Oh, how guitarists love those little twinkly boxes of sonic joy and aural aggression that lay at their feet!
It's always a "more is more" proposition — even for hobbyists, semi-pros, weekend warriors, and working musicians. But get the desire, bucks, creativity, and crew behind you as a professional guitar star, and, wow, that pedalboard can often take on the massive footprint of a small Mediterranean island.
Obviously, there are a lot of guitarists out there who bring truckloads of pedal goodies to their live performances, but we've identified five "stompbox kingpins" who have impressed us with not only their collections of boxes, but also the way they deploy signal processing to bring musical thrills to the concert stage and recording studio.
They are not listed in any order of illustrating "Who's Bigger?" or "Who's Cooler?" because all five pack a healthy wallop of spectral wonder. (We went with alphabetical order.)
No competition here — we just dig all the groovy rows of pedals ... Enjoy!
Given Adrian Belew's gift for the whacky and iconoclastic, it wasn't really a shock, but it was still a surprise to see his circular "zone of tone" set up between bassist Julie Slick and drummer Eric Slick when his Adrian Belew Power Trio performed at Slim's in San Francisco in 2009. The sonic mastermind had miles of sonic and instrumental elements to cover during the set, and it was almost as much fun watching him spin between keyboards, drum machines, mixing boards, looping devices, and stompboxes, as it was absorbing his brilliance on the guitar.
"My rig tends to get bigger almost every day," said Belew, "because so many different things get invented all the time that change how we can approach the guitar. It's so hard to say "no" to something new, because, well, I want that new toy [laughs]."
Around the time of the Power Trio, the ever-changing, always exploring Belew was experimenting with an Electro-Harmonix Flanger Hoax, a Locomofon Fuz-Fabrik, a Roland VG-99, a Boomerang looper, and an Eventide H8000 Ultra-Harmonizer.
Adrian Belew Power Trio at Rockpalast, March 3, 2008.
John Frusciante has always been fascinated by sound, and how it can be bent, shaped, manipulated, and made more awesome.
"As a person whose job it is to make sounds, it's important for me not to overlook any of the various properties that sound possesses," Frusciante told GP in 2006, after the Red Hot Chili Peppers released the sprawling Stadium Arcadium. "Studying modular synthesis has taught me how to approach music in a completely different way, and now I think in terms of giving sound width and dimension, rather than just in terms of what my fingers are doing."
So when it became time to bring Stadium Arcadium to the concert stage, it was a "real bummer" for Frusciante to leave behind the modular synths and other treatments that he used in the recording studio. That meant one huge pedalboard had to come to the rescue for the band's live performances, as well as Frusciante's secret weapon—an array of Moogerfooger pedals controlled with a couple of CP-51 Control Processors.
"The Moogerfooger MuRF pedals not only produce sounds like those on the record, they are also good for adding an element of accident, because you never know what to expect from them," he said.
The effects on Frusciante's two-tiered pedalboard for the 2006 Stadium Arcadium tour included a Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble, a Boss DS-1 Distortion, a Boss BS-2 Turbo Distortion, an Electro-Harmonix English Muff'n Fuzz, an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb, an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, an Electro-Harmonix POG, an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress Flanger, a DOD 680 Analog Delay, a Moogerfooger MF-105 MuRF, a Moogerfooger MF-105B Bass MuRF, a Moogerfooger MF-101 Low-Pass Filter, a Moogerfooger MF-103 Phaser, an Ibanez WH-10 Wah, and a Dunlop DB-02 Dime Custom Cry Baby wah.
John Frusciante with the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Cigale, Paris, in 2006.
Donna Grantis burst out of the proverbial "nowhere" to play guitar with Prince in not only 3rdEyeGirl, but also alongside him in the New Power Generation big band. Well, the nowheresville bit is not entirely true, of course. Grantis has a past. She made the semi-finals in the North American Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Competition at just 17 years old, and got a scholarship to and a Jazz Performance degree from McGill University in Montreal. But her hard work, chops, and musical knowledge aside, it's still a long journey from session work in Toronto to sharing stage and studio with the purple legend.
Performing Prince hits, new songs, and spontaneous jams during a 3rdEyeGirl or New Power Generation concert requires covering a lot of sonic ground.
