The Workbench

Volume Leveling a Pedal Board

1

I got that Goo-Goo Fuzz and it's great, but I'm having a heck of a time volume leveling my pedal board with a fuzz on it!

Any tips for a pedal newb on volume leveling a pedal board with a fuzz on it? I have everything leveled but the fuzz volume is almost nothing to match everything else so any slight movement of the vol knob on the fuzz exponentially changes the volume of it. It's killing me!!

Do I crank up the fuzz vol to "5" and then turn down at amp and match everything else to the fuzz??

I followed what seems to be relatively standard - EHX B9 -> Compressor (to smooth out the B9) -> Fuzz -> OD -> Trem -> Reverb -> Boost

Thanks!

2

Well...I have questions and possible suggestions.

I don't suppose you use the B9 much, so no real harm there. But I run my similar Mel9 through a separate signal chain, not the guitar rig. I don't know how it plays with downstream pedals - or if it has to be the first pedal in the chain. This plays into how you deploy the compressor - which is a matter for some dissension among pedalers. I've always liked a compressor first, though there are a few pedals that really want to be even firster. Like some preamps (like the Nocturne Brain), harmonizers, anything that has to read the guitar's dynamics, and - importantly here - fuzz. You get more out of most fuzzes (dynamics, texture, tonal variety in response to guitar settings) by having the guitar talking to them directly. Before compression.

I also wouldn't put boost after Trem & Reverb.

I think, for troubleshooting, I'd set the B9 aside, and set it up thus: Fuzz -> Compressor -> OD -> Boost -> Trem -> Reverb.

Or, if your amp allows it, move the Trem and Reverb into the effects loop of the amp.

4

Keeley Limiter at the end of the signal chain.

– TheNocturneBrain

Yes.

5

I am struggling a bit similar issue. On our gigs I mainly play with clean sound and there maybe couple of songs that require distorted solo sound. It is always bit hit and miss if I will sound too loud or too quiet when I stomp my overdrive pedal on. Have to check the Keeley Limiter or "glue" the pots on my overdrive pedal to correct position for some consistency.

6

The boost I'm using to boost the few leads I'm doing, I'm primarily the rhythm player, so I'm really just trying to push EVERYTHING that I'm doing above the mix during those points (including the B9, which oddly enough I use quite a bit).

With that said, removing the B9 isn't going to be an option, it's living on the board. It needs a pretty clear signal which is why I have it first.

Putting the boost behind the reverb drives the reverb into a ton of noise, so I'm not sure that it will live nicely behind, although I'm willing to try that again and just moderate my 'verb.

Will putting Fuzz first make it easier to volume level the board? Maybe I'm expecting too much from a really loud pedal. lol

Again, if I'm using a compressor at the end of my chain, I'd have to put a boost AFTER it to boost my leads, which I'm not against, but I guess I either worked my way into the situation that I'm in and I boxed myself in, or I just am not thinking about this correctly. If that was the case I could just move the compressor I have to a different point in the chain.

I'm not disagreeing with anything here, I'm trying to pick the brains of people who have already done this dance.

7

My brain just reread what everybody was writing - so essentially it sounds like running the compressor at the end (minus boost, which will likely still be at the very end) will end up performing the purpose that I need which is a more level volume output. I may try to use the compressor I have first before I run to a Keeley. I've spent more on pedals recently than I can count and I'm about to get a guitar painted so I'm trying to do this cost-effectively.

8

And thanks! I'll post back after I try it out!

9

The Keeley Limiter (GC-2 "Limiting Amplifier," to be exact) is not configured as a "typical" compressor. It's designed to behave literally as a limiter, to put a hard upper limit on signal going to your amp/wherever. And a limiter is very useful thing, in some circumstances. And limiting is intimately related to compression. Some limiters are also compressors, and vice versa - but not all. Depending on what you expect from a compressor, the Keeley GC-2 may not provide the kind of envelope shaping, sustain, and "note enhancement" many use a compressor for. (It won't for instance, increase the volume of lower signals.) Conversely, not every compressor will effectively serve as a limiter.

