In 2019, everyone is going nuts over their AX-8, their Helix, their Kemper Stage, their Headrush, their That Cute Little Mooer Thing. A rig in a floorboard, who wouldn’t want that, eh? Well once upon a time it wasn’t so easy. I started playing guitar at 8 years old and I’ve been playing long enough and lived long enough to see multi-effect floorboard dealies evolve and grow into what we know them as today. Let me take you back in time, back to an era of…
The first one of these that I was aware of was probably the Ibanez PUE5 Tube.
You think your Helix is so fancypants-special with its gajillion stompbox sims? This bad boy had no sims, just a bunch of stompboxes in the same housing: a Tube Screamer, a Tube Drive which was effectively a 12AX7-driven amp channel with three-band EQ, Drive and Level controls, an external loop, a Digital Delay and a Chorus. Then there was a Bypass switch at the end. You know, for all those times when you just want to hear the straight unaffected sound of your clean-ass solid-state amp, because that’s what people generally plugged these things into. Because not every amp had distortion, and not every amp had GOOD distortion. So if you were in the market for one of these units, you probably did not have a JCM900 that sounded acceptably distorty at bedroom volumes. Maybe you had a Crate with solid state distortion that sounded like playing your guitar through a CB radio.
That wasn’t Ibanez’s only entry into this field though. It wasn’t even their first foray into this world (check out their UE305 Multi Effects, which had Compressor/Limiter, Analog Delay and Stereo Chorus, and the DUE300 Digital with Super Metal distortion, Digital Delay and Digital Stereo Chorus). One of their slightly later products was the PT3 Guitar Powertrio. (There were others in this line too but look, I don’t have time to get into a whole thing here).
The Powertrio was stripped down to simply Overdrive/Distortion (with a tiny little mode switch to choose between the two – that’s right, you had to pick one and stick with it for the whole song! Maybe even the whole gig!), Digital Delay with up to 1024ms of delay, and Chorus with Speed and Width controls. Then the all-important Bypass switch so everyone could dig on your sweet sweet Peavey Bandit clean tone.
If you wanted to really ride the snake, Boss offered the BE-5 Guitar Multiple Effects 5 Special Selected Effects For Guitarists.
Say it with me now:
It had Compressor, Overdrive/Distortion (with a Color knob to vary between Overdrive and Distortion), Digital Delay, an always-on Noise Suppressor, and a Chorus. No global bypass on this one. If you wanted to turn all the effects off so the audience could behold the glory of your Onyx practice amp (Aussies will remember that one), you had to do a tapdance.
Aah but maybe you wanted to get a little more hi-tech. Maybe you wanted a massive Rack Of Doom but didn’t have the bucks, so you plonked down your cash for a Korg A4 instead, which gave you the option of programmable presets AND individual effect selection between Compressor, Distortion/Overdrive, 3-band EQ, Pitch/Delay, Chorus/Flanger and Reverb, along with a weird matrix effect selection thingie and some multi-purpose knobs to dial in your sounds. It also had a Bypass switch so you could blow your audience’s minds with the clean-as-a-bell tones from the sweet solid state no-name keyboard amp your mum got you secondhand for Christmas. Thanks mum. And it got bonus points for looking like Darth Vader.
The A4, I mean. Not your mum.
George Lynch appeared in an ad for it (the A4, I mean). I don’t know for sure if he ever actually used one but he sure looked cool being pasted in alongside one in the photo. Also the solo disc they refer to – Hypnotica Erotica – was ultimately named Sacred Groove and is pretty badass, although the chorus to the song ‘We Don’t Own This World’ takes on a whole different meaning these days due to the way we use the word ‘owned’ – ‘We don’t own this world, we are the ones being owned!’ Haha. Pwned.
Given the way a lot of people used these things back in the day, I don’t know if any of them quite nailed the perfect complement of effects. Give the damn people a damn reverb knob! Even a simple one-knob reverb as part of the delay controls would have really helped in those grim days of solid-state amps with no effects. Now, Chorus… yeah it was the 80s/early 90s so everything had to have Chorus but put the bloody thing before the delay, not after it! Yeesh! Now, I think Ibanez had the right idea with the Tube Screamer and the Tube Drive on the PUE5. That way you could set the Tube Drive up like an amp channel for your dirtyass rhythm tone then stomp on the Tube Screamer for your lead sound.
Incidentally, the first Tube Screamer I ever played was this one.
And tubes were weeeeell and truly out of general use apart from guitar and hi fi amps by the time I was a kid, so as a 12 year old (when I got my first electric guitar and a solid-state Marathon MX-3 amp with only Volume and Tone controls, no distortion at all), I had no idea what a ‘tube’ was in an audio context or why it would be screaming. The closest I could figure what that it made your guitar sound like if you screamed through a length of tube.
I still think that’d be a cool effect.
By the way, I’ve included links to my mate Bart’s site Effects Database as a little surprise favour to him. Go buy pedals through the links on Bart’s site so he can get some commission bucks, okay?