Pedal Problem

As a music journalist, it is my job to review pedals. No doubt about it, it is a great job. I get to try out dozens of cool pedals each year. These days, it is rare to find one that doesn’t sound good, within the parameters of what it is trying to do. I really have nothing to complain about, but I do have a minor caveat.

Pedal builders are using a wide variety of footswitches. Leaving aside the idiotic argument about true bypass versus buffered for another time, my issue is the varying ways the switches need to be pressed.

switches

Some are “light-touch,” turning on at the slightest press of the foot. These used to be restricted to momentary switches: the kind that turns an effect on when you press on it, but shut off when you lift your foot. They would be used (and still are) for special effects or tap tempo. Now manufacturers are using them for latching switches: where the effect remains on after you lift your foot and shuts off when you press it again.

Next we have the old school latching switches that require a firm press that results in a quick click indicating it is latched. Some manufacturers have replaced these with switches that initially go down easily, mimicking a light-touch switch, but need to be pressed past a firmer détente part-way down to engage. This latter switch has turned up on pedals as both a latching switch and a momentary one. They can be confusing; more than once, I have assumed the pedal should be on because I thought I was dealing with a light-touch switch and never made it past the détente. This is a greater problem for me as a reviewer, as often I will have the pedal up on a table for testing or video purposes and will be pushing with my fingers instead of my foot. Without my weight behind it, it is has been easy to mistake one of these détente switches for a light-touch one and assume the pedal is not working, resulting in some embarrassment.

Now that I am aware of these switches I won’t be making that mistake again, but I am wondering if the lack of switch standardization is a problem for players? In the heat of performance, with all three types of switch on your pedalboard, is there a tendency to stomp too hard on the light-touch variety and/or fail to engage the hard touch or détente versions?

These switches vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, within the same manufacturer’s product line, and even within a single pedal. On my smallest pedalboard http://www.guitarmoderne.com/gear-2/guitar-modernes-ultimate-mini-pedalboard, one pedal has light-touch switches, one has a hard-touch switch and one has both, a hard switch for engaging and a light one for tap tempo.

I posit this to guitarists and anyone else who uses pedals: is this a problem, or just one more thing to learn about our equipment?

 

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7 thoughts on “Pedal Problem

  1. I have a large box stuffed with many pedals from many manufacturers, and there a quite a variety of switches involved with these things. However, for gigging, recording, and touring I stick with a small set of Boss pedals. Not only are they famously reliable, but you can’t miss those large switches even on the darkest stages, and they are pretty quiet when engaged.

  2. I think you get used to the different switches on your board and it becomes an intuitive thing.

    I’ve got a couple of Boss pedals and a couple of heavy clickers that I’m happiest to stomp on. Although both types feel very different I know they are sturdy.

    I’ve got a Marshall compressor with a very flimsy soft touch. I leave it on most of the time for sonic reasons, but I wouldn’t be confident with constant switching either.

    Anyone have a Line 6 M or 4 series? I have an M13 that I love, but the PCB mounted switches do not inspire confidence. I’ve developed a very light touch with it and after a few years, so far so good. Oh yeah, the tap tempo switch squeaks…

    I have one of those funky looking Danelectro (I think it’s a cool drive) OCD clones. It looks cool. It sounds killer. But the ergonomics are awful. It has a super hard click oval switch. I don’t mind this in itself but it’s so low profile that it’s hard to reach in a full pedalboard. And then the rear mounted/facing knobs re awkward to reach and impossible to read without looking behind the pedal. Good think it sounds cool…

    Finally, I use a Boss FC50 to send messages to my iPad looper. I’d especially prefer the tactile feel of firm clicks over the silent switching for this application.

  3. I agree with the sentiment about hard touch switches. i was doing a lot of singer-songwriter accompaniment, with no drums and had to get rid of both a Line 6 MIDI control pedal and a Peterson tuner because the clunk of the pedal was distractingly loud. Also, it is true the soft-touch ones can be tactilely unresponsive. The main point of the post, though, was the confusion when they are mixed on your board. I think if they were all soft touch we could get used to not stomping hard on them, but when in doubt we put the boot in.

  4. This is kind of a complicated issue. Soft-touch switches are, as you sort of touched on, great for pedals that you might want to sit on a table and hit with your hand, suggesting use-case possibilities beyond the standard velcroed-to-a-pedalboard one. This is a good thing! They’re also silent, which is great in non-traditional recording environments or for extremely low volume performances. These switches do require additional visual feedback in my opinion, to replace the tactile feedback of the latching switch. As an example I’d love to see an LED connected to the Havoc switch on Caroline pedals that gets brighter as the sound gets more intense. In a complexly pedal-layered moment it’s hard to remember that there are some settings for which the Havoc switch does very little.
    I get the hate for the hybrid switch… it’s kind of the worst of both worlds. Hard to latch with your hand, and loud when it does, but not responsive enough to just bash with your foot.

  5. I’ve never been a true-bypass fanatic./ If something is that crucial, I’ll put it in a true bypass loop. My main issue is that I sometimes perform with modern dance companies or with live film projections. The mechanical crunch of the foot switch can be very distracting in a quiet or intimate environment. Boss and to a lesser extent Ibanez seemed to have figured this one out decades ago. Boss switches are smooth and mechanically quiet. I infinitely prefer some variation of soft-touch switches. I use high quality buffers (or pedals with same).

  6. It’s a wonder and major annoyance that a lot of manufacturers spend so much time coming up with really exotic effects and then finish the pedal off with hard click switches – almost like an after thought: “Oh, that’s right, we have to turn the thing on and off. Let’s save money and use these crap switches.” Renders their pedal completely useless in any kind of acoustic/ open mic recording or performance situation and especially when looping. Only work around is some fancy, expensive, pedal switching system (or mixer?) where they’re on all the time…..

  7. I feel like I’m going to crush one of my soft-touch switch pedals one day. Stomping is such an ingrained habit.

    And, c’mon, let’s talk about true-bypass. We can get in to sample-rates after that…

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