So you’ve started learning electric guitar, you’ve found a guitar and an amplifier that you like. They sound great together but now you really want to wail like David Gilmour, play with delay like The Edge or conjure up your very own signature tone. Using just your guitar and amp won’t cut it; the next step is to explore the power of guitar multi-effects.
There is a huge range of effects available in all shapes and sizes. Many guitarists start off by buying compact pedals such as the DS-1 Distortion or CE-2W Chorus, which do one type of effect very well. Another way of entering the world of effects is with a multi-effects pedal.
ENTER THE ME-80 MULTI-EFFECTS PROCESSOR
The BOSS ME-80 multi-effects pedal is an excellent entry point into effects as it contains just about every type of effect you can think of. The ME-80 allows you to chain eight effect groups together in one patch with 36 preset patches allowing you to seamlessly switch from rock to funk to jazz at the push of a footswitch. There are also 36 user patches so you can create your own tone.
When creating your tone with effects, understanding the order in which you connect your effects is very important. Creating an effects chain is a lot like making a sundae. The ice cream is the base of your sundae, followed by toppings and finally sprinkles. If you put the sprinkles and toppings in before the ice cream, the flavours will still be there and it may still be a delicious sundae but it is a lot harder to see what extras you added underneath all that ice cream.
Likewise, with effects, you want effects that fundamentally change the nature of your guitar tone to be the “ice cream” base. This includes effects like Filters, Octave pedals, Acoustic Simulators, Compressors, Overdrives and Distortions. All effects that give you a strong base flavour on which to work off.
On top of the ice cream, you want to put your toppings on. Modulation effects like vibrato, flangers, phasers and tremolos are strong flavours that take your base and give it texture.
Finally, you want to add the sprinkles. Delays and reverbs are lighter flavours, which don’t change the base or toppings but instead add the final sparkle to your tone.
The ME-80 uses these same guidelines when creating effect chains.
EFFECTS CHAIN EXAMPLES
Let’s look at an example patch on the ME-80 using all eight effects groups. As you can see, there is a very specific order in the signal chain starting with the Wah and finishing with the Reverb. But why does the ME-80 use this signal chain? Follow along as we go effect by effect.
The first effect in our signal chain is a pedal wah. A wah is an effect known as a filter that alters the basic tone of the guitar. When you push the pedal fully forward, the filter brightens up your guitar tone and you bring back the pedal your guitar tone gets darker. For the most variety of sound, you want all the other effects to have a shot at the sound from the Wah so the ME-80 places it as close to the guitar as possible.
After the wah, we have a compressor. A compressor improves the sustain available to your guitar by increasing the overall volume of any signal you feed into it. At the same time it helps to soften out any big volume spikes by clamping down the volume if it gets too loud. The ME-80 puts the compressor close to your guitar because any other effect placed before the compressor will be boosted in volume which will make the effect a lot harder to control.
Overdrive and distortion are effects that introduce harmonics to your guitar tone by pushing more volume into a circuit until it can’t handle it anymore and starts to break up. The types of sounds you can get from an overdrive or distortion range from a light boost to a full on metal crunch. Overdrive and distortion effects are great when placed after a compressor but before any of your other effects.
In a compact pedal set up the next step would be to plug these effects directly into the input of your guitar amp. However, the ME-80 has a full range of amplifiers built in to the unit. In our case, the ME-80 feeds the signal into the clean preamp to avoid changing the tone too much before passing through the next stage of effects.
Modulation effects (like phaser and flanger) follow effects like wah and overdrive. This allows the modulation effect to process and modify the tone built by the effects before it. If you put a modulation effect before the overdrive, then you are overdriving the sound of the flanger. This is a lot more difficult to control so the ME-80 places it after these effects.
Equalizers are used to shape tone, they boost or cut different frequencies and are great for making sure your guitar tone meshes well with other instruments. The ME-80 places the Equalizer effect after the flanger. This allows the EQ to shape the final tone before it hits any ambience effects.
The final stage of our ME-80 signal chain is delay and reverb. These ambience effects create the illusion of playing in a different space. It makes the most sense to have them at the end of your effects chain. If you think about it in real life terms, a sound is fully formed it goes out into any space. As a side note, delaying reverb can sound muddy, so it’s usually better to have the reverb after the delay.
By keeping the effects in this order, the ME-80 does the following:
- keeps the noise to a minimum.
- achieves the most tonal flexibility.
- produces tone in the most natural, organic way, as close as possible to how tone is created without effects.
TECHY BIT: WHAT IS IMPEDANCE?
Alright, so here’s where we get into more tech-geek territory and talk about impedance and cable length and their effect on signal quality. You might have seen the word “impedance” in the specs sheet of your pedal and wondered what that is?
Electrical impedance is like two different sizes of hose. High impedance is like a garden hose, low impedance is like a fire hose. The amount of water pressure coming through a garden hose is great for reaching your garden but if you need to run a long length of hose up the street, the pressure from a garden hose will give out after a certain distance. You definitely need that high pressure fire hose.
Similarly, the ideal length of a cable run direct from a guitar to an amplifier is around 5.5 metres or 18 feet. If your cable run is any longer than this your guitar tone will start losing high end frequencies. The reason for this is because most guitar pickups output high electrical impedance (around 7,000 to 15,000 Ohms).
In typical pedal effect chains you will most likely be running cable lengths that are much longer than 5.5 meters. The ME-80 allows you to keep your tone pure when running lots of effects. You can run a cable up to 5.5 metres into the input of the ME-80. The multi-effects engine processes up to 8 effects in its internal signal chain. Then the ME-80 outputs your guitar signal as a 2,000 Ohm low impedance signal allowing you to run a much longer cable to the amplifier.
The BOSS ME-80 gives you all of the effects needed to create that elusive signature tone. The multi-effects unit is a great way to learn how different effects interact with each other to provide you with crystal-clear tones to fuzzy, thick walls-of-noise. If you have an ME-80, download BOSS Tone Studio for an easy way to experiment and learn these effects, have fun and use your ears to build your best guitar sound.