HOW TO USE CHORUS, COMPRESSOR & REVERB PEDALS — THE RIGHT WAY!

(Flickr user youarenotaghost)

The chorus pedal was an eighties staple, and although it’s not as common today, it’s still a valuable addition to any guitarists’ arsenal. It’s designed as a replication of the sound of two guitarists playing the same piece – there are inevitably minor differences in pitch and timbre that lead to a choral, shimmery, choir-like sound. To produce the effect with a solo guitarist, the signal is split into two: the original and a slightly delayed version of itself with a slight difference in pitch, which is modulated to finish off the effect. But how do you put it to best use?

CHORUS PEDAL CONTROLS

There are two common controls on a chorus pedal, “Depth” and “Rate.” The “depth” controls the amplitude (or “intensity”) of the effect, and the rate setting adjusts the speed of the modulation. Some pedals have more controls: for example, the Boss CH-1 has settings for “Effect Level” (so you can adjust the mix of original to duplicated signal) and “EQ” (so you can adjust the brightness).

CHORUS FOR CLEAN TONES

There are two basic sounds from chorus pedals: a warm, fat chorus and a transparent, brighter one. One of the better-known examples of chorus on a clean tone is the intro to “Come as You Are” by Nirvana, in which Kurt Cobain used an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone to produce the warm, fat chorus sound. Many players prefer the transparent type, but you’ll have to push it to the extremes for a pronounced effect.

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CHORUS FOR DISTORTED TONES

With distorted tones, the chorus effect brings you into classic ’80s shredder territory. Again, fat or transparent chorus can work, although many players prefer a more transparent style for distorted playing. Being able to set the level and EQ is particularly beneficial to sculpting your sound when using a chorus with distortion.

So, plug in, mess around with the dials and find a sound you like! If you’re trying to choose a chorus, listen to (or ideally try out) some fatter and more transparent choruses to get an idea of which you prefer.

HOW TO USE A COMPRESSOR PEDAL 

Compressor pedals are disarmingly simple – they detect spikes in your volume and normalize the levels automatically. Fattening up your tone, boosting sustain and making your sound punchier are pretty much just possible side effects of the volume controlling process. It’s all a trade-off between the desirable and undesirable side effects, so to get the most out of any given pedal you need to understand the various controls and what they do.

INPUT LEVEL

The input level control on compressors enables you to control the range of signal the pedal responds too – if you set it wrong your result will be way too noisy. If a pedal doesn’t have the control, you’ll need to use a volume control on your guitar, pre-amp or another pedal to control how loud signal going into the compressor is.

THRESHOLD

The threshold is the point where your pedal starts to actually compress your tone to control the volume. If there’s no knob, it’ll be set at a fixed amount, which you can only affect by adjusting the input level.

RATIO

This controls the amount your volume is decreased by (in dB), so a ratio of 4:1 means that once you go over your threshold, each increase of 4 dB in input is reduced to just 1 dB of additional output volume. If this isn’t available, your pedal has a fixed ratio.

ATTACK

This controls how quickly the compressor responds to your signal and is often accompanied by a release control which governs how long it takes before the pedal stops compressing. While other controls may be missing, many compressors like the MXR Super Comp and the Boss CS-3 have this option.

OUPUT

Compression reduces your average signal level, so the output control is there to bring it up to the desired volume again.

Finally, some compressors only have two controls, “Compress” (or “Sustain”) and “Level.” Level is just an output control, but compress could control the ratio, threshold or other parameters like signal gain. If there are unfamiliar controls on your compressor and you can’t get the sound you want – consult the manual before giving up on compression effects!

FIVE WAYS TO USE A REVERB PEDAL

When your pedalboard real estate is limited, adding a reverb pedal might seem like the last thing you want to do. After all, it’s just a replication of something the room will do for you anyway, right? Or something you may already have on your amp. Well, reverbs can serve more like effects too, and sometimes the natural reverb of a particular room just sucks. Here are five ways to get the most out of a reverb pedal.

  1. FIX A ROOM

If the room you’re playing in is dead or unpleasantly colors your tone, a great reverb pedal can be a lifesaver. Reverbs fill the void left by a dead room, and if the pedal has a hi-cut knob or a tone control, it gives you the ability to neutralize shrill overtones.

  1. USE IT SUBTLY

Adding just a touch of reverb can bring a dry, unimpressive tone to life. For electric players, it gives each note a little “safety net” and some extra perceived sustain, and for acoustic guitarists a subtle splash can add some much-needed depth.

  1. MODULATE YOUR REVERB

Pedals like the Strymon Flint can add modulation to your reverb, making the reverb more than just an ambience-builder. Modulated and shimmer-style reverbs still build ambience, but in a more other-worldly, ethereal fashion. Definitely something to try if you haven’t experimented with it before.

  1. INCORPORATE SPRING REVERB

For a surf-inspired or borderline psychedelic sound, spring reverb capable pedals like the legendary Carl Martin Headroom offer a more unique way to add sustain to your sound.

  1. CREATE A SENSE OF DEPTH

Many players used multiple delay and reverb pedals at the end of their signal chains to generate deep, blooming and lingering soundscapes. These days, thanks to advances in digital signal processing (DSP) chips, pedal makers can create stompboxes dedicated to this particular brand of reverb, like Neunaber Immerse Reverberator.

There’s much more to reverbs than you might think, so dust off your reverb and get creative – and see about adding in a chorus and compressor while you’re at it!

[special thanks to Antonio Calvosa of https://www.fuzzfaced.net/ for the guest contributions to our special Pedal Issue]

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