This article was written by Ed Mitchell and was taken from issue 7 of our brochure... I have to say that despite being more of a computer music and synth guy, this guitar-orientated article was an extremely enjoyable read... very entertaining and informative! Nice one Ed!
MEET THE WRITER: ED MITCHELL
Experienced guitarist Ed spent 17 years in music retail before moving into music journalism. He now writes regularly for various mags including Total Guitar and Guitarist.
PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN
Your stompboxes and multi-effects units may have hidden talents. Ed Mitchell shows you how to exploit them...
Ever since the electric guitar was invented, guitarists have tinkered around with its basic sound. Early shredder and genius inventor, Les Paul, experimented with delay and layering in the 1940s; proto-punk, Link Wray, caused a rumble when he poked holes in his amp’s speakers to get some primitive distortion; Jeff Beck, using a fuzz pedal, could make his old Fender Esquire sound like a sitar, an atomic bomb going off, whatever his genius mind could think up next.
That aural tradition is still alive and well in the tonal makeup of contemporary players like Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, White Stripe Jack White and Matt Bellamy of Muse. If you want to add your name to that list, stop thinking of your effects pedals as one-dimensional and start experimenting with your sound!
IT'S THE FUZZ
Fuzz pedals like the Boss FZ-5 or Z.Vex Fuzz Factory are great for whacking out some old-school garage rock power chords. You’d expect nothing less! But flick on your guitar’s neck pickup, add some delay, maybe an octaver and a bit of righteous finger vibrato and that fuzz pedal suddenly sounds like a thick 70's synthesiser. You can use the sound for Matt Bellamy-style riffs and solos.
It was Gibson that introduced the first commercially available fuzz pedal in 1962. Believe it or not, the Maestro FZ-1 was designed to allow guitarists to mimic horn sections. You can ‘sort of’ do that with a fuzz, although the sound wouldn’t keep a real trumpet player out of work. Just keep the chords simple and stab at them to get that horn-style attack.
When Keith Richards used the FZ-1 to record the riff to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in 1965, he planned to replace the riff with a horn section. Luckily, the rest of the Stones refused his request and fuzz became the first great guitar effect. Mind you, it wasn’t too long before a new kid arrived on the scene...
WAH'S GOING DOWN?
Every guitarist will own a wah pedal at some point. That’s just the way it is. If you don’t already have one ready to rock in your signal chain, well, consider it ‘in the post’.
A wah pedal is actually one of the most expressive and powerful effects units you can buy. So why, when we plug a wah in for the first time, do most of us just run through a few Jimi Hendrix licks and porn movie soundtrack-a-like clichés, then we wonder why we get a bit bored with our new toy?
Instead, think of a wah pedal as vocal cords for your guitar. Who can forget Steve Vai’s guitar chatting with David Lee Roth on the intro to Yankee Rose? You can find it on Roth’s ’86 Eat ’Em And Smile album. Making your guitar flap its gums like Vai’s isn’t as hard as you’d think. Don’t rock the pedal’s treadle (the bit you put your foot on) back and forth robotically. Push it forward to accentuate the vowels you’re trying to recreate. It takes practice but it’s a lot of fun. It’s like that classic Bruce Springsteen line: “Well, I got this guitar, and I learned how to make it talk…”
There are a couple of other cool things you can do with a wah pedal. Try switching the wah effect on then ‘park’ the treadle in a position where you like the tone but don’t rock it back and forth. The whole point is to get a distinctive ‘honky’ tone like on Mark Knopfler’s intro riff to Money For Nothing. It has been suggested that the distinctive parked wah tone on that record was actually due to unusual mic placement in the studio. Fair enough, but a half-open wah will, near as damn it, nail that classic tone. Unfortunately, getting the riff right isn’t quite as straightforward!
Here’s another cool trick. Dave Gilmour used his wah pedal to very strange effect on Pink Floyd’s Echoes (Meddle, 1971) by reversing his cables. The pedal's instrument input was connected to the amp; the pedal's amp input was connected to his guitar. I tried it using my Fender Esquire and an old Dunlop GCB-95 model CryBaby. Sure enough, when I turned up the tone control on my guitar, the wah emitted a high-pitched squeal like the famous ‘seagull’ sound heard on Echoes. I kicked in some delay; when I slowly turned down the tone control I got a high pitched stutter, not unlike a seagull or a madcap laugh funnily enough. Apparently this trick only works on old and vintage-spec wah pedals like my Dunlop and the Vox V847. You’ll have to suck it and see.
