A few years ago I made a tectonic-sized shift away from the classic guitar-pedals-amp setup and bought a Kemper profiling amp. It turned out to be one of the best gear purchases I’ve ever made and it continues to delight me every time I play it. It has worked particularly well both for recording and when I play with a classic-rock cover band where I really like to recreate the original sounds as much as possible.
But in the past year or so I’ve started playing more jazz. At first I took on the self-imposed constraint of playing with a complete straight-up setup: guitar into amp (okay, there was a volume pedal in there).
This worked pretty well for a while as it really made me focus on getting as much expression as I could with a very small toolbox. But now that experiment has run its course and I wanted to dabble with a broader sonic spectrum. Since I’m no jazz traditionalist I have no problem with busting out a super-strat and some pedals while still playing something people might recognize as being akin to jazz.
To that end, I decided it was time to build a pedal board again. This time, rather than just being a rag-tag collection of whatever orphaned pedals I could get my hands on, I wanted to put together a purpose-built pedal board. I don’t need this to do everything—in many ways I still want to embrace the constraints of a limited set of options. But I do want to have more than just one sound.
So I started by thinking about what I wanted and after some noodling it came down to this:
- Some kind of over driver, for a little “funk” a la John Scofield
- Some kind of modern, fusion-y distortion (not the brown sound)
- Some kind of chorus to go between Andy Summers shimmer and the Scofield “gargling gnome”
- Some kind of delay/echo
- Some kind of compression
After some poking around, I settled on a Nux Cerberus multi-effects unit, which covers the first four items. I was originally looking at the Tech 21 Fly Rigs as I really liked the form-factor, but stumbled across the Cerberus. So I ordered one (with the comfort of free returns) and upon arrival took an immediate liking to it.
The only thing I was missing was a compressor pedal. So I went down to my local guitar store and spent about an hour noodling around with about five different compressors, finally settling on the Keely, which had the best over all sound and range.
Throw in an actual board to mount the pedals and a minimal amount of George El connectors and cable and voilà — a brand new pedal board!
I was able to just fit these pedals on the board. The EQ pedal was one I had lying around and is really only meant as small tweak to adjust for different rooms that amp controls don’t adequately handle.
Unlike the Kemper, I don’t have any pre-programmed patches. I basically use the Cerberus in “manual mode”, treating each section like a normal pedal with knob-tweaking as necessary. The net-result is exactly what I was looking for: an expansion of the sonic palate in a compact form.
I wasn’t sure how it was going to be received. At one point in the first rehearsal I used this in one of the sax players said, “whoah, Mike Stern is in the house!” Luckily, another member of the group emailed me the next day commenting on how much he liked the new sound. Man, you can’t beat that.