Built my dream guitar rig, now I’m selling it — Part 2: The dream rig

The culmination of 5+ years of building my dream rig and the absolute pinnacle of what I think are my favourite sounds from these little stop boxes — this is my homage.

Jonathan Thomas
Mar 23, 2017 · 9 min read
The culmination of my efforts to find the ultimate set of pedals that define my sound.

The gear

So, after years of searching for the ultimate stomp box — here’s my list…

I’ve had many amplifiers over the years. It’s perhaps a little ironic and always makes me laugh that I started with a Laney, a ‘Linebacker’ 30w solid state that was given to me by a friend who also gave me my first electric guitar, and now I have the immense 20w tube driven Laney Lionheart — my favourite amp of all time.

In between, I’ve had a Traynor YCV80, my first valve amp. A ‘90’s Fender Twin Amp (not as cool as it sounds!), a Mesa Single Rectifier, two Laney Lionheart 5w combo’s (run in stereo), two 3 channel Dual Rectifier’s and a Reeves Custom 50. As you can see, I chased a tone based on my favourite artists and in reality, I was only playing in the comforts of my bedroom with the odd day trip to the local practice studio — my efforts to tame those beasts were futile until I found impulse responses.

I’d had enough of the big amps, I wanted to go back to my beloved Laney Lionheart’s, it was when I had those low wattage combo’s that I felt my most comfortable and most creative. So I used my new found knowledge of impulse responses and the gear I’d accumulated to get it all set up, and bought a Lionheart 5w head which ultimately replaced my Reeves and Mesa Dual Rec, shortly after, went with the increased headroom of the 20w head and have been happy with the tone ever since.

20w Laney Lionheart head, could this be my last valve amp?

I love Pete Cornish’s gear, I’ve had a P-2, P-1, SS-3 and OC-1. The common link between each of them was the presence of his divine buffer circuit. Some claim it’s nothing more than a regular buffer, but my ears say something different and I’m convinced it smooths out everything, maintains some vital frequencies and just makes things sound beautiful.

I tried and loved the Boss CS-2, being a Gilmour fan. Then moved on to the Cornish OC-1 because us guitarists always think that there’s something “better” out there. The OC-1 was subtle in comparison and didn’t impart a particular tone (that I liked) like the CS-2 did. Searching for something that imposed on the signal a little more, I looked at the tube driven Effectrode PC-2A, but again it didn’t sound like my trusty old CS-2. My final shot at a different compressor was the Origin compact series.

I started with the Cali 76 CD and ended up with a SlideRig. These aren’t subtle units, they look the part and sound incredible. The beauty of them is that they can blend the original signal back in, like the OC-1, and they have a tone of their own. The SlideRig has a second stage of compression, if needed, and sounds very similar to the Cali 76 when that second stage is off, so it offers the best of both worlds and has a slightly simpler control interface. Stunning units, and the only compressor that stopped me going back to my favourite, Boss CS-2.

Overdrive/Distortion

PIOD FX What You Want 2

As mentioned above, I loved the sound of a roaring Mesa. I owned a Single and Dual Rectifier (twice!) and always loved the build quality. But since moving to a smaller amp, I wanted to experiment with how I could get those tones through a pedal. The dream sound was “tight”, saturated and thick with plenty of gain on tap. Emphasis on the “tight” part, because this is exteremely hard to get when running a low wattage, clean amp with a single 12" speaker — there’s too many factors that play against you.

So I tried a few pedals to try to get me there — Suhr Riot, Mesa V-Twin, Amptweaker Tight Metal Pro, Friedman BE-OD, Diezel VH4 pedal — but none got me as close to the sound of a roaring Dual Rectifier than the PIOD WYW2. Without doubt, my favourite distortion pedal, has a chunky low end that really thuds when you do palm muted arpeggio’s, much like the real amp, other pedals sometimes just flubbed out or were too fizzy (except the Friedman and Diezel, which also coped well, as you’d expect).

4:55 is THAT tone, I’m referring to!

Ah, the Big Muff. What an absolute bitch.

This stems from my love of Gilmour and that tone from Comfortably Numb. I’ve tried many ‘Muff’ clones, starting with Cornish’s take — the P-2 and P-1, my favourite being the P-2 — which Gilmour used in that concert. Also tried the revered Electronic Orange Pig Hoof which I really loved. But nothing got me the sound I liked until I tried the Buffalo M-1 Fuzz. The M-1 has a Power Booster circuit built in and has an active EQ which allows you to take on numerous variations of classic Muff pedals down the years, which makes this a particularly fantastic beast. My main ethos when it comes to Muff pedals is that they don’t get too muddy or bassy when playing on the lower strings…the M-1 is my favourite because it never even flirts with that, given the massive amount of control over the EQ.

Again, being a Gilmour fan, this valve-less clone/approximation of the BK Butler Tube Driver is a must as far as I’m concerned. Though I rarely used it for the Gilmour tunes I like to play, I managed to get some huge tones for my own compositions. It’s an articulate, clear, dynamic and harmonically rich overdrive that can really squeal and sing.

This thing goes from light Plexi-style grit, through to JCM roar, and does it with ease. Coupled with the EL84’s in my amp and it was British sounding city!

