I Need a Pedal Board!

It's pretty normal for guitarists to have pedal boards. They usually have an array of effects to modify the sounds of their guitars -- overdrive, fuzz, reverb, echo, modulators, and more. Keyboardists, on the other hand, generally rely on effects built into their instruments. That's all well and good, in a studio. Most modern keyboards have all kinds of incredible effects that sound really great. But, they're a pain in the backside to control quickly and easily on stage. Guitarists have really got it made when it comes to effects that are portable and easy to use live.

Before the days of digital keyboards, when rock keyboard players had things like Hammond B3 or Farfisa organs, Rhodes or Wurlitzer electric pianos and Hohner Clavinets, they used guitar "stomp boxes" for their effects, too. I've decided that, for my "rig", I'm going to go old-school and build a pedal board. I'm getting tired of chasing three volume pedals, sustain pedals, and effects around under my keyboard stand.

The picture shows my planned pedal board layout. Along the bottom, from left to right, are a master volume, dual sustain pedal, and separate volume pedals for the Korg PS-60 and X-50 keyboards. Picking up on the top row, moving from right to left, will be a Rubber Chicken, Pickel Vibe and Gen5 Echo from LovePedal, a Line Six Roto-Machine Leslie simulator and a Tech 21 "Blonde" amp simulator.

Of course, I don't own all the effects yet, but I'll start building the pedal board and add the "missing" pedals over the next few weeks or months. And, based on sound, cost, and availability, the actual pedals used may change (or I may put cheaper pedals in temporarily).

Not shown on the board will also be a couple of vocal effects units. I've already got the TC-Helicon H1 harmonizer, and I'll be adding their new Mic Mechanic pedal when it becomes available. They will not reside on this pedal board, as I will operate them with my hand instead of my foot.

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When One of You Just Isn’t Enough

This past Friday, we ventured out to Birdies for dinner with a friend, and happened to catch Jeremy W. Norris’ one-man-band act. Jeremy uses a variety of tools to make the show work, aside from his voice and instruments. I’d seen performers use loopers to build up layers of sound and a virtual backing band. And, I’d heard vocalists use harmonizers before (Jeremy uses the Electro-Harmonix Voice Box) to fill out backing vocals. Jeremy’s combination of both tools, and his mastery of controlling them, made his performance a lot of fun. As the night went on, I got to thinking about using something similar to fill out the backups in my band. As I looked at the various products on the market, and at my budget, I realized that our needs were much simpler at this point. I really just needed the ability to have one or two additional voices. And so, I settled in on a TC-Helicon Voicetone H-1 harmonizer. Yesterday, I picked on up at a local music emporium.

The H-1 aims to be super-simple to setup and use, and it succeeds. I’ve tried other harmony boxes in the past, and they were very difficult to use, requiring specific programming to work right. When I unleashed the H-1 on my unsuspecting band-mates yesterday at rehearsal, less than a half-hour after leaving the music store, I was making useful harmonies almost from the minute I turned it on!

The H-1 has basically three knobs and a switch to work all the magic. The first knob selects the key the box will base the harmonies on, and can also switch to a mode that allows the H-1 to track chords being played on a guitar or keyboard to automatically determine the key. The second knob selects the accompaniment voices, while the third determines how the singers voice will be blended with the backing tracks. The switch kicks the effect on or off.

For the first few songs we did with the H-1, I chose to select the key manually. I simply turned the knob to the correct key, chose a voice arrangement, and sang my usual backup parts. When I wanted more “mes”, I simply hit the switch, and wow! Instant backups. I had all the Pips in my pocket.

After our lead singer got over his surprise, we did a couple more tunes with this setup, and then I decided to try the automatic tracking function. I routed a signal from our guitarist’s channel into the instrument input, spun the key knob around to the “guitar” position, and we were off. When I held a note over chord changes, my harmonies automatically tracked the right chords! The backing tracks on our cover of Aerosmith’s Remember were particularly impressive.

Of course, we didn’t record anything at practice, though we probably will at our next gig (and probably should start recording rehearsals). But if you want to see what this thing’s like in action, check out these videos:

This guy uses it a lot for his live gigs, and has a pretty good command of the box. He’s a little bit spastic, though, but seems a good sort… :)
It also works will with "monophonic” instruments, such as saxophone.

There are a couple other Voicetone Singles boxes that will eventually join the H1 in our rig, specifically the T1 and the D1 (voice tone and compression and also a chorus/detune).