The experience of being onstage in front of a crowd of drunken revelers is unique and terrifying. There’s a reason drink tickets are standard currency for the legions of touring bands that pull up to one of the thousands of venues in America, lugging Marshall stacks and smelling like a stranger’s cat. But being onstage playing music has an undeniable thrill and that’s why we do it.
However, setting up your gear is another matter entirely. And if you’re in the unfortunate position of not having a road crew, you can feel the prying eyes of ten to twelve jealous local know-it-alls glaring your way as you carefully unpack your cables and guitar, as you hit the snare drum a few times just to make sure it is, in fact, still a snare drum, and as you search for the house bass rig’s power switch. You aren’t wrong to think those eyes are judging you, because they most likely are. It’s not based on your clothes or your hair or what shoes you’re wearing. It’s actually solely based on the size of your pedalboard. Unbeknownst to most, the size of one’s pedalboard speaks volumes. Let's look at some real world examples, shall we?
We've all seen these dudes before. They plug the guitar straight into their amp. I mean, there is nothing between the guitar and the amp. Not even a tuning pedal. Clearly, this means one thing: these dudes are serial killers in the making. Prime examples: Fugazi’s Ian Mackaye, who was too busy charging kids 5 bucks at the door, not printing t-shirts, and running some little label called Dischord to deal with any sort of rest stop between guitar and amp.
Frankly, these guys have no idea what a guitar is. Sometimes they will walk onstage without a strap or a pick and have to ask the audience for one before the band can start. They picked up the instrument a few weeks ago in the hopes of escaping their boring job as an accountant or insurance salesman and joined the first coterie of males they found on Craigslist who were seeking "creative guitarist—NO FLAKES!" You'll usually see a rusty Boss DS-1 distortion or a chorus pedal, or maybe something by Arion or Digitech. These guys haven't quite mastered the art of playing while stomping on a small metal box at their feet, so whatever misguided effects they have chosen are mostly there for stage decoration. The good news is you can sell anything on eBay!
The sweet spot. The land of milk and honey. These are the dudes that have perfected their pedalboards to a science, swapping pedals in and out over the years until they reached just the right signal-to-noise ratio, found just the perfect timbre of overdrive, chosen an analog delay that will go into self-oscillation with just the tiniest touch of the feedback knob. We're talking pro status here. You see a guy with a neatly arranged pedalboard that has four to nine metal boxes on it—stick around. Squeeze up front if you can. Thom Yorke, Jack White, Joey Santiago: these are trusted names in the land of pedalboards, and they all slide right into this range.
10 + PEDALS
This is dangerous territory. If you don't already have a drink in your hand, consider sneaking out of the venue quietly without saying goodbye to any of your friends (you can meet up with them later). Yes, every blue moon (hold the orange) you're going to come across a J Mascis or a Kevin Shields, who wakes up and takes his morning coffee in the garage, surrounded by his carefully curated monster pedalboards, but when you see a guy lugging a board onstage that’s going to take up more real estate than the drum set, this usually means trouble. You are about to be subjected to his "art" and no one wants that. The dude has probably spent more time researching the pedals than actually touching the strings of a guitar. This is Gearslutz territory. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Leo has three pedals in regular use on his pedalboard. Uh-oh. He's on Twitter - @LeoMaymind