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  • Multieffects Strategies: Program vs. Stompbox Modes

    By Jon Chappell |

    How to turn your complex floor controller into a simple bunch of stomps


    By Jon Chappell


    You don't have to choose between a multieffects and a collection of stompboxes if you configure your multi-effects to run in "stombox mode."


    A multieffects processor can be a great thing. It organizes all your effects into one efficient layout, without bothersome connecting cables and assorted power supplies. You can create entire programs, where the press of one button changes your entire effects selection--including the role of the expression pedal on the right. What's not to love?

    Well, a multieffects is often overkill for small jams, open mic nights, and rehearsals. It's not so much the size of the unit (a multi-effects arguably takes up no more room onstage than the similar number of stomboxes it replaces), but the complexity. If you're at a jam, and the leader calls out, "Let's do this Tom Petty tune," or "Anyone know Metallica's 'Unforgiven,'" you'd choose two completely different effects schemes. That's when you appreciate having stompboxes, because you can just dial up something on the fly.



    Rather than separating your efforts between your multi-effects and your stompboxes, you can combine approaches with just your multieffects, but using it in stompbox mode. You may hear the term "stombpox mode" referred to differently depending on the unit you have (or the online forum you’re discussing it on), but basically, it boils down to this: A multieffects can be used either in program mode, where each memory location can dial up an entirely different set of effects, or stompbox mode, where the location of each effect (distortion, chorus, delay, reverb, etc.) is fixed, and stepping on the pedalboard switches at the appropriate location toggles the effects on or off. In stompbox mode, you set up your effects to match the physical layout of your stompboxes—starting with the distortion and ending with the reverb.

    For example, in any given multi-effects, the footswitches do double duty. In program mode, hitting the switches change programs within a bank. This is a good way to organize songs or set lists. Dial up the right bank number, and your program switches (let's call them FS1 through FS4) will take you through acoustic, clean, crunch, and lead variations. Used in this way, the switches change entire setups. Your program mode assignments might look like this:


    Program Mode

    Bank 1

    FS1: "Marshall Madness"

    FS2: "Boogie Blues"

    FS3: "Recto Rooter"

    FS4: "Echo Extravaganza with Ring Modulator and Tapped Delay"


    By contrast, stompbox mode puts one and only one effect under each switch. Here, the switches don't change sounds, they turn an individual effect on and off. Any one of your four lights (to use our four-switch example) can be either on or off. Here's the layout:


    Stompbox Mode

    Bank 1

    FS1: Distortion

    FS2: Chorus

    FS3: Delay

    FS4: Reverb


    All lights glowing means you have distortion, chorus, delay, and reverb all on at the same time. All off means a straight signal through to the amp. Selectively activate just FS2 and FS4 to get a clean sound. Hit FS1 to get a dry, distorted sound.



    In a multieffects processor, stompbox mode is your “brainless” mode, where you don’t want to think about effects. It’s best for jam sessions where you don’t know what the next song is and you don’t want to consider whether “Fripp Meets The Edge Under a Martian Dawn” would fit the 12-bar blues in Bb that the harmonica player just called. When this happens, you just want to turn on your Tube Screamer and Reverb. Stompbox mode lets you do that. You can even put small pieces of masking tape by the switches (assuming your unit has the room), labeled with a Sharpie to help you.

    Let's take the example of the Line 6 POD HD500, though multi-effects such as the VOX ToneLab, DigiTech RP series, and BOSS ME and GT series all operate similarly. When you look at the HD500's control panel, you see this (Fig. 1):



    Fig. 1: The POD HD500 has an array of footswitches, FS1 through FS8 (outlined here in red) that can act as on/off toggles to individual effects.


    The gold lettering beside each footswitch gives it a specific function, but that function applies only when you're in not in stompbox mode. In stompbox mode, these switches simply turn whatever effects are underneath them on or off.

    Here's a sample setup using eight effects and the eight available toggle switches, assuming the POD is in stompbox mode. The footswitches are laid out in two rows, like this:


    FS1  FS2  FS3  FS4

    FS5  FS6  FS7  FS8


    FS1 Compressor

    FS2 Dist 1 (blues-rock lead)

    FS3 Dist 2 (hard-rock lead)

    FS4 Harmonizer or Octaver or Parametric EQ, etc.


    FS5 Flanger or Phaser

    FS6 Chorus

    FS7 Delay

    FS8 Reverb


    Obviously, there’s versatility in the above setup, but you get the idea of the basic order.

    Remember, stompbox mode puts a different effect under each of the eight footswitches. In this way, the eight footswitches do not change presets (A-D on the bottom row), as they would when the POD is in program mode; they simply turn the individual effects underneath on or off, just like a bunch of loose stomps on the floor.

    If you always know that your compressor and distortion pedals are "up left" (FS1-FS3), you'll be able to access them quickly and intuitively, once you start working with the board in stompbox mode. Similarly, you'll rarely see FS5 (Flanger/Phaser) and FS6 (Chorus) on at the same time. Again, if you have quasi-permanent assignments for these switch positions regarding the effect types they hold, you'll learn them that much faster and you can even label them (e.g., FS5 = "Mod 1"; FS6 = "Mod 2").



    Different multieffects handle the mode change in various ways, but despite a few differences in terms, the principle should be clear from the owner's manual. In the POD HD500, there’s a global setting under System that turns all eight footswitches, FS1-FS8, into toggles. You then assign effects to each switch. To change effects setups, use the up/down Bank switches, located at the far left of the unit. In this way, the POD HD500 offers a sort of hybrid program/stompbox mode. You get the best of both worlds here by being able to change banks (whole offerings of sounds) while still using the unit in stompbox mode. The HD400 doesn't offer this hybrid mode; it's either one or the other, so be aware of this if you're deciding between the 400 and 500. For you existing POD users, in stompbox mode there’s no blinking “preview” mode - the sounds change instantly.



    Here are two tips for using stompox mode:

    1. If you’re setting up a straight guitar sound, put your multi-effects into stompbox mode. Run your guitar through the unit with all switches off. Get the amp sound  where you like it. Then use the individual effects as you normally would with physical stomps. This most resembles the way you'd work with individual stompboxes.
    2. To ensure you can get to your "stompboxes" quickly, always designate one of your bank-memory slots (let’s say 16D, the final one, in the POD HD series) in every set of 64 as your stompbox setup for when you put the POD into stompbox mode. That way, you can use your multi-effects for the programs you've carefully crafted. But if you suddenly want to get back to square one, dial up program #16D, make the System-level tweak that puts you into stompbox mode, and you're there.



    Knowing when and how to put your multi-effects into stompox mode will become more obvious as you become more familiar with using it. Remember that it's for those times you don't want to fuss. You still need to give some initial thought to placing the effects, but start with the eight effects as presented above and go from there. Before you know it, you'll be playing your virtual stomps with the ease and familiarity you did back in the good old days when you had to string together a bunch of low-cost Boss pedals. You never could get confused with that setup!


    5318ee6e1a6d5.jpg.a3967ae494b7e7bbab9ea7bdc6b3bd96.jpgJon Chappell is a guitarist and Associate Editor at Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children,  and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of  The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).

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