Other Equipment

Gretschland pedals 101?

1

Hi. I’d like to learn what pedals are part of Gretsch-lore. Can anyone point me towards useful threads?

My love of them hasn’t come via Chet, Setzer, Duffy or rockabilly - it’s more the other way round - so I’m not needing advice on achieving a certain sound, I’m just interested in the culture.

With boosts/OD/dist it’s more practical, as I will be wanting them sooner or later, and I’d like to know what others feel complements the instrument.

2

I can tell you I build pedals based on Gretsch guitars but what application are you looking for? Not totally sure of the request..

3

I read about ‘pedals popular with Gretsch players’ without explaining which, or why, but implying that their tone suits the guitar.

Eg. Of the multitude of boosts and ODs I wondered if some types were preferred over others. Obviously it’s whatever sounds good to the player, but it can be useful knowing where to start.

4

Start with a Brain from Tavo. I am a satisfied customer, so of course I'd say that, but I will not be alone. If you visit his site - Nocturne Pedals, it's linked on the right hand side of this page - you'll find plenty of quality demos to listen to, to help you make up your own mind.

5

I second the motion on Nocturne Brain pedals. Get with Tavo. He'll get you set up right for the setup you're currently using. The rest is subjective but he also makes a great Tremelo and dirt boxes.

6

While many Gretsch players will seem to eschew pedals, and many of the rootsier sort will exalt the guitar cord as the only thing that should come between a Gretsch and an amp, Gretsch's history with effects is really pretty varied - not to mention storied.

It could even be argued that Gretsch was one of the first guitars to be enhanced by electronic (or other) wizardry: the Ray Butts Echosonic amp in the early 50s had a built-in (very short) tape delay which created the now-characteristic "rockabilly" slapback. Chet Atkins is sometimes accused of being the King of Mellow Guitar (which he isn't) - but he and his buddy Les Paul were avid effects hounds in their day. They tried everything they could get their hands on, and invented a few they couldn't. Chet was an early adopter of the Butts amp, and made it part of his recordings in the mid-50s.

So if you're looking to get all historical about it, slapback echo might be considered the first essential Gretsch-related effect. (Whether created by tape, analog, or other delay is an endless discussion.)

In the late 50s, our man Duane Eddy and his producer Lee Hazelwood were looking for an effect to set off the melodic low-string twang technique Duane was perfecting - something to give it more body, focus attention on it, let it take up the sonic space it deserved. Their solution was far from a pedal (they couldn't have dreamed of such a device), but it was most certainly an essential Gretsch effect - and an important contribution to the tone with with Duane (and then surfers) took over the airwaves in the late 50s and early 60s. All they wanted was some reverberation. They found it in a huge empty junked water tank (I forget the capacity, someone will chime in with it), which they hauled in a pickup truck to a location outside their studio, where they put a speaker at one end and a mic at the other. What came out on tape was huge reverberant twang, a new thang.

Thus, I'd call that kind of reverb an essential Gretsch effect. Today you can get it (well, pretty much...) from a pedal.

And before either of those (tape echo, empty-tank reverb) was the first commercial effect pedal, DeArmond's electro-mechanical tremolo, introduced in the 40s and certainly sold through the 50s. (I don't know when it faded.) As Gretsch had a close relationship with DeArmond (who designed and made Dynasonic pickups) - and as early Gretsch players were perfectly hip to what was happening in all of electric guitardom - Chet, Duane, and any other Gretsch artists from the era were certainly familiar with it.

Here's a rabbit-hole:

So tremolo absolutely belongs on the critical-Gretsch-effects list. Again, there are probably literally hundreds of trem pedals out there (if you don't have it in your amp), ranging from analog to digital to modeled. Duane has more recently used the big purple Dunlop stereo tremolo, which lets you dial the waveform from a smooth sine to choppier square wave (a sound that didn't happen till electronic tremolos in the 60s). Many current tremolos go far beyond that - and have for years.

So if you wanted to be equipped for classic 50s-60s Gretsch tones, you'd want great reverb, tremolo, and short echo (whether tape or otherwise). Of course none of those sounds are associated only with Gretsch - but Gretsch guitars love them.

In the wake of the Ed Sullivan show, Gretsch became one of the signature guitars of the 60s - and you can be sure that, from the Beatles through all the invasion bands to American garage rock and players like Stephen Stills, Gretschs were plugged into every effect of that decade.

The most critical was not an effect pedal - it was simply the effect of cranking an amp. Most 50s players had tried to avoid what we now call overdrive - and anything like distortion - but of course that sound became part of the guitarist's palette through the 60s. Gretschs were cranked up right along with everything else.

