Why be normal? Use your footpedal to control parameters other than volume and wah
By Craig Anderton
A lot of guitar hardware multieffects, like the Line 6 POD HD500, Roland ME-70, DigiTech iPB-10 and RP1000, Vox ToneLab ST, and Zoom G3X (Fig. 1) have a footpedal you can assign to various parameters.
Fig. 1: Many multieffects, like Zoom's G3X, have built-in pedals. However, if not, some have an expression pedal jack so you can still use a pedal with the effects.
If you're into amp sims, you're covered there too: Native Instruments' Rig Kontrol has a footpedal you can assign to any amp sim's parameters, and IK Multimedia's StealthPedal (Fig. 2) also works as a controller for amp sim software, not just IK's own AmpliTube.
Fig. 2: IK's StealthPedal isn't only a controller, but includes jacks for plugging in a second expression pedal, as well as a dual footswitch.
In most multieffects, volume and wah are the no-brainer, default pedal assignments. However, there are a whole lot of other parameters that are well-suited to pedal control. Doing so can add real-time expressiveness to your playing, and variety to your sound.
ASSIGNING PEDALS TO PARAMETERS
Some multieffects make this process easy: They have patches pre-programmed to work with their pedals. But sometimes the choices are fairly ordinary and besides, the manufacturer's idea of what you want to do may not be the same as what you want to do. So, it pays to spend a little time digging into the manual so you can figure out how to assign the pedal to any parameter you want.
Effects with a computer interface are usually the easiest for making assignments, and they're certainly easiest to show in an article due to the ease of taking screen shots. For example, with DigiTech's iPB-10, you can use the iPad interface to assign the expression pedal to a particular parameter. In Fig. 3, the pedal has been assigned to the Screamer effect Drive parameter.
Fig. 3: The iPB-10 pedal now controls the Screamer effect's Drive parameter. Note that you can set a minimum and maximum value for the pedal range; in this case, it's 8 and 58 respectively.
This example shows the POD HD500 Edit program, set to the Controllers page. Here, the EXP-1 (main expression pedal) controller has been assigned to delay Feedback (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4: It's easy to assign the HD500's pedal to various parameters using the POD HD500 Edit program. Note that like the iPB-10, you can set minimum and maximum values for the pedal range.
Most amp sims have a "Learn" option. For example, with Guitar Rig, you can control any parameter by right-clicking on it and selecting "Learn" (Fig. 5).
Fig. 5: The Chorus/Flanger speed control is about to "learn" the controller to which it should respond, like a pedal that generates MIDI controller data.
With learn enabled, when you move a MIDI controller (like the StealthPedal mentioned previously), Guitar Rig will "learn" that the chosen parameter should respond to that particular controller's motion. Often these assignments are stored with a preset, so the pedal might control one parameter in one preset, and a different parameter in another.
THE TOP 10 PEDAL TARGETS
Now that we've covered how to assign a controller to parameters, let's check out which parameters are worth controller. Some parameters are a natural for foot control; here are ten that can make a big difference to your sound.
- Distortion drive This one's great with guitar. Most of the time, to go from a rhythm to lead setting you step on a switch, and there's an instant change. Controlling distortion drive with a pedal lets you go from a dirty rhythm sound to an intense lead sound over a period of time. For example, suppose you're playing eighth-note chords for two measures before going into a lead. Increasing distortion drive over those two measures builds up the intensity, and slamming the pedal full down gives a crunchy, overdriven lead.
- Chorus speed If you don't like the periodic whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of chorus effects, assign the pedal so that it controls chorus speed. Moving the pedal slowly and over not too wide a range creates subtle speed variations that impart a more randomized chorus effect. This avoids having the chorus speed clash with the tempo.
- Echo feedback Long, languid echoes are great for accenting individual notes, but get in the way during staccato passages. Controlling the amount of echo feedback lets you push the number of echoes to the max when you want really spacey sounds, then pull back on the echoes when you want a tighter, more specific sound. Setting echo feedback to minimum gives a single slapback echo instead of a wash of echoes.
- Echo mix Here's a related technique where the echo effect uses a constant amount of feedback, but the pedal sets the balance of straight and echoed sounds. The main differences compared to the previous effect are that when you pull back all the way on the pedal, you get the straight signal only, with no slapback echo; and you can't vary the number of echoes, only the relative volume of the echoes.
- Graphic EQ boost Pick one of the midrange bands between 1 and 4 kHz to control. Adjust the scaling so that pushing the pedal all the way down boosts that range, and pulling the pedal all the way back cuts the range. For solos, boost for more presence, and during vocals, cut to give the vocals more "space" in the frequency spectrum.
- Reverb decay time To give a "splash" of reverb to an individual note, just before you play the note push the pedal down to increase the reverb decay time. Play the note, and it will have a long reverb tail. Then pull back on the pedal, and subsequent notes will have the original, shorter reverb setting. This works particularly well when you want to accent a drum hit.
- Pitch transposer pitch For guitarists, this is like having a "whammy bar" on a pedal. The effectiveness depends on the quality of the pitch transposition effect, but the basic idea is to set the effect for pitch transposed sound only. Program the pedal so that when it's full back, you hear the standard instrument pitch, and when it's full down, the pitch is an octave lower. This isn't an effect you'd use everyday, but it can certainly raise a few eyebrows in the audience as the instrument's pitch slips and slides all over the place. By the way, if the non-transposed sound quality is unacceptable, mix in some of the straight sound (even though this dilutes the effect somewhat).
- Pitch transposer mix This is a less radical version of the above. Program the transposer for the desired amount of transposition – octaves, fifths, and fourths work well – and set the pedal so that full down brings in the transposed line, and full back mixes it out. Now you can bring in a harmony line as desired to beef up the sound. Octave lower transpositions work well for guitar/bass unison effects, whereas intervals like fourths and fifths work best for spicing up single-note solos.
- Parametric EQ frequency The object here is to create a wah pedal effect, although with a multieffects, you have the option of sweeping a much wider range if desired. Set up the parametric for a considerable amount of boost (start with 10 dB), narrow bandwidth, and initially sweep the filter frequency over a range of about 600 Hz to 1.8 kHz. Extend this range if you want a wider wah effect. Increasing the amount of boost increases the prominence of the wah effect, while narrowing the bandwidth creates a more intense, "whistling" wah sweep.
- Increasing the output of anything (e.g.., input gain, preamp, etc.) before a compressor This allows you to control your instrument's dynamic range; pulling back on the pedal gives a less compressed (wide dynamic range) signal, while pushing down compresses the signal. This restricts the dynamic range and gives a higher average signal level, which makes the sound "jump out." Also note that when you push down on the pedal, the dynamics will change so that softer playing will come up in volume. This can make a guitar seem more sensitive, as well as increase sustain and make the distortion sound smoother.
And there you have the top ten pedal targets. There are plenty of other options just waiting to be discovered—so put your pedal to the metal, and realize more of the potential in your favorite multieffects or amp sim.
Craig Anderton is Executive Editor of Electronic Musician magazine. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.