Effects pedals vs rack mount units...

Slipin Lizard
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Joined: 11/15/07
Posts: 711
They say history repeats itself, and I guess as I get older I'm starting to see the truth in that. I remember in the late 70's and into the 80's how effect pedals were all the rage. Then along came rack units. Every guitar mag that did a spotlight on a player always had a little blurb at the end about "what is in his rack". If you were a pro, you had a rack unit with your name or band's name stenciled on the side and in interviews would say things like "I really love Bradshaw's switching system, its very clean, very functional..." On Ebay, if you could find a bunch of Boss pedals that came in the optional case that held 5 pedals at a time.. wow, like, SCORE!

Well, now pedals are back, and have been for a while. Most of the stuff I remember from way back when has been re-issued, and there are plenty of YouTube demos showing guys with MONSTER pedal boards (3 separate delay pedals, really??) and it seems that pedal fever is back again. Though also rack units seem to be starting to make an ever so slight come back.

So I'm curious, and would love to get everyone's opinions, from you new guys who are just getting into effects to dinosaurs like me who have gone through both the pedal and rack phases. Which do you prefer and why? It seems to me that some pedals have amazing sounds not found in rack systems, like the Blue Sky Reverb "shimmer", but maybe I just don't know which rack systems support that kind of effect. It seems like pedals are the way everyone is going now, and I wonder why when you'd think rack systems would be able to dial up virtually any sound you want.
# 1
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Joined: 03/02/09
Posts: 1,562
At one point I was leaning towards rack mount gear for some stuff. What I found was there isn't much rack gear around. The sales guys said the stuff was obsolete (so 80's!).

They are the biggest store in the province, I think (Long & McQuade in Nova Scotia) and they had no rack stuff. Might be different elsewhere.

I know from the magazine ads that the gear is out there, but apparently there is not enough demand for stores to carry it. Around here at least.
...so ever since then, I always hang on to the buckle.
# 2
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Joined: 10/08/08
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The closest thing to rack mount gear I have is my Line6 POD X3 and my Boss GT10. Having said that, I have a bunch of pedals as well.

I've been told many times that pedals sound better than all in one units. I'm not hear to debate that, but I will say that I do like how you can mod your pedals easily. I think half of my pedals are modded.

However, with my Boss GT10. it is sooooo nice to be able to dial in a tone you like, save it as a preset. Then, create another one if you like, save that, on and on and on.
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# 3
Guitar Tricks Instructor
Joined: 08/09/05
Posts: 8,002
As a kid I started with a little tube amp (got my first electric guitar & amp in 1976). It was fine for clean tones (Beatles, Monkees, etc.). But when I heard Deep Purple, Montrose & eventually Van Halen, I wanted it to sound like that! The older guitar guys in town told me I needed an overdrive or distortion pedal box. That was the beginning of me trying to get tones from pedals.

My next amp was a Peavey 212 Classic. This was a great little amp because it had an overdrive pre-gain stage built in! And I never liked to use too many pedals anyway. I prefered (and still do) to use just guitar & amp for most of the tone. For most of the playing I do, most of the original music gigs & jazz & blues gigs I've ever done all I ever used was a Strat, an amp (Marshall or Fender) & a modded MXR Distortion+. Guitar straight into amp for clean tones, step on the box for gain.

In the 80s guitar tones started to change. From 1984 on EVH & Steve Vai had that new sound. I remember thinking it sounded like flanger, but without any sweep to it. I learned it was often a rack-mounted Eventide harmonizer that was creating this tone. It was a sophisticated version of a chorus, since it split the signal and altered one part of the signal a few cents off of pitch from the original signal. But, it was blended with the original signal so it really "popped" off of the speaker, or the recording. I played around with several rack units (the legendary Alesis Quadraverb, several Boss & Roland units).

I never was entirely pleased with the tone of these things. I think they sound really artificial and forced when put in front of an amp; like they are "on top of" the tone but never "inside" it or "part of the tone". Conversely, they sound really washed out when put behind the amp (through the FX loop, like they are typically designed to run).

So, on most gigs I still used pedals (wah, modded MXR Distortion+, occasional chorus, rarely an Electroharmonix Memory Man) in front of a Marshall, Fender or Crate. But, occasionally, I needed something for a gig that a rack had, but my pedals didn't (a certain multi-tap delay, harmonizer, thicker chorus, etc.). Eventually, I settled on a Digitech S100 (no longer manufactured), which I rarely, but still use for various FX in my studio. I sold everything else!

After I got my first digital modelling amp (Crate DXB112) I never wanted to use a rack again! The Line6 stuff is similiar. It's great for dialing up whatever you need, whenever you need it & it's all in one box that is designed to work together.

But, after all these years I think the best option of all is to plug a guitar directly into an amp and play. The trick, of course, is to find an amp that will let you do this to your satisfaction. For me, it's the Bambino I use in my lesson vids. :)

That's today's Dinosaur gear report. :p
Christopher Schlegel
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# 4
Registered User
Joined: 11/27/10
Posts: 231
I gotta say pedals, all the way! And I think it's because if I'm buying a phaser pedal, I know that the manufacturer spent all their time making the phaser sound as good as possible. Where as making the phaser sound great in a multi effects rck unit, is just a small piece of the overall puzzle. Not that any of that is true, just my perception of it.
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# 5
Registered User
Joined: 01/31/11
Posts: 160
Being the novice that I am and on a disability budget, I've been looking around for ways to make my tones that of those songs that I've been wanting to.
I've found some emulators on the internet for plugging my guitar into. These emulators have the Rack Mount systems there and a few others are using the pedal type of effects as well.
It's been a real learning experience for me trying to make my "Strat" type sound like a Gibson Les Paul or even an Acoustic. But, for my hobby, those are great.
# 6
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Joined: 03/23/03
Posts: 625
I only use two things for effects. It depends on if I am taking an amp to a gig or not. If I am, I take a Digitech RP100, mostly for a little compression (I then kick the thing under the amp since it's on a stand). If I don't take an amp, I use Amplitube 3 with my laptop and just plug into the PA. I already have presets that I like, and just scroll to them to play them.

I have been toying with the idea of adding a wah, and I have been perusing Ebay checking out the triple tube modded ADA MP-1's... I mean, I do still have an Alesis Multiverb in the garage, and a 31 band eq... :P
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# 7
Registered User
Joined: 01/31/11
Posts: 160
Ya that Amplitube is one of the many computer affects for the guitar I found. I also like the Ultra Rack.
# 8
Joe Pinnavaia
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Joined: 04/08/10
Posts: 57
I went through both phases and I'm back around to pedals again and probably always. Some of the rack gear was a real pain in the ass to work out and use live. Today's market is great for pedals with all of the boutique gear that's out there the options are endless. I'm a visual and physical guy I need to look at the pedal and the controls to help contour the sound. I hated looking at patches and how to store, save and edit soundbanks. Just ridiculous and time consuming. I spent way more time reading the manuals than dialing in a tone.

# 9