My first love, the Marshall Guv’nor MkII

My first ever experience of dirt/overdrive/distortion when I started out was a Marshall Guv’nor MkII way back in 2000. I fell for the British style distortion and have been a fan ever since. I don’t know where the Guv’nor got to, but I’ve been trying to reclaim that tone from my early days by way of a Suhr Riot, Thorpy FX Gunshot (which is incredible) and a Ramble FX Marvel Drive v2. For me, they’re all fantastic and definitely get the Marshall tone; the Marvel is one of my favourite pedals ever; however, the La Grange really is more versatile and can absolutely nail the types of tones I’m after — which is primarily the Hendrix style clean and Slash style lead…beautiful!

Based on the Klon Centaur, this is one of the best and most acclaimed “Klone”’s out there. I use this for its beautifully clean boost, to boost the Muff (not that it’s needed), and to accompany the TD-X. It also does a cracking job of making the drive channel on the laney sound incredible.

Note: For those who don’t understand what a Klone does and don’t rate it, I hear you. But, if you use one into a particularly driven amp and set the tone and volume to taste…messing about with the gain control is what takes you into otherworldly territory, just increase it and hear it melt your face— THIS is why people love that pedal.

Modulation

As it says on the tin — I wanted Jimi Hendrix vibes and this is the best out there at the moment, to my ears. I had a Sweet Sound Mojo Vibe and that too was a great sounding pedal…this is a little smaller and lots of geeky options.

I don’t use these much, but they’re great little pedals. Surprisingly inspiring. My inner Gilmour bought these.

Ah, chorus. The Marmite of the pedal world. I love it though and for me, the CE-2 is the pinnacle of a good chorus sound. Gilmour used it to great effect on the Division Bell tour in ’95 and that’s what made me fall in love with the sound…especially when coupled with the Muff and a bit of delay, beautiful.

Big shout out to the Mooer Ensemble King, which made me wobble a bit, it really sounds THAT good. In the end though, I kept returning to the CE-2 as it had that extra mid-range that makes this pedal a firm favourite amongst Gilmour fans and guitarists everywhere.

Pitch

Everyone gravitates toward the EHX Micro POG but the first time I tried the Organizer I was hooked by its warmth and presence. The POG sounded artificial and bland in comparison. The Organizer is simply a beautiful sounding unit, especially when coupled with some reverb and/or delay. The Whammy V is essential for Marooned.

Delay

Delay is my favourite effect, I’ve tried a few. Here’s a few, but I settled on two in the end:

  • Line 6 DL4 — my first ever delay and a favourite
  • TC Electronic Nova Delay — incredible. Probably my longest standing pedal.
  • Strymon Timeline — don’t rate it
  • Strymon El Capistan — what a pedal
  • Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man — the Holy Grail of analog
Possibly my favourite delay pedal, ever, showing my favourite delay setting. A rhythmic dotted 1/4 with plenty of modulation! The Strymon DIG delivers on so many levels.

What an incredibly inspirational pedal. It’s pink. It’s dual delay, it’s stereo (I hate playing mono now) and it sounds great…it makes me want to write new music. My favourite setting has a bit of modulation, and the tempo is set to dotted quarters, sounds amazing.

My one regret is not getting this sooner, or rather, not getting another after my first unit broke. I left it 12 months to rectify that and have only had this new unit for 2 months, and now I’m getting rid of all my gear! Such is life.

Amazing sounding delay, does everything I need. Which is…digital delay must be crisp, clear and percussive. Tape, must degrade well and sound authentic. Analog, must sound like a Deluxe Memory Man! Love the simple interface and the app just makes it much more versatile than the competition. THIS IS BETTER THAN A TIMELINE!

Reverb

I don’t currently have a reverb pedal as I’ve been waiting patiently for the Source Audio Ventris dual reverb, due out in June 2017, sadly I’ll not experience it except in shops — hopefully it won’t tempt me back into pedals!

Here’s a list of my favourites:

  • Strymon Flint — by far the most stunning sounding reverb with a clean amp
  • Neunaber Stereo WET — what an algorithm, stunning.
  • Boss RV-5 — beautiful modulated reverb
  • Mr. Black Supermoon Chrome — I’m a fan of modulated reverb and this is one of the best
  • Mr. Black Eterna Gold Modified — love a shimmer (the marmite of the reverb world!)

Final thoughts on pedals

The biggest compliment I can pay these pedals and their respective manufacturers is to write about them and to tell people how amazing they are. It was a labour of love cycling through endless pedals and buying and selling, borrowing and stealing to find the one I loved that fitted into each slot on my “board”. I strongly believe that the pedals listed above are some of the best I’ve ever played and will have the pleasure of calling my own.

Of course the sad part about all this is that I didn’t get to mount any of them on a physical board. That was the plan and I was so close. As you can see in the picture above, I had all the interfaces (RJM and Voodoo Labs midi effect switchers) and all the GigRig power supplies all ready to go. But along came a game changer for me…

Did you enjoy this? Read the rest too…

Red Chair Riffs

For guitarists.

Jonathan Thomas

Written by

User experience designer and guitarist

Red Chair Riffs

For guitarists.

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