Living in the 21st century has its perks: The internet, advancements in technology, and video games have made it a great time to be alive. As guitarists, we’ve been blessed with a large number of great pedal effects companies that have popped up during the turn of the century. Keeley, JHS and Walrus Audio are just some of the great pedal manufacturers that have come to the fore and have made the guitar landscape a whole more interesting for us guitar geeks.
While talking guitars the other day, we reminisced about the times when we first started building our very first pedal boards. Feeling warm and fuzzy from that memory, we decided to create a pedalboard that will suit three genres: blues, rock and metal.
The Essential Pedals: Overdrive, Reverb & Compressor
The history of the blues is steeped with the darkest parts of American history. Originating from the deep South of the late 1800s, blues music has its roots in African musical traditions and slave work songs. With such harsh origins, the blues are undoubtedly the musical embodiment of the pain those brave souls have suffered. A voice for the oppressed, the blues are gritty, raw, and full of heart. This notion is really reflected in the guitar tones that you hear from the genre.
The quintessential blues tone are textures formed by mainly three effects: an overdrive, compression pedal and a reverb effect. The overdrive pedal serves to push the front of your amp past the point of breakup to that nice, warm sizzle. The key to a good serving of the blues is to find that sweet spot between shimmery cleans and amp saturation so feel free to play with the gain stages to your tastes. We find that the Ibanez TS808 Tubescreamer serves to be a great specimen for the type of overdrive that would be ideal for the bluesy sound.
The next vital effect to playing the blues is a good helping of compression. You really cannot underestimate the role of a good compressor in getting those sorrowful wails and cries. The compressor adds sustain and a boost in attack that definitely helps with unleashing the emotive side of your playing. Our pick for a compressor would be the TC Electronic Hypergravity Mini Compressor.
While many bluesmen often use this last effect, you’d be hard pressed to find it on their pedal boards. The effect in question is the very underrated but never under-appreciated reverb. Guys such as Phillip Sayce usually dials in a healthy dose of reverb on his amp so do feel free to do so if your amp has such capabilities. For the rest of us, a pedal substitute would be the most ideal solution. A complex type of an echo, reverb serves to thicken up your tone and add a shimmering quality that complements both cleaner and overdriven sounds. No discussion for Reverb would be complete without taking bringing up the Strymon BlueSky.
The Essentials: Distortion, EQ, Delay
This one is a bit of a doozy. Ask any fan of metalhead about the types of metal subgenres out there and we might be having a debate that would span days. Djent, industrial metal, metalcore, etc. all have their own unique tones but for the most part we will be looking at gear that can cover all these bases pretty well.
Distortion is the first one and it’s pretty much a no-brainer. Hi-gain drive is the sonic force that drives the cacophonic tones that is so emblematic of the genre. The more brutal it sounds, the better of course. To achieve this end, we really like the Walrus Audio Iron Horse.
However, we also love the Teisco Distortion Pedal which similarly delivers classic drive distortion and can really bring out the thickness that those fat chugs demand.
An EQ pedal is also vital for getting those searing metal tones. This pedal is a must-own on any serious pedalboard. An EQ pedal will allow you to shape the frequency bands to get the sound you need according to the metal genre you are playing. From scooping the mids to shaping the attack, an EQ gives you full control of your sound to get exactly what you desire. The BOSS EQ-200 Graphic Equalizer is certainly a great pick for this purpose.
A delay pedal? Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. No don’t close that tab just yet, I promise you we aren’t pulling your leg. Even if you don’t realise it, your favourite bands have been using a delay pedal to add an extra dimension to their music. This effect thicken ups your lines and makes your solos and lead lines pop in the mix. For this purpose we’d definitely look at the Keeley ECCOS Neo-Vintage Tape Delay.
The Essentials: Compressor, Distortion, Overdrive, Fuzz, Delay, Univibe, Wah, etc.…
If you thought metal was a hard one to define, the genre of rock has it a lot worse. We’ve got a plethora of rock genres that are so far reaching that selecting staple pedals is going to be close to an impossible task.
You see, the type of rock that bands like Tame Impala play is vastly different music from the type of rock that bands like the Strokes perform. In fact, in order to do any justice, the entire article could be designated simply to cover the different styles of rock sub-genres and what would be needed to attain those specific tones.
What you’re definitely going to want is some sort of drive pedal. Whether that would be Distortion, Overdrive or Fuzz is up to your personal tastes but we’d definitely try to gun for the whole lot of them regardless. Here’s a few great pedals to get you started: the Walrus Audio Voyager, the JHS Angry Charlie & the Jim Dunlop FFM1 Silicon Fuzz Face Mini.
Also, welcome back your dear friend – the compressor– once again. While they aren’t going to be the star of any pedal show-and-tell, we assure you that the compressor can do more to your tone and sustain than almost any other pedal can.
Between that we’d say go with your gut feeling. Want to sound like Van Halen? Be sure to get that phaser.
How bout Jimi Hendrix or Robin Trower? Best place an order for that Univibe.
Want to have a sea of echoes and repeats like U2? Step on a delay pedal.
Black Sabbath? Snag that Treble Booster.
Wanna play like Kirk Hammett? That’s just a wah pedal away.
As you can see, playing guitar is akin to painting on a blank canvas – it’s a sea of endless possibilities. While some may tell you to keep it simple and only get the essential pedals, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you want to achieve with your guitar tone. However, we think you’d be the best judge for the tone that you are trying to create.
Our advice? Save up and get every effect you can or maybe just get an effect that can do it all like the Ampero.
As always, stay tuned to our blog to keep up to date with our latest gear releases and features.