Hello there fellow pedal aficionados! My name is Marko Jelic, the name behind Kuato Design stompboxes and a real commercial-made/of-the-shelf/retail pedal junky as well! Ooooh boy oh boy oh boy, do I like em all. You show me a signal processor that accepts guitar level signal – I’ll rock that shit till I drop dead exhausted. I assume we all feel this passionate towards our precious little devices.
While I will be doing a separate blog post on a typical day in a life of a pedal builder (which touches me on so many levels, and I feel so so honored to be able to do such a thing, major props to this site for making that happen) I will briefly go over my favorite kinds of effects here and comment on my personal pedalboard that you can see above. Before I go through all of the stuff happening above let me just touch on my favorite kinds of effects. While I do enjoy all of them equally (except for the hard-hitting ubertight metal distortion boxes which I find a bit dull) what I like best are definitely reverb and phaser effects. Or more broadly put – phase shifting effects, to include the uni-vibe as well which is in my top 5 definitely.
Onto my pedalboard – the board in question is the SKB Stage Five pedalboard. I know the majority of people are using those Pedaltrain solutions but the SKB just looked as a piece of art to me as soon as I’d looked at it for the first time. So many cleverly chosen power outlets to this board and just the right size to have it all in there. The power supply is heavy and quiet as a mouse and I found that such a relief after having it rough for years with those “isolated” glorified daisy chainz out there. It just works for me. The pedalboard is heavy as f%#ck but if you have a car it shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t see anybody running of with my pedals that easily due to the weight of the whole thing so that’s…a perk of the design. Yeah, I think I’m gonna go with a perk.
Okay, onto those little gems themselves! Right, so first things first – the volume pedal and the tuner. I chose the TC Polytune Mini because it was the smallest and cheapest that I could find and it works very very well. Nothing more to say here, it does what it’s supposed to and it does it well. The volume pedal I use is the Boss FV300H which I bought cheap after having heard that Johnny Greenwood uses one for ages, and it is a fairly good pedal, no tone degradation that I’ve detected and it has a cool sweep. Very very nice pedal. Huuuuuuge!
From there I am going into the Subdecay Spring Theory. Man do I love this pedal. While it does the spring reverb thing perfectly it’s ambient reverb is just from another world. I love running that before my dirt boxes as it makes everything sound huge and sustainy and if you control it right you can almost use it as if you had the EHX Freeze first in chain, sorta. It definitely feels that way though. Awesome awesome pedal that’s been perfectly reliable and gratifying all of this time. One major flaw though – it doesn’t have tails. No excuse for a reverb pedal not having tails in the 2010s. End of story. Still, I am in love with this one and am keeping it forever. The reverb before OD type of thing is relatively new to me but it definitely has me by the guts by now, so I recommend you guys at least try it if you hadn’t already.
Next stop – dirt. This is something every guitarist struggles with until the end of his days. No OD or fuzz pedal is there to stay. We change em more frequently than we do our guitar strings. For me, the infamous Centaur circuit really is the best fit. I play humbucker equipped guitars so the fact that this pedal is pretty bright actually makes it perfect for my setup. I love how surgically defined it sounds, almost too precise on that string to string separation. Lovely. Luckily EHX now offers these at a ridiculous price so everyone can have a piece of action. I chose to make my own a couple of years ago and once I did I never looked into the OD arena again. It makes my setup sing.
Dirt no. 2 – fuzz. I like all sorts of fuzzes and actually one of the reasons why I’ve chosen the Centaur circuit as my main OD is because it stacks perfectly with just about any fuzz out there. For this board I chose my own superfuzz inspired fuzz that has a blendable octave down circuit. While I use the octave down glitchness sparingly, the superfuzz side I use all the time. Now this is not your standard superfuzz mind you, I modded it so it has a very very dark sound and it just gives the thin and bright sound from the Centaur so much body. Together they work so well in delivering those sustaining full bodied toanz that are dark but still with enough clarity – think of the Eric Johnson’s lead tone as one example of that.
