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Whether you just picked up your first stompbox or you have a rig that would make Steve Vai jealous, you’re probably having some trouble dialing in that perfect tone. Don’t worry: you’re not alone. Tinkering with effects pedals is an art that few have perfected, and no one knows this better than Bill Ruppert, the mastermind behind Electro-Harmonix’s Effectology series.
Now with 22 episodes, Effectology is a video series that explores the creative possibilities of experimenting with effects pedals. Using just EHX stompboxes and the occasional prop (who knew you could play guitar with an electric razor?), Bill makes some of the most far-out and unique sounds you’ve ever heard come out of a guitar.
So far, Effectology has charted out an impressive range of tonal terrain, from a guitar-only cover of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” (Vol. 5) to how to make your axe sound like a Theremin (Vol. 22: “Paranormal Guitar Effects”). The amazing thing is that it’s all perfectly spot-on, which is hardly surprising given Ruppert’s expertise. The Chicago studio veteran has logged nearly 10,000 sessions, working with Bryan Ferry, Levon Helm, Phil Collins, and the Beach Boys, to name a few.
For the Effectology videos, Bill gets some of his ideas from prerecorded material: “Often, I will hear an instrument, sound, or recording that intrigues me. At that point, I will start to do a deconstruction of the sound or track to find out what makes it tick.” It’s a straightforward process, but a lot of effort can go into nailing something that specific. According to Bill, some sounds come easily; others take hours of tweaking and research.
Other times, the hunt for interesting sounds begins from scratch. In this case, Bill will lay out dozens of EHX pedals, come up with interesting configurations, and dial in settings until he comes up with the perfect sound. When I asked Bill what his favorite EHX pedal was for this process, he replied that he loves them all too much to choose, though the Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai is a particularly faithful standby.
“Guitar effect pedals and modular synthesizers are the same thing,” said Ruppert. “It’s all building blocks connected by 1/4” cables. It may be a wah-wah, but that is just a filter. The fuzz box is a square wave generator, etc.”
That may sound daunting, but it’s the limitless sonic possibilities that make stompboxes so appealing. If you’re not sure where to start, one of the cool things about Effectology is that Bill posts all of his pedals’ settings on the EHX forums; you can find out exactly how he got a certain sound, and tinker from there.
For stompbox enthusiasts, Effectology is a welcome sight. The guitar community tends to view pedals as a guilty pleasure of sorts. We know that they can alter our guitar signal in fascinating and unique ways, but some feel that they somehow offer a less “pure” approach to playing guitar.
In reality, though, they’re tonal building blocks. Just as your choice of guitar or amp can give you a unique tone, so can the right choice and configuration of effects pedals give your sound depth and color. In the words of effects guru Nels Cline, “I’ve been asked more times than I care to think of about my effects pedals, and I think it’s because people think there are too many. Well, how many colors are there, anyway?
Judging from Bill Ruppert’s work on Effectology, I’d say there are about 1.5×10∞. Give or take.