On the lightness of being with pedals
by Keith

I'm fond of using a lot of pedals with my acoustics. 

Why? Well, people do ask me why ... especially the "purists" ... those who like the beauty of the acoustic guitar unamped. But I like it AMPED!

I like the variety of sounds and tone you can get with effects. I've gone through probably two hundred or so effects to find what I'm looking for and I've found it - more or less.

The master of effects, as far as I'm concerned, is David Gilmour. Virtually every pedal he's used, I've tried. All are really great though not all work well for me. I started with his stuff since I like his tone so much. I was really glad to see, as well, that he uses an acoustic in much the same way I do (from time to time in his case).

Check out his Meltdown Concert "David Gilmour in Concert" DVD acoustic shows and you'll hear all kinds of range and tone coming from his acoustics - he's using his same pedal array as for his electrics. So, if it's alright for Mr. G ... then I think it surely will do for me.

I've updated to be current as of January 1, 2011 and hope to add a video of the set up this year (but I said the same thing last year).

Here are the guts of my rack (band thing in a box) in case anyone in webland has an interest in that kind of thing. I'll offer some reviews of the pedals I tried someday ... just in case you are looking to find the holy grail of pedals.

Right now I'm very high on the Jangle Box, BOSS Bassman and Classic reverb legend units and the MXR "original script" Phase 90 units. Can't beat these!

And I mention a "VOX small amplug-" really meant for silent headphone use for electrics. It works incredibly well as a distortion unit going through my system. You do have to adapt a mini plug to a phone plug to pull this off.

How else to describe the "thing" but a "rack" or a "band thing in a box"?

It's really a two part array going through a desk mixer to the house board. And, it's gotten really complicated to get it all together.

I have tried all-in-one pedals but have yet to find something that gives the sounds as well as the separates. (Though I may use a small Zoom all in one for part of the electric rig from time-to-time.)

I confess, lately, I've also been going without pedals at all. I don't mind that for a couple of songs at an open stage or two. The addition of a second Digitech VL 4 has really made a light kit to travel with. But, now that I also use a Harmony G, I am conflicted a bit. I wish I had a bit more control over the guitar tone but I'm balancing this with the portability factor.

I realize in writing all of this out, that it's not that easy to explain it. I will be tweaking this information a lot probably over time to get it as clear as possible.

This whole rack thing is one claim to fame I actually have around these parts. Of course, some folks think it's all too much and really silly. So be it ... but for all you pedal heads ... read on! 

This is a bit of a work in progress from a transfer of an old web site ... bear with us ... it's just a huge thing to define wel!

Early version of the Band Thing in a Box

Array as of November 2008 (not much has changed since then): Lots more evolution from the changes of two years ago (from the set up time and problems experienced at the Sick Kids benefit show and December Variety Nights):

Most notable is the purchase of the Harmony G harmonizer coming after the purchase of VL Pro unit (and then getting rid of it 3 months later). I just couldn't get the Pro to match the success of the VL 4 which returns to the Band in a Box.

I abandoned the wireless units and TC Helicon vocalist unit some time ago now. The Helicon proved too cumbersome and unreliable on the road ... the Samson AP1 wireless is just not sophisticated enough to work trouble free - especially in downtown Toronto. But, I note the Harmony G unit by TC Helicon is a major success. The doubling effect is fantastic and putting it side by side with VL4 gives an impression of two distinct harmony singers. For my main acoustic, the J160-E, I go with two lead wires coming from my guitar (two outputs at the guitar) and into the "rack".

Getting to the inside the case:
An under saddle mic for clean signal goes to a Korg rack tuner to Fishman DI - all inside the actual case or Band Thing in a Box. I dropped the use of compression just before the DI. Didn't really need it I felt at this time. May go back at some point.
The tuner output of this DI goes to the Harmony G and to the DigiTech Vocalist Live VL 4 harmonizer - guitar in. I split this signal to allow two feeds for clean sound. I do not run the guitar thru from the DigiTech to anything else but, rather, take the tweaked feed from the Fishman DI to an MXR smart gate and then to an ALTO mixer also inside the case. I can also run this signal to our Whiner board (Mackie 1642 VLZ 3) for full band use and control over everything. It depends on who is doing sound - us or "them".

This basically provides a real pure (tuner output) signal to the VL and Harmony G and an augmented dry signal to the mixer. Augmented in the sense that I can add some bass and deal with feedback rejection tools on the Fishman DI for the mixer feed.

I abandoned the Behringer Acoustic DI and BBE Sonic Stomp altogether from previous incarnations. I did return to the BOSS CE 2 Chorus but it is now a part of the acoustic wet signal.

