Guitar Effects: Pedals vs. Rackmount Processors
By Richard Brodsky
If you play electric guitar or even if you're just a fan, you've undoubtedly asked yourself how your favorite artist gets "that sound" on one of your favorite tunes. There is a dizzying array of guitar effects processors available these days and finding the right combination of guitar effects pedals and rackmount gear can be a daunting task that requires a certain amount of experimentation before finding the combination that works best for you.
Vintage Guitar Effect Pedals at The Dallas Guitar Show 2008
Larger touring rock bands often have racks full of processors and a stage littered with pedals to switch between effects patches. Still, many musicians have found the old-style stompbox guitar pedals to offer the best bang for the buck. Although digital multi-effects processors offer some distinct convenient advantages, allowing guitar players to build combinations of effects -i.e. Chorus + Delay + Reverb + Distortion - into patches and banks for easy recall and switching later, there are some drawbacks to this approach as well. The combination of effects that's written to a patch ad the associated parameters (amount of delay, reverb decay etc.), generally can not be changed on the fly. In addition, when switching between effects in a live gig situation, oftentimes there is a slight sound dropout which makes it impractical to use while sustaining a long chord for instance.
The stompbox guitar effects pedal set up, however provides much greater flexibility, allowing the guitar player to switch on and off individual effects at will. In addition, many guitar players prefer the "warmer" tone provided by some of the older analog effects pedals. For convenience, you can purchase a pedalboard style case that will allow you to keep standard sized stompboxes connected together, so you don't need to continuously reconnect everything each time you play. Many of these pedalboards also provide power supplies to connect all guitar effects pedals to, so that batteries don't need to be constantly changed.
In the end, the best way to find what works for you is to experiment. Individual guitar effects pedals, multi-effects pedals and rackmount processors, along with various midi switching devices can be bought fairly inexpensively on sites like Ebay, if you take the time to look around and do your homework. If you find something that doesn't work for you or your setup, you can always find someone who will be willing to buy it from you.
Richard Brodsky has been playing Guitar since the 1970's and is the owner of Myguitareffects.com