I find it odd that many guitarists want to stray away from using their effects pedals in recording, almost as if they are cheapening the sound in some way. I suppose, if you are going to the time and effort (and often great expense) of recording an album, you want it to be the best it can be. I so often see guitarists amassing amps, cabinets and guitars of all makes and models in preparation for recording, yearning to achieve a certain allusive tone, but can’t stand the idea of using that beaten old pedal they bought in a second hand shop ten years back. Apparently it will ruin the recording.
Consider Your Sound
The funny thing is that most guitarists build their live sound with pedals and spend countless hours trying, buying selling and swapping these beautiful little creations to get that tone just right. Just have a look at the going rate on an old tube screamer that is beaten half to death and you’ll understand that guitarists place a lot of faith in these little boxes. So, why would they turn their back on them in a recording environment when it is actually an integral part of the sound?
Oddly enough, most of the great pedals I have ever owned came to me in some pretty bad states. Hand-me-downs, pawn shop finds and even one hard rubbish pot of gold. Someone else’s problem can often become your solution when looking for a particular tone. And it is these pedals, along with the more modern, pristine and very clever pedals, that come together to build sounds that the guitar and amp simply cannot deliver by themselves. So, the first thing I want all guitarists to do when entering a recording session is to not overlook a section of their signal chain, just because they believe it’s not good enough to record with. If it is part of your sound, it should be part of the recording.
Keeping It Clean
Of course, there are some exceptions. Perhaps a newer built version of your old favourite might be in order, if it’s delivering noise or having issues. After all, there’s nothing worse than getting set up to record, being ready in the moment, and then having a piece of hardware fail you. So, understandably, ensure they are all up to the challenge. A little bit of grit is fine, if that is why you have included the pedal to begin with, but don’t allow it to bring other parts of the signal chain down.
That’s where the power issue is so important. Some old pedals can create havoc when the power supplied to them isn’t ideal. This is a common problem, both in the studio and in live situations, but it really becomes evident when recording in a quiet space. Please, do not think it is enough to simply get a single power supply and just run a daisy chain to give power to a number of pedals. That is the easiest way to create unwanted noise and should be avoided at all costs. The thing is, it can be fine in one instance, but a different combination or order of pedals can create some horrible sounds from the power that you just don’t want to capture in your recording. To ensure this is removed, get yourself a quality power supply that has multiple isolated outputs. That does not mean one that just distributes power from a box. It has to offer isolated power feeds so one pedal’s poor performance cannot influence another. Talk to the guys at your local guitar store, they should be able to help you solve this issue and set you up with good clean power for all your future recordings, rehearsals and live performances alike.
Rethink Your Path
There are plenty of times when only one pedal effect is used, yet we have an entire board of pedals between the guitar and the amplifier. Obviously, the need to recall any effect at any time in a live performance is essential but in the studio, there is the luxury of a little preparation and planning that can make a huge difference. If you are only using one or two pedals in a track, don’t send your signal path through every pedal on the board. All you are doing is adding more connections, more cables, more circuits and more opportunities for noise to develop. Not to mention the degradation of your tone due to unruly buffering and bypass stages, which leaves your guitar sounding weak and limp.
Carefully plan your recording beforehand and know just what effects are needed in each track. This way you can keep your signal path as short as possible and retain your tone the way you would want it to sound. Remember, tone is the key and your pedals can be an essential element in your tone. So make sure they are championed in your recording just as your guitars and amps are. But be sure to keep an eye on the issues that could allow them to be the downfall of your recording.