I thought it would be fun to write an anthology to how my guitar pedalboard has adapted over the years. For the past decade, I’ve been mostly playing in modern worship groups, which is style that evolved to heavily rely on guitar pedals. It’s hard to say historically where this started, but it’s hard to discount the impact that guitar players like The Edge from U2 had on the genre–particularly his use of multiple echo effects that gives the illusion on a “gallop.” This is used by combining a dotted eighth delay with a quarter delay, which can be heard in riffs such as the intro on Streets with No Name. The video below is an excellent demonstration of the impacts effects can have on a guitarists tone.
In addition to the effects, The Edge’s use of swells, single coil pickups, and British style Vox amps have popularized what I’ve often heard described as “chimey” guitar sounds which are heard all over the contemporary worship space.
In fact, did you know that one in three guitars purchased today are for modern worship music? I don’t know if that says more about the growth in the genre or the death of rock n roll, but nevertheless it’s given guitar players like me a consistent and stable outlet to hone the craft and chase these types of tones. As such, I’ve gone through many iterations of pedalboards which have featured different manufactures as the space has evolved. In the last decade, I’ve seen certain trends such as everything being very analog, true bypass or using true bypass switchers, to going to a full midi controlled system, to a current trend of digital rigs that feature amp models and impulse responses that replicate how a physical speaker responds to amps.
I decided it would be fun to try to articulate the many different pedalboards I’ve build and how they’ve evolved. I dug deep into my online photo archive in order to recover as many photos so that I could have some reference points. These are nowhere complete but they are good enough markers to date back to around 2008. Unfortunately, there are no photos before that time available so I’ll just give the quick skinny on that time:
When I first started playing guitar, I was strictly playing rock and classic rock, which doesn’t utilize a ton of guitar pedals. For the most part, you are are mostly using pedals as a mechanism to overdrive or distort the amps natural tone. I’ve previously written about how my Marshall JMC 800 was purchased from my guitar teacher. This would have been around 2001. In addition to the amp, he sold me a Digitech RP6 multi-effects processor.
This was interestingly a fairly, well built piece of equipment with a tube pre-amp. One problem I had was some wear on the foot switch contacts, which is why I inevitably switched to individual pedals. For Christmas one year I got a Boss OS-2 Overdrive/distortion pedal. In my head I was getting a “two-for” here but in reality it wasn’t a great overdrive or distortion and was just some muddy in-between. I would have been better just getting a DS-1 or SD-1. But I was around 15 years old and didn’t know anything. I also asked for a Boss DD-7 Delay but the salesperson at Guitar Center sold my parents on the newly released Line 6 Echo Park delay. I have to say this was a very good idea in theory, but I don’t think I was ready for a pedal with the capabilities of the Echo Park. In many ways that pedal was ahead of its time, but I struggled with the simplest parts of the pedal such as the enclosure. It wasn’t incredibly intuitive for knowing when it was engaged and I was quickly draining the battery. It was either that or the fact that it take years to really understand the value and proper us of a delay pedal.
But I really got into guitar pedals right as I was heading to college. I had been turned on to The Mars Volta and was blown away by some of the weird tones they were able to produce. I bought a hand full of pedals during this time including a MXR Phase 90, and a Digitech Synth Wah. I was also gifted a Dunlop JH-1 Jimi Hendrix Wah for my birthday from the guys in my band, given a Boss TU-1 tuner that still have to this day, and got a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive from a band’s other guitar player who sold it to me after Guitar Center was only going to offer him $20 for it.
I loaded the pedals on to a Boss BCB-60 pedalboard and, voilà, my first board. Through all of these purchases, I came to know a guy behind the counter at Guitar Center fairly well. He really helped me craft the board that gave me a lot of interesting and eclectic tones, but in no way was it well thought out. This board was virtually untouched for years. I eventually replaced the OS-2 with a Digitech Bad Monkey and then bought a multi-effects pedal that I had originally thought was just a reverb called the Electro Harmonix Holy Stain. But other than those two swaps this was pretty much it.
