4 Expert Tips to Help You Use Guitar Pedals in a Live Gig
While using pedals in a live gig, you need to make sure of a few things: 1) Order your effects wisely 2) Use presets to get the exact sound you require 3) Make sure that the frequencies of your setup don't clash with your band mates 4) Your board should be reliable
It might seem impossible to make your pedals sound good during a live gig. I'm here to teach you how to use your pedals in a gig and have a successful performance.
While using pedals in a live scenario, you need to make sure of a few things:
- Order your effects wisely. Effects you place at the end of your chain will have a more extreme impact on your sound.
- Use presets to get the exact sound you require
- Your board should be reliable, the sound shouldn't cut off mid performance.
- Make sure that the frequencies of your setup don't clash with your band mates.
In order to learn more about why and how you should use these tips, continue reading!
Signal Chain and Layout Matters
If you're like me, you've spent most of the year indulging in a pedal-buying frenzy. If so, you're likely going to have to think about re-ordering your board and finding the best place in your signal chain for all of your recent acquisitions.
Effects will often sound – and sometimes even perform - significantly differently depending on what other effects are placed before or after them, and there are no hard-and-fast rules on which order you should use. Personal tastes and preferences vary wildly, as do the rigs and musical requirements of those who have them, so experiment with the order of your pedals to see what works best for you and the music you make.
Effects you place at the end of your chain will have a more extreme impact on your sound, than those that are fed into them. For example, if you love your tremolo as audibly present and choppy as possible, try putting it after your delay section to prevent the sound from being “washed away" by the delay repeats.
Many pedals that use an octave effect, such as Pitch Shifters, Organ and Synth pedals, will respond better to a clean, un-buffered, and possibly even an uncompressed signal. So it's a good idea to put those pedals as near to the guitar as possible, if clarity and good tracking is what you're looking for in those effects!
Use Presets and Save Settings
If the music you plan to perform is heavily structured and rehearsed, such as when you're playing through a set-list, or covering well-known songs, you'll certainly benefit from being able to quickly change settings on your board to get the exact sound you require. There are three, main ways to achieve this:
1. Using a Pedal Switcher
Being able to quickly turn your pedals on/off between songs, or even mid-song, is a definite advantage. Especially if you use a switcher that is programmable! That way, you can store specific combinations of your pedals as saved patches, and then call up that combination whenever you need it. In the blink of an eye, you can turn off one entire chain of effects whilst simultaneously turning on another – all with a single stomp!
There are many, high-end, fully programmable switchers on the market from big names such as EHX and Boss, right the way through to more boutique companies like Disaster Area, Mastermind, and The GigRig. However, the older switcher units in Joyo’s PXL range are still among the best value examples you can buy, if you decide to go this route on a budget!
Something else to bear in mind, is that some switchers are able to send MIDI commands, enabling you to change entire settings on some of your pedals, besides merely turning the pedals on/off in your chain.
2. Using Pedals With Presets
Some of the more complex pedals you can buy, have built-in means of storing your favourite settings as user presets. These can be very useful if you have more than one sound that you need to use during your set. If you have any pedals with this feature, it's good to position them in a way that will allow you to access them as easily as possible.
A useful tip, is to try and programme your patches/presets in the order that you will need them for your set, to minimise the number of stomps you'll need to make!
3. A Decidedly More....Analogue Approach
If the first two options aren't for you, but you still have specific settings on your pedals that you want to ‘save’ or preserve, try marking the knob positions directly onto the pedal with a marker pen (or perhaps with some, decidedly less permanent, adhesive tape!) to indicate exactly where each knob needs to be pointed, in order to achieve your desired sounds.
If you want to reduce the range of movement on your precious parameters, put some rubber or silicone washers underneath the knobs to make them harder to turn. You could also remove the knobs completely if you doubt you'll need to make any adjustments at all. Or, if you're absolutely positive that you'll never need to drift from your chosen setting, go really hardcore and glue those knobs firmly into place!
Make Sure Your Board Is Reliable
The last thing you want to happen during your face-melting solo, is for the sound to cut out on you, either due to a dead cable, a flat battery, or some other, preventable reason.
Most people would rather not risk this nightmare scenario, and therefore it’s a wise move to invest in some decent patch cables and an isolated power supply for your board, as these will significantly reduce the chances of your signal cutting out.
Some of your pedals might also pose a potential problem for reliability, if they're on the cheaper, more “budget” side of things, or maybe if they're vintage and getting a bit grouchy and temperamental in their old age. Putting such pedals in the loop of a switcher, as we mentioned earlier, is a really good way to reduce the stress caused from constant stomping.
Be Stage Ready (Your home is not the stage)
This is an important one! I'm sure we've all been in a situation where our guitar part is coming up, we stomp on our favourite pedal, take centre stage with one foot up on the floor monitor, and.....nothing happens!
Often, the carefully sculpted tone we've dialled in at home, just won't sound anywhere near as good when we get up on stage. Sometimes the sound disappears altogether! This is usually an EQ issue since, in a live context, you're competing with other musicians for certain frequencies.
Fuzz pedals in particular are notorious for this, since that effect is comprised almost entirely from treble and bass; two ends of the sonic spectrum that are usually dominated by the Bass Guitar and the Drums. The situation can become even more difficult if there's a second, or maybe even a third guitarist, fighting for audio-dominance!
The key frequencies to help your playing stand out will be found somewhere in the midrange, so the best way to slot your guitar into that invisible and elusive space, is by making some tweaks to the EQ of your guitar signal.
An EQ pedal is an almost vital, regularly overlooked, and often extremely inexpensive, addition to your board if you wish to remedy this issue, since you can force the midrange back into your signal and allow your tasty tones to finally be heard and appreciated. Which is a far more ‘audience-friendly’ option compared to merely cranking your amp and bullying your way through the mix with sheer volume!
Again, experiment with your EQ pedal placement in order to figure out where you prefer it in your signal chain, but I've personally had great results from putting my EQ pedal after my gain section and leaving it always on. You can even tuck it underneath your board to make room for other, more interesting things...
I hope these suggestions prove useful, and help you to solve any potential pedal problems before they occur, allowing you to focus on the most important aspect of your rig: using it to make music!