Hi, you're in the studio with Luke from GuitarIQ.com. Welcome to Guitar iQ&A, where you send in your burning guitar questions and I do my best to answer them! So, I've been getting a lot of questions about guitar pedals. Specifically, stomp boxes vs multi effects units. Which is better? Can you combine them? What gear do I recommend? And so on.
Over the years, I've put together a number of pedalboards ranging from small and portable to massive, heavy, and super annoying for everyone else in the band you’re touring with! So before looking at any specific gear that I use, in this video I wanted to cover a few key lessons that I've learned first hand through trial and error. These things are often overlooked or ignored when people put together a pedalboard for the first time. In my opinion, however, (apart from the actual pedals you choose) these are the most important things you need to get right for achieving the best tone with the least amount of noise and interference. So let's jump in and check them out!
Tip 1 | Make sure you have good quality patch cables.
Don't buy the cheapest thing you can find! Your guitar cables shouldn't be an afterthought. The logic is simple: Good quality cable, with good quality shielding, and good quality connectors, will give you a good quality result. What does that mean? Apart from the fact that they'll last much longer, quality cables will give you a lower noise floor with a higher fidelity signal. In other words, they're less prone to outside interference and noise (e.g, hum/buzzing) and you'll typically notice a clearer tone with less top-end loss. Now, the difference can be subtle depending on the cables you're using. And I'm not suggesting that you need to buy the most expensive/premium cable you can find. Just keep in mind that low quality cables made from cheap materials, will unquestionably degrade your signal.
Tip 2 | Make sure you have a good quality buffer at the start of your signal path.
Hang on, Luke! Aren't buffers bad? Shouldn't we always use true bypass pedals? Yes and no. Buffers often get a bad wrap. In my opinion, this is because of two main problems. Either people use poor quality buffers that just sound bad, or they're stacking their signal chain with too many buffers in a row. Just because a pedal is true bypass doesn't mean it won't affect your tone. It just means that when the pedal is off, no buffer is being applied to the signal. What does a buffer do and why do we need one? Well, think of it like this: Every foot of cable, every connection, every footswitch and solder joint is a potential point of resistance. Just like running water through a long hose that's all kinked, the more resistance there is the more it will impact what's being produced on the other side. Without going into a lengthy technical discussion, essentially (like using good cables) a good buffer will help to preserve the quality and fidelity of your tone. Admittedly, there are a few instances where a buffer isn't recommended (e.g., like before some vintage style fuzz pedals) but these are the exception not the rule. Typically, for best results a dedicated high-quality buffer unit placed at the start of your pedalboard (especially if that pedalboard is predominantly made up of true-bypass pedals) will almost always improve your tone!
Tip 3 | Make sure you have a good quality isolated power supply:
Now, the key word in there was isolated. When you run multiple pedals off of a single adapter (especially if you use a number of digital pedals) your opening the door to a lot of extra hiss, noise, and interference. Don't daisy chain all your pedals off one adapter! At the very least, you want to separate your digital and analog pedals on different power supplies. Ideally, however, you want to have each pedal on its own isolated power supply. Fortunately, that doesn't mean you'll need to buy a seperate adapter for each pedal. A number of your better power bricks that are made specifically for guitar pedals will do this. You just need to make sure the power supply specifies that each output is isolated. And of course, always check that each seperate output also provides more than enough juice to power each pedal. And VERY importantly, always ensure that the polarity symbols match up between the power supply the one’s specified on each pedal. When in doubt, check the manual to make sure all of the power requirements for each are pedal being met—and you should be good to go!
So, they are my 3 essentials for building a better sounding pedalboard with less noise! Use good quality cables, get a good quality buffer, and make sure everything is isolated. Do this and you'll avoid so many of the issues that people constantly come up against when using pedals. This was just a brief overview, so if you head over to the transcription of this video on our website, I'll link to a few videos and articles where you can find more info on the things we've talked about. Also, in the next video I'll show you my new pedalboard build for 2018. I've downsized dramatically and I'm really happy with the result. Be sure to stay tuned for that!
Thanks for watching! If you found this video helpful, please like, subscribe, and leave a comment below. What cables do you use? How do you power your pedalboard? Do you use a buffer? I'm keen to hear your thoughts. Also, if you want to get more from your guitar playing, I have a number if guitar books available at Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and a bunch of other places. To check them out, just head over to the website, GutarIQ.com. And last of all, if you have a question that you'd like answered just leave it in the comments or head over to the Q&A tab on our website. You might just find your question featured in a video! All the best in the practice room this week. Chat soon!
Got a burning question you want answered?
If you'd like your question potentially featured in our Guitar iQ&A video series, just ask us below. Be sure to include your name and where you're from. Thanks!