KNOW THE DRILL
Anything electrical you put near your guitar’s pickups will come through your amp’s speakers and trigger the sound of your effects. Try holding a TV remote control over your bridge pickup. Every time you press a button on the remote you’ll hear a blip through your speakers. Combine that with a tremolo or flanger stompbox and it sounds pretty damn cool.
Things get really interesting when you use power tools. Racer X and Mr Big guitarist, Paul Gilbert, was the first player to use a cordless drill (it has to be cordless!) to make his guitar sound like a nitro-burning muscle car. He would later attach picks to a drill for some extra fast shredding! Eddie Van Halen used a Makita drill on the recording of Poundcake (featured on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991).
Try the cordless drill thing for yourself. Hold the drill (minus the drillbit) near the bridge pickup, varying the speed of the motor. Add some effects. The supercharged engine tone of the drill sounds even more impressive when combined with tremolo, delay or a flanger. Sex toys sound great too! One-man Swedish note festival Yngwie Malmsteen often uses vibrators (or massagers for you sensitive souls out there) to pull off weird effects. The sound is something like a flatulent bumble bee hovering above your guitar and changes depending on where the toy is in relation to the pickup. Add some delay or extreme pitchshifting for other-worldly, UFO-type sounds or ambient2 soundscapes.
You could also roll like Buckethead and touch the metal parts of your guitar with the end of the cable that’s connected to your effects for some weird blips and screeches. Cool, if that’s your thing.
MORE HOT TIPS
You can violin the volume control on your guitar but it’s much easier to get yourself a volume pedal. Few special effects are as cool as slowly raising the volume of a note with a delay pedal switched on. Bend a string before you start raising the volume, still with the delay in the loop, for some whale noises. OK, so it won’t get your masterpiece track written but it’s damn entertaining!
Try simulating other instruments: the late rockabilly genius Danny Gatton could make his ’53 Fender Tele sound like a Hammond B3 organ. Turn down your guitar’s tone control, add some light overdrive and switch on your amp’s vibrato circuit (or use a tremolo pedal), set to a fast speed. Comp some jazzy chords and with practice you’ll nail that organ sound!
Knowing when to use your pedals is a skill in itself. For instance, you don’t want a delay pedal tripping up your sound when you’re playing a fast run or solo. Instead, switch the effect in when you hit the last note of the run to give a dramatic climax. Stuff like that makes you sound more pro!
OVER TO YOU
The mantra is: Go crazy with your effects pedals! Switched-on players like Matt Bellamy and Jack White know that stompboxes and multi-effects can be as much a musical instrument as the guitar. They can unlock song ideas and make a three-piece band sound much fuller.
A stompbox or multi-effects unit is the ultimate way to give your sound a kick up the backside without laying out huge wads of cash. That said, you have to make them work hard for you. Ask not what you can do for your gear; ask what it can do for you. Come in-store and try out our massive range of compact pedals and multi-effects units or browse hundreds of guitar effects in our online shop: CLICK HERE!
Z.Vex Fuzz Factory - For that unmistakable power rock sound, this pedal uses two 60s-style germanium transistors and is less than £140!
Vox V847 - This reissued version of the classic 60s wah pedal is fantastic value at under £80.
Digitech iPB-10 - Cool new stompbox unit that you slot your iPad into, loaded with virtual Digitech effects.
Line 6 POD HD - If it's a heap of high-definition effects in a handy bean-shaped unit you want, this sub-£350 POD is for you!
TC Electronic Hall Of Fame - This fantastically priced pedal will open your eyes to the wonderful world of reverb with a total of ten types, decay/color/level controls and stereo in/out for super versatility.
Electro Harmonic Big Muff Pi - This cool Electro-Harmonix pedal will give you bags of distortion à la Jack White, David Gilmour, Bill Corgan, John Frusciante and The Edge.
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2. GENERATOR (Foo Fighters) – Achieve the same effect by using something like Electro-Harmonix’s Stereo Talking Machine.
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