I also have a Behringer EFX Virtualizer Pro unit for Reverb that I send to my ALTO mixer (or directly to the larger Mackie mixer I have when playing with the full band) - this runs as a separate EFX feed into whatever pot needs reverb (often the whole band's mics use this feed).

NOTES: I got rid of the BBE Sonic Stomp (sonic maximizer units as superfluous and adding noise). The BBE folks suggested putting this at the end of the chain but I found both worked better where I placed them. I decided to simplify however and dropped using these units. The sound is really good enough without them and they tended to make the overall sound "boxy". I think they have a place when you use less other pedals to colour your sounds.

Second feed and the pedal board:
I now go from the J 160 P-100 pick up to a Radial Tonebone pick up "dragster" (load corrects the pick up) inside the case and then out to a Presonus Tube Pre - gives a tube sound to the second (and separate from the suitcase) pedal board (down to just this second piece now instead of original three piece set up of long ago). Here's the order:

(I replaced the MXR Micro Amp Boost with the current tube pre) From the Band in the Box the signal goes to a BOSS Tremolo T2, BOSS CE2 Chorus, MXR auto Q, Washburn Distortion unit (I replaced the Tech 21 Classic Sans Amp unit with an old Washburn smaller sized pedal I found in a used store - the Washburn has just a bit better tone with the acoustic but the Sans Amp is a fine pedal), MXR original script Phase 90 (and one of my all time favourite pedals). The BOSS legend Bassman unit and the classic 65 reverb BOSS pedals were removed for the time being through lack of space. Both of these pedals are great though and work well for tone - I wish I had room as it gives some extra tone differences when desired. The signal then goes back from this board to inside the suitcase again to a Dan Electro Dan Echo unit and then ...

... to an Electro Harmonix hum debugger to an MXR Smart Gate noise reduction out to the mixer. The hum debugger (inside the Band in a Box) does colour the sound a tad but I can't stand the hum off the P-100 and it does get rid of it.

The Electro people recommend putting this at the start of the chain but it doesn't nail all of the hum that way. I now have a quiet signal. 
The clean signal goes form the Fishman to an MXR noise Gate and to an Electroharmonix Hum Debugger and into the board feed. This keeps thinkgs quiet. Note also that I have had to split the clean signal from the acoustic with the clean signal formthe electric to get into the Fishman DI. I need clean to get inot the harmonizers I talk about later. Complicated but I haven't found the splits reduce my tone at all. It should but doesn't seem to be a problem.

There are also two expression pedals at the right side of the floor pedal board - one for echo control and the other for harmony control of the VL 4 Harmonizer and Harmony G units.

The Harmony G has a split for the clean and wet harmony. The clean is split further so one signal can go to the VL (which needs a clean signal) and the other to the Board.

The wet goes to the pedal control (it's a stereo pedal with the other out taking the feed from the VL 4 for harmony on control) with the out going to the Alto board inside the Box.

The outputs from the Alto (this has the VL 4 feed coming out as well as the looper and Shadow Box feeds) to the Mackie board. I do add another Debugger to the signals left and right coming out of the Alto to reduce residual hum. Particularly useful to keep things absolutely quiet.

I mentioned the Shadow Box - this is a foot stomper to keep the beat taping along while playing - an excellent add on.


All of the feeds from the separate board I've been describing are attached with the guitar feeds to the Band in a Box case and carefully wound together inside a plastic shielding so there is only one "wire", in effect, between the case and the pedal board.

Stereo mix:
If I want a stereo mix of signals, I can adjust this at the small mixer or by going into what I call my main mixer, the (upgraded in January) Mackie mixer.  The Alesis Fire wire job proved to be bad for distortion so out it went. I also have another Behringer mixer for smaller shows that makes transport easier (the Mackie is pretty large).

The "small" ALTO mixer is inside the box itself and I can, if I want to, separate the guitar signal from here and go to my Mackie or another smaller mixer (like the Behringer) for a better control of the actual mix while playing live. Dah, I've only mentioned this a few times already - sorry about that - did I say I can use either mixer.


Given that most clubs and venues do not run stereo it is easier to control everything in mono and by myself. This worked really well at my November 8 Cafe Taste outing and, really for the first time, the whole thing was totally problem free in every sense! Also the February 9 set used the small (a Behringer 4 input job at the time but now a 10 input version) mixer to great advantage.

I was able to control my feed right atop the Band Thing in a Box - similar to when we go out as the band using the Mackie - but not quite as "gangly" looking at the top of the actual case.


I use the mixers at the top of the box as my own "house board".  In all cases they represent my control when I play out live - I can feed the sound guy one out and have control over everything myself. But, by now, you must know this eh?