While I was touring for pop rock band, I was gifted a guitar pedalboard that had been built by Keeley Custom Cases, which was ran by the brother of Robert Keeley of the famous Keeley Electronics A side note: Oklahoma is interestingly a hot bed for guitar pedal makers. Keeley, Walrus Audio, Old Blood Noise Endeavors, Emerson Custom, DMB Pedals, and Fox Pedal all come from Oklahoma roots. Additionally, Mammoth Electronics, which specialized in electronic components and enclosures and acquired in 2019, was headquartered in Oklahoma.
These pedalboard were fabricated to mimic the Trailer Trash pedalboards that were becoming popular in Red Dirt circles. You can see in the photo above that there is a threaded hole which would allow you to actually add a mic stand if you wanted.
One day, the drummer and I spent some time at Keeley’s shop building the flight case for the pedalboard which can be seen above. And by building, I really mean mostly standing in the way. But I took this guy all over the country and it held up incredibly well. A very, very quality product.
After I stopped touring I wanted to transition into more modern worship tones. I purchased a Keeley-modded BD-2 Blues Driver off Craigslist. I also found out a friend was selling their entire pedalboard and I bought several pedals seen here including the Ernie Ball volume pedal (the biggest version!) a MXR Dyna Comp, a DD-5 delay, a Boss TR-2 tremolo, and the Pedal Power. I also traded a wireless unit for the Fulltone Fat Boost. Great looking pedal, but probably the worst trade value I have ever made. I honestly don’t remember with the TS-9 came from, I think I traded something for it? It didn’t work for very long. My guess was always someone tried to mod it, failed, and then tried to sell it off. But I remember this being the first time I felt like I had a “legit” board. I also got a billM modded Fender Blues Junior and this was my go-to apartment setup.
This photo is an interesting time marker. I sold the Blues Junior to a worship pastor at Journey Church in Norman as I had just traded for the Vox AC30 mentioned in a previous post. He asked if I would sell it for $100 less than I was asking and I said I would if he allowed me to occasionally start playing there. I got asked to come hang out for a gear night at the church where everybody brought their rigs and for the most part just needed out about guitar pedals and amps. The only major change at this point was that I had recently acquired a Line 6 DL-4. Again, my memory is foggy as to who I bought it from but it’s almost guaranteed to have come off of Craigslist. During these days there was a ton of buying and selling on that site. The great thing about guitar pedals is that they retain value very well. The bad thing is you always want something else to you are swapping with others locally fairly often.
This is a close up of the DL4. I had it modded by Dan Burgess (this1smyne) who I connected with on a music message board called The Gear Page. I know for a fact that this is January 2011 because this was mailed back to me right after Katie and I got married. I had him do a few modded: LEDs were swapped for super bright blue LEDs, the foot switches were soft switches, the tap button had an external out (or in? regardless I could connect it with a separate delay and sync) and then I think that top foot switch there just added an extra preset or B bank or something.
Now this was a really cool pedal and in hindsight I probably shouldn’t haven’t sold it when I did. It’s not that there aren’t better delays out there it was just that this one was really, really unique once I had it worked on. There were a bunch of companies during this period doing these Line 6 mods. They would do custom paint jobs and everything. Wild world.
But this is also a good marker for me starting to figure out to make use of pedals. The truth is I had built a board without really understand how to mix and match them. I was just mostly copying boards I was seeing posted on forums and trying to figure it out. I didn’t play a lot at Journey Church, but it was essentially my first foray into what would be a decade of playing this style of music.
Okay, so this is the next significant update. Here, I traded the Boss Trem and cash for the POG2 from a buddy, I bought the Line 6 M9 from another buddy (which led to the sale of the DL4), I bought the Vox Wah because for whatever reason I wanted everything true bypass and thought I needed a way, and last I trade the Keeley pedalboard for this gigantic thing. This is the Pedaltrain PT-PRO. It’s ridiculous in its size but I love that it was still a flight case and allowed me, for the first time, to mount the power supply on the bottom. To speak more to the M9, this really was an upgraded DL4 and basically killed the market for the Line 6 4’s line. This integrated several multi effects into one pedal. I really enjoyed this pedal although I always thought the foot switches felt cheap. I used this almost exclusive for delay and reverb. Maybe occasional chorus or trem. This was the first time I had a tap trem.