The difference? Both subtle and profound. First, a limiter has a very high ratio, ideally infinity:1. Meaning no matter WHAT you put in, it's going to clamp output at what you choose as unity. You haven't said what compressor you're using, but not many guitar pedal compressors, meant for sustain and shaping, go that high. Even the Empress, one of the most fully featured stomp comps, goes only to 10:1. The pretty durn cool little MXR M76 Studio Compressor does go to 20:1, and can be used as a limiter (probably sufficiently for guitar).

A limiter typically also reacts very quickly, with as near-instantaneous attack time as the tech allows (which makes sense, because you want it to stop any "overs" immediately); limiters usually quickly let go of the signal after it drops back under the threshold. Limiters are judged by how utterly transparently and invisibly they do these jobs; thus they aren't generally based on the same technology employed in classic floor compressors, most of which come from the Ross/DynaComp/Keeley 4-Knob/Ego family (which has dozens if not hundreds of members).

All the long way around to saying that the compressor you'd use near the front of a chain isn't necessarily well suited to the invisible limiting you want to do near the end - though you can experiment with what you have, at the highest ratio it offers (if indeed it even has a ratio control), with very fast onset and release (unless those sound pumpy, which can be the case in comps which aren't truly limiters).

You're right that you'd want the boost after any early-chain compressor, and maybe even after a chain-end limiter, depending on how you want to set things up. You'll have to find the threshold point you want on the limiter, above which everything is positively clamped - and that point could be set high enough to leave headrood allowing your boost to boost. Whether that would tame any overs from the fuzz is something you'd have to experiment with. If you don't set the threshold of the comp/limiter to accommodate the boost, then putting a boost before it will just produce more compression, not more volume. (Sometimes a useful effect, but I don't think it's what you're after.)

But if your limiter was set to clamp down any overs caused by the fuzz (or anything else in your signal chain), then putting a boost after it - and setting its level very carefully - would let you predictably boost whatever you're feeding it, even if that signal is compressed or limited.

Bear in mind, when I say boost at the end, I mean after pedals which affect gain and volume - NOT after the reverb, most modulation, or delay (when you go there). Those should almost always be last. The conventional wisdom for their order is modulation -> delay -> reverb, then to amp. (Or put those 3 in an effects loop of the amp.) You don't have to follow conventional wisdom, but it reflects practice that's evolved over decades and serves most players, most of the time - and certainly as a starting place.

In my mind, tremolo is more portable, and can be moved around in the chain. But, in your case, before the reverb but after everything else (including boost) makes sense. If it's before a compressor, its volume dips and peaks may keep the compressor working all the time, and reduce the effective volume sweep of the trem. (That MIGHT sound cool, but it's not where I'd start.)

Putting fuzz before the compressor early in the chain does several things: if your fuzz is one which likes to see the signal direct from the guitar (and we can only hope the B9 has true bypass if the B9 HAS to be first), you'll be amazed at the wider range of dynamics, texture, and tone you get from it if you move it there. Also, I don't know any fuzz which doesn't have an output volume control. So dial it in for the max fuzz level you want, then twist its output to whatever volume you want it to be. (Usually a touch over unity anyway, but maybe in your case not much.) Point is, if it's before the compressor, you CAN use the comp to limit its output and it shouldn't surprise you.

So what I'm suggesting (without going to a limiter toward the end of the chain):
guitar -> B9 if you must -> fuzz -> comp -> OD -> boost -> trem -> reverb.

And I'd experiment with trem between OD and boost as well.

If you find it necessary to add a limiter (which is more a utility than a "tone" pedal), my starting point would be:
guitar - B9 -> fuzz -> comp -> OD -> limiter -> trem -> reverb.

(It shouldn't much matter which side of the limiter the trem is on, UNLESS the trem has a volume control, is before the limiter, and you crank the trem vol above the threshold on the limiter, which would defeat the trem throb.)

ALSO, and important - if your "OD" is the type that creates the sound of a cranked amp, then it can go before the limiter. If it's the type that's supposed to "push" the front end of the amp into its own overdrive, then you either have to set the limiter to allow its pushy-push through...or put it after the limiter.