Here's a classic example: .

More classic overdriven Gretsch tone: Pete Townshend on Who's Next, Randy Bachman in most Guess Who and BTO songs. ("Takin' Care of Business" for sure.)

I can't think of a historical example of a Gretsch with an early fuzz pedal at the moment (though I bet someone else comes up with one).

So...you need a way to get what at least sounds like (even if it really isn't) cranked-amp overdrive. A Tim pedal is one way; the Wampler Euphoria is another - but there are, again, literally hundreds of such pedals out there. And if you like fuzz (I like fuzz!), there's nothing like going full-mud on the tone switch of a Gretsch so equipped through a fuzz pedal. You'll recognize the tone as soon as you hear it.

The 70s and 80s brought more classic and characteristic Gretsch tones, from Billy Zoom's über-cranked tube amp grind (if you get it with a pedal, don't tell him) to the very particular tone Brian Setzer built his career on. That particular tone has arguably been the template for many of the roots-n-rockabilly sounds of the last 30 years. Rev Horton Heat and countless others have built on it.

Tavo's your man for that; it was his obsessive dissection of that very particular tone that led to his line of pedals - particularly anything in his "brain" series, which replicates the almost-overdriven kinda-high-mid-trebly-boosty-but-not-quite effect the preamp of Brian's Roland Space Echos brought to his tone. I ain't speakin' for Tavo, but I'm guessing he'd say Brian's tone (given Brian's hands and brain to begin with) results from a 6120 with FilterTrons, a blond Bassman pretty cranked, and the two components of the Space Echo - its preamp and the tape delay itself.

Because vintage Space Echos are getting scarce - and they're a PITA to maintain and gig with - most seekers of that particular tone make do with some variety of tape-delay emulator. The ingredients are the tape delay effect itself (getting thinner and dirtier with each repeat), some sort of modulation to imitate the effect of wobbly motors and other mechanical issues), and multiple taps. My favorite is the Strymon El Capitan, which gets close enough to tape for me (and goes all psychedelic too).

But tape delay emulation doesn't get you the tone-conditioning behavior of the Space Echo's preamp, and that's what Tavo's Brain series provides. To me it's not just an essential part of the Setzer tone, it brings out the best in any Gretsch (and many other guitars I've played through it). For many players, it's an always-on thing.

But, conveniently, Tavo has also packaged the Brain preamp into a tape-echo emulation pedal in his Mystery Brain 301 - making it the modern boutique pedal equivalent of a Space Echo.

And, of course, through the 80s-90s-00s-to the present, Gretschs have been used in virtually all genres of music in which guitars are used, through every kind of pedal. So it's hard to say there's any particular set - and certainly nothing is out of bounds. (I have compression, multiple modulated delays, reverbs, ring modulators, octave boxes, and pedals which do unspeakable things. And it still sounds like a Gretsch when it comes out.)

But for roots to 60s to modern rockabilly, a Gretsch essentials pedalboard would have to have killer tremolo, great reverb, tape echo emulation, more-or-less transparent drive to strong overdrive (heavier and grittier to taste) - and, at least for me, a Brain preamp.

7

Thanks for your replies all and wow, Proteus, that’s so useful, I appreciate you taking the time!

8

After Proteus' tome, nothing more to say.

9

Holy crap Proteus! Maybe you should write a book! (I'm not kidding)

10

Proteus, I’ve been researching things you mention and have to say thanks again for your marvellous introduction to Gretsch effects history and pedal scene today. I’d have spent a long long time puzzling over discussions here to figure out a fraction of it. The historical context you give really helps. After many years longing I’ve finally bought a Gretsch this week, so I look forward to reading Gretsch Pages with more understanding of what’s being said.

11

Absolutely!

12

Holy crap Proteus! Maybe you should write a book! (I'm not kidding)

– ruger9

I thought he just did

13

Can anyone chime in (see what I did right there?!?) on effects like the Janglebox or other compressor type pedals that are classically Gretsch friendly?

14

Well thanks for appreciating my spew (or at least saying you do). I truly never know if this stuff is useful or just tolerated as an ex-teacher going into educational mode.

For the past few months I've been deeper in a whole maze of interconnected effect rabbit holes than most would believe (and if I sound far-away and echoey, it's because I'm still there) - so effects have been very much on my mind.

I'm also a compressor junkie...but in this instance, I don't find that Gretschs respond any differently to compressors than other guitars. If you take into consideration whether a given pup is single-coil or dual-coil - and its output, more or less - you'll get just the same results compressing a Gretsch as anything else.