This is a few months later (sorry for the dark photo but this is the best I havE). Brady, who was working at Walrus Audio at this point, fixed my Tube Screamer and addd a true bypass switch (again, because that’s all I cared about). I’m also using a DMB Four Knob Stellar Drive here. I didn’t actually own this at the time was trying it out. I never bonded with it enough to want to buy it at the time, but oddly did own one later (it didn’t last long on my board that time either).
Both of these board were used when I was playing at a LifeChurch campus in Yukon. LifeChurch was where I really cut my teeth in modern worship guitar because I was doing six (!) Sunday services as well as youth on Wednesdays. In basketball terms, this is where I got a lot of reps. I can’t say I was great ( actually, I can say I wasn’t great), so I really appreciated the opportunity to mostly learn from other musicians who were both excellent at their craft and super nice.
This is the next major update which took place a couple years later. As you can tell, virtually a complete overhaul of my board. I have to say that this is the point where I think my tone started to take shape. The Strymon Timeline was bought off of Instagram of all places. For a few years, it felt like this was the modern worship pedal. Walrus Audio Voyager came from a trade. Walrus Mayflower was my first pedal purchase on Reverb.com. The Keeley two knob compressor was purchased off of Craigslist. Last, I have no idea how I acquired the RV-5, but the “modulate” setting on the RV-5 is chefs kiss. Another pedal that I should have probably kept, but is also one I can always get back for a reasonable price. By this time, I had also moved away from the gigantic board to a Pedaltrain PT-1 I bought from a friend. Also this was the brief time that I was mostly playing a Strat. Some people can make Strats sing, but I’ve unfortunately never had much luck. This one had noiseless pickups which made it harder.
The next major iteration. I had a Vox AC30 that had become the bane of my existence and had all sorts of problems. I got it fixed at the only Vox recommended dealer in the state and immediately decided to figure out a way to unload it. I ended up trading it to a guy who was employed at Walrus Audio for a slew of pedals including the Julia, Descent, Bellwether, and a Phoenix power supply. Honestly, this setup did not last long. The Bellwether was a very weird analog-but-not-analog deal. The Descent was very unique but I preferred the RV-5. Oh, here’s the second TS9 I bought too. No longer concerned about true bypass I guess. This was taken at a Fields of Faith event at Norman North high school, which allows me to now say I have, indeed, “played” on a football.
Here’s a picture from a room in our old house after we first moved in and I started to setup the “guitar room.” One new pedal you might notice is the JHS The Kilt. This pedal is a fuzz plus a boost. It was modeled after a Bixonic Expandora, which is a really unique pedal with dip switches that give use a super heavy gated fuzz. I believe the story is that Stu G basically wanted this pedal made with the dip switches easily accessible plus a boost, so that’s what JHS made. I got that in a trade for the POG2. For a couple of years, I thought that was a bad trade but then JHS stopped making this version of The Kilt and the value of it went up. It’s probably the only pedal I’ve had that significantly gained value while I’ve owned it.
But the other major change is the Descent was sold and I purchase the Empress Reverb. I absolutely loved this pedal. I remember watching this Youtube video (embedded below) and being absolutely stunned by the soundscapes that it could create. There’s really nothing like it.
Alright, so a year later, and we have another big overhaul. There’s a lot to explain in this one. First, as you see, I’m back to a much bigger board. What happened here was that a guy had decided to go from a big board to a fully digital setup. I offered to buy his whole board for a significant discount and he took my offer. My goal was that I could sell a significant portion of what I didn’t want, a few of my own pedals, and I would come out actually making a little bit of money after keep a couple pedals. Not sure if it turned out that way, but I had a spreadsheet and everything about how I was going to cover the cost. So his pedals here are the Walrus Deep Six Compressor, the Strymon trio (TimeLine, Mobius, and BigSky) and then the Disaster Area DMC-6 MIDI controller. This is the one and only time I’ve used MIDI to significant control the board. I have to admit it was really, really cool, but also a smidge unnecessary. At this point in time, modern worship guitar player rigs were beginning to become fairly homogenous. I remember watching this Jeffrey Kunde explain his custom built Disaster Area switcher:
I actually bought this as guitarists were just starting to transition to fully digital. Certain guitarists actually started selling their presets for the Strymons because you can manage them with a USB/midi cord. I bought Kundes and also downloaded Kyle Lent’s (Austin Stone Worship) presets. To this day, I almost exclusively use Kunde’s go-to BigSky settings which includes a Cloud setting for rhythm, a plate for lead, and a soup-ier Cloud setting for ambient.
