Four on the Floor

Andy is a friend from work who also plays guitar. We were talking about a podcast where the host asks each guitarist guest a question: “What four pedals are on your board right now?” The idea, I think, is to find out what four effects pedals are most important to their sound.

Andy has sent me a few audio clips of him playing through four of his pedals. It’s super cool, and it gave me an idea.

I wrote a tiny JavaScript function that randomly chooses four of my pedals, and displays the list on a web page. Here’s an actual example:

I hooked up these four pedals and made some sound. While this combination works really well together, I’m not sure I’d have put this together without this program. I’m going to use it for a week or so, and see what happens. I predict I’ll discover a lot of useful combinations I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen.

The program itself is very simple, and only checks to see that it hasn’t chosen the same pedal twice. I get decide the order of the pedals in the signal chain. One pitfall is that it may suggest truly unusable combinations – perhaps four distortion pedals (I have four distortion pedals). Maybe that would be cool for a second, too.

Next, it occurred to me that I might want split the signal at at the top of the chain with a signal blender. I like to record stuff as I go, and lately I’ve become interested in the idea of re-amping the signal. To do that, I need to record the dry signal directly from the instrument (an instrument might be a guitar, bass, tape deck, my iPhone, drums, some keyboard, thoughts transmitted directly to the pedal board, etc.). I also sometimes transcribe guitar parts so that I can recreate it in MIDI, and having a clean signal makes it easier.

So, the signal blender sends one channel to the pedal board, and the other channel straight to the direct box. The direct box sends the pair of signals to my computer, and both are recorded into Ableton Live on their own tracks.

I can also envision adding a looper after the pedal board, on rare occasions. I use loopers extensively, and they can record/save loops. Making loops in this step of the chain could be helpful. But, it’s not actually part of Four on the Floor.

Future iterations might include a switch that modifies the number of pedals: Two, Three, Four. I think more than four will lead to endless noodling, which is what I often do. For now, four seems like an ideal number. I could pre-sort the pedals into categories, to avoid having four distortion pedals show up, or four reverbs, etc. I think this might crimp some happy accidents from happening, so I probably won’t. Finally, I can see adding a way for other people to use this function. My pedal inventory is contained in a hard coded array, so I’ll have to make an easy way for others to add their own inventories.

I think this is an interesting little device. I like the constraints. I’m going to spend the next few months kicking this around.