QUICK HIT: Two examples that illustrate how you might put together a stocked, modern rock pedalboard on a modest budget.
By modern rock, I'm including anything in the rock or metal category that showed up after about 1995. From an effects perspective, this would constitute high amounts of gain (heavy distortion), modulation effects for layering and ambient effects for delay and echo.
With that type of music in mind, I'm going to look at a few theoretical pedalboard setup options that are affordable and that suit the needs of a modern rock guitar player.
To recap, the primary tone characteristics I want to address would include the following:
- Layered Modulation
- Heavy gain
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Delegating to Your Amplifier
We should also keep in mind that some of the signal processing can be offloaded to an amplifier, depending on which amp you might be running. For example, if you're using a high-quality tube amp, like a Mesa Rectifier, you'd be better off letting your distortion and gain levels be handled entirely at the preamp level.
No pedal needed.
Another scenario is that you have a nice amplifier that leans towards a more vintage tone and can't really accommodate the saturation and high gain levels that the rock and metal style demands.
In that situation, you might want or need a distortion pedal out in front of your signal chain. This would, in effect, serve as a preamp to your preamp.
I'll use the Guitar Chalk Pedalboard Planner to set these up.
Let's get started.
Example #1: Rhythm Rig with Distortion Handled by Amplifier
To help keep us in a somewhat budget-friendly cost territory, our my first example assumes that distortion is handled at the amplifier's preamp level, which means we don't need a distortion pedal. We'll use a small Pedaltrain board and a few basic digital effects.
I'm also building this pedalboard with the needs of a rhythm guitarist in mind, which means we'll leave out wah and pitch-related effects while making sure to add a chorus and EQ pedal.
Start with the Pedaltrain Nano+ and a tuner:
Next we'll add compression and a Boss chorus pedal to give us some modulation options along with the MXR Dyna Comp compressor. Both are under $100.
- Boss CH-1 Super Chorus: 2.87 x 5 inches
- MXR Dyna Comp: 2.37 x 4.37 inches
To finish this one up we'll add another modulation effect - the Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter - to give us some additional layering options. We'll also drop in the Way Huge analog delay for some ambience. Since this is a rhythm rig I'll throw the Boss GE-7 EQ pedal onto the end of the chain, that way the board can at least accommodate a simple cut or gain boost.
- Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter (phaser): 2.87 x 5 inches
- Way Huge Aqua-Puss Analog Delay: 3.75 x 4.7 inches
- Boss GE-7 Equalizer: 2.87 x 5 inches
We've managed to squeeze a tuner, compressor, modulation, ambience and even an EQ/level boosting tool onto a fairly small pedalboard. While I set it up with the needs of a rock rhythm guitarist in mind, it could also work for a lead player as well, especially since we have the ability to boost the signal from our pedalboard.
Here are the final specs:
Example #2: Lead Rig with Distortion Handled by Pedalboard
In my second example I'll use a deeper board with the same width. This will let us add a larger wah pedal, which would have hung over the edge of the Nano Plus, at only five inches deep. We'll also save some money buy cutting our modulation pedals, though we'll also move distortion onto the board instead of assuming it's coming from the amplifier.
- Pedaltrain Classic Jr: 18 x 12.5 inches
- Dunlop Original Cry Baby Wah: 10 x 4 inches
- AmpTweaker Tight Metal Jr: 2.7 x 4.65 inches
- Kliq Tiny Tune: 1.2 x 3.7 inches
The wah and distortion are the most important functional pieces to add, and we've used a really cheap tuner to save some money, as well as the Dunlop Original Crybaby which is one of the most affordable wah pedals available.
- TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 Reverb: 2.8 x 4.8 inches
- Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler: 10 x 6 inches
- Boss GE-7 Equalizer: 2.87 x 5 inches
Getting the deeper board is exclusively to make room for the wah pedal that is more critical to a lead guitar player. However, it also makes room for a second row of pedals, whereas the Nano Plus only had enough room for a single row. We can take advantage of this space by adding the larger DL4, giving us a ton of ambient sounds and even some modulation if we want it.
The final price tag is roughly in the same range as the previous example.
How do we know what to put in send/return?
Your effects loop should house ambient effects first. From there, the science gets less concrete. Just recently someone commented on one of these posts and said that they kept their boost pedal in the effects loop because that was the only way their volume levels came out right.
Thus, it depends a lot of your own setup, how you've put your rig together and what specific problems you're dealing with. A fair amount of them can be solved by using an effects loop, so it's worth experimenting.
Should I just use my amp's distortion?
These scenarios assume you already have an amp. What's harder to determine is how that amp's gain channel or distortion might fit into your playing style. If you bought your amp without being sure about using it as a distortion source, you'll need to do some testing to figure out whether or not the onboard gain is going to work for your particular style of playing.
For modern guitar players who need a heavier distortions, a lot of vintage or blues-style amps aren't going to be saturating enough.
Here are a few examples of light gain or "bluesy" amps:
- VOX AC Series
- Fender Deluxe
- Bugera V Series
Amps with a more modern-voiced distortion include the following:
- Blackstar HT Series
- Mesa Rectifiers
- Marshall DSL and JCM series
- Line 6 Spider series
Ultimately, you'll have to decide whether or not the onboard gain is enough to keep you going without buying a pedal. When I ran a Fender Vibrolux, I added a distortion pedal because that amp's gain just isn't heavy. It sounds good, especially if you're into lighter blues or classic rock styles, but that just isn't what I was into playing at the time.
On the other hand, if you're happy with your amp's distortion, use it and save the cost of a distortion pedal on your pedalboard.
Since we've built our own pedalboard planner app, I've gotten more into what I call pedalboard "builds" or just experimenting with different setups. If you want to use the app, you can run it here.
You can also ask questions about this setup, the pedals recommended or share your own stories/images about your pedalboard setup.
Refer to the comments section below and I'll do my best to respond.