From there the signal hits the micro POG, which is just amazing. I use it for so many things. Everybody knows everything about that pedal so I won’t go on about it. Some unexpected uses of this pedal that has become a part of my sonic style – I mentioned the dry output haven’t I, okay, so, if you also happen to have the DL4 like I do, do the following: connect the dry output from the POG into your DL4’s second input, switch the pedal to loop mode. Turn on the delay mix. Engage the Pog. now you have a clean signal with the repeats that are processed by the POG! So, you can have octave down repeats, octave up, any mix of the two. I use this A LOT. It sounds rad and it eliminates the need for a dedicated pedal that would produce those harmonized repeats. The second cool thing about using the POGs other output is with the Boss reverb pedals, mainly the RV5, again, a very popular pedal. If you do the exact same thing like with the DL4, and due to the fact that the Boss has a signal bleed from one channel to another, you will end up with harmonized reverb as well. So, you can have that shimmer sounds after all without the need for buying a separate dedicated pedal. Cool huh?
After that it hits the Randy’s Revenge and the section ends with the Pigtronix EP2. I haven’t tried many ring mods but I get what all the hype is about. Being a pedal builder I was trying to find a project that was feasible for me and failed so many times, you just can’t make it this good unless you’re a rocket scientist. I leave that to the clever chaps out there. Randy excels at doing ring mod stuff and is highly tunable, works flawlessly with ANY exp pedal out there. But I use it just as much for tremolo and univibe-ish sounds and as a filter of sorts. What I don’t like about it, which is a shame, is that it darkens my tone when used like a tremolo/vibe, and it does it a lot. I…don’t hold it against the pedal because it’s a flawless ring mod, but…I would like this not to be the case somehow but I don’t wanna tinker with it. It’s rocket science under the hood as I said.
The EP2 is a very good phaser. All of the Pigtronix stuff is cleverly designed and they have one of the best customer support teams in the business. I have personally emailed David Koltai (uber cool dude that one!) many times and always received an answer pretty fast. He was always honest and actually turned me away from the more expensive version of the Philosophers Tone in favor of the less expensive after explaining him what my needs were. Awesome guy. The EP2 is an optical phaser that can get overwhelming if you’re not careful. It has all sorts of exp inputs which makes life interesting. You can set it up any way you like. The learning curve is steep I must say, you really need to spend some time with the pedal to use it to it’s fullest. I have a positive bias towards this firm and the pedal, but in all honesty the envelope portion of this pedal is a little underwhelming. It’s…well just okay. I use the down direction and the stacatto options from time to time but I mainly don’t use it. This phaser sounds a lot like the Lovetone Doppelganger or the ROG Phozer project. It’s not for everyone, but it shouldn’t be neglected once you’re making your phaser purchasing decisions.
Okay, this is becoming too long of a post so I’ll rush right down to the end. The next section begins with the EHX Freeze, followed by an MXR Micro Flanger, Kuato Design Small Stone clone, Boss RV5, DL4 and in the end the Digitech Jamman Solo XT looper. All of this is put into the Zvex Loop Gate’s loop.
I’ve added the Jamman Solo because the DL4 loops are not quantized. This way I can have em quantized to a certain tempo and play drumbeats on top. Zvex Loop Gate is a very underrated pedal in my opinion. It can do a lot of stuff very well for it’s size and feature set! Lot’s of “how the fuck did he do that” looks from my friends over this one! Spend some time with the pedal and you won’t be disappointed.
The DL4. God do I hate this pedal. It has to be the dullest delay sound after the PT2399 chip infused delays out there. It’s superior to that but still – soooooo dull. I don’t wanna rant much about it, after all, I do have it on my dream pedalboard, but it’s delay sounds are completely average and lifeless to me. Granted, I’m an analog delay guy. No room for one on the board I’m afraid. The DL4 with it’s best in class looper was a necessary evil so I’m afraid that I am stuck with that one for it’s looper. I actually like the delay sound in the loop mode best so that was convenient to realize. It also sums the stereo inputs to dual mono (if I’m not mistaken) so the POG repeats thing that I mentioned earlier happens too. Pretty sweet.
I am also running either the Korg Monotron Delay or Caustic on my Android tablet often and get it into the board via the Jamman’s aux in input. Everybody should try Caustic as much as I am concerned. It’s a groundbreakingly powerful software that costs just 10 bucks. You can MIDI control it. You can do modular synthesis on it. You can do A LOT, and it’s idiot-friendly, which was important to me. Um…very important. If you get me.
Anyway, if anybody needs anything more from me, in terms of comments on these pedals, opinions, advice, or something else, I am more than willing to share all my knowledge of this stuff, however limited. Just give me a shout.
P.S. Possible change: I might take the red fuzz pedal off completely and put something different in there. This is because lately I’ve been using the clean tone for the most part and not really playing fuzzed out. This board has been designed to be used for that atmospheric/textural scenery thing after all.