Bells-and-Whistles Vs. Simplicity


In our world of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) stompboxes, the possibilities are limitless. One of the main attractions to DIY effects is that you can add “bells and whistles”, extra controls for all kinds of parameters.  I am a heavy-duty DIY stompbox builder, but ironically, I like to keep things simple.
Here are some of my favorite stompboxes:
  • The Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer compressor, with no controls at all.
  • The MXR Phase 45 phase shifter with one knob.
  • The Ibanez CS9 chorus with just two knobs.
  • The Musitronics Micro V Envelope filter/follower with one knob and one switch.
  • The list goes on…
My experience with chorus pedals is that I’ve tried lots of different chorus pedals almost all of which have more control knobs than the Ibanez CS9, but I can never get the sweet sound of the CS9 with any other chorus.  Even three-knob Ibanez SC10 (very similar to the CS9) chorus pedal, just doesn’t compare to the lush, full sound of the CS9.  Maybe it’s psychological and they really can sound the same, but for whatever reason, I don’t hear it that way.  By the way, yes, I know the EHX Small Clone/Nano Clone beats out the CS9 for simplicity with only one knob control. I like the sound of the Small Clone as well as the CS9!
I usually have no desire to add the extra controls.  When checking out the pro players pedal boards, I’ve noticed that many of the pro’s techs have added markings near the controls where the knobs are supposed to be set.  It’s as if they would be better off if they could just have the stompbox preset to the sound they want, and remove all the controls so that they don’t get accidentally bumped to the wrong setting. Removing controls like this is actually a very good use of DIY stompbox skills.
I’m not putting down pedals with lots of controls or DIY additions of knobs and switches, but sometimes gigging or studio playing begs for simplicity.  It’s enough to focus on playing and staying in tune without thinking of tweaking settings all night long.  Sometimes the extra controls are warranted.  What would the Lovetone Meatball be without all ten of those glorious knobs?  And I do occasionally like to play/tweak/fiddle with the Craig Anderton Phase Shifter in the photo above.  Who knows, I might even add an intensity control to that Phase 45 someday!
I’d like to hear what you think.  If you feel the urge, please comment below.