The other two additions are a Walrus Warhorn which took the spot of the Mayflower and the Electro Harmonix Pitchfork (an insanely cool and very reasonably priced pedal).
The last major change was this is when I started going straight into the mixing board and no longer utilized an amp for live settings. That was all because of that little Joyo JF-13 AC Tone. I had read about the Tech 21 pedals that mimicked amp sounds and read that Joyo had a clone that was insanely cheap. This pedal was like $25 off Reverb and is seriously one of the best investments I’ve ever made. Seriously, I was so frustrated to learn how much better my signal sounded in my ears now that it wasn’t coming from a mic’d amp and was being boosted by this cheap little clone.
This was my last “big board” setup, which was completed due to another big Walrus trade. I traded an amp head for the Walrus EB-10, the V2 Julia, The Mako D1, and the Ages overdrive (which replaced the Warhorn). These were all acquired in peak pandemic though and this board was never played out. Oh, I guess I also had the Rat on here? That’s a vintage pedal that I’ve held on to that probably doesn’t get played enough. That’s another pedal that I bought off The Gear Page back in the day.
The big board lasted a decent amount but I eventually paired down, which has basically been the story of the last year for me. Slowly, pedals are coming off the board. I sold the Julia and the Mako D1, which I wanted to like given that I wanted a more compact delay, but I just never fell in love with it. I also sold the Disaster Area.
Here’s the last board that I’ve played. I’ve now moved to a Line 6 HX Stomp, which I absolutely love. I’ve also switched to a Dunlop Volume X after many, many years and multiple broken strings on Ernie Ball Volumes. In reality, at this point, I would be happy with just my Voyager, the volume, and the HX Stomp, which honestly might be where we are heading. I’m currently running the Timeline and BigSky in the FX Loop, and I still think the BigSky “cloud” setting sounds incredible but I am not convinced it’s absence would be super noticeable within the context of a full mix.
And that’s it. I’ve never written this before because this is for an audience of one (myself), but hopefully someone will find mild enjoyment from it. As for a master list, here’s the 50+ pedals I’ve owned at some point in time categorized by manufacturer:
- DD-5 Delay
- OD-2 Overdrive/Distortion
- SD-1 Super Overdrive
- BD-2 Blues Driver (Keeley mod)
- RV-5 Reverb
- TR-2 Tremelo
- TU-2 Tuner
- RP7 Multi-effects Processor
- Bad Monkey Overdrive
- Synth Wah
- Stellar Drive
Disaster Areas Design
- DMC 6D (with expression wheel and expander switch)
- JH1 Jimi Wah
- Volume X
- Pitch Fork
- Holy Stain
- Soul Food
- Volume Jr.
- Fat Boost 1
- TS9 Tubescreamer
- Kilt V1
- JF-13 AC Tone
- Two-Knob Compressor
- Echo Park Delay
- DL4 Delay Modeler
- HX Stomp
- Dyna Comp
- Phase 90
- Rat 2 (Flat box, 1998, with LM308N chip)
- TimeLine Delay
- Mobius Modulation
- BigSky Reverb
- V848 Clyde McCoy Wah
- Aetos Power Supply
- Ages Overdrive
- Bellwether Analog Delay
- Deep Six Compressor V1
- Descent Reverb
- EB-10 Preamp/EQ/Boost
- Julia Chorus V1
- Julia Chorus V2
- Mako D1 Delay
- Mayflower Overdrive
- Phoenix Power Supply
- Voyager Overdrive
- Warhorn Overdrive
Featured Image: Photo by YEH CHE WEI on Unsplash