This space has been reserved for rock and metal stylings for a few months
now, but I want to get into something
more universal. Whether I’m doing a big
metal show or a tiny coffeehouse gig, I
can usually distinguish the bassists in the
audience, because they’re standing over
my pedalboard afterwards and staring
down. I do the same thing when I see
someone else’s board. What’s he got on
there? And why?
Pedal and effect choices are a very subjective
thing, as well they should be—you’re
personalizing your sound with every box.
But for those who haven’t yet built a pedalboard,
and are wondering where to start,
I think a generic pedalboard conversation
will be useful.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that
our pedalboard is going in front of the
amp’s input, and not in an effects loop.
Let’s also understand that this is just my
two cents on the topic, and some will find
it worth every penny. Finally, we’re not
talking brands, just the type of pedal.
Brands and models are up to you. OK?
Here we go, in order:
Volume pedal with side-chain tuner out,
connected to tuner pedal. This enables
silent tuning onstage and goes before
everything. It’s basic, but some people skip
it. I wouldn’t. Who wants to hear you tune
between songs? Certainly not the bandleader.
It’s invaluable when your
headstock gets knocked, or you forget to
detune at the top of a song. Five seconds
of silence beats four minutes of out-oftune-
ness any day.
Octave. It’s a great all-purpose beef-adder,
and can do hipster synth-y things when
you boost just the sub-octave. Why do I
put it first? Because you want the cleanest
possible signal feeding the octave
generator. It’ll track better that way.
Overdrive. If you’re using a tube amp with
overdrive built in, you may not need this.
But if your basic amp sound is clean, this
is an essential option. Mind you, we’re not
talking about full-on creamy distortion.
A nice overdrive adds just a touch of dirt,
or two touches. The extra harmonic distortion
changes the way your bass sits in
the live mix, and also affects the other
Distortion. In days gone by, only guitarists
had different stages of drive. Not anymore.
This pedal should kick the dirt up several
notches, and it should be a reliable, stock,
fully driven sound. It may work best while
the overdrive is still on, or not. Either way,
put it right after the overdrive.
“Wildcard” Drive/Distortion. Time to
personalize. Make your stock overdrive
and distortion something recognizable so
you get hired. The “wildcard” is so they
remember you. There’s a lot of really
strange, new, unique drive and distortion
pedals out there. Find one that speaks to
your freak, and put it here.
Envelope Filter. Or, in layman’s terms,
something that goes squawk or wah. I’m
of two minds on the placement here. It
could either go at the very end, after everything
(that’s where my bass wah is), or
right here. Either way, here’s a big tip:
Make sure it’s after your overdrive. I find
that filter effects on bass, even great ones,
don’t bite as hard as they should on clean
tones. Adding a little drive before the filter really makes it bark and cut through.
Some bass filter pedals have a little drive
built in to rectify this. As always, your ears
are the judge.
Chorus. An old standby. Enhances harmonics,
changes atmosphere, and works
great during melodic breakdowns in metal.
In my opinion, this should be the last toneshaping
effect in the chain.
Reverb or Delay. Now that the tone-shaping
is complete, let’s add some depth. These
effects can either give your note a warm
reverberation, or, with certain delays, a
slapback effect. It’s not so much tone-shaping
as it is tone-extending. If you’ve never
tried striking a note with the volume pedal
down, then swelling it up with the delay
pedal on, you’re in for a treat. But don’t
overuse this—wet bass can muddy things
up quickly in the wrong situation.
Compression. After tone shaping and tone
extending, we need “tone recovery.” Unless
you want to get into true-bypass loops for
each pedal—and I don’t—your signal is
passing through a bunch of little boxes.
There will be some minimal tone degradation
and maybe a slight loss of gain.
Using a good, moderately-adjusted pedal
compressor at the end of the chain will
squeeze and boost your tone back to life.
For anyone with a healthy pedalboard, I
would leave it on all the time.
Power. This is tough, and could be an article
all its own, but I’ll be brief. You want
to be on AC power so you’re not relying
on batteries, but you need to do your
homework and eliminate ground loops.
Purchase a quality multi-pedal AC power
source (most have eight outputs and come
with generic AC connectors). Check the
power requirement on all of your pedals.
Hopefully they’re all 9V and the standard
jack fits (BOSS, Digitech, etc.). Some pedals
require 12 volts. Some AC sources have
12V options for the wacky pedals, some
don’t—do your research, don’t guess! Once
everything is powered, if you hear a
ground loop, it’s time for old-fashioned
troubleshooting. Start with bypassing the
pedals completely to make sure it’s not
your bass. Then, reintroduce each pedal
one at a time from the beginning of the
chain. Eventually your problem child will
surface. Try running that one alone on
batteries—it may solve the issue. Ideally,
well-designed pedals and power sources
won’t create unsolvable problems. If just
one pedal makes everything difficult, a
cost/benefit question is in order.
We could go on—cables, board surface,
casing—but hopefully this is enough to
chew on for those at the beginning of the
process. And for those who already have
pedalboards, you’ll know all too well what
I mean when I say there are no “complete”
pedalboards. There are only stopping
points between revisions.
Bryan Beller is the touring bassist for the
metal “band” Dethklok from the Cartoon
Network’s Adult Swim show Metalocalypse,
and has played with Steve Vai, Mike
Keneally, Dweezil Zappa, Wayne Kramer,
and more. His most recent solo album is
Thanks in Advance [Onion Boy]. Follow him
on Twitter (@bryanbeller) and find out
more at www.bryanbeller.com.