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Effects Pedals and Processors – Using the Effects Loop

Effects Pedals and Processors – Using the Effects Loop

When I first discovered the coolness of stomp box guitar effects, I think I was 11. I would venture down to the local music store where the gentleman that owned the place, Bill, would greet my friend Jimmy and I at the door with the resounding “How’s it going there gold dust?” Bill was a great guy and we would literally visit his shop every Saturday without exception. He was great about letting us pull guitars off the rack and cranking up the noise, as a matter of fact he encouraged it! It was there that Bill showed me a Harmonix Bad Stone Phase Shifter, the first guitar effect I had ever seen. He showed me how to hook it up, and from the first note I hit with that bad boy on, I knew I had to have this thing. It’s what started my endless obsession with tone, and overwhelming desire to match it up correctly with the piece being played. I’m not the only one though. This is pretty much what comes with the territory when you decide to play guitar seriously. Now days of course there are so many choices and different directions you can go to carve out that perfect sound, that sometimes it can get overwhelming. Over the years there been a few consistent discoveries that I have found to narrow down what my preferences are. These of course are my thoughts presented in an editorial context and may or may not reflect your own feelings.

To start with, the style or genre of music is important when deciding what effects will be needed. The second decision is whether to use an all in one processor or to use separate effects chained together. There are some pros and cons to both, and I will go over some of those. My own experience with guitar processors starts with the first time I bought one. It was the Line 6 “kidney bean” POD. This was the stuff when it came out. It acted as a direct box and guitar amp modeler. I could make my amp sound like a number of different top-notch set-ups. It also had some effects built-in, chorus, delay, and reverb. After a while I graduated to the POD XT Live, a stage version that had more bells and whistles. It had a wah pedal, more amp models, effects and options, all in a unit that could be set in front of you while on stage. I used that for 5 years playing gigs, and it worked great until I broke the wah pedal in the middle of a show. I had it repaired, but it was never the same. I wanted to go a different direction anyway with my sound so I started experimenting with single effects pedals. There are a lot of individuals that will just string together the effects with chords, plug the last output into the input on their amp, and their guitar into the input of the first effect in the chain. That will work for some effects, like distortion, compression, and wah pedals, but they don’t work so good for ambient effects like chorus, delay, phase shifters, signal boosters, and flangers. For those, you need to run them through the effects loop, usually on the back of the amplifier. You simply connect the effects together as you normally would, with the outputs connected to the inputs, and run a chord from your “effects send” jack to the input on your first effect. The “effects return” jack should be connected to the output jack of the last effect in the chain. There is usually a control knob for the effects loop that controls how much effect from the effects loop gets put into your sound. This set up will give you the distortion, wah and such before the signal is amplified, by running them in the front of the amp, and the ambient effects for the signal after it has passed through the amp on its way to the speaker. As an example of why this is the way to do it,, try running a power boost, like for instance a Boss GE7 EQ in front of the amp. When you step on the effect, which has a 15db boost (or cut) it won’t do anything but muddy up the signal. Put it in the effects loop, and viola, you get a killer boost that will help you cut through the mix during solos. This is important stuff to know and something all teachers should add into the online guitar classes.

So in conclusion, the pros with a processor, they are all-inclusive in one unit and generally cheaper than a properly set up effects array, and they generally have a lot of options for amp models and tone. The cons? You can’t run the ambient effects through the effects loop, nor can you control the order they are set up in, and that can make a big difference. The pros with an a la carte effects set up, are complete control, reliability, and versatility. The cons? They are much more expensive to set up. To do it right you’ll need to mount all of your effects on a powered pedal board, so that you can just open it up, lay it in front of you, and plug the chords in. My personal set up was over $1100, and I have just 6 effects. They can also hum, although you can eliminate that with a simple filter. Again to avoid learning by trial and error, make sure you ask your instructor during your online guitar classes or in-person lessons about this important aspect of tone creation.