In that context, to boil it waaay down, I guess there are two sorts of compression: the kind that is sonically invisible but makes the guitar (and player) sound better, and the kind that's doing so much it borders on a special effect.

There's also kind of a middle ground between these which was very much part of the recording picture throughout the 60s and 70s - when it became standard practice to use compression routinely in the studio to help parts sit in the mix (or simply to record cleanly). Whether we realize it or not, that is now part of the way we remember (and even hear) the sound of those guitars. The thing about that use of compression is that we're barely aware of it, and it's not always discussed as part of the palette a player needs.


Invisible compression: provides more consistent level, smooths attacks and lets an engineer (or player) control note decay time and rate. Generally helps a guitar sound clearer and more distinct, more present - without really being louder overall. For some guys, it's an always-on thing - and if you feel it's messing with your dynamics, it's not invisible enough.

Special effect compression: Nashville chicken-pipkin', the leadoff solo in Steely Dan's Hey Nineteen. It's that percussive pop, a sudden suck down, and maybe a pump back up. Applied judiciously, it can create almost limitless clean sustain. Once you identify what creates that effect, you'll never have trouble hearing it again.

In-between compression...well, it sounds so natural to anyone immersed in the recorded guitar of the last 60 years that it doesn't even sound like compression. But its lack is often the reason a player can't quite get his sound "just like" the record. It truly isn't transparent - and sometimes it's doing quite a bit - but it also doesn't reach out and rub its round compressed tones in your face. If you could hear the same tracks without compression...well, sometimes you wouldn't hear them. They'd get lost in the mix, and no engineer would have been able to give the guitar the presence it has by just turning it up or even tweaking the EQ - it would simply have been too loud.

ANYway. I guess the classic example of this is McGuinn's 12-string in the Byrds stuff (though it's rather extreme). Virtually all Beatle guitar tracks are compressed, and they set the pattern for that era and the decade to come.

It was very much a studio thing, so no one had that tone live till, I think, the early-mid-70s at the earliest - with the first "pedal compressor" being, I think, the Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer, a one-knob affair you hear all over Steely Dan and Dire Straits recordings. Soon came the now-Classic Ross compressor and the MXR Dyna-Comp (my first comp, which I got in 1978 and didn't turn off for about 15 years).

But once we got compression on our live boards, we learned a well-deployed compressor can go a long way to cleaning up and "professionalizing" your tone, helping you sound more like what's actually on the records. More polished. Like anything, it can be overused - in which case it can squash the dynamics out of your playing, leaving it lifeless. But it's probably the single greatest always-on tone-fixing solution out there.

The best compressors do at least two of the above well (transparent, doing-a-lot-but-obvious-only-to-the-experienced-ear, and special effect). The best can do all three. There are tons of compressors out there, and I haven't used all of them - but I've used a lot, and kept more than I should.

Maybe the best all-rounder, with mad skills across all compression purposes, is the Wampler Ego. It chicken-picks with the best of them (and will get you close enough at least to the compression part of the McGuinn 12-string sound), excels at giving your tone kinda studio fit and polish, and can disappear into the background as a tone-conditioner/problem solver. It's also a nice board-friendly size.

The board-friendliest, though, is the Xotic SP Comp. It's kind of a very refined and mature version of the Ross/MXR type. Half a standard pedal in width, it's really good at moderate and extreme compression - and sounds so warm and round and juicy that I keep it in on a board even when I have another comp, just because it sounds SO good and is SO small I can't imagine not supporting the product.

After many years, I still have a hard crush (see what I did there!) on the Diamond compressor, the full-width version. It takes up a little more real estate than I'd like, and it's neither an obvious special effect nor transparent. Its three knobs don't even make sense in the context of more fully-controllable compressors. But what it does is something like magic. It just makes the guitar sound fuller, more distinct, more alive, and BIGGER.

I've loved numerous compressors for awhile, then suddenly had either my lifetime dosage or an Emperor's New Clothes moment when I realized there was less there than met the ear. I mention these not because it's inherently interesting - but because most of these come up in any online discussion of compressors and, if I'm not a reliable source of information, at least I have owned and used everything I've mentioned, and my impressions of these eventual culls can be considered in the context of the others I prefer.

