Finding the Right Pedals for Your Rig
Greetings, fellow seekers of the tone!
Welcome back to another edition of Stomp
School. This month we’re going to discuss
choosing the right pedals to match the rest of
your rig. I often receive emails with questions
such as “What’s the best pedal for…” and
they go on to describe a certain tone or effect,
sometimes citing a particular artist or recording. In most cases, the person asking the question neglects to mention the guitar and amp
they happen to be using. In order for me to
answer accurately, that information is essential.
end up sounding too distorted. In many cases,
it’s all a matter of personal preference. I really
like the sound of single-coils with a Fuzz Face,
but prefer humbuckers with a Tone Bender.
(I should note here that I’m using the terms
“Fuzz Face” and “Tone Bender” in the generic
sense, which would include any pedals based
on these designs as well as the originals.)
blackface Fender design help to create a nice,
open backdrop that you can use as a neutral
starting point for any number of styles and
sounds. In fact, some consider the Fender Twin
Reverb to be the ultimate “clean canvas” for
using pedals. Yet, this is not everyone’s ideal.
When considering what the “best” pedal
might be for your situation, you really need to
look at the rest of your rig. Each component
affects the performance of the others, so it’s
not realistic to assess the merits of a particular
pedal without at least considering which guitar and amp you intend to use it with. To best
achieve your desired tone, it helps to think
holistically—as if your entire signal chain, from
string to speaker, is a single vehicle of musical
expression. Or maybe you just want to find
a pedal that sounds good with your setup.
That’s okay too.
…Then Move on to Your Amp
Next, let’s talk about matching pedals to your
amp. The same pedal may sound radically dif-
ferent in a high-gain stack than it does with
a low-watt combo, so you definitely want to
A good number of players prefer to get at
least some of their overdrive from the amp
itself, rather than relying strictly on pedals.
The easiest way to go about this is to actually
go pedal free—just crank the amp up all the
way and use the guitar volume and playing
dynamic to adjust the range from clean to
To best achieve your desired tone, it helps
to think holistically—as if your entire signal
chain, from string to speaker, is a single
vehicle of musical expression.
Before recommending a particular type of
pedal, here are the questions I ask: What
guitar do you play? What pickups are in your
guitar? What amp are you using? What speakers are in your amp? And finally, what type of
tone are you trying to achieve? A pedal that
sounds incredible in one setup may sound
mediocre (or worse) in another.
have the best match for your amp. In addition
to sheer wattage, there are other factors that
come into play, such as circuit configuration,
types of power tubes, and what speakers are
being used. A typical comparison would be
“Fender vs. Marshall”—or, even more broadly,
“American vs. British” amplifiers. Each has its
scream. But this old-school method has many
limitations and isn’t really practical for most
players today. A more common practice is to
use an overdrive or boost pedal to push the
front end of the amp to overdrive the preamp
tubes. This works particularly well with an amp
that’s on the brink of breaking up, especially
when the right blend of power-tube saturation
and speaker breakup is achieved.
Start with Your Guitar…
So let’s start with your instrument. The pickups
in your ax certainly impact the pedals you
use, particularly dirt pedals. In most cases,
humbuckers produce a much hotter output
signal going into your pedals than single-coils.
There are pros and cons to this, of course.
For example, the original MXR Phase 90 was
notorious for clipping when used with high-
output pickups. However, a certain overdrive
or fuzz pedal may respond rather favorably to
a good goosing from a hot bridge humbucker.
Conversely, a good buffered boost pedal may
help an otherwise anemic set of Strat pickups
sound more open, dynamic, and muscular. Yet
the same pedal used with hot pickups might
British-made amplifiers most often use EL34
or EL84 power tubes, while the power tubes
found in Fender and other American-made
brands were often 6L6 (or sometimes 6V6).
The characteristics of a 6L6-type tube are
wide frequency response, tight bottom end,
and greater headroom. In contrast, the EL34
and EL84 typically have more of a midrange
emphasis with an earlier breakup. So again,
the same pedal will react differently depend-
ing on the type of power tubes in your amp.
Next time we’ll discuss classic pedal and amp
combinations. Until then, keep on stompin’!
Which Amp Style Is the Perfect “Canvas”?
The consensus of many players (including
myself) is that blackface and silverface Fender-style amps are probably the most versatile,
pedal-friendly format there is. The scooped
midrange and clean headroom inherent to the
(a.k.a. Analog Tom) is the owner and proprietor of For
Musicians Only ( formusiciansonly.com) and author of
Analog Man’s Guide to Vintage Effects. Questions or
comments about this article can be sent to:
( analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique
effects manufacturers and retailers in the business, and
it was established by “Analog” Mike Piera in 1993.
Mike can be reached at AnalogMike@aol.com.