Sunday, May 21, 2017

Pedals..... enough already!

There is a fair amount of gear that you need to play this kind of music, namely, ambient guitar music. You need a guitar, an amp or sound producing computer and speakers, and some pedals. I want to talk about that last item. As a guitarist just starting on the ambient journey, it's hard to sort through all the videos, YouTubes, Anderton ads, and assorted really great guitarists demoing certain pedals. And it's real easy to buy into the notion that it's the pedal, not the player, making those incredible sounds. To be fair, you need some pedals. You just don't need twenty pedals (or ten for that matter.) At my particular point in the journey, what I think you need is: a Compressor to get sustain and even-ness; a Distortion to get some grit; an Octave Generator; a Volume Pedal; a Delay (or two or three); a Reverb; and a Looper. The pedals before the volume pedal are useful, but not critical, and I don't think it matters a heckuva lot which ones you use, as long as they are good ones. The delay and the reverb are where all the action is. Regarding the delay, I say go big-name and go expensive. Get the best one(s) you can buy. This really defines your sound. And you'll need more than one. Some delays can generate more than one delay at a time, (the TC Electronic Triple Delay for instance can produce 3 simultaneous delays.) Or you can run one delay after another. Tape Delay is a big deal in this world; it's the idea of having a delay like the ones made back in the "pre-digital" days, when delays were made by having two tape decks running the tape through and the physical distance between the play and record heads caused a delay. But for our purposes, what folks like about "tape delay" is that it is "not clean." Tape notoriously had warble and flutter and the tape itself degraded over time so that it became "dirty." That's true of the new tape delays; as the repeats happen, each repeat is a little less clean (or less pure,); the highs and/or lows start dropping out faster than other parts of the signal. So it doesn't just "fade out" as a digital delay would; it sort of "degrades away." I do like tape delays; to me they sound more natural and raw as compared to a pure digital delay which sounds a little metallic and pristine. Mind you I also like the "pristine and pure", but each has its own place.
Regarding the reverb, also go expensive. I think this is the second most important tool in the stomp-box kit. The high end reverbs have lots of different reverb types and the best ones really sound good. I know that "sound good" is pretty subjective, but if you A/B two reverbs on similar settings (like comparing spring to spring reverbs), one of them is going to sound BETTER to your ears. That's the one you want. I've heard great players talk about having two reverbs in the chain, one feeding the next, but when I've tried that I've only produced more mud. So for now, one reverb on the board.
Every day I get YouTube alerts telling me so-and-so is demonstrating a new reverb pedal, or a fantastic new multi-delay pedal, or a programmable distortion pedal, or whatever. And I go watch the demo, and it's some guy that is an amazing guitarist that makes the pedal sound unbelievably good. I just fell for it tonight, ! , again, and watched the Empress Effects Echo System delay demo ( Gotta have it!
And finally, the delays that I now have take quite a bit of practicing with to really understand what sounds they can make, and what settings will bring out the sounds that I want. I'm just scratching the surface. So, new working guideline: in an inherently complex environment, keep it as simple as possible.

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