 was discontinued and redesigned under the CF-2 model number. While I’ve sold two CTO-1 and the CO-1 I bought, the CF-1 has remained. It is a thick fuzz sound. Some people think it’s along the same lines as the Big Muff. Either way, for the $35 I spent on it
- The EQD Black Ash was a limited edition pedal where I think 1500 were produced. It cost $150 and I see them going for something like $450 now on Reverb. It’s a Bender-style fuzz that has a brighter sound to it. You can turn the gain down and get some gnarly overdriven sounds out of it. It’s a super flexible pedal. I believe I used it on “All the Feels” from Volume Three
- The Musket Fuzz (the white one in the corner) is close to that classing Smashing Pumpkins fuzz sound (the Big Muff) but with a few extra controls to adjust some of the shortcomings of that type of pedal
So, as you can see, each drive has its own story…its own flavor. There is definitely SOME crossover and there are some I could definitely see myself getting rid of, but it’s also fun to figure out which sound I want for which part, especially as I move into a more permanent area of having 3 separate guitar parts in the songs I record.
I”m always happy to talk gear, especially if someone has questions on a pedal I currently own. The pedal world has gotten HUGE and, frankly, a bit complicated for my feeble old man brain. I’m actually quite happy with the collection I have, though I am tempted to sell most of them and just get a Line 6 Helix.
All the best!