Foundation Overdrive - the always on pedal
As I build a sound that is "me" I will be experimenting with a lot of signal path modifiers. But, instead of diving in to the esoteric, I plan to be somewhat methodical. And that means following some rough guidelines.
Fortunately there are plenty of sources out there that help you identify what you want, and how to get to get to it. One resouce I found was from Catalinbread in a blog post titled "Pedal Order 101 with Catalinbread" that gives some sage advice and shortens the search.
But that is mostly how to construct the signal chain, and not the what. The what is the more interesting question, and one that will take some work. Everyone may have their own path, but for me, I am going to focus first on building a great foundation overdrive. Assuming that I am playing into a clean, dry channel (and the clean channel on my Orange Rocker 15 is this) I want some light punch, with just enough grunge to color the sound.
My first pedal acquisition was a used Keeley (rkfx.com) Tone Workstation. This is a three element pedal that has a compressor, a modest overdrive, and a "dirt" overdrive, with some flexibility. I have to say that I really like it, the always on overdrive is switchable between two of their effects, the Katana and the 1962. To be honest, the 1962 has that kick-ass British early 1960's sound that is key to The Who, AC/DC and other iconic bands that played through Vox or Hi-Watt amps, and it brings just enough warmth to the mix, without over-driving it.
The second overdrive is their famous "Red Dirt" pedal that gives a very flexible, "crunchy" tone, that when cranked up to the max with the Mod+ switch position gives you that mid 1980's hair metal vibe.
At the end of this chain is a compressor/sustainer effect that gives the sound a bit of a knife edge. I have never played much with a compressor in the past, so I am still learning about this effect, currently using it as much as a limiter as not.
With this pedal, I have plenty of foundational overdrive to play with, and a killer distorted sound. Will it be the foundation that I continue to use?
Perhaps. I have a second pedal that is more focused, a Dirty Little Secret (red) pedal that I am fiddling with. It is a simple JFET amplifier that yields a solid mid 60's vintage Marshall overdrive (aka the Michael Schenker sound) that has a wicked groove. It will likely remain on the board, and I will switch between it and the red dirt, depending on my mood.
One thing I would like to point out about pedals today versus thirty-odd years ago when I last collected a few, is that pedals today are QUIET. I mean that when you disable them, the signal that passes through is clean and unadulterated. In the old days, even switching them off there was some noise in the chain, and get 4 or 5 pedals in a series and even all bypassed, you got noticeable hum. This led to the development of multiplexers and other trick gear to switch the path of the signal to avoid the noise.
Today's pedals are an order of magnitude quieter. I haven't the equipment to measure it (it can't be 0) but by my ears, they are blissfully silent.
As my amp has no reverb built into it, I think I need something to wet the sound, so a reverb of some sort to just juice it up a bit. There are plenty of options on the market, but I don't think I need anything super exotic. Something that does a large room, or a plate reverb with some setting for depth ought to work.
I will look around, and watch YouTube videos to compare a few, and then take the plunge. So many great options, I think I will look for simplicity, and not overstuffed with functionality.
The Journey continues!