Rules, but of course, Meant to be Broken


When I first started fooling around with guitar, I found myself disappointed with tone. I mean, I loved (and still love) my beat-up little Squier Strat, in all its Fiesta Red Korean funkiness, but I was playing it through the only amp I had, a very good Roland, but, still, a keyboard amp. At least I couldn’t complain about it not being clean.

So I talked to the folks at Portland Music, and they steered me to a Digitech RP50, which was an awful lot of bang for the buck (thank you, Doug). It was only much later, when I’d invested in some more specialized pedals, that I began to realize both the RP50’s versatility and limitations. It basically rolls a whole pedalboard into a compact unit and includes a drum machine.

My mistake was buying a used Boss DD-6 delay, and I suddenly fell in love with the wonders that are effects pedals. Though I could do some cool delays with the RP50, it was nothing like the wide range offered by the Boss, plus its wonderful clarity.

With time, I ended up buying probably more pedals than I needed, but, what the hell, they’re relatively inexpensive used, and they’re fun. But it kind of left the RP50 the odd man out. I still wanted to keep it in the chain as the drum machine come in handy, but where, exactly, should it go? I ended up putting it after the delay and before the reverb, so the delay wouldn’t double or triple the drumbeats, but, as far as using it for guitar effects, it just added mud. I programmed one patch as neutral as possible, and pretty much left it there. (You can bypass it completely, but you can’t use the drums in bypass.)

But…a month or so ago, we had a prematurely springy evening, so I sat out back with the guitar and the RP50, as you can run headphones through it, and it serves as kind of a mini-amp, and I was startled by how cool some of the settings sounded. Really sweet and clear. So I started moving it around in the chain, trying it here, there. Nothing worked, and I was still up against the delay screwing up the drums. And then, on a whim, I put it at the very end of the chain, right before the amp and in front of everything…and it sounded great. This makes no sense at all: common wisdom is that modulation effects, such as flangers and phasers, go before delays and reverbs…but…there it was. And, for some weird reason, it seems to actually enhance the clarity of the more specialized (and expensive) effects before it.

I have no explanation. Whatsoever. I’m just pleased. Maybe, being my first guitar add-on, the RP50 just needed some TLC and wanted to be back in the game. Whatever. It’s where it’s not supposed to be, and it sounds great. And, suddenly, it’s like I just added ten new pedals to the chain.

The inner sound geek is happy. And the RP is home again.

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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