Pedal to the metal
Guitarists have never had it so good. No matter what style you play, how you use your gear or what budget you run to, there is proper quality out there for everyone. As pedal manufacturers further expand their ranges into the nano/micro realm, there is now more choice and a smaller footprint into which your stompboxes can fit. What often goes under the radar though is how simply, and effectively, you can further expand your tone with footswitches.
Footswitches are perhaps one of the easiest and most obvious ways to coax more and more musical possibilities from your rig. From simple switching systems which enable you to jog through presets, through to more advanced MIDI-based systems which control ever more high-tech backlines with ease and efficiency, there is so much you can do with these unassuming looking boxes.
Even though they don’t produce any sound themselves, they do enable you to further control the existing sounds you have at your disposal already without the need for any unnecessary tap-dancing on stage. Because let’s be honest, nobody wants to see that.
We’ve narrowed down the guide into three types of additional footswitch; a simple footswitch, a line selector and a volume/sustain style ‘rocker’ pedal. The wonderful world of MIDI switching is worth another post on its own at some point in the future, but for now let’s keep things simple.
These are perhaps the simplest way of all to expand your tone, providing you have the existing gear with which to make use of a switcher. Their functionality is specific to the pedal they’re controlling, so it could be a simple tap-tempo function on your delay pedal, or it could be a stop/start controller for a drum machine. The Boss FS-6 Dual Footswitch can be used to control a multitude of things, and does it with the build quality and reliability you’d expect from Boss.
Example 1: run the Boss FS-6 into the Boss RC-3 looper pedal and you can scroll through your saved loops without using the tiny buttons on the pedal itself, making live performance a much more realistic proposition.
Example 2: connect the Boss FS-6 into a desktop unit like the Boss GT-001 to enable you to scroll through presets without touching the unit itself. Again, this enables the GT-001 to make itself into an extremely portable little stage unit if the larger GT-100 isn’t right for you.
Line selectors simply route an audio signal through one of two switchable output routes, opening up the possibility of using two amplifiers on a stage. This allows you to plug one input source, e.g. a guitar, and route the audio out into two separate channels and control which output is used using just a simple footswitch.
Example: You’ve narrowed your tonal palette down to two distinct sounds, but the sounds you want can only be achieved using two separate amplifiers. With a pedal like the Boss LS-2, you can run both amplifiers either individually or together. The tonal possibilities available through ‘mixing’ two different amps together are particularly exciting, and will ensure you can create a tone unlike anything that can be achieved using just one amp.
Expression pedals allow you to control the spread, or width, of a particular parameter. This could be the volume of your instrument, the amount of a particular effect that is added to the signal, or the length for which the signal sustains.
These pedals are usually in the form of ‘rocker’ pedals, similar to wah or standard volume pedals. The difference is that they start off as blank, and require you to tell them what you want them to do. There is potential for a lot of fun with expression pedals. Imagine chaining a few different modulation effects through them at once using a line selector, then having the expression pedal raise the values of each at the same time allowing you to go from a bone dry signal to one drenched in delay, chorus or flanger at the same time.
Example: A simple one but a good one; having the expression pedal mapped to control volume allows you to begin adding violin style ‘swells’ into your music, which are the backbone of a lot of ambient/post-rock style music. By using your foot to control the length and dynamic range of the swells, as opposed your guitar’s volume knob, you can concentrate more on your playing.
There are plenty of ways in which you can expand your tone with footswitches. You just have to be creative!