Also, if we compared recent pedal-buying binges, I'm sure my excesses would make you feel much better about yours. I almost make myself sick sometimes. I'm in a race to hear every sound I can before arthritis or death set in. I'm hoping I can trade pedals for food if and when necessary. (It follows that I hope we don't have a collapse of civilization which would stop electrons from flowing through our walls. Pedals will be in a large category of things that are useless without juice.)

10

Whoa! Okay, now I get it.

I appreciate the verbosity which drills into my thick skull the specifics of which you speak. Much appreciated!

I'm going to try that initial setup (guitar -> B9 if you must -> fuzz -> comp -> OD -> boost -> trem -> reverb.) before I panic and run out and buy a limiter before this gig next week.

I really shouldn't be messing with my board this much before the gig, but I've got to do something about the wildly different volume situations that I'm finding myself in.

Thanks Proteus!

11

Well...don't thank me until you've tried my ideas!

12

The Keeley Limiter (GC-2 "Limiting Amplifier," to be exact) is not configured as a "typical" compressor. It's designed to behave literally as a limiter, to put a hard upper limit on signal going to your amp/wherever. And a limiter is very useful thing, in some circumstances. And limiting is intimately related to compression. Some limiters are also compressors, and vice versa - but not all. Depending on what you expect from a compressor, the Keeley GC-2 may not provide the kind of envelope shaping, sustain, and "note enhancement" many use a compressor for. (It won't for instance, increase the volume of lower signals.) Conversely, not every compressor will effectively serve as a limiter.

The difference? Both subtle and profound. First, a limiter has a very high ratio, ideally infinity:1. Meaning no matter WHAT you put in, it's going to clamp output at what you choose as unity. You haven't said what compressor you're using, but not many guitar pedal compressors, meant for sustain and shaping, go that high. Even the Empress, one of the most fully featured stomp comps, goes only to 10:1. The pretty durn cool little MXR M76 Studio Compressor does go to 20:1, and can be used as a limiter (probably sufficiently for guitar).

A limiter typically also reacts very quickly, with as near-instantaneous attack time as the tech allows (which makes sense, because you want it to stop any "overs" immediately); limiters usually quickly let go of the signal after it drops back under the threshold. Limiters are judged by how utterly transparently and invisibly they do these jobs; thus they aren't generally based on the same technology employed in classic floor compressors, most of which come from the Ross/DynaComp/Keeley 4-Knob/Ego family (which has dozens if not hundreds of members).

All the long way around to saying that the compressor you'd use near the front of a chain isn't necessarily well suited to the invisible limiting you want to do near the end - though you can experiment with what you have, at the highest ratio it offers (if indeed it even has a ratio control), with very fast onset and release (unless those sound pumpy, which can be the case in comps which aren't truly limiters).

You're right that you'd want the boost after any early-chain compressor, and maybe even after a chain-end limiter, depending on how you want to set things up. You'll have to find the threshold point you want on the limiter, above which everything is positively clamped - and that point could be set high enough to leave headrood allowing your boost to boost. Whether that would tame any overs from the fuzz is something you'd have to experiment with. If you don't set the threshold of the comp/limiter to accommodate the boost, then putting a boost before it will just produce more compression, not more volume. (Sometimes a useful effect, but I don't think it's what you're after.)

But if your limiter was set to clamp down any overs caused by the fuzz (or anything else in your signal chain), then putting a boost after it - and setting its level very carefully - would let you predictably boost whatever you're feeding it, even if that signal is compressed or limited.

Bear in mind, when I say boost at the end, I mean after pedals which affect gain and volume - NOT after the reverb, most modulation, or delay (when you go there). Those should almost always be last. The conventional wisdom for their order is modulation -> delay -> reverb, then to amp. (Or put those 3 in an effects loop of the amp.) You don't have to follow conventional wisdom, but it reflects practice that's evolved over decades and serves most players, most of the time - and certainly as a starting place.

In my mind, tremolo is more portable, and can be moved around in the chain. But, in your case, before the reverb but after everything else (including boost) makes sense. If it's before a compressor, its volume dips and peaks may keep the compressor working all the time, and reduce the effective volume sweep of the trem. (That MIGHT sound cool, but it's not where I'd start.)

