THINGS AIN’T LIKE THEY USED TO BE
Some pedals are easy as pie to dial in. The MXR Phase 90 and it’s one control knob come to mind. The Tube Screamer is pretty straightforward: volume, tone, gain… that’s it. (Note: I love both of these pedals)
But as technology has advanced, pedals and their controls have become more advanced and complicated. Some people stay away from pedals with too many knobs or complicated controls. Some people have them, but don’t know what to do with them.
My goal is to walk you through some steps that should help you conquer your fears and expand your guitar tone!
READ THE MANUAL
You really do need to read the manual. I actually love when a builder takes the time to put together a good manual for their pedal. I keep PDF copies of the manuals of my gear on my phone at times. You never know when something’s going to go weird or when you have some free time and you want to experiment with a pedal’s suggested settings. But after you read the manual once or twice, all those knobs just might start to make sense.
START AT NOON
Now, having said all that, sometimes the manuals aren’t very well written or don’t make sense. In this case I’d follow three simple steps: start at noon, set to sample, and ignore knobs.
The first thing is to set every knob straight up to noon like it was a clock. Sometimes you just have to experiment. Start at noon and make the necessary adjustments. For example, on a Tubescreamer, if everything is at noon, it’ll probably be too loud, so you decide where you want your gain at and then dial in the volume for unity levels. Once that’s in place you start figuring out where the sweet spot for the tone knob is. It’s no different for a pedal with more knobs, there’s just more knobs.
If your pedal’s manual includes sample settings then make use of that resource. For example, the Strymon DIG has a lot of controls and then add the “hidden” extra controls and that’s a lot. But I went through each of their sample settings and they gave me a feel for the way that the controls worked. I could see the differences and it helped me to understand the pedal and dial in my own preferences the more time I spent with it.
Finally, when you have a lot of controls, you’ve just got to ignore some knobs for a while. I love what Joel is doing over at ChaseBliss. I’ve got his Warped Vinyl Chorus/Vibrato and Gravitas Tremolo on my rig. But there’s a lot of controls (I means a LOT). Whenever I start with his stuff, I ignore all the extra stuff; I don’t touch the dip switches for months. Once I have a feel for the basic controls like rate and depth on the Gravitas, then I start learning how the Drive and Volume knobs interact with each other, and so on. I’ve spent enough time with the Warped Vinyl that the dip switches are being used and the pedal and all it’s knobs are no big deal (see an example of how I use chorus in worship w/ the first song HERE).
TAKE YOUR TIME
Let’s face it, a lot of guitar players go through pedals like they’re on a very fast moving merry-go-round. While it’s fun to try new pedals, it limits what you can do with the ones you’ve got. The two longest serving pedals on my rig are the Colour Box and the Kilobyte. I’ve had them for 1.5 and 2 years respectively and I’m still learning new things about how to manipulate the sound they create.
Don’t be scared by pedals with a higher learning curve because the results are probably well worth it, and the lessons you learn along the way could very well help you in other areas of your playing. I know that this has been the case for me.