Several times, people asked me, how to assemble the perfect ambient pedalboard.
For this reason, I would like to sketch my very personal design of my pedalboard for ambient and soundscaping sounds in this article.
My signal chain starts with a compressor that falsifies the signal as less as possible. Regarding an ambient pedalboard, a compressor definitively makes sense, for you will need a long-lasting signal to create soundscapes.
I would recommend for example the Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe because it works sonically almost neutral. But the Diamond CPR1 Compressor, as well as the compact Xotic SP produce very nice results. You can add the uncompressed signal, to get enough string attack. Depending on the chosen compressor type, you can emphasize different aspects of your guitar sound.
Sustain pedals are the perfect tool for ambient pedalboards. I would place a sustain pedal like the Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal, the EHX Freeze or the Superego (EHX as well) directly behind the compressor. The signal, strengthened by the compressor makes sustain pedals work even better. Placing the sustain pedals at this place in the effect chain also allows to add several other effects to the sustained signal.
Harmonizer and octaver
The next pedal in my chain would be a harmonizer and an octaver. Especially the Electro Harmonix POG2 is almost THE standard for ambient pedalboards. By using it, you can create marvelous organ sounds, swell sounds and octaved tones. For those, who like to save some space on the pedalboard, the Micro POG as well as the TC Electronics Sub’N’ Up are pretty recommendable.
Ideally, you place gain pedals behind the harmonizer and octave pedal. Using two gain pedals with a different kind of distortion, makes sense, for you will get a third kind of sound by combining both. You can, for example use a booster and an overdrive pedal to create a boosted sound, an overdriven sound or a more distorted signal by combining both pedals. Mostly, the combination of booster and overdrive is sufficient, to create also distortion sounds.
Behind the gain pedals, I place a volume pedal. If you place the volume pedal before the gain pedals, it will affect the degree of distortion. Behind the gain pedals, the volume pedals work more like the master volume of an overdriven amp and therefore, only controls the volume of the (overdriven) signal. Thus, you can utilize volume swells, which are really important for ambient sounds, with clean sounds as well as with overdriven signals in an optimal way.
One trick ponies
Every ambient pedalboard needs a crazy sound or a pedal that is able to create unexpected soundscapes. The Montreal Assembly Count to 5 is pretty famous for such actions. But the Cooper FX Generation Loss and the Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets are also able to vary the guitar signal in an interesting and surprising way.
Delays and reverb
The fundament of every ambient pedalboard are delays and reverb pedals. Also stacked with pleasure. Therefore, it does no harm to place two or three of these pedals on your board. Thus, you can, for example, combine an analog delay with modulation for a blurred sound with a tape emulation. Everything garnished with a bit reverb and the perfect ambient sound will float to your ears. I would like to recommend the Empress Echosystem for the perfect ambient pedalboard. It is able to create sounds for the classic delay to reverse and pitch delays – means: everything, ambient pedalboard users dream of.
The best place for a looper is at the end of the signal chain, which, from the delay pedals on, loves to become stereo. By combining several layers, you can record soundscapes and add further guitar melodies later. If your looper also provides several storage places, you can save whole setlists and use them whenever you like.
Last but not least
For a pedalboard like this, you will definitively need a good power supply and wiring to avoid besides noise. To me, a loop switcher does not really make sense here. For you will mostly combine several pedals and the transitions within the song will be rather smooth, there will be no need for a multiple switching at the same time. By adding and removing individual effect pedals you can create slow transitions and make the song grow.
And, of course, it does no harm to synchronize the delay pedals with the looper. But this will be the topic of another article…