The FX-Loop

Stompboxes are also popular with synthesizers, but in smaller quantities, as with guitarists, since synthesizers already have filters, waveshaper, etc. With the effect boxes, however, exciting colors and a clear individualization of the instrumental sound can be achieved.

My basic setup is organized as a mini pedalboard. The pedals create a desired contrast with the synthesizer.

These are not "attached" effects - the pedalboard sits in the aux-channel of the synthesizer. So the sounds go back to the synthesizer first - and will need a VCA or LPG before they are released to Amp and Speaker. My board has Boost, Overdrive, Fuzz, Phaser, Delay and Reverb.

For a long time I tried my old stompboxes without success. Then I came across a Lehle Looper. That has changed everything. What also pleases me very much, is that I can now switch the setup via MIDI.

I have mono devices in my setup deliberately, because the pedalboard sits as a mono FX-Aux in the Matrix Mixer of my Buchla Electric Music Box.


Lehle D.Loop

The heart of my pedalboard is the Lehle D.Loop-SGoS. It is not an "audio looper" (sampler), but "send / return paths" are also referred to as "loop". The D.Loop has a lot more on it! It has a buffer, which can also be used as booster (up to + 12dB). Also, the D.Loop-SGoS is equipped with MIDI, so the switching is sent, or - for me a blessing - the switching states (presets) can be recalled via MIDI. It processes Mono (balanced or unbalanced) and Stereo (unbalanced).

The D.Loop is switched via relays and, in order to ensure that everything is clean and crisp, the signal is muted (in ms range - which can not be heard) when switched, before the output is sent in the new configuration. I measured it once: for not swallowing any MIDI messages, there should be 75ms between the MIDI PGM change commands. For me this is fast enough!

Lehle Boxes are little masterpieces! You can feel it immediately, even if one belongs to the technically unaware! The whole, modular concept quickly makes it clear that everything has been thought through and the implementation was uncompromising. The box accepts mono (bal./unbal.) or stereo (unbal) signals - even CV signals can be routed.

Presets can be easily stored in/on the D.Loop - the operation is simple and intuitive. Three presets can be recalled on the device itself (3 buttons). Up to 3 Lehle Boxes can be connected and all buttons can be used as program buttons. In the case of two of these boxes, then 6, with three boxes, 9 presets can be recalled via buttons. The buttons can send either Pgm 11-13, 14-16 or 17-19. Via MIDI, however, all eight possible switching states (of one D.Loop) can be stored and recalled. For example, If e.g. Pgm 1-8 are stored in the software, the boxes still can have their own three configurations (on Pgm 11-19).

    In order to enable bidirectional MIDI communication via TRS cable, Lehle uses a trick: Lehle-Boxes are always in "receive mode". A "PGM-Send" is triggered only by pressing a switch. To extend this bidirectionality to my Max patches, I made a dangerous-looking (and only for this application to use) cable, so that the menu in Max (with all 8 switch positions) will be updated to the current position if a switch is pressed on the D.Loop.

    The switching of the relays is clearly audible/perceptible. Technology-affine people will like this, because it is an indication of the high quality inner life of the box, but for quiet chamber music, e.g. violin and live electronics, it might be a hindrance. However, with such quiet music normally no distortion is used and therefore this problem is rather "very relative".


    A Buffer is probably rare in synths, but the Buffer of the Lehle D.Loop can also be used as a Booster - and this creates a very fine, harmonic distortion. Especially before the good, but still "somewhat lifeless" digital delay or reverb boxes this makes the difference! Suddenly these boxes sound like 1965 and they get character! But totally controlled - not by chance and also completely without noise! This brings a massive appreciation, at least from my perception.

    Because the Booster position is very "fine-tuned" in most cases, the flat-shaped potentiometer is ideal because it does not move as easily as a potentiometer cap - it is more like a trimmer that is turned manually ( instead of a screwdriver).

Such a (good) Booster seems to be the most appropriate choice to move Delays and Reverbs into your own sound. The maximum Boost of "only" 12dB does not bother me, since the (synth-) signal is already quite loud - I use about 3-5 dB Boost maximum. Especially with Stompboxes, I don't see any reason to invest in extremely expensive equipment, which are available undoubtedly and in large numbers. Nevertheless, my Pedalboard should burn! For me, the D.Loop makes it possible!