The Microphone and harmonizer
My microphone signal now goes through a Harmony G and split as described earlier to the VL 4 and to the board. This way I can put the VL4 as a left harmony, the clean in the centre and the Harmony G as a right harmony. I love it! I used to use a pitch shifter in the early days but the Harmony units do a much better job. I also take a vocal feed from the line outs of the DigiTech VL 4 to a BOSS volume pedal on the second pedal board - this goes through to a separate BOSS D2 echo unit and to an MXR 7 band EQ to an MXR smart gate and, finally, to a BOSS noise gate to a pot on the ALTO mixer for my echo (this goes further than using the aux out on the vocal mix to feed the echo - I used to split the mic signal at the mic ... there was too much hum from the split).

More on the volume pedal:
With the volume pedal controlling the echo on vocals, I can sing over an echo, for example, without the sing over being echoed.  The TC Helicon vocalizer and DigiTech VL 4 and Pro (not the DigiTech VL 2) do allow you to bring on/off the harmony with a pedal.  Both the Harmony G and the VL 4 have the ability to add delay as well but I can't change settings on the fly, so I'm keeping an "echo on" volume pedal for those songs that need it (Comfortably Numb for one).


I used to pad the volume pedal for the VL 4 because the DigiTech folks chose to make it a separate-and-over-ride volume control for their unit. That means, if I toe down full, I get way too much harmony level. The pad prevented the over-level. This wasn't an issue with the Pro unit and one of the reasons I decided to buy it but the rest of the settings weren't good by my view. 

In this sense it was similar to some of the issues on the TC Helicon unit - too much processing - really, with the VL 4 and Harmony G it's less is more (though, truthfully, they could fix a few issues such as the toe down as full volume and add a midi). I digress .... "

The DigiTech VL sits atop my power conditioner in the Box itself. There is no midi available for the VL 4 and the only thing I worry about is upgrades to the unit won't be assignable as with the Helicon. The VL Pro does have midi so solves that issue for this model but it ain't perfect either. So we hold with the VL 4 and Harmony G.

I don't want to have to purchase a new VL 4 every year or so as advances are made. A lot of people reviewing the unit are noting the absence of a midi in/out. The same is true of the Harmony G, Though I don't feel the need for live performance, I am concerned about upgrades to the programming. I don't see how a user could do it without taking it to a shop and paying for the process.

There may be a way to do so that is just not known yet since it has only came onto the market in Fall 2007.


You can read about the VL4 and Pro at the Harmony Central Forum Reviews  pages. The Harmony G is also mentioned there.

Electric feed:
Note: All this has changed in late 2010 - basically I use a small Beringer mixer with the signal split dry and dirty - still use the amplug for distortion going through a BOSS line selector so I can disengage the dirty and stay all clean via my foot; but, with the mixer, I can add the looper and better balance out the dry and wet.  For history, here is what I had before ...

I wanted to be able to use my electrics in a road show set up and couldn't afford more stage space for the effects there. I use a VOX amplug ($40) for distortion effects and want to have a split signal of clean and wet. So, I placed another BOSS T2 tuner beside the acoustic tuner in the separate Band in a Box floor board. The signal goes from here to a BOSS A/B pedal with the clean signal at the outputside going to the Fishman DI (the signal is split hosting the signal from the acoustic clean feed and the electric clean feed).

The B side fromt he A/B pedal is where I plug in the VOX amplug. The output from this is a mini jack so I have to adapt up to a 1/4 plug. This signal goes to an MXR noise gate but I haven't had to add another Electroharmonix Debugger unit here. Sound is quiet enough from the noise gate itself.

I am able to mix clean and wet by having separate outs to the board. Note, the clean is the same input from both the acoustic and the electric so I use the volume at the BOSS A/B pedal to match signal levels of the acoustic and electric. This means I can set the level for the clean sound at the same spot and not have to worry when I change guitars back and forth. There are separate mixer inputs for the acoustic dirty and the electric dirty sounds.

It sounds complicated but works really well and gives great control over the tone. That's what it is all about.

A couple of years ago (and finally) BOSS made a pedal board sized digital looper that I now use instead of the old cassette arrangement. This has lots of time on it and I can control the tracks setting with a FS-5L foot switch.

The power for all of the stomp boxes comes from inside the case itself.

All the effects pedals and the desk mixer get power through one surge protected unit. In all, I have the one AC power plug out for power to the guts of the rack, the line out from the Radial Tonebone pick up "dragster" and line in and out from the echo and VL4 harmony volume level pedals.

Not too unwieldy actually.

The DigiTech VL 4 uses 9 volts but has a proprietary plug-in for power as does the Harmony G, so it can't be part of the main daisy chain for AC. This is unfortunate since it means yet another few warts inside the box AC.