"I actually had a pretty small pedalboard before I joined 3rdEyeGirl," laughed Grantis. "But now I need upwards of 20 pedals or more to have the flexibility I need, and I use every single one of them."
Her half-circle-shaped pedal system includes a T.C. Electronic Flashback Delay, a T.C. Electronic Vortex Flanger, a T.C. Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, a T.C. Electronic Spark Booster, a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver, a Boss BF-3 Flanger, a Boss RC-30 Loop Station, a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler, a Dunlop Eddie Van Halen Signature Wah, an Ibanez Tube Screamer, a Fulltone OCD, and more.
Donna Grantis with 3rdEyeGirl in Manchester, England, February 22, 2014.
When Andy Summers was preparing for the Police reunion in 2007, he invited GP into his Venice Beach, California, studio as he was getting his sounds together to create, once again, all the sonic magic of those Police hits from 1977-1986. By then, Summers had long retired the original Pete Cornish pedalboard he used during the band's glory years. So he looked to Bob Bradshaw to develop a custom switching system for the reunion tour. Bradshaw built a V-shaped control surface, one wing patched into a rack loaded with stompboxes and rack processors (as well as containing a Boss volume pedal and a Dunlop Cry Baby wah), and the other wing holding some of the effects he liked close at hand in order to tweak them during performance (such as a Moogerfooger Analog Delay and a Boss Loop Station).
To illustrate how all those buttons, switches, and pedals worked their way into Summers' crafting of a song's sonic signature, he shared his "pedal dance" for the hit "Can't Stand Losing You":
Intro Lexicon PCM 70
Dirty Bit Love Eternity Overdrive + PCM 70
Solo Red Witch Empress Chorus + Eventide Eclipse + PCM 70 + T.C. Electronic TC1210 Spatial Expander/Stereo Chorus/Flanger
Jam Bob Bradshaw V-Comp Tube Compressor + Moogerfooger MF-104Z Analog Delay + Klon Centaur
Instrumental Section Red Witch Moon Phaser + Eternity Overdrive + PCM 70 + Centaur
Vocal Jam V-Comp Tube Compressor + MF-104Z + Centaur
End Eternity Overdrive + PCM 70
Outro V-Comp Tube Compressor + Eternity Overdrive + MF-104Z
Andy Summers and the Police during the 2008 reunion tour, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo.
The magic of guitar effects was brought home to both musicians and non-musicians in a somewhat humorous way when Ed Bradley interviewed The Edge on 60 Minutes in the early 2000s. Standing near his big ol' pedalboard during a soundcheck, The Edge called up a beautiful and edgy wash of delay and chorusing and reverb, and then launched into the intros of a couple of U2 hits. Suitably blown away, Bradley gushed about the sound. Then, The Edge said, "Do you want to hear what it sounds like without the effects?" Switching everything off, The Edge hit his strings and produced the "mammoth" sound of "plunk, plunk, plunk."
This is not to take anything away from The Edge's conventional technique as a guitar player, as much as it confirms his mastery of signal processing and utilizing sounds to inform the emotional context of U2's songs. The guy is a wizard.
When GP talked to The Edge before U2's 2001 for All That You Can't Leave Behind, his setup included a smorgasbord of the following gear: two T.C. Electronic 2290s, a Rocktron Replifex, an Eventide HD 3000, a DigiTech 2101, a Yamaha SPX 1000 (his main reverb), a Korg A3, two AMS delays, three Korg SDD-3000s, an Electrix Filter Factory, a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive, a Boss OD-2R Turbo Overdrive, three DigiTech Whammy pedals, three Dunlop Cry Baby wahs, a Lovetone Meatball, a Lovetone Doppleganger, and a Lovetone Big Cheese.
And though all of these effects are a big part of the guitarist he is, The Edge reported that he often yearned for a less-complicated system.
"Whenever I feel like going with a simpler rig," he said, "someone will inevitably say, 'Hey Edge—remember the sound we got on this tune when we recorded it? Can't we get that sound?' And I'll think, 'Man, that was eight pieces of gear strung together and run through a pair of headphones. How am I going to recreate THAT in a stadium?'"
The Edge and guitar tech Dallas Schoo soundcheck his rig before filming a scene for the documentary It Might Get Loud.