Original MXR Dyna-Comp: yep, it does that thing, and it was my first love, but the original was noisy as hell, rolled off high end, and I don't miss it. I haven't been able to bring myself to sell it - first love and all, and it's gloriously beat up - so it's in honored retirement in my cabinet. I haven't heard the current versions, but they just don't have enough knobs to be useful enough.
DOD Milkbox. Maybe the best of the low end, but once I heard the slight grit and sputter as it processed, I was done.
Barber Tone Press: my first floor comp with "parallel processing" - meaning simply that you can mix the compressed tone with the straight tone to hide the telltale volume pumping when a comp does its thing. I liked that part of it, but I came to hear that it was flattening my sound into pulpy cardboard with a faded label.
Janglebox: I barely had a like affair with this one. So highly hyped! The only interesting function it had for me was that McGuinn thing with treble boost, so with my guitar coming out of two 60-watt amps with 12" and 15" speakers, I sounded like I was coming out of a car radio in 1966. It does that thing perfectly. If that particular jangle is so iconic that you simply must have it, Jangle away. But when I turned that function off, I was left with a competent general-purpose compressor at best. Nothing special. I couldn't sell it fast enough. I understand the new version (JBIII) would be much more to my liking - but it's about the size of a mini-Cooper and I'm just not feeling the need.
Maxon CP9Pro+ (or something). This one was very smooth, and had something of the Diamond's knack of making the guitar sound BIG. I liked that - but that was the specialest trick in that pony's repertoire. I can't say anything bad about it; it was quiet, introduced no noise, had no unpleasant compression artifacts, all good. It certainly does the job, and better than most pedals. I guess we just didn't bond.
Keeley Compressor Pro. When I got it, I thought it would never leave my board. But it kinda faded on me fast, and when I A-B'ed it with two other candidates, it just didn't have the stuff. By comparison to the new MXR Studio Compressor (in a laudably compact box) and the Empress Compressor (exactly the same physical size as the Keeley, with a similar knob count, and also presenting itself as a studio-quality comp in a pedal), the Keeley was rather muddier (if slightly fatter-sounding) than the Empress, and not nearly as smooth and refining as the MXR.

In the Keep Box, the Empress has the parallel/mix thing the Keeley lacked, and seemed more versatile when I really started turning all the knobs. I kept it as my studio-comp-in-a-pedal and sold the Keeley.

The MXR Studio Compressor really excels at that middle-ground: doing a lot but staying out of your face. It presents itself as a kind of micro-clone of the Universal Audio 1176 studio compressor ubiquitous on recordings over the past 50 years - not really transparent, but doing marvelous things shape your tone, while keeping transients under control and lifting and separating musical detail. It's my new best compressor friend - and not terribly expensive.

The next horizon, for me, is the Origin Effects Cali76, reputed to be an even better pedal-based "clone" of the 1176, and getting rave reviews from all. At over 300.00, it's expensive for a single-purpose pedal...but I'm sick that way, and will spend it.

I'm also curious about both the Pigtronix Philosopher's Tone and the Origin SlideRIG - both of which chain two compressors in series and tweak attack and decay where they feed each other in order to provide endless clean sustain. With two comps on my board, that's a trick I've often used, but it takes a fair bit of knob-twiddling to optimize the settings on both so it sounds at least a little natural (though endless sustain from a clean electric guitar is inherently UNnatural). I'm curious how these pedals manage it internally.


So that's far afield from the original question "what comps are classically Gretsch friendly". I don't know of any particular compressor that's uniquely associated with Gretsch, or an essential part of any specific Gretsch tone (except to the extent to which Gretsch guitars have been compressed in the studio and onstage just like any other).

On the one hand, most Gretschs naturally have a good bit of one compressed effect - not quite chicken-pickin', but at least a pronounced percussive attack followed by a quicker decay than many other electrics. A compressor can be used either to smooth that envelope - or to accentuate it. And on the other hand, at the back end of the note envelope, most Gretschs (up to the contemporary center-block models) haven't been known for long singing sustain of the Les Paul Spinal Tap variety - and compression can definitely be used to get more sustain, if that's what you're after.

For all of that, a great compressor for a Gretsch is just a great compressor for any guitar: my faves, in no particular order, being the Wampler Ego, Xotic SP, Diamond, Empress (for studio-level control), and MXR Studio Comp.


And sorry for the length. If I had more time I could edit it shorter. The fact that I sometimes write too much doesn't mean I'm right about anything. (I hope it doesn't automatically make me wrong.)

15

Well I enjoyed the uncompressed version - thanks

Does the Dynobrain compress? Hudson's Broadcast pedal supposedly models a Neve console pre-amp. I wonder how they compare ..?

(Big yellow Diamond is a special pedal, I agree. When I played in bands its channel-strip-in-a-box concept was perfect; that subtle layer of production. Just sold mine as right now I only quietly at home, where that same smoothed, roundy quality feels inappropriate between me and the amp. After recording I love tweaking Slate/UAD emulations but in a pedal I need a blend control.. so maybe Ego.)


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