They say it brings Nashville's signature 'studio sound' to your live rig. In this video, we're checking out the Session pedal by LR Baggs. Part of their widely acclaimed Align Series, this is a compression and saturation unit designed specifically for acoustic instruments. So does this little tone enhancer live up to the hype? Let's jump in and take a look!
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NUX Optima Air Preamp: https://amzn.to/3vg5avw
BBE Sonic Stomp: https://amzn.to/3eweNQX
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Hi, you're in the studio with Luke from GuitarIQ.com. In this video, we’re checking out a really interesting tone-enhancing unit for acoustic guitar. The guys over at LR Baggs recently sent me their Session pedal to check out. I’ve had it on my board for the last few weeks, testing it out and running it through its paces. So in today's video, I’m going to chat about what this pedal does, we’re going to take a listen to what it sounds like, we’re going to cover some of the general recommendations for setting up and using this pedal, and lastly, we’re hopefully going to answer the question: Is this something you should be looking to incorporate into your own guitar rig? So if you find this video helpful or interesting, please click on that like button to let me know. And with that let's jump over to the workbench and take a look!
Okay, so here we are looking at a little acoustic rig that I've recently finished putting together. And more specifically, we’re zoomed in on this Session pedal by LR Baggs. If you're not familiar with this pedal, it’s part of their Align series of pedals that they've come out with in the last few years. From memory, there are six pedals. There’s a reverb, a delay, a chorus, an EQ, an active DI, and, of course, the Session pedal—which is essentially a hybrid between a compressor pedal and a harmonic exciter. All of the pedals in the Align series carry the same kind of form factor and aesthetic as the Session pedal here—which is very cool. You heard this pedal in action in the intro jam of this video but I did have a few other effects engaged as well. So right at the top of this video, I just wanted to do an A/B comparison of what this pedal sounds like by itself—with nothing else engaged. So for those of you who care about such things, the signal chain is my main acoustic guitar going straight into the pedalboard. From the pedalboard I'm hitting my little acoustic amp here on the floor. And the feed that you're hearing is from the DI out on the back of the amp directly into the interface. The settings on the amp are set flat (with a tiny bit of reverb) and it sounds something like this:
Hopefully, from that you can get a bit of a sense of what this pedal is doing. When I did the walkthrough of this pedalboard the comment I made about the Session pedal was that, it’s one of those ‘always-on’ style pedals that you dial in, you switch on, and then (after a few minutes of playing) you forget that it's there. And it's really only when you come to switch it off that you realize just how much it was doing because you lose some of the impact and excitement around the tone.
So now that we've heard the pedal in action, let’s just talk about some of the specific settings here. What they do, what they sound like, and some general recommendations. First up, we have on the top left this volume knob, which is fairly self-explanatory—it sets the output volume of the pedal. So in general, unless you're using this pedal as some kind of solo boost pedal (for all of that acoustic shredding you've got planned) then usually we'll set this pretty much at unity with the dry signal coming into it.
And that leads us on to this input gain up here. This is actually quite an important setting for this pedal. The input gain determines how hard we're driving both the compression and saturation circuits. If the input is set too low, first of all, we’re not going to be optimizing the signal-to-noise ratio of the pedal. Which means the pedal could be prone to some excess noise. And secondly, we’re not going to be driving the compression and saturation circuits in the way that they're designed to work. On the flip side of that, if we're feeding too much input gain into the pedal, then we're going to be overdriving the compression and saturation circuits. Which is going to be prone to clipping, and distortion, and just an overall diminishment of the nice dynamic and headroom that this pedal has.
So what's the best way to set the input gain? Well, this pedal really wants to see a consistent level coming from your guitar. So the general suggestion is to leave your pickup set to 100% and then to adjust or attenuate the input gain from here. Now to help set this, LR Baggs have rather helpfully included this little ‘clipping’ LED up the top here. So for general playing, that light should really be staying off. It’s only when we hit those kind of hard transients that this light should be engaging.
