What's the deal with effects and pedals? (Also: sound in general)


#1

OK, so before picking up the bass, I had not played any other string instrument, and I am trying to understand what the deal is with those gadzillion effects and pedals that can be found for guitar and bass. While I understand that every instrument has certain parts and certain design features that contribute to the overall “sound” of that instrument (and that let people fiddle with them to make the sound more individual), no other instrument than the electric guitar (and apparently the bass) has potentially such a huge armada of sound shaping devices in the signal path from the instrument to the speakers.

Sure, certain types of music (metal, swing, reggae, country, …) “require” a certain sound, and here - as I understand it - the bass model, the pickups, the strings, plucking style, the amp model, the EQ settings etc all play in. And then you might need an overdrive/distortion, perhaps some chorus, some reverb (what I would call the “classic” stuff), but why spent additionally thousands of dollars for exotic effects that fuzz, drone, clip, warble, and burp and do other weird things, which might work for one song or even for a short solo before almost inevitably everybody gets sick of hearing that particular effect?

I guess since I am not familiar with shaping sound on string instruments I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the motivation to lugging around 10-15 pedals, connecting them all on-stage and tweaking them just so, and perhaps even adjusting settings during the gig… And, does this all have to be “analog”/hard-wired nowadays? How are modeling amps and digital effects going to change all this?

All this probably beckons an even more fundamental question: how to go about “finding” and tuning one’s own sound? Or is that an old-fashioned way to think?

Curious to hear what the collective wisdom of this group has to say about all this!


#2

Very good questions @joergkutter , I’m also wondering the same things. The number of gadgets, pedals, amp settings, etc. etc. out there is bewildering . . . and don’t forget the knob settings on your guitar! :laughing:

Even on my little Rumble 25 amp, there’s the usual EQ (bass, mid, treble), plus “contouring” and “overdrive” buttons. Up to now, I’ve been leaving the 3 EQ knobs flat (12 o’clock) and tried the other ones a few times. My guess is that they just artificially make the amp sound distorted to mimic playing at higher volume so your can practice at a lower volume.

HOWEVER, I finally AM able to play the “Billie Jean” riff . . . :sunglasses: . . . I turned up the amp’s bass setting from 12 to 3 o’clock and that made all the difference. My guess is that it smoothed out the sound and I didn’t have to press so hard on the strings? Maybe @JoshFossgreen could chime in on this? . . . I’m just glad I can finally do it perfectly.

Thanks for your post, and I’ll also be watching this thread. :wink:

All best, Joe


#3

I think of it like visual art. Someone can use just black ink and create incredible artwork that people enjoy for hundreds of years. Someone else might use a wide palette of colors. Neither is right or wrong per se, it’s all about what the individual artist is going for. (That said, a heavily distorted tone probably won’t fly in a country-western band just like crayons wouldn’t have been a good idea for the Sistine Chapel.) Same with effects and the like.

As for why to go through the trouble of lots of effects and what-not, it just comes down to what the individual is trying to achieve. Some bass players may use little to no effects (did James Jamerson or Carol Kaye use ANY pedals or effects?), whereas some may take it way out there in order to achieve the sound they’re after (Chris Squire using separate amps and cabs for each pickup, for example).

I wish I could answer all the questions here…I ask them myself. I don’t think it’s old-fashioned at all to try to find your own specific sound, though. If not for individual expression, what are we here for?


#4

That was excellent, @lucas9000 . . . :slight_smile:

You’re right, it all depends on what the individual artist is trying to achieve. And good points about James Jamerson vs Chris Squire as well. I suppose it just takes LOTS of experimenting with all these effects to find your own sound . . .


#5

@joergkutter, I just realized I answered my own question about this topic . . . :blush: . . . I start with all my amp controls set “flat”, and on my bass I set the neck pickup to max, the bridge pickup to off, and the “tone” control to ~20% (there are no numbers on the knobs).

Now I know if I want to play “Billie Jean”, I need to adjust the bass setting on my amp.

One song down, a million to go! :yum:

All best and good luck to you in your own search, Joe


#6

Haha, I need to get myself one of those Billie Jean knobs on the amp - from “can’t play” all the way to “can play” :grin:


#7

Good points, @lucas9000! I totally see and understand what Squire was trying to do (even if perhaps a bit excessive), because that was how he defined his base line (no pun intended) sound. What I don’t get is that there seems to be a market for $250 FuzzWahPsychoChicken pedals (they all seem to have crazy names) that produce sounds that can only be used very rarely (either because they make you feel queasy or because the novelty wears off quickly).

So, perhaps it is a bit like buying a very expensive crayon and using it only once or twice. Maybe that is still worth it, artistically speaking!?!


