Actually, I don’t think that I have THAT much gear…
I started playing the guitar back at age 12. Mum and Dad bought me my first Encore guitar and “Kustom” amp. One of the things that blew my mind the most was that you could push the “overdrive” button and all of a sudden your guitar sound would turn you into the world’s greatest rock star. Ignoring the fact that I could only play Good King Wenceslas at this point of course.
Only a little while later, some actual guitar skills obtained, it became abundantly clear than having to lean down and push the overdrive button after the first half of the Enter Sandman intro was just not going to cut the mustard. Now enter my first real (first world) NEED to have a distortion pedal in the chain between my guitar and my amp. This would not only give me an even better rock start sound, but more importantly, I’d be able to switch it on and off easily with my foot.
One pedal is never enough
Of course this was the the thin edge of the wedge. To be able to nail all the songs I wanted to, I needed more. A wah wah pedal was rapidly approaching the top of the list, oh and I could do with a chorus pedal for really smoothing out my clean sound to. And of course the list goes on.
Fortunately for me, there are such things as multi-effect processors. And one joyous summer, I managed to get my greasy teenage hands on a Zoom 707 GFX pedal. As far as I was concerned this did EVERYTHING and would be the only pedal I ever needed. Lots of different types of distortion, chorus, delay and an expression pedal that I could do lots with, including, wah. This is not to mention that it also had a drum machine and the ability to record loops to play along with.
If you don’t play music live, you might be surprised to learn how hard it is to make it sound good.
Fast forward to post-school years and I was rocking Portsmouth as rhythm guitarist for Hung Yesterday, which is where I first met Hallett, but that’s for another time.
It was with this band that I turned up for one of our first gigs at The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth for the local Showcase competition. Insanely excited, and feeling like I’d basically already made the big leagues. Time for soundcheck, got on stage, pulled out my pedal, only to hear the sound guy say; “Oh no, not one of those. Hey, <enter sound guy #2’s name> we’ve got another one of these.”.
Suddenly feeling like, umm what’s wrong with it? It didn’t take long to find out that with one of these kinds of pedals, plug it in to an amp (that also isn’t amazing), mic it up to the PA and… Yeah it doesn’t sound that great. In fact, it sounds quite bad, with this kind of weird hiss that you can just hear over the top of the sound. And so started the never ending quest for the good live sound.
This gig wasn’t all bad mind you, we had an absolute tonne of our school mates come down to Portsmouth to support. A great memory actually: we’d been late going on for soundcheck. We then popped back to our house to let our friends in to drop off their gear before the gig. When we got their we found that they’d got bored waiting and so had broken in through a window and just started partying without us.
Buying pedals can get expensive
Fast forward some more. Through various iterations of sound gear set up, in my early twenties I was again rocking Portsmouth, again with Hallett. This time, thrash metal was the name of the game and the name of the band was Puresist.
Now for all gigs I was playing I was now carting around a huge home made pedal board. Spray painted with various things and a load of pedals attached to it with garden wire. I wish I had a picture of it but I’m not sure I’ve got one. All the effects, a tuner, a box to prevent feedback while playing super loud on stage. I loved it.
On top of this I was also dragging my Marshall amp and a pair of Marshall speaker cabinets to (the classics). It was awesome but also extremely hard work.
Back to basics
By the time I’d decided to call it a day with Puresist, I’d actually wound the whole lot right back down again and was merely playing with a Boss MT2 distortion pedal. Sometimes in fact I’d even just play with the distortion on the Marshall amp with a foot switch to toggle the sound for the rare, rare occasions that I needed a clean sound.
I never expected that the next time I’d be playing live publicly after decided to quit Puresist would be playing Spanish-style music on the acoustic guitar. An acoustic showcase at The Edge of the Wedge was the venue. Accompanied by, you guessed it, Hallett. Before The Machete was The Machete, we played a few of the original classics – Casa, Jardin, Dos Bot, Koro and a cover of Fade to Black by Metallica.
One of the things that really struck me was just how hassle free playing that gig was. Rocked up with my guitar in hand. Plugged straight into the PA, played, unplugged, left. No amps. No pedals. Minimal cables. Glorious.
But wait, I think I can improve that sound…
Once we started playing a good few gigs as The Machete (duo version) we found that the variance in how we sounded was massive. We could sound really great or terrible depending on a venue’s set up, or how skilled or “on it” the sound guy at a gig was. So, we really needed to do something to take back some control over the sound. Ideally without investing in new amps that now need carting around.
Enter the Boss AD-8. Genius bit of equipment. Allow me to give a quick, probably largely inaccurate description of what it does that I’ll refuse to change later even if someone corrects me. Basically, (electric-) acoustic goes in, pedal processes the sound and applies some sort of simulator inspired by a really nice sounding guitar, nice sound comes out. It still requires a little handy work from the sound guy, but generally it comes out sounding awesome. And much nicer than a raw electric-acoustic straight into the PA!
Oh yeah, and of course I still need the wah, I don’t feel like I’d be doing The Machete properly without it. And you just can’t beat the Cry Baby, you just can’t.