Updated: Jun 2
The value of switching systems can be a little debatable, especially if you’re running a small board. So, this is the question asked here: ‘Is one worth the cost if you only have a few pedals that make up your sound?’
Before we get into this though, I’d like to spend a little time just talking about switching systems in general as I remember being a little confused about them myself years ago. The following information may seem very obvious if you’ve already embraced switchers, so feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.
Why Use a Switcher?
Firstly, there are some obvious benefits to using one. Mainly the fact that you can turn on two or more effects just with one footswitch. This is possible as each footswitch on the switching system basically bypasses or activates whatever is in its loop. So, if you have certain pedals that you always use together, they can just go in the same loop and one click will get you the tone you require.
For example, you may want an overdrive, phaser and delay pedal to get a specific solo tone. So using a switching system, you can put these all into one loop and then turn them on or off just by depressing one switch. Awesome!
The other argument for using such a system is that it can improve your tone. Now, without getting into the ‘what is good tone’argument, let’s just think why this might be the case.
Any number of pedals that you’re running will logically have an impact on your sound and the more you have, the greater this will likely be, even when they aren’t turned on. You’ve got all that extra cabling linking them together, which will lead to a degradation in the signal, theoretically. And not only that but many pedals just aren’t built with the highest quality components and switches. So again, this can affect the signal negatively, and of course the pedals and cables are always in your signal chain irrespective of whether or not they are active.
If you use a switcher though, only the pedals that are being used at that moment in time are actually in the signal chain.
Let’s take a moment here to think about this. Imagine this is your pedal board layout:
Guitar -> Fuzz -> Wah -> Compressor -> Clean Boost -> Overdrive -> Distortion -> Phaser -> Chorus -> Delay -> Reverb -> Amp
Without getting into a debate about which pedal should go where, as there are so many arguments about this alone we could get easily side tracked, think about this scenario. You want to use the clean boost to just drive your amp a bit for a nice bluesy solo, with a little slapback delay added for texture. Without a switching system you still have the above signal chain. But with one you have:
Guitar -> Clean Boost -> Delay -> Amp
Without going any more in depth on this debate, I know which signal path I would choose.
So, this is pretty clear cut to me at this point. If you want to run more than one pedal in a loop to get your sound and you usually run them at the same time, a switcher cuts down on the tap dancing and makes complete sense. Also, logically if you run a lot of pedals, it is likely that one will give you a less degraded signal as it cuts out all the other pedals and cabling that’s not currently being used.
A Switching System with a Small Board.
However, to answer the question at the start of this blog I decided to experiment with a switcher and a pedal board of six pedals: A Cali76 compressor, a Zvex Box of Rock, a Keeley D&M Drive, a Hamstead Odyssey, a Belle Epoch Deluxe delay and a Line 6 HX Stomp.
The switcher I used was a GigRig Quartermaster 6. There are a huge number out there but I chose this one for its simplicity of use and the fact it uses top quality components. They are also reasonably priced and available used on certain auction sites pretty frequently, which is where I got mine.
I started off by setting up the pedals without a switcher, all daisy chained together like most small boards. And then after I’d recorded some different combinations of the stomps, I set them up with the switcher and recorded some more before listening back to the clips. This was really interesting as it took me a little while to swap the pedals around and get them on the board so couldn’t really remember exactly how the sound was before. But being able to compare the recorded sounds, I really could hear quite a difference.
However, it wasn’t just in sound. The guitar just felt better with a switcher too – I can’t really explain why but maybe it was because there was also definitely an increase in signal strength, as my Strat pushed the amp harder leading to more breakup. There were more mids present too. In fact, the difference really surprised me as I wasn’t expecting it to be so obvious.
Have a look yourself at the video here and see what you think. I can even tell the difference on my iPhone, but you might want to use good headphones or monitors to really get a good idea.
It’s certainly possible that just turning up the gain on the amp slightly and adjusting the EQ could have given the same or at least a similar sound, but the answer to the initial question certainly is a big YES for me. The switcher made a significant difference using the same guitar and amp settings, even with just the six pedals I was using. So if you’re using that number or more, I can say completely honestly that you will notice a positive difference if you invest in a switcher.
Do keep in mind though that you will need extra board space, more cables and also the switcher may well require power. So make sure you are prepared for all this before investing.
Here’s to the search for the perfect tone. Keep on enjoying the ride!
Check out the GigRig's switching solutions here: https://www.thegigrig.com/switching