Picture the greatest team you can think of.
Whether it’s the 1992 Olympic basketball team, the mission crew of Apollo 11, or the Avengers, great teams seem to have a few things in common. One such characteristic is the interplay between each team member’s differing, yet essential roles, which allow the team to specialize, divide the work, and conquer their goals.
Your pedalboard’s like that too.
Just like a basketball team with only seven-foot shot blockers wouldn’t be successful in the long run, a pedalboard with only flange pedals would probably hinder more than it would help in the pursuit of an effective guitar sound. We pick the contents of our boards pragmatically, assembling the right pieces with care to construct the right sound in the most efficient way.
However, in a world where pedalboards can only be so big, and we only have so much money with which to fill them, choosing between potential members of our “tone team” can be more complicated than we bargained for, leaving some players to let go of the reins entirely, posting vague questions on gear forums like “what pedals do I need to play music?” With this uncertainty in mind, I’d like to detail the process that I follow when I think I need a new pedal. This is how a player might decide who makes the cut:
Is it an essential to your sound?
- Think about the tone that you’d use for a supplementary part during a verse or chorus. Are some of your pedals on for that tone? If so, keep those above all others. Your tuner fits in this category, even if it’s not in pedal form, and if you’re Kirk Hammett, a wah goes here.
- Common Examples: base-tone overdrive, compressor, volume pedal
- Personal Example: The Midnight 30 Music O.D. 30 Special is a pedal I keep on all the time, using my volume knob to control my saturation level as the cornerstone of my sound.
How many times will you use it in each set?
- There are some pedals that make unarguably cool sounds, but don’t get used enough in the set to warrant their presence on your board. The threshold will vary from player to player, but if a certain pedal only gets used once per set, do you really need it?
- Common Examples: pitch shifting, bit crushers, oscillators
- Personal Example: I had the Pitch Bay for a while, and it was awesome, but I’d only use it every so often. Ultimately, I sold it to make room for something more readily usable.
Is it a unique piece of your board?
- Though style and preference are certainly a factor here, having more than one of the same type of pedal on a board can be redundant, especially in certain cases, and barring certain exceptions. Do you really need two tape delay emulators? Do you really need six stages of “transparent overdrive?” Does every Muff variant need to be represented on your board? Ask yourself these questions.
- Common Examples: low-gain overdrive, reverb, delay
- Personal Example: I had this tremolo pedal that I thought would "compliment" the sound of my amp's vibrato circuit. It ended up just crippling me with choice, and in the end, I sold it, because it was redundant.
Is the price reasonable?
- This isn't on the flowchart, but I figured it was worth mentioning, because while some pedals are definitely worth the asking price, there are certain situations where a minute change in tone doesn’t warrant a massive change in price. The audience probably can’t tell between two kinds of NOS transistors in the same kind of fuzz, so ultimately, is it worth the extra hundred dollars?
- Common Examples: that one overdrive pedal, vintage fuzzes, that other overdrive pedal
- Personal Example: I swoon over a certain Fuzz Face variant from time to time, but ultimately, the $400 price tag is something I just cant justify for something I’d only use sparingly.
Does it look cool?
- Not a consideration for all players, the aesthetics of a pedal can be neglected one way or the other based on how it sounds. However, given the choice, wouldn’t you rather be looking down at something cool? There are a myriad of brands who take their products to the next level by making them look as cool as they sound, which may not sway all players, but makes me incredibly happy.
- Common Examples: anything made by ZVEX, Walrus, OBNE, Earthquaker, etc.
- Personal Example: I love the look of the Neunaber Audio stuff. They look like spacecraft. They are spacecraft.
Obviously, this set of considerations isn’t even close to exhaustive, and other players may have a totally different process for deciding what gets space on their board. The main principle, however, stands:
Your board is an elite team of tone. You should care about who makes the cut.