Putting fuzz before the compressor early in the chain does several things: if your fuzz is one which likes to see the signal direct from the guitar (and we can only hope the B9 has true bypass if the B9 HAS to be first), you'll be amazed at the wider range of dynamics, texture, and tone you get from it if you move it there. Also, I don't know any fuzz which doesn't have an output volume control. So dial it in for the max fuzz level you want, then twist its output to whatever volume you want it to be. (Usually a touch over unity anyway, but maybe in your case not much.) Point is, if it's before the compressor, you CAN use the comp to limit its output and it shouldn't surprise you.

So what I'm suggesting (without going to a limiter toward the end of the chain):
guitar -> B9 if you must -> fuzz -> comp -> OD -> boost -> trem -> reverb.

And I'd experiment with trem between OD and boost as well.

If you find it necessary to add a limiter (which is more a utility than a "tone" pedal), my starting point would be:
guitar - B9 -> fuzz -> comp -> OD -> limiter -> trem -> reverb.

(It shouldn't much matter which side of the limiter the trem is on, UNLESS the trem has a volume control, is before the limiter, and you crank the trem vol above the threshold on the limiter, which would defeat the trem throb.)

ALSO, and important - if your "OD" is the type that creates the sound of a cranked amp, then it can go before the limiter. If it's the type that's supposed to "push" the front end of the amp into its own overdrive, then you either have to set the limiter to allow its pushy-push through...or put it after the limiter.


Also, if we compared recent pedal-buying binges, I'm sure my excesses would make you feel much better about yours. I almost make myself sick sometimes. I'm in a race to hear every sound I can before arthritis or death set in. I'm hoping I can trade pedals for food if and when necessary. (It follows that I hope we don't have a collapse of civilization which would stop electrons from flowing through our walls. Pedals will be in a large category of things that are useless without juice.)

– Proteus

And in the end.. ahem, a limiter is exactly a perfect choice for such a situation. :)

13

Ha! I guess I'm saying "thanks" because of the amount of effort you put into addressing my question - how about that?

So far it seems like I am more stable volume wise with this setup. In the process I did figure out that my Valcoder pedal decided to crap out on me, so that got pushed off the board for the old Demeter that I originally had on there (which isn't in the best of shape, but works better than the Valcoder currently) I haven't had any panic moments like: "Oh man I SHOULDN'T have DONE THAT!" so that's already good. Based on how my other volume-challenged guitar player sounds tomorrow at rehearsal may dictate if I need to pick up a limiter. Also, me alone will sound different than full band, so we'll see.

Appreciate it either way gang.

14

And in the end.. ahem, a limiter is exactly a perfect choice for such a situation. :)

Could be. That would certainly be easy.

But the problem might be solved without adding another device. (Not that I have anything against adding devices.) Still, addressing the board systemically might have benefits. Could well be that getting the fuzz before the compressor will be all it takes. And in any case, finding out how the fuzz behaves when it sees the guitar rather than a pre-compressed signal might change life as DevilsTool knows it. Or I could be an idiot.

In any case, I'm going to reconsider the utility of writing essays which can be dismissed with one-liners.

15

Tavo, I don't disagree, I'm trying to not put out another $XXX for a limiter right now but make do with what I have. If it comes down to it, I'll be hustling down to the local shop and pick one up - but I probably won't know until after rehearsal.

16

And in the end.. ahem, a limiter is exactly a perfect choice for such a situation. :)

Could be. That would certainly be easy.

But the problem might be solved without adding another device. (Not that I have anything against adding devices.) Still, addressing the board systemically might have benefits. Could well be that getting the fuzz before the compressor will be all it takes. And in any case, finding out how the fuzz behaves when it sees the guitar rather than a pre-compressed signal might change life as DevilsTool knows it. Or I could be an idiot.

In any case, I'm going to reconsider the utility of writing essays which can be dismissed with one-liners.

– Proteus

Sometimes verbosity is needed, especially for certain hard headed guitar players (like myself). lol

17

And I stuck the fuzz first in the chain, just to see.

18

Any difference in behavior?

19

Yesssssss. Indeed. In a good/great way!

