Sweaty Spice, the other Spice Girl

Sorry, more guitar related posting.

If you have been keeping up with my travails, this is a quick summary...

  • I began playing more guitar late in the pandemic
  • My arthritis in my left hand isn't as much of a limiter as I thought
  • I decided to take a stab at fixing my late 80's vintage amp (and was successful)
  • I realized that while it sounds AWESOME, it is WAY too loud for my office/den/room
  • I convinced the better half to buy me a new, lower power amp to not damage my ears and scare the dogs
  • Said new amp has a solid "dirty" channel, but a pretty vanilla clean channel - perfect to start crafting a tone

Now that I can play comfortably without risk of deafness, it is time to begin to craft a sound.

Note: tone and sound are two distinct attributes. Your tone comes from you hands, your experience, and roughly the equipment that you have. A sound is how you color, alter, adjust and build a voice.

The PodXT

As a foundation, I have an old Line6 PodXT "bean" that had like a bajillion amp/cabinet/sounds programmed into it. If you want a Steely Dan "Reeling in the Years" or an AC/DC Back in Black sound, or the classic Van Halen "brown" sound, it has you back. Sure you can tweak it, add modulation, stomp box, and delay/reverbs, but it is so complicated. Still, I already own it, and it works (once I bought a power supply, I seem to have misplaced the one it came with.

The problem is that it is complicated, and while it is possible (and not too difficult) to alter and save new programs, it is overwhelming. As long as what I want is mostly available in the built in model set, I am OK with it. But that isn't very satisfying.

Going off the grid

The natural way to upgrade would be to buy one of the modern Line6 multieffect processors. They have become super powerful, and ever better in their fidelity to their intended analogs, but I am thinking I will go back to the basics, and begin to assemble a pedal board.

Back in the day, I spent uncounted hours at the local music stores, dreaming about buying more and better guitars, amplifiers, and even building a collection of stomp pedals. At the time, I was a dyed in the wool heavy metal maniac, and I gravitated towards the fuzz and distortion pedals, all the better to make my bargain basement Crate practice amp (it was a POS. I know Crate makes/made some really good amps, but the one I had wasn't one of those) have a passable distortion sound.

A couple years later I entered the big time, with a Gallien Krueger 250 ML, the "lunchbox from hell", with a wicked distortion, and a true silky-smooth stereo chorus. The pedals faded away, lost, donated or trashed.

Now I am like a newborn infant, with a fresh amp, a sparkly clean channel, and a wide open field of options ahead of me.

De-risking the purchase

Back in the day, yhou might have been lucky and the shop had a open box that you could take the pedal and play through it, but it was always a hack. You really couldn't play on your own rig, with your guitar and amp, so you hoped that it sounded doog when you got home.

And often, it was a disappointment. Nothing like spending $70 or $80 on a pedal, and having it just suck when you plugged into it. But that was commonly the case.

Now, you have YouTube. If you are interested in a pedal or a sound, you can just search for it and find a plethora of videos showing how it works, and how it sounds. Additionally, all the makers have websites with official videos and tips/hints to get the best out of it.

Further, there are also super fan pages that have people who have spent significant fractions of their life cataloging and identifying how the famous get their sound. An example is Gilmourish a site that has acres of coverage of how David Gilmour of Pink Floyd builds and grooms his sound over the years. Similar pages are there for many of the greats. Do a search for "Van Halen brown sound" and be rewarded with tons of great advice.

Where to start

As any expert will tell you (and I am in no way an expert) you work on a basic sound, before getting fancy. Sure, adding modulation, delay, reverb / tape effects is fun, but if you are to get the most, get a good, basic sound. The right  equalization, enough fuzz, grunge, whatever, and then get comfortable playing it.

I am going to start with a couple of standard overdrive effects, and I am looking to used pedals to save a few bucks. Apparently, like in many hobbies, there is a lively secondary market in used gear. Likely people who impulse bought, and it didn't suit their style.

Off to look for an entry point for basic tone. I will be sure to keep you informed as I go down this rabbit hole.

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