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Bangin' on a Budget

Welcome to For Your Consideration, I am Nicholas La Torre and I am here to present relevant issues in music that are on my mind. I will present multiple sides of the issue for you to consider and ultimately we will try to gauge your thoughts on the issue. In today's talk, we are going to talk about essential effects pedals for beginning guitarists (or just guitarists who want to look into a new sound).

For the most part, a guitarist's effects setup is about as unique as a fingerprint. Today, there are infinite selections of guitar effects (or effects in general) covering all ranges of budgets. But we want to focus on the essentials to get you by until you figure out what that sound is for you. This is the foundational work needed to invent your individual sound and provide the standard on which you will continue to experiment. There are some things you need to get started, and unless you want to have to redo it all over again, you will need some sort of budget. Most of these items aren't found around the house (but some of them are!)

The Pedalboard

This is one of the most underrated parts of any good setup. It's also something you can do on the cheap if you're the least bit handy. The pedalboard is what will hold all of your effects pedals. It should be durable because if you plan to ever play gigs, it's going to take some abuse. You can purchase great pedalboards (with great price tags) if you look at Musiciansfriend, Amazon, or Guitar Center, that are actually made to hold pedals of certain brands/types. They often will look nicer than homemade creations, but the purpose is pretty much the same. Let's look at how to make one for yourself. Don't worry that it doesn't look fancy. For the most part, they look road worn, and that's way cooler than any store bought one could provide. Sort of like a journeyman with new tools...just not something you want to see.

1. Find an old piece of wood. Preferably not something made of particle board considering the abuse it will take. You'll also want this piece of wood to be treated, sanded, regular wood you would use for any sort of building project. It just shouldn't be unfinished wood in the event that you don't want to sand and don't love getting splinters constantly. Mine was a piece from the garage behind my house. It was previously used for a woodworking project, but was already the perfect size for me. This size should be anywhere from 10-12" in width, 24-30"long, and about an an inch deep. Keep in mind, this is all up to your personal preference. Consider that the pedals will add weight, but if you can comfortable hold and carry the board, it will probably work great. I chose to write my name and date on the top of the board before the next step. Now is the time to do it!

2. For mine, I threw a coat of durable urethane on it (any varnish or stain will work fine as well) and it was ready to go.

3. For the handles on the ends, I chose cabinet handles that my mom had lying around that were originally in the same house, the house that I had grown up in. I thought this to be a nice sentimental value so if you have something like that, it's a great savings and a fond memory.

4. Next, after you've coated the wood in some fashion, attached handles to it, and can carry it, you need to select the method of attaching the pedals. There are several ways you could fashion these up. But if you're like me and want to be able to swap pedals as I go, choose something that is a little less than permanent. You want it to hold up, just make sure that you can make changes as your sound progresses. I chose heavy duty outdoor velcro that you can find at any large department store or most hardware stores. I attached two strips on the bottom of the pedal and two on the board for each pedal. They are more than sturdy enough and after 15 years of use, they are still working.

The Pedals

Now, the most important ingredient. You wouldn't need a pedalboard unless you planned to throw something on top. Shopping for pedals might be a bit different than what you're used to in selecting other items for purchase. First and foremost, pedals must be rugged and durable. They take a lot of abuse. These pedals are made to properly function when someone is stomping down on them. Think about that. So, you can be conservative with the cost aspect of this purchase, but make sure it's not at the cost of build materials. I would not trust something that uses plastic as it's main mechanical function. You are just asking to pay the cost again. Make sure you do plenty of research and listen to reviews. Take audio or video reviews with a grain of salt because unless you're purchasing everything else they have in that video, chances are, your setup will sound different.

Now lets work left to right.

First, I like to select some sort of base level distortion. This can be a straight up distortion pedal (especially if your amp is solid state and you do not like the distortion/gain settings provided), or a tube screamer-esque pedal (these are great if you're using a tube amp and want to utilize the amp's natural distortion with a bit of elevation). My personal is a metal distortion-type pedal that I keep the settings down a bit to mellow it out. I appreciate the added sustain and tone for solos, even if I'm not looking for the most distorted of sounds.

Next, do everyone a favor and get a tuner pedal. Not one of the plastic doodads that you put near your guitar and has only an input on it. You need a real pedal with a big, beautiful display that you can see in the darkest of clubs. Even if you're not using it for that, I always recommend the less unplugging the guitar when you're playing, the better. Don't cheap out on a tuner that is hard to see, is made of nothing but plastic, or uses a lcd type needle. It needs to have some sort of backlighting and can be seen from a few feet away. Your audience will thank you for staying in tune.

Next, it's a great time for what I think of as the auxiliary type pedal. You can choose from hundreds of different sounds and effects. Maybe you prefer chorus, or sustain, or nice echo/delay/reverb pedals. This is a great place for it. I prefer to use an echo/delay pedal.

You can add other auxiliary pedals here if your pedalboard space allows. I know one I used for a while was a Boss Noise Gate pedal for when I was gigging. At the time, I was using a setup that was allowing all kinds of extra feedback that I was not happy with. I found out later, it was a result of a defective pickguard/pickup setup that I had gotten from ESP. Once I was able to fix that, I no longer needed the noise gate. They work great if you have some extra feedback coming through, but don't allow that to be a permanent fix. Get to the issue of your problem. Sometimes it's just a noise setup and you can't help it. But remember, the more you're using the noise gate, the more it's filtering out feedback. In the process, it's impossible for it to take out all of the feedback you have while leaving all the tone you want.

Last, is the wah wah pedal. These are incredibly important for sounding like some of your favorite guitarists, or to use some of that style of music in your own tunes. For this, I chose one that I got second hand from a guitar shop. It is a Jim Dunlop Crybaby Wah Wah Pedal, which basically set the industry standard. I got it for like $75 about 20 years go. I have definitely gotten my money's worth over time. I will eventually replace it for one that I do not have to kick on and off every time, but it's been nice always knowing I have a working wah. And since it's older, most of the items on it are replaceable. I've fixed all sorts of pieces on it. This can be the best way to get bang for your buck.

Cable/Patch Cables/Power Supply/Daisy Chain

Now, to set it all up, you need to wire it together. There are tons of videos on how to do this, but it's pretty easy. You need two longer cables (for your amp and guitar), patch cables for each of the pedals you are using, and a power supply. For your cables, you don't have to get the most expensive Monster Cables you can find. Just get something reputable and safe that your budget allows. I would imagine those better cables are better for more expensive setups and for recording where every sound is key. Guitar power supplies and daisy chains are pretty easy to find. Make sure the voltages match what your pedals need, but most of them are pretty standard these days. The daisy chain is the piece that takes the originally power supply to each of the pedals. It has one inlet and multiple outlets in order to carry the current to multiple pedals with only one power supply. The initial longer cable comes from the guitar to an inlet on the pedals. You use a patch cable from the outlet of that pedal to the inlet of the next and continue until all are done. There should be one final output, which you use the other longer cable from to go to your amplifier. Now that you're all set, play around with the setup to make sure everything is working correctly. I had to change the order of some of the pedals once because one of the pedals was overpowering another when they were both on. Try different configurations until you get the perfect sound.

There you have it. You've built your own setup! You can change out pieces as you go, but you'll always remember that you made it yourself and where you came from.

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