You Can Fake Talent But You Can’t Fake Effects

You might recall I got a new electric guitar a few months back. It’s an Epiphone semihollowbody, and I play it paired with a Roland JC amp, which is great if you want a clean jazzy tone. But what if you want a different tone? I’ve been practicing and learning new songs and I figure it’s time to expand my sonic palette.

Even though I’ve played guitar for many years, it’s been mainly acoustic, with a focus on rhythm and accompanying myself singing. But lately I’ve become more interested in using it for writing, arranging and recording. Still I’ve never really gotten into the whole electric thing. Mainly it’s because the instrument is not just the guitar, but the combination of the the guitar, the amp and the effects. Every guitar player has their own pedalboard set up in their own unique way for their own personal tone that’s, as David Lee Roth says, the ultimate expression of who you really are. This is just too much for me.

I actually have a couple old Boss stompboxes from the ’80’s. They’re both classic effects, Chorus and Overdrive. I used them as part of my synth signal chain back in the day when synthesizers sounded pretty thin live. These days if you look around there are about 1,000 different distortion pedals, blue tone and brown tone and everything in between, for just the right sound, like a wall of exotic hot sauces at a Mexican restaurant. And then another realm of delay, reverb, and modulation to season your tone further. But some odd building blocks do not a temple make. In any event most of my effort in this direction goes toward honing my tone on saxophone, and a close second is learning my way around all the knobs and sliders on the myriad synthesizers I already own.

So I’ve had my eye on a digital multi-effects processor for a long time. Last time I checked in with this space was years ago when Martin lent me one of his Zoom boxes, and I could never really figure out my way around the thing. More recently, Vinny, the guitar player for G-Force, had a single box that was a programmable multi effects board, and he used it to great effect (heheh) on a wide variety of songs in different styles.

So I looked around. I didn’t want anything too complicated. Boss makes one for about $300 with maybe a dozen or twenty knobs, four footswitches and an expression pedal. Seemed like the one to beat. Then they announced a brand new one with maybe forty or more knobs, for about $1000. Definitely moving in the wrong direction.

The one I zeroed in on is the Stomp Lab by Vox. It has only 3 knobs, 2 footswitches and a pedal and is under $100. It arrived the other day, and turned out to be just the thing. Super cool and super fun. Very small but well built with a metal shell and and heavy duty moving parts, made to be stomped on. It’s one to select the patch, one for pre-amp, and one for output gain, plus the expression pedal. Easy peasy! The presets run the gamut from light to heavy, old to modern, all the styles, with varying degrees of things like flange, echo and reverb. You can even program in your own sounds: it’s a full-on amp simulator and mutli-effects modeler. But I bet I can get pretty far just learning my way around the presets. With the knobs on the box plus the ones on the guitar there’s alot of space to color the tone.

I must say I’m really happy that modern digital gear generally sounds really good. I remember when it all had a “digital” sound, that generally meant thin and harsh on the ears. Nowadays even a cheap little FX box sounds killer. I mean, just the guitar and the amp sound great as-is, but it’s that jazz guitar sound. With the FX it’s anything from psychedelic to heavy metal and it’s frickin’ amazing. It’s also super loud! I gotta turn way down.

One big difference between applying effect in post on the computer and doing it live is that the amp makes it interactive. My guitar is very resonant, so it’s easy to get a ton of feedback. Totally changes the way you play. It’s very satisfying to just chug along on a simple riff and let the amp fill in the sound. So it should be fun to explore. Hopefully some new song ideas will come out of it.

Meanwhile I’m practicing sax every day for a half hour these days to seriously memorize all the material for our next jazz gig, in two weeks. For the new rock band we’ve started picking tunes and I’ve been woodshedding those too. And, I bought a new pair of rollerblades last night. More on all this coming soon.

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