Like many guitarists, I’ve acquired a few pedals over the years but when it comes to the acoustic, I’ve tended to steer clear from effects when playing live – typically, a little reverb and maybe some delay is about as far as I would venture.
Obviously this is because we don’t want to mess with the basic sound of what essentially is an acoustic instrument, right?
Well, I’ve recorded plenty of acoustic guitars and can tell you that in the studio I (and most other producers) use plenty of effects on acoustic guitars – it’s just that these are applied subtly and not in the “in your face” way typical of most guitar rigs. As we’re getting ready to take the Troubadours project (https://www.facebook.com/lastofthetroubadours) into the wild, I’ve been keen to replicate our studio sound live so started looking at what I could do (short of dragging my Logic rig to every pub we play in).
There are a couple of significant challenges to using effects with an acoustic guitar – not least of which is that most guitar effects are way too extreme. Our goal of playing acoustic songs was to show off the tone and sound, not to emulate a full-on electric band. The effects should enhance the sound of the acoustic guitar, not fundamentally change it.
In the studio, a common trick is to leave the pure acoustic sound untouched and to feed the signal into a “send” channel where the effect can be applied. This is then blended in with the original to create the full sound you hear on many recordings. In my studio, in addition to reverb and delay, I will typically use modulation effects (like chorus or flange), overdrive (just a little “crunch”, not metal style distortion), compression and EQ to get a great acoustic tone.
I’ve spent a couple of months playing around with pedals again, and with help from my friends at Guitar Mania I have designed a board that allows me to sound as good when playing live as I can when I record (as well as adding a couple of extra goodies to my sonic arsenal that I wouldn’t previously have thought of).
The first trick with using pedals designed for electric guitars with acoustic is to get the blend of effected and clean sound through the chain. My first thought was to use a mini mixer with the pedal board, but after a bit of head scratching it turns out that the Boss LS-2 Line Selector does exactly what we need and lets me switch the effects with my feet! I ended up with 2 of these on the board (to support 2 different effects chains mixed in with the clean sound) which weren’t the most exciting toys to get (it always seems disappointing to spend cash on something that doesn’t actually make any noise) but were definitely the most useful – I would recommend that any guitarist have one of these in their toolkit, they have a million creative uses beyond just switching between different amps.
The way I have the LS-2′s set is for the clean signal to be connected to the input, the effects to be fed from “Send A” in a loop back into “Return A”, and the “Send and Return B” jacks to be left disconnected. I then set the mode switch to the “A+B Mix” setting.
It turns out that if you leave a loop disconnected on the LS-2, then it is the same as if you have a cable going straight from the send to the return (e.g. it created a closed loop) – this means that on my LS-2 the “B” send and return contains only a clean signal and I can control the mix of dry (B channel) and effected (A channel) signal using the two level controls on the pedal. When then pedal is switched off, only the clean signal is passed. The pedals are also pretty well built and don’t seem to colour the sound, which is always a concern.
Now we can control the blend of acoustic sound and effects, it’s time to have fun and play around with different pedals. I had some idea of the fundamental qualities I was after but with little idea of the current range of pedals available it was time to hit the guitar shop.
For the basics I was fairly clear that I wanted:
- A delay to help fill in the sound and help add sustain
- Some type of “crunch” to beef up riffs and lead lines
- A chorus to add a bit of depth