I don't know why I logically went the way I did when I set it up. I suspect I picked up too many pedals in too short a time without fully understanding where they needed to "live" in the chain.

Again, I am a newb when it comes to having a lot of pedals on a board (my count: 6, which by anyone else's standards is not "a lot")

The fuzz is fitting nicely at the front of the chain, the CP-1X you recommended is handling it well, I haven't really truly dialed the compressor in now that it moved but it sounds great so far and the fuzz isn't killing small animals in my house nor chiming my reverb to the nth degree. I have to run the B9 tomorrow at rehearsal to see if it likes being second in line, which it will probably be fine. I was originally playing a Jazzmaster which the B9 did not like AT ALL because the pickups were so low output. I traded that guitar out so now I've probably been compensating for a problem that no longer exists.

Like I said, I gotta run through a rehearsal, but I already feel like I'm in a better place sonically - now if I can get the other guitar player there......

I'm already feeling good about it, but I'll have to report after rehearsal tomorrow.

20

Glad the fuzz redeployment works for you!

I picked up too many pedals in too short a time without fully understanding where they needed to "live" in the chain.

That repeatedly happens to me. I get a bunch of oohshiny all at once in a frenzy of acquisitive lust, then take months learning the new pedals and moving them around. The more you get, the more the possible variations expand. I think it's logarithmic or something.

I'm now trying to nail down a stable pre-gain/dirt sequence, then a gain/dirt series, and a finishing-touches board for the end of the chain. That leaves a vast middle ground that I'm using patchbays for, so I can experiment more or less on the fly. (It's not a gigging board.)

I've had to learn the hard way (and more slowly than I should have) that any pedal that depends on the dynamics of the guitar has to be close to the front of the line. I have several that include "envelope dynamics" - meaning a vibrato speed, delay time or mix, pitch bend, or filter response depends on how hard you pummel the strings. Those all have to be early. Also, anything that reads pitch in order to generate another tone - so the B9/Key9/Mel9 synths, pitch shifters, harmonizers, and the like - work best if the tone isn't mangled, muffed, and modulated before they see it. Most fuzzes and some preamps work best if they're first after the guitar - or at least not behind a pedal with a buffered output.

Tavo used to say the Atomic Brain and his other preamps had to be first in line, but he's had to revise that thinking even for his own board, I think. And he may have made changes to the pedals to make them less dependent on that condition. But it definitely likes to be early. I'm currently juggling 4 or 5 pedals that claim they work best if they're first, looking for the best compromise where they all work as well as possible in the context of each other. Fancier switching would let me take them completely out of the circuit if they weren't being used.

That would be smart. Oh boy, something else to buy! Gonna need a bigger board - again. And twice as many patch cables. Solder solder.

Switching systems that let you connect all the pedals to its patchbay, then create presets with any pedal in any order are one "solution" - but they're expensive, take up space you might want to use for something else, and aren't as flexible as one imagines when first hearing about them. Also, they typically can't remember the settings of all the pedals - just if they're off or on.

All-in-one multi-effect systems and software-based rigs fulfill all the easy-reconfig fantasies, take no time (and no cables or power cords) to move around, and can sound great - but they're just not as fun as pedals. Whoever heard of a boutique virtual pedal?

I've probably been compensating for a problem that no longer exists.

Well, you'll find out, I guess. But that's the way a lot of traditions and standard practices begin: it used to have to be done in a particular way because of the technology of the day. After the tech evolves and conditions change, habit still rules and we do things "like we used to," even when it's no longer adaptive. That's life in general, I think.

Anyway. I hope to hear how the whole rig performs, and if you can get it dialed in.

But now I'm wanting a Keeley Limiter, just because. I don't need it, but for the truly afflicted, great gear seems its own justification.

I could be wrong.

21

Sorry for the late report, I had to work all day and then we rehearsed for about three hours - at which point my brain was exhausted.

SO -

After fooling with the board right before rehearsal, I had to put the B9 back in front - the reasoning is a little dumb, but there's a point where I have the B9 on and then engage fuzz (Fuzz Organ, fun!). The Fuzz feeding the organ is a no-go, the B9 freaks out. The organ feeding the fuzz - AOK. It's not something I truly need to do, but it is kind of fun.

