One of the questions that most Blues, and any other electric guitar players ask themselves is how to setup their pedal order. Many guitarists become the trailblazers in their field and experiment with every possible option, to get the understanding which can be used in their future performances or recordings. Others, and I am among them, Google it and hope that the answer comes up easily and has pictures. Luckily, if it wasn’t for BOSS and Musician’s Friend, I wouldn’t be able to procrastinate so much. These guys got together, and via dark arts of Guitar magic, got one of such trailblazers to give a webinar on the proper logical order of setting up your effect pedals. Steve Vai, the great theoretic and one of the strongest technically savvy guitarists I have listened to, agreed to make our life a little easier and gave his insights during the webinar.
Consisted of three parts (or pedal boards rather):
- BOSS pedals example board order.
- Steve Vai’s own pedal board order.
- Upcoming new additions to the board and ideas on how to use them.
- Steve Vai gave deep insights on aspirations and efforts when it came to our passion.
I suppose one of the main things that opened the event was that there really is no right or wrong in this question. You can sequence your pedals any way you want them and you are encouraged to experiment until that one sweet spot tone will arrive which you will call your own. “There’s no mistakes you can make when you are playing with the pedal board. Don’t be afraid” – Steve Vai
BOSS Pedal Board Order Example
As one may see, the direction of the pedal order is the opposite from the direction you are reading this text in. You will most always start from right with your guitar and go left to your amp. In here, we can see that it starts with a Tuner, then gradually changes to Overdrive and all the way down to Distortion. There is a great difference in how the sound will be articulated between going clean into these pedals and taking an already distorted tone further into gain pedals. Vai calls clean tone into distortion much more “animated” and distinguished. However at the same time to use a distorted tone into the pedals more often for extra “kick-up”. Distortion pedals can be used as a main source of distortion but also as a sweet boost to an existing amp distortion to make it really sing and that is what Steve Vai does.
The delay pedal on the BOSS pedal board can be seen as the very last in the sequence. The potential drawbacks of that can be affected by the distortion pedal that is in front of the delay pedal. One affects another so if you hit the orange DS-1, your delay sound will change greatly. If preferred – no problem, if irritating – try putting your delay in front of your distortion pedal so that you can hear a more defined signal.
Experiment with other effects. On this board we can see a Flanger and a Phase Shifter which are similar effects but give you slightly different signal. Steve Vai’s tip was to create different musical situations by creating different guitar outputs in different amps and pedals to produce an orchestra of effects. “I’ts endless what you can do if you start splitting the signal.” – Steve Vai
Steve Vai’s Own Pedal Board Order
The first example pedal board portrayed guitar going into a board which then goes into the amp. This example is the “loop” which goes into the back of the amp via the send/return holes to amplify what is already been sent through the EQ of the pre amp (a think with all the knobs on your amp). “I highly recommend any guitar player to learn even the basics of what EQ is” – Steve Vai
It was a discovery for me to find out that lowering the volume knob on my Strat did not mean the same as lowering the sound level. It meant that the frequencies that were released, were also compressed and ultimately limited by the knob. With such, the tone of distortion and other effects changed and ultimately was lost. With these thoughts in mind, the first pedal in Steve Vai’s pedal board was a Volume pedal which lowered the level of the sound rather than limited it, without losing the tone.
If you look at the effects, you will see two Delays and a Super Chorus going into Stereo which enriches the sound and makes it more present. Pretty much splitting one sound into two and creating an orchestra. As I listened to the sounds that came out of Steve’s axe, I realized that I want a Delay pedal. I might need a couple more lives to learn it all but I sure will enjoy it.
As with BOSS example board, the Distortion pedal is left for later. Wah-Wah goes before it to create that really compressed, definitive “woooooooooah” rather than a pansy “wah” being distorted by the pedal. I second that concept. If you can notice the difference between the Expressionism and Cubism then it would be my analogy for the two.
At this point the chat next to the streaming window went wild. The Jemini is an Ibanez Distortion Pedal designed by Steve Vai. “…looking for a distortion pedal I could use on a clean tone.”
As with prior example, Jemini is set as a boost rather than it’s own working horse and with the delay being setup before the distortion, none of it is being left out.
Options and New Additions to the Pedalboard
I was looking forward to this one with some anticipation since Blues Driver was on my radar for as long as I had a guitar. It is Blues approved by many sources and loved by the players young and old. The setup itself was a hybrid between the first one guitar-effects-rig and the second one send(back of amp)-effects-return(back of amp).
Waza Craft is an updated versions of OD, Delay and BD pedals that were used in the 80’s and have a mod switch adding a new dimension.
Since the Blues Guitar tone is what I am after, the Blues Driver caught my undivided attention. It is an overdrive pedal with seemingly good range and ability to crunch the tone. It is not gonna give you the sustain and heavy gain of DS-1 but with the new mod, it has a much more crunchier bottom and tone in general. Blues Driver is a great beginner overdrive pedals and is not at all hard on the wallet… I wonder why I don’t have one yet…
For years, I have had a visual cheat-sheet laying in my bookmarks and it too, was created by BOSS U.S. I do believe that one should master a guitar before they go into the effects but as Steve said, “at time, effects influence you to play the things you would not normally play with just your amp”. It can get you out of the rut, it can get you on a whole new level of Blues and it is just so much fun.
Practice and Inspiration
The last 10-15 minutes of the webinar showed a real human aspect to guitar playing regardless of the music style you listen to. As a young guitarist, practice is important and above all effective. More practice is better and adding focus on top of it will put you on a next BOSS/MF webinar. When you pick up a guitar, turn everything off, give yourself some time to meditate on what you are getting better at. Give yourself some room to hear your purest feelings through the riffs or licks you play. Do not fear to experiment or even fail… You will not fail but rather find a number of ways that do not work.
To me, this session was a breath of fresh air. To you, this session may be a discovery of how great Steve Vai is as a guitarist:
For me, this event was great, felt great and I am grateful that there are trailblazers like Steve Vai who not only do the inhuman amount of work without working but also share it with procrastinators like me. I appreciate the guys from BOSS and MF who work on giving me and people like me such great service and I will soon say the same about the product. I disagree with those who complained about the two short commercial parts during the webinar. These guys spent their resources for us, they could have given us two more blocks with ads and I’d still love it as much. Thank you Mr. Vai, thank you Brian (a really nice guy next to Steve), thank you Roland, Boss, Musician’s Friend and everyone of your parents who raised you with quality which you now share with me and others.
You can watch the full webinar here.
All images were taken from either BOSS, Musician’s Friend websites or with their help.