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This article was originally published in Playback Issue 004. Subscribe to Playback for free to stay up to date with our latest articles, interviews, product reviews and more.
What’s the old adage? Teach a guitarist about pedals, and they’ll never go a day in their life without doomscrolling through gear demos, Craigslist, and forums. Maybe we’re a bit off, but it’s something like that.
The truth about building the perfect pedalboard is that you can do it at any price. It’s all about scalability. Whether you want to spend $500 or $5000 on your rig, you’ll find something to get you on your way, and if you get bored, you can always trade up to get something different.
To show how you can do it, we gave three Vintage King Audio Consultants a budget and asked them to build a dream pedalboard. Before getting to their picks, let's learn a little more about Stephen Handy, Patrick Carpenter, and Kevin Schuck.
Stephen discovered his passion for the recording arts in college and soon after graduation began working at world-renowned facilities like Blackbird Studios. He now works at Vintage King Los Angeles as an Audio Consultant and spends his free time crafting deep soundscapes with lush sonic textures.
Patrick Carpenter is a fourth-generation Angeleno who has risen to the rank of Senior Audio Consultant at the Vintage King Los Angeles showroom. He’s a big fan of Formula 1 racing, but don’t ask him to choose his favorite piece of gear. It's a tie between his Diezel VH4 guitar head and Neumann U87 Ai.
Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Kevin moved to Nashville to pursue his music career. He’s been working as a session musician and recording engineer ever since. Kevin now heads up Vintage King’s Nashville storefront, acting as the brand’s Central Region Sales Manager.
Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Distortion Pedal ($101.60), Electro-Harmonix Canyon Delay and Looper Pedal ($176.00), Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer ($119.99), Pedaltrain Metro 20 Pedal Board ($99.99)
Pedals and pedalboards can be a bit like building blocks. You start small, build up with the essentials, and then start getting fancy. That’s the approach Stephen Handy has taken with assembling his beginner board with a budget of around $500.
“I wanted to create something for a guitar player on a budget that will get them great starter tones that will translate live,” Stephen says. “Additionally, I want to give them a look into what they need to get next.”
Kicking off Stephen's pedalboard, we have the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food. After hearing the Klon Centaur, EHX head honcho Mike Matthews designed an alternative weighing in at just over $100. The pedal is a Swiss Army knife of sorts, as it can give you all different kinds of distortion, overdrive, and fuzz options.
Next up in the signal path is the Canyon, another modern classic from Electro-Harmonix. This delay/looper packs in 10 stunning presets, including reverse delay, tape delay, octave delay, and one that features reverb. Let’s not forget that the looper mode features 62 seconds of recording time.
“The Canyon is cool because it gives you flexibility,” Stephen states. “You might not know what type of effect you need for a given gig, session, or practice, but this will give you everything right at your feet.”
Last but not least is the Boss CS-3. This classic compressor pedal allows you to tame things if your signal runs too hot or bump up anything not up to snuff. You can also get some interesting interaction between the CS-3 and Soul Food based on your settings.
“When I’m playing guitar, I always try to pair the Soul Food and the CS-3,” Stephen explains. “The engineer part of my brain is always thinking about how I can get some really interesting tones out of a nice drive and a nice compressor depending on how I use them together.”
Boss TU-3 Tuner Pedal (119.99), SoloDallas Schaffer Replica Pedal ($249), Benson Amps Germanium Fuzz Pedal ($299), EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander V2 Octave Synth Pedal ($199), Strymon Volante Magnetic Echo Machine Pedal ($429), Strymon Flint Tremolo and Reverb Pedal V2 ($349), Boss RE-202 Space Echo Delay and Reverb Pedal ($419), Electro-Harmonix Volume Pedal ($72.60), Pedaltrain Classic Pro with Tour Case Plus Wheels ($389.99)
“If I showed up and someone was like, ‘You gotta play my rig,’ and this was the board, I would say, ‘Hell yeah!’ What else do you even need?” Patrick exclaims.