As mentioned, all of these lines are carefully wound together so it comes in and out as one large group of wires bound together rather than several wires scattered around. Very neat actually ... I use old curly chords to wrap around these separate wires. Holds things together very nicely.

Packing up means closing off the separate pedal board with its zip cover and shoving the wires back into the case.

I don't have to zip the main box case up all the way (so the wires have a spot to come out of the case). The second board lays on top of the actual large case and all gets wheeled out back to the car.

Leaner show = a leaner board I would make up special for the show or no board at all.

This arrangement will usually have the looper and just not as much stuff or the desk mixer. I used to use the TC Helicon as a mixer and still send one wire to the house. I now use a second VL 4 with the VOX amplug (40 bucks) distortion going into the CD "in" of the VL 4. The dirty sound gets mixed with the clean (I can control volume of it at the amplug). The only thing I miss here is one "Police-like (andy Summer) sound I had form the Zoom. If we want that I'd bring back the Zoom and route it through the CD "in" as well.

Keith's older electric rig - not really in play now
I also have a DigiTech VL 2 unit that forces two feeds (vocals and guitar) and keep that as a back up. I haven't decided how to integrate the Harmony G as it is inside the Band Thing in the Box and I hate removing and having to put back inside again later. Having the second VL4 for quick gigs does allow me to match harmony vocals so they are the same when I use the full Band Thing in a Box or just the small rig.

For the record:
The old electric rig worked well. It had the signal going through a Jangle Box to a BOSS T2 tuner to a BOSS C3 compressor (this is the modified version - by MohoMods - to give more output and it really does) the DigiTech VL2 and thru to a ROLLS small mixer (I actually split this into two signals to the mixer). A further split started at the tuner where another signal went to the ZOOM effects unit. That went into the ROLLS directly. My effects then went to the ROLLS directly as well. I could control the amount of wet to dry by the volume control at the ZOOM G1 unit. I haven't used this set up for a while since getting the VOX amplug.

I do note the split and eventual mix-back of the wet and dry signals is a key to getting great tone! I really recommend this approach for any one wanting to get into effects. The effects on their own suck tone badly and you really need to keep some dry sound around to allow some of the original tone to shine through. The VL 4 having this CD input is a neat find since I can go out with a really light rig now.

And that my friends is about it. Oh baby! But you still have to read "what it all means".

What's it all mean?
 All this means is I can finally adjust my levels myself to vary the balance between clean and dirty guitar signals and also clean and harmony vocals. I came to this after so many shows relying on sound people who'd rather party than do sound.

If you play live without your own buddy at the controls, you know what I mean!

I also have wind chimes and a tambourine laid out at floor level, so I can kick and stomp them to add some percussion. It's really a band thing in a box! That would be for when I have a really long set time and can go all out.

12 Set Ups

This is now the 12th incarnation of the Band Thing in a Box posted since I began the website in 2005.

I've experimented with many, many pedals to arrive at this. The ones in current use seem to do the best job of it. The CP2 vs. the CP3 from BOSS for one example, sound better with my acoustics than the electric. But the extra tone control on the CP3 is helpful so I settled on that for a time and use it for Jamie's slide work for recording.

Bottom line, it pays to try them all out and see how it goes. I had to search to find the older BOSS "2" units for chorus and compression and echo. All of these generally are better than later units in my eyes (and ears).

The modified CP3 (MohoMods) does sound fine, however, with the small rack. Go figure? Also you should note the use of noise gates. The MXR far outperforms the BOSS versions of noise gates. WIth so much going on it is hard to get a quiet signal but the gates do work to keep things under control quite well. I am using both BOSS and MXR units for my echo vocal needs where I really need some quiet.

The big difference from the very first version of the Band Thing in a Box is the abandoning of the old cassette and lav mic for my tape effects. As well, replacing the TC Helicon vocalizer with the DigiTech's VL2 and VL4 and Pro and back to the VL 4 and then adding the Harmony G along with the VL - quite a trail indeed.

Of course, the wireless mic situation (abandon) is another change. I will be very reluctant to go wireless again! 

A footnote here around the TC Helicon. The unit was new as of mid-December 2006. It broke down twice with power up issues. Repairs were made under warranty but I'm a funny guy when it comes to things like this. I got rid of it and will never return to that product. Buyer be ware. Same caution for the VL Pro unit - it is not road worthy in my view though there are people on the Harmony Central forum who disagree with me on this very point.

NOTE: I've ben very happy with the TC Harmony G unit and I think it legitimizes my theory that "less is more" - when you cram too much into it a la Digitech Pro or the elaborate TC Helicon units - well it just isn't a success.

When the Whiners play out as a band, I use the Band Thing in a Box for my effects of course but also bring out my own mixer to control all our mix.