#8

I love this analogy.
Well put, @lucas9000.

I say - when you want your bass to make a sound that you’ve heard, but can’t duplicate, start looking up pedal options.


#9

@joergkutter :laughing: OK, seriously though, making slight adjustments in your settings (be they either on the amp and/or guitar) really CAN make a difference in the track that you’re trying to play.

If you’re doing this on stage, I can see how useful pedals could be to make make changes rather than running back and forth to your amp. So that answers another question.

But I’m not too worried at this point . . . it will be a least a few more weeks until I need a road crew to help me move my stuff on stage! :yum:

All best, Joe


#10

I just went down this path last month, in a way, and discovered that effects gear is so incredibly better and cheaper now than it used to be.

Unless you want to go really deep down the rabbit hole, for casual usage (and maybe even pro usage) you don’t need to buy a gazillion pedals to have all the effects you need. There’s a number of good and inexpensive multi-effects boxes you can get now.

I wanted a chorus pedal to get a specific sound, and started looking; I discovered that the combo effects boxes like the Zooms are inexpensive, sound fine, and come with the equivalent of dozens of individual stomp boxes. Many of their presets are crap but the individual effects sound fine and you can edit them with surprisingly good software.

For about $40 I bought this:

and I regret nothing :slight_smile:

It’s also got a looper, tuner, and drum machine built in.

They just replaced this one with a new model so there’s probably deals to be had. But this isn’t the only one nor the only brand at a decent price point.


#11

That is really great input, @howard - thanks!

So, that would mean (and that goes back to another one of my questions) that modern modeling amps (like the Rumble 40 Studio) provide the whole package then, as they can model many (classic) amps, have a ton of effects, a looper, a tuner and a drum machine. You can create set lists and use a foot switch for going from one setting to the next during a gig, or activate the looper.

Are the Zoom B1on and the Rumble 40 Studio the way this is developing then? There must be a reason why specialized effect pedals are still in demand? Are they superior in sound quality, build, endurance, versatility on stage? Again, I am not trying intentionally to be thick - just trying to find out what others (more experienced) players can chime in with!


#12

@Jazzbass19 - didn’t mean to imply that it doesn’t work for you. But, I hope you can agree, you don’t play “better” (more accurate) just because of a different setting!? It just sounds better, more appropriate for the given song, and perhaps more forgiving to your mistakes!? I can’t claim I can play guitar, but if I noodle on a guitar that is heavily distorted, it sounds as if I could play metal power chords :wink:

Anyway, I think there are solutions to your needs that don’t involve your own road crew/stage crew :grin: (See @howard 's post in this thread and my reply).


#13

@joergkutter . . . Got it! . . . I was focusing more on the “sound in general” part of your topic.

And you are right . . . the “sound” is better with different settings and apparently it’s an individual thing with each guitar, amp, plucking technique, acoustic surroundings, etc.


#14

There’s a whole lot of different options for the combo effects. I went with this one after research on the less expensive end of the spectrum, but there are a range of Zoom boxes, some in nice metal cases with gigging in mind. If I were going to use this at a lot of gigs or something I probably would have gone with the B3n instead, for example. Several companies make similar effects boxes, from cheap all the way up through pro-level rack units. People do seem to like the Zooms though.

The standard analog pedals are still in demand for a simple reason - they can sound better (often just slightly, but still) than digital emulations of the analog effects, are tough as nails, and are very easy to wrap your head around. Also they have (in many cases) signature sounds that people want.

Another thing to mention - for home use, GarageBand has a bunch of effects too.

One last recommendation - if you DO get a Zoom, make sure to also download ToneLib Zoom:

https://tonelib.net/

It’s third party software that makes editing patches on the Zoom boxes a breeze. Editing on the box itself is not bad but the ToneLib software is much better. While all of the individual effects on the Zoom sound good to me, it comes preloaded with 100 demo patches, many of which you will want/need to delete and replace with your own, because they range from “pretty good” to “LOL no”, and replacing a demo patch is the only way to save your own. Which is fine as many are useless (and they are demos).


#15

This is a fantastic thread - so glad it got started and folks are weighing in!
One of the neat features (as a lot of folks have already commented on) of my Rumble 40 studio amp, it that it has 100 different “modeling’ presets with space for another 100 that I will be able to create/tweak from the ones on it already and save. As has been said, a TON of them will probably rarely/never get used, but fun to have and intriguing to hear and give creative ideas from.
I really dig that a whole creative suite of sounds is already stored into this amp that I can play with to my hearts content! I’m very happy that I am learning this bass now that I can do so instead of having to deal with a the physical pedals that folks did (and still do).

-Kevin