It’s true, Patrick’s board offers many incredible pedal picks with several different tonal and modulation options. It’s lean and clean, but you have a variety of sounds at your disposal, starting with the SoloDallas Schaffer Replica as the base
“The SoloDallas Schaffer Replica is the shit,” says Patrick Carpenter. “Running it at the front of this board allows you to frontload any amplifier you go into without overdriving it too much. I want this pedal to drive the whole signal of my board like you want a great preamp to start with when you’re recording.”
The Replica flows straight into the Benson Amps Germanium Fuzz and EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander. The first is perfect for adding ‘60s fuzz to your signal flow and the latter will allow you to push the dimensions of your sound via four octaves of square wave synth madness.
Patrick’s board moves into the realms of reverb, delay, and tape echo with three premium pedals, including the Boss RE-202, Strymon Flint, and Strymon Volante.
“Strymon’s Volante is one of the best-sounding tape control echos available,” Patrick states. “This rig has an organic drive-based front end, so having the ability to shape the tape echo and dial in different settings is everything you’re looking for at the back end. You don’t just hit a Strymon pedal and it does one thing. It allows you to have presets and dial in different tape echos for different parts of the song.”
Add in an Electro-Harmonix Volume Pedal and lay it all out on a Pedaltrain Classic Pro, and you have a killer road-ready rig that comes in at around $2500.
Origin Effects Cali76-CD Compressor Pedal ($359), Benson Amps Germanium Fuzz Pedal ($299), JHS Pedals Bonsai Overdrive Pedal ($249), 1981 Inventions DRV NO3 Drive Pedal ($249), Boss TU-3 Tuner Pedal ($119.99), Dunlop DVP3 Volume Pedal ($129.99), Walrus Audio M1 Modulation Pedal ($349), Boss RE-202 Space Echo Delay/Reverb Pedal ($419.99), Strymon BigSky Reverb Pedal ($479), Universal Audio UAFX Ruby ‘63 Amplifier Pedal ($399), Walrus Audio Canvas Stereo Dual Line Isolator DI ($249), Strymon Zuma Power Supply ($279), Pedaltrain Classic 2 Pedalboard ($249.99)
Some of you may be asking, “Does anyone really need a $4500 pedalboard?” and the answer to that question is, “Yes, of course!” For gigging guitarists, the need to have a pedalboard that allows you to work any session or show is paramount. With that in mind, Kevin created this massive pedalboard with a whole host of drive, modulation, and reverb options.
There are 11 pedals in total housed on this Pedaltrain Classic 2, each of which has a specific purpose for achieving sounds from rock and pop to country and gospel. Kevin kicks things off with the Origin Effects Cali76D-CD. This compressor pedal is a recreation of the beloved UREI 1176.
“When you’re building a premium pedalboard, you’ll want to have your foundation set with the most low-noise, articulate, and dynamic compressor on the market, and that is the Cali76-CD,” Kevin says. “There are a lot of other good compressors on the market, but this is by far the top dog.”
Kevin’s signal moves from the Cali76D-CD to a series of gain, distortion, and fuzz-based pedals, including the Benson Amps Germanium Fuzz, JHS Pedals Bonsai Overdrive, and 1981 Inventions DRV NO3 Overdrive. The Benson handles fuzz without any need to worry about impedance level and board placement, while the JHS Bonsai is the perfect option for low to mid-level gain. Rounding out this section of the board, the 1981 DRV NO3 is a classic distortion that resembles the legendary Pro Co Rat.
At this point, Kevin drops a Dunlop DVP3 Volume Pedal with Boss TU-3 Tuner Pedal into the equation to offer guitarists complete control of their sound. This setup allows you to leave your tuner on, quickly mute your signal, and control your volume so that you’re ready for anything that might come your way during a session or show.
The next step in the signal path is the modulation section of the board with the Walrus Audio M1, Boss RE-202, and Strymon BigSky Reverb. In order to genre jump and play anything, these three pedals will cover your bases, especially the M1.
“The M1 truly covers everything, and it’s the best-sounding multi-FX pedal out there,” Kevin states. “You can do tremolo, phase, chorus, vibrato, and even flanger, all of this crazy stuff.”
Kevin has included the Universal Audio UAFX Ruby ‘63 amp simulator pedal for situations where you might want to go direct. When paired with the Walrus Audio Canvas Stereo DI, you’ll be able to get the best possible sounds straight from your pedalboard.
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