FX – Part II
Stomp Boxes Explained

 

In the last part of this article we covered guitar FX units in general, provided a comparison between mutli-fx units and stomp boxes and showed some examples of each.

In this feature we will be reviewing stomp boxes in more detail explaining how individual effects work and also showing some examples of typical setups.

A stomp box as known to most musicians is basically a small electronic device that alters a signal been input to it. It is then output in a modified form that can be changed to suit the required sound. A bypass switch is also provided to turn off the effect.

A 9-volt battery normally powers these devices, and most can also run on mains power using an optional AC adapter.

Although we are not going to go into too much history (another article!) the first stomp boxes were Fuzz Pedals and Wah Wah Pedals. These were put to great use by guitarist such as Jimi Hendrix who defined a new era of modified sound leaving behind the clean straight forward tones of the past.

Distortion

Text Box:  The most basic of stomp boxes is the Distortion Pedal. This emulates the sound of an overdriven speaker very much like when you turn up a small hi-fi to its highest volume. Most distortion pedals come with three knobs –

  • Level – the difference in volume between the normal signal and the effect. This is important as you want the distortion tone to be at a certain level usually a bit louder the your normal guitar sound. It will also need to be adjusted for different guitars with varying amounts of gain. The difference is specially noticeable between guitars with single coil or those with high output humbucking pickups

  • Distortion – the amount of effect applied. The higher the value the “dirtier” and deeper the tone and length of sustain
    (I always turn it up to eleven!)

  • Tone – allows you modify the equalisation of the effect. Rotating the knob clockwise cuts lower frequencies (more treble) creating more cutting sounds. Rotating the knob anti -clockwise cuts higher frequencies creating more mellow sounds.

There are many distortion pedals on the market those most popular have been the ones by BOSS (Pictured BOSS DS1). The DS1 for example has been in production for nearly 20 years and is still a strong favourite. A wide range if tones are obtainable by changing the “Distortion” knob from an overdriven blues tone to all out rock. Steve Vai’s favourite distortion pedal.

The Wah-Wah Pedal.

Again another favoured effect for decades. A wah-wah pedal simple boosts and cuts frequencies to give a “coming and going” sound. It’s a bit like playing around with the tone control on your radio.

Its use is quite simple the pedal is depressed up and down by using the foot to change the incoming signal. A switch is also included at the end of the pedal travel to switch the effect on/off.

Many tonal variations can be achieved from an almost nasal sound, to clear high cutting harmonics when mixed with distortion. Depressing the pedal up and down in a rapid motion can also produce some interesting effects. Featured on almost every 70’s Disco song for example “Shaft”.

The most well known of all Wah pedals is the Dunlop Cry baby. This is the original wah-wah pedal used to create the vintage sounds of rock and roll. Used by such greats as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and numerous others.

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Cry Baby Demo (Jim Dunlop Wesbite)

 

Digital Delay

As its name implies the delay effect adds a time lapsed version of your original input to the sound. Early delay units where based on analogue endless tape (ever tried changing a loop of tape in the middle of a gig?) whilst modern units use sampling techniques to record the input signal and replay it milliseconds later.

Controls are as follows

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  • Effect Level – this is the difference in volume between the normal signal and the effect. The correct setting is very important, as you want the delayed tone to be at a certain level usually the same or slightly softer than your normal guitar sound. It will also need to be adjusted for different guitars with varying amounts of gain.

  • Feedback – this adjusts the amount of delay repeats. The more feedbacks the more repeats the effect will have.

  • Delay Time – adjust for shorter or longer delay. Short delays with a little feedback are good for rhythm; long delays are useful for long sustaining lead sounds when mixed with distortion.

  • Mode – adjusts pedal mode.

Mixing Effects.

The next natural progression is to mix different effects together. Combinations are limited only to the number of effects pedals that you own, although it is wise to keep your effect chain as short as possible to avoid noise and signal loss.

The placement of the pedals is also very important, as it will affect the sound. Although you can obviously experiment to achieve the sound you want most people tend to place distortions and so on first in line from the guitar and then add delays etc.

Check out this website for a more detailed explanation of why effects should or shouldn’t be placed in certain orders.

Guitar FAQ Website Effects Order

Summary

Use your ears, don’t be afraid to experiment and achieve that tone !

By Ernest Slade