More Pedal Madness/Unleashing The Pedal Geek Within

I used to work at Action Music, a vintage oriented music shop in Falls Church, VA. You were guaranteed to have a daily encounter, in person or on the phone, with a Guitar Geek, Bass Geek, Amp Geek or the dreaded – Pedal Geek!
Guitar and bass geeks are fairly easy puzzles to solve. They usually rely on name brands, feel, retro looks, reissue models, relic or distressed look reissue models, semi-hollow body, Jazz box, “true” acoustic, acoustic electric, Fender like, PRS like or Gibson like. It may get slightly trickier once strings and pickups are brought into the equation. Higher level Guitar and Bass Geeks dabble in wood types and wood combinations, bracings, pickup placement, etc..

Amp geeks are a little more complex. They talk of solid state or the incredible tube amp. Is it Class A or Class B? Does it have 6L6s, EL34s or EL84s? They search for Vox like chime, Fender like butter, Egnator like grit, Boogie like crunch, awesomeness like Alesandro and beyond. Some get caught up in the “Point to Point” wiring web. In the days of old, the military used “Point to Point” wiring for easy repairs in the field during times of war. So, if you are buying an amp in a post war, modern era, what does Point to Point really matter? The user is rarely the repairman, and I have NEVER known an amp repairman or facility to offer a discount because the amp was wired Point to Point. Ironically, you will pay more for a Point to Point wired amp. Funny!

Pedal Geeks! A true PG will sit hours and hours going thru a list of vintage, modern, reissued, modified, production manufactured, and hand made  boutique pedals. Buying a simple overdrive or fuzz pedal can take days, weeks, or even months to find the right one: only to find out another pedal does something ever so slightly different. For this reason, most performing guitarists will have 2, 3 or 4 drive based pedals on his pedal board. They ask questions like, “Does the drive pedal sound more 808 like? Full Drive like? AC Boost like? Big Muff like fuzz?     Z-Vex Fuzz Factory like craziness? Will I have full control of the distortion’s tone and saturation?” PGs are always full of intriguing conversation. I’ve met many small minded musicians, but I have never met a Pedal Geek that did not know how to intelligently express him/herself verbally.

PGs will spend hours in a store testing the doppler and decay of a delay pedal. Asking more questions like, “Does it have tap tempo?” And things like, “Even though I only have and use one amp, does the Chorus/Flanger have dual outputs making it stereo capable?” “Is there a pan control for the stereo function?” The pedal ceases to be stereo if you do not have the ability to use two amps or utilize both outputs. Lets not go into things like the EH POG or Micro Synth, Digitech Wammie pedal, Loop pedals, the Line 6 pods or Roland synths etc.. Before I go into those, I would have to check with Brandi, to see if my site can hold the extra megabytes of space.

There are some great players, like bassist extraordinare, Doug Wimbish, that make excellent use of multiple effects. The biggest authority on pedals and pedal boards, in my opinion, is the “Pedal Guru”, Bryan Baxter of Koshari. The last time I saw Bryan, he had no fewer than 3 pedal boards, all running together. Cool INSANITY! During a Koshari show, there are no blank spaces. Baxter has loopers and delays that run to fill void times between songs and/or guitar changes.

Where Am I Going With This? I’VE GOT NO CLUE!! Seriously though. Hanging around Bryan Baxter a few years ago, I got caught up in the Pedal Geek Madness. I had a small board – Boss Pedal Tuner, SansAmp Bass Driver DI, HomeBrew Hematoma bass pedal, Gas Pedals (Marilyn Monroe) clean boost, Aphex Punch Factory compressor and a Boss OC-2 Octave divider. All of the items were cleanly laid out with carpet and Velcro. All pedals were connected with George L. cables and connectors and powered by a VooDoo Labs power supply. Way, way too much for my needs! First off, I did not need all the pedals for most situations. I only needed the tuner and maybe the compressor for Acoustic gigs. For my average electric bass gigs, I “really” only needed the tuner since my main Trace Elliot 1225 amp had an XLR/DI output and a footswitch jack that allowed me to engage/disengage its Graphic EQ and tone Shape functions. For a quick hit (no amp required gigs), I only need the tuner and DI.

My current pedal needs are fairly simple; I need a multi-function DI box and my Boss TU-2 tuner. I like the thought of having a Bass Chorus or Phase Shifter for some ballads and for filling space. With open admission, it has taken me quite a bit of time to find the right pedals. My DI search took about 3 weeks. Prior to that, I would go into a store, try a few and leave with one. Later on I would realize that I needed the DI to do more or be more.

I have pretty much given up on “one song” effects like Octave dividers, Delays or tweeter crushing Envelope filters. I love the light swirls of chorus pedals and phase shifters. In 3 years, I have gone from an MXR Block Phase 90, which I dumped it because my active basses overloaded and distorted the input signal, and I moved to an MXR, EVH Phase 90, which is a very nice pedal for bass. I got tired of connecting pedals, considering my minimal usage of them, so I took the “No effects and only my tuner” route. My music situation changed again, so I decided I wanted something swirly again. I took about 2 minutes to purchase an EBS Uni-Chorus/Pitch Shift/Flanger pedal. It is a great sounding pedal, with several coloration options. Sadly, the unit’s life with me was short lived. Only 3 months of ownership. My problem with the Uni-Chorus? At volume with my 18volt active basses, the chorus effect tended to sound more like a ring modulator. I switched from the Uni-Chorus back to the EVH Phase 90 again, but I wanted something with more girth and lushness. (I know…I liked those two words too!) I usually read up on the product from the manufacturer’s website or from a Bass Player Magazine gear review before hand. This time, I took the PG route and read other player reviews, googled and read other magazine reviews, read retail outlet reviews, and even You Tube’d all the products I considered. Using all the available resources versus my own theories, I know I chose better this time around.

The result: The prior reviewed, EBS Micro Bass II, 2 Channel DI and A/B Box pedal and the Tech 21, Boost Bass Chorus pedal. The Tech 21 has a silent switch, which avoids the activation pops I encountered with the MXR pedals. Unlike many other bass pedals, the Boost Chorus offers a Tone control and a Boost control: hence, its name Bass Boost Chorus. The importance of these two controls is almost unmatched! Many times, Modulation Based Effects, such as Chorus/Flanger/Delay/Phase Shifters/Ring Modulators/Tremelo type pedals, can thin out the tonality of an instrument. Your signal can start off strong and throaty, but once you engage the effect, you lose a lot of the low end structure of the signal. To the average ear, this will give the impression of a slight signal drop off or loss of volume. These issues are resolved with the Tech 21 Boost Bass Chorus. One can have the swift phasing, or soft chorus MXR types of sounds, in addition to the more lush Electro Harmonics effects, without all the EH noise and huge size by utilizing other features: Mix, Speed, Detune, Depth and Multi Voice controls. The Multi Voice control offers up some Harmonizer type sounds. The Multi Voice in conjunction with the Detune control allows for some interesting sound flavors. The Detune, Clockwise from 12:00 goes into # sharp harmonies. Counter Clockwise from 12:00 goes into b flat harmonies. The Boost Bass Chorus, like all of Tech 21 NYC products, is well built. The controls are smooth turning and sure, the silent, buffered, true bypass switch offers entrance and exit of the effect signal, without fear of pops and swishing noises. Even with all the features I listed above, it is still easy to operate. My two cons: no stereo output, which is probably not needed considering most users never connect the stereo output, and the LED could be a touch brighter to counter some stage lighting.

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