Okay, so we have our input gain set, we’ve got the volume set roughly to unity. Let’s now switch off the compression and saturation circuits so we can experiment with some of the tones this pedal has to offer. Now, first up, we have the compressor. Even though this is a simple one knob design, it’s actually doing a number of more complex things under the hood. This compressor is actually a ‘multi-band’ compressor, which means it's affecting different parts of the frequency spectrum differently. And this compressor is specifically optimized to really narrow in on some of the typically problematic frequencies we find with the acoustic guitar. So let's hear this in action:
So as I'm kind of playing around with that, you can notice a couple of different things. First of all, the more I crank that up, the more it attenuates the overall volume of the pedal. So we need to bring in some ‘makeup’ gain, which is how a compressor is designed to work. The second thing we notice is that, unlike a garden-variety type of compressor that we might use on electric guitar, this compression is incredibly subtle. Even when we turn it up to its fullest, it’s not killing the tone and squashing all of the dynamic out of our guitar—like an electric guitar compressor might do. The other thing is that, because this is a multi-band compressor (and it's affecting different parts of the signal differently), as I turn it up you can hear that the compression is really shaping the overall EQ of the sound. You can hear when the compressor was at 0% there's almost a bit of a low-mid boxiness to my guitar. Which is slowly dialed out the more I turn the compressor up, which adds a really nice shape to the guitar tone.
Okay, let’s leave the compression there and let's move to this saturation knob over here. Now, what do we mean by saturation? Again, if you're coming from the world of electric guitar, this might be a little bit different to what you might assume. This doesn't mean gain, or overdrive, or distortion. In this context, saturation is talking about the type of coloration we might get from using analog outboard gear in the studio. So for example, when we're recording something like an acoustic guitar in the studio, it’s not always desirable to get the absolute cleanest, most distortion-free signal possible. As producers and engineers, we often choose particular bits of outboard gear (so preamps, compressors, and EQ’s for example) because of the sonic characteristics that they impart on the sound—just from the nature of the tubes, or the transformers, or the other parts of the analog circuitry that they're using. And this saturation knob effectively emulates a similar sound in this nice, compact, pedalboard-friendly format. So let's take a listen to what this is doing:
So you can certainly hear the effect that that's having on the tone. In contrast to the compression side of this pedal, as we dial in the saturation the overall volume is getting louder. So the way to set this pedal is kind of, leave your input gain set to where it works with your guitar… and the rest is a bit of a balancing act between the amount of compression, saturation, and the overall makeup gain that you're going to be adding depending on where those other settings are. In the first say 50% of the range on the saturation knob, it stays pretty subtle. And then, once we wind it up past halfway (especially in the top 70% or 80%), you can really hear that saturation starting to drive. And, of course, we could drive that even further by really clipping the input gain if we so desired. With my rig, I like leaving this at about the 50% mark. It just adds a bit of low end and a nice overall thickness to the tone.
So, they are the sounds and settings of the Session pedal by LR Baggs. What do I think of this pedal and do I think this is something that you should put on your pedalboard? Well, they’re two different questions. Firstly, I think this is a fantastic little unit—it sounds really great, it looks really great, it feels like it's really well made. In my opinion, this is one of those always-on, tone enhancing, juju adding, make gooderer style pedals that I just love having on the pedalboard. Is this the right pedal for you and your rig? Well, that’s a different question and it really depends on what you're looking for.
To me, this firmly falls in the camp of a ‘tone-enhancing’ pedal, as opposed to a ‘tone-shaping’ pedal. And what I mean by that is, if you already like the sound of your acoustic guitar pickup, or the sound you're getting from your acoustic guitar amp, and you're looking to just enhance things further, then a pedal like this is going to be a really good match in the context of what you're looking for. However, if you're fundamentally unhappy with the sound that you're getting from your guitar pickup, while the session pedal will pretty much enhance anything that you put into it, it doesn't have the dramatic tone shaping capabilities that something like a dedicated EQ or preamp (that’s specifically designed for acoustic instruments) will have. And for me, having used this pedal in the context of this board (with other effects and a dedicated preamp) that’s really where this pedal shines. Using it as an enhancement alongside a good preamp—whether it be the preamp on your guitar pickup, whether it be a dedicated preamp pedal, or simply the preamp on your acoustic guitar amplifier. For me, coupling a tone-shaping pedal like that, with a tone-enhancing pedal like this Session pedal, makes for a great little acoustic rig! (And the addition of a little bit of delay and reverb never hurts either.) And that's my look at the Session pedal, which is part of the Align series by LR Baggs.
Well, that’s it for this video. Hopefully, it was able to answer any questions you might have had about the Session pedal. If you enjoyed the video, then please leave your feedback, thoughts, or any further questions in the comments section below. I've actually featured the Session pedal in a number of other videos (including a full walkthrough of the entire acoustic rig that I've put together) so I will leave any applicable links to relevant videos in the description below. While you're checking them out, why don't you subscribe to the channel for future updates just like this one. And last, but certainly not least, if you're interested in taking your playing ability to the next level, and furthering that all-important guitar knowledge, then please mosey on over to GuitarIQ.com at your leisure to check out some of the great resources I have over there waiting for you. That’s it from me, thanks for watching and I'll see you in the next video!
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