I just learned something. Well, I guess I kinda knew it already, but I never really tried it. For years I've been approaching guitar effects like a guitar player and studio effects like an engineer. If you're using a simple setup with one amp and a couple of pedals, then this doesn't really apply. However, if you're using a monster rig (or an asshole rig as I like to call to the rig I use) then this is the way to go.
I was watching a Steve Morse video today and he was talking about his setup. He has a dry amp and a wet amp. This seemed silly to me at first. Like there's really a big difference? And more importantly, who wants to bring 2 amps everywhere?
Well, maybe the practicality of having a dual rig like this is questionable, but the concept makes sense. Here's when this became obvious to me.
I was doing a gig last week and I kicked on my lead sound. Here's a little under the hood description of what that means.
1. I press a button on my MIDI controller
2. The MIDI controller simultaneously sends out messages to my effects processor and my amp.
3. The amp switches to channel 3, kicks in the midboost button, the secondary master volume, and the noise gate.
4. The effects processor switches to my lead preset which is: my sound -->Chorus--->delay--->amp
5. Then the expression pedal controls the wet/dry mix of each effect.
This is how I've been doing it for years. However, at this last gig I noticed something that I've been subconsciously doing for all that time. When I blend in the effects, the overall volume gets lower, so I've been going to the volume pedal and increasing the overall volume to compensate. This constant tap dance has become very annoying. By the time I get it right, the solo is almost over, and instead of using that time to play something good, I was tinkenering with levels! At this last gig in particular, I couldn't get the lead sound to be loud enough with the effects on, so I played dry all night. I had the rack of doom behind me and it was pretty much bypassed all night. The effects were burying the guitar tone, and I just got tired of dealing with it. Well, that's not going to happen anymore.
Today I went back into the presets that I probably programmed 5 years ago, and I changed them radically. Like I said before, I'm not going to start carrying two amps with me, but I did use the Steve Morse concept today. I configured everything in parallel. Basically, I have straight path from my guitar sound to the speakers at all times (unless doing something drastic like whammy or wah.) On separate paths (you can do this in most advanced processors, or you can do this with complex wiring) I ran my effects. The mix was 100%. The output volume was set to OFF. Then I assigned my expression pedal to control the output volume of each effect and VOILA! No more subtracting volume! Only adding volume! So now when I blend in the effects, my guitar tone stays un-touched. I can't wait to play my next gig and try it out.
If you're a strictly analog stomp box person and you want to try this concept out, here's how you do it:
First, you need 2 amps. You'll also need a volume pedal (or 3) and a mono splitter or Y cable (depending on your setup, you may need multiple splits.)
Plug your guitar straight into the amp. Or you can plug it into your wah and distortion first if that's where you're getting your basic tone. Anyway, get your basic guitar sound happening. No delay, reverb, or modulation effects should go in this path.
Once your basic sound is to your liking run a cable out of your amps effects send.
Things to consider:
- Some amps terminate at the effects send until you send the signal back through the effects return. If this is the case, you'll need a mono Y cable/adapter. Plug the Y cable into the send. On one end of the Y, go back to the return. This should complete the loop and make your amp happy. We'll discuss the other end in a bit.
- Some amps don't have effects loops. I call these Caveman amps. Most people like to call them vintage amps. (come on people, it's almost 2011. Get effects loops!) This can be problematic for a setup like this, but it's not impossible. The problem is that we want your tone in all it's glory to be duplicated through the wet amp. An effects loops takes your guitar sound after the amp's gain and tone controls (the preamp) and sends it somewhere else. If we can't do this, then we can't exactly duplicate this tone. It's not the end of the world. It's just that your wet amp may have a different tonal characteristic than the dry amp. This may or may not be a good thing depending on your taste. If your old amp (that you paid thousands for...ok, I'll stop now) doesn't have an effects loop then just put the Y cable out of the last pedal you would plug into your amp. So if you have a wah and distortion, take the output of the distortion and split it. Send one end of the Y to your amp and like I said above we'll discuss the other end in a bit.
Now you should have your basic sound all tweaked out. That sound should be going through the speakers of amp A and it should be going through a cable that you haven't plugged into anything yet. Next, you're going to take the cable (the effects send cable, or the cable from the Y split) and run it through the rest of your pedals. You're going to want to tweak the pedals out. It may be beneficial to run these in parallel as well, but that will become a major pain in the ass because it will require more Y cables which can make things messy and noisy. For the sake of simplicity, let's just say you have one delay pedal. (if anyone's interested in the multiple effects parallel setup, I can do that in another post)
Plug this dangling cable that you have into your delay pedal. Run the mix (or effects level as some pedals call it) at 100% on. We want this to be all delay and no original sound. Take the output of that pedal and run it into a volume pedal. Take the output of the volume pedal and plug it into the effects return of amp B. If amp B doesn't have an effects return, then just plug it into the front input. If you need help with this step, ask your neighbor, Barney Rubble, to come over and help you.
Now your all set up. When your raise the volume pedal you will add delay through amp B. This will preserve your initial tone and only add delay through a separate source. It's pretty cool and I think it sounds great.
guitar ---> wah ---->distortion----> amp A
amp A effects send ----> delay ----->volume pedal---->amp B effects return
You can also technically do this sort of additive setup with one amp, but it would still require you to blend the wet and dry sound before going into the amp which could get messy sounding.