I picked up a Keeley at lunch time (because, why not) and tested it briefly at the same time and I'm not exactly sure that the B9 plays nice with it. It wasn't particularly wise on my part to try and patch in another pedal that I'm not familiar with less than an hour before go time but there's not really enough room on my small board to fit it anyway so unless there was an "ah-hah" moment it wasn't going to make it into last night's rehearsal. So you ask, was there an "ah-hah" moment? Yes. The Keely did exactly as advertised and clamped down and shot out a steady output no matter how high the volume I put on my fuzz. That was pretty crazy/awesome. Ultimately, I didn't have space for it and didn't want to jack too much with what I was doing. I have to pull out my bigger board which I am semi-loathe to do.

So with all that said, I can definitely say that putting the Fuzz before the Compressor works great and definitely leveled my volume better. The end result (for now) was B9->Fuzz->Comp->OD->Boost->Trem->Reverb. The boost didn't give me problems with the reverb, the fuzz was tamed by the comp, overall getting me more level volume.

My other guitar player manages to have the same volume problems (but worse for other reasons which I would go into offline) and that is turning out to be my bigger problem. I get all my stuff dialed in pretty close and then he hits one of his pedals, his volume jacks way, way up, he starts twiddling knobs and then I'm buried - and have to start twiddling knobs to compensate.

What I think I'm going to do today is pull out my bigger board, pop the keeley on there and then get some "tweak time" and VERY CAREFULLY adjust my board from where it was last night which was pretty close. Rather than try to adjust my fuzz or OD based on whatever my other guitar player is doing, if I force everything through the Keeley and get a standard volume then just turn up at the amp to compensate for whatever he's doing. In theory I should already be able to do that without the Keeley but I'm playing through a Princeton Reverb and whenever I change volume on a pedal at the board it drives the speaker differently, and for some reason then I have to level the board at a different volume level.

Again, I'm new to this many pedals and I can see people reading this going "this guy is an idiot, he's overthinking it". But I know the volume of the not-my pedal board is what I'm ...errr...compensating for too, which seems to be a pretty nifty trick if I could ever get the hang of it.

So thanks Tavo and Proteus, I agree that both of the suggestions helped, I'm still forging ahead and tweaking on both setups and I'll report back on further progress.

22

My gig isn't until next Saturday - I've been playing through the rig today and I can say that both the movement of the fuzz before the first compressor AND the addition of the limiter have made a HUGE difference.

Right now it's B9>Fuzz>Compressor>OD>Limiter>Boost>Trem>Reverb>Amp

I experimented with leaving the Boss Comp off or the Keeley off, and the Keely makes a tremendous difference with pretty much minimal effort. Leaving the Keeley off and the Boss on, it's still clamping/controlling both the fuzz and the B9 but forces me to tweak the OD volume and then tweak the boost volume. So, I could live without the Keeley, but it makes it so easy to manage the output, why would I want to? lol

As to how big a difference the Keeley makes, I accidentally turned the B9 volume to max (instead of the "Mod" knob) and with the Keeley on, you couldn't even tell. (Mind boggling).

The B9 does get a few weird frequencies through the first compressor and then the Keeley but overall nothing I can't live with at a gig, and I have yet to really do a lot with the first compressor - I'm in "don't break anything, just figure it out" mode.

My other guitar player today decided to just play guitar>OD>amp (removing three or four pedals) so that solves part of my problem, but may introduce problems for him since I have no idea what his sound levels are now with just one pedal, so I think he'll still be twiddling - but for my part I am in a much better place with my board. Very grateful to both Proteus and Tavo for the suggestions - my brain has a few less things to worry about now.

23

So to follow up on this - the gig went great (except for ya know, missing chord changes, the drummer deciding to walk around during a solo and cutting out the bass signal, normal gig stuff)

The limiter held everything in check - it worked flawlessly.

I made the rookie mistake of rewiring the power two days before and ended up getting an "eeeeeeeeeeeeee" from daisy chaining too many pedals. It was only noticeable when I popped on the fuzz, so it wasn't the worst.

All in all, highly recommend the limiter for situations like mine. Much thanks!!


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