Since I have the Lehle D.Loop, I am also really happy with my TC Electronic Boxes, because I can now boost and tweak the signal. Suddenly it sounds "just right" in my ears. Previously, I had the stompboxes sitting right in the synth. It was ok, but iI wasn't happy. It was easy to clean and a little boring. With the Booster the FX sound gets its own coloring and contrast so much better in the overall sound picture!


tc electronic Flashback-Mini

The trigger for the return of pedals was the Flashback Mini from TC Electronic - I wanted a reverse delay in the synth - before the sound goes into the audio interface.

These small TC Electronic "Mini" boxes are very amazing. Qualitatively without compromising the larger variants, they are at the height of time. On the side is a mini-USB input and the devices really allow a lot of settings via the corresponding editor too! The various settings can then be saved as presets.

Whether or, how the presets are dumped over USB during playing, I haven't tried so far, but will do it soon.

For me, this delay is absolutely sufficient and I have no need for bigger, or more expensive pedals. More complex Delays I realize with Max/MSP and the computer.


tc electronic HOF-Mini

What would all the effects be without reverb?! After the positive start with the Flashback Mini I ordered the HOF (Hall Of Fame) Reverb - also a "Mini" from TC Electronic. Also astonishingly good! Without booster roughening maybe a little dull - too clean. For me the discovery of the boost-effect in the Lehle D.Loop was a relief. There was the "old" Hall sound I was looking for.

This is the "TonePrint" editor for the TC pedals. Depending on the pedal, different parameters can be seen - and there are a lot!

What I really appreciate: there are also multiple assignments for the hardware potentiometers - e.g. "Kill Dry" for the Max. Position of the controller - great thought and really practical!


Zvex Channel 2

Finally an overdrive pedal, which I like (very good for synths). The Channel 2 of ZVEX! Very "warm" oversteering. Often, behind the synthesizer, you can hardly distinguish overdrive and distortion, because the effects are simply destroyed by the (too loud) line signal at the input.

Channel 2 can counteract this problem by closing the volume. Actually, I had no problem with the Fuzz (s.u.) without the channel 2, but by the extreme downsizing of the volume, "more" can be extracted from the Fuzz - that is, still more broken sounds. Perfect.

That's why I like the Channel 2 before the Fuzz - not to overdrive, but to possibly reduce the volume! Fuzz and Overdrive are in the same FX loop because I almost never need both pedals for distortion at the same time. The sound of the Overdrive is warm. It slightly reduces the frequency spectrum and produces a mid-rise. With the synth, it's a bit angry.

The problem of outgoing line levels is that if it is to be as quiet as it should be, you can turn the volume-knob (of a synth) only a few millimeters before the synth before the signal is distorted. That is, such a thing would not even work as an emergency solution! Channel 2 now has half the control path of the volume (7-12am) and the synthesizer does not have to be adjusted at all. If volume and gain are set to "0", there is no signal through Channel 2. So it is just a real "channel".


Zvex Fuzzolo

With this kind of distortion, the probably most sensitive point is reached, because there are sound overlaps with the synth (waveshaping/rectifying) and there are far more Fuzz pedals than possible Fuzz tastes. Everything is based on two basic Fuzz types: silicon and germanium. This is a Silicon Fuzz.

It is from Fuzz mega specialist ZVEX and is called Fuzzolo. Not only does it fit perfectly with the size of my mini pedalboard - the sound also corresponds to what I expect from the Fuzz.

A fuzz transforms the incoming sound into rectangular waves, but not as elegant as a (mirrored) waveshaper, but rather brutally. With the Pulse Width knob (right), it has a modulator that can be used to compress the square wave so that the positive and negative parts of the sound ("up and down") are no longer equal. At maximum setting this can go into phase cancellation, which then acts as a gate. The sound dies, breaks or is torn off. A beautiful destruction!

The fact that the Fuzzolo works better with the synth than other Fuzz pedals is mainly due to the fact that a jumper sits inside the pedal, which can be implemented to work with the values of active pickups, which also suits the Synthesizer very much better.

The common problem between Synth and Fuzz is the input impedance of the Fuzz, which is mostly set to passive pickups. With this setting the incoming level of the Synth is much too high.

Fuzz sounds particularly good (destructive) 1. at the beginning of a device chain - 2. when the current is "not quite enough" (about 7V) or/and the signal is as low as possible. Guitarists like to play the Fuzz over the volume control on the guitar. This is not quite as good as with Synths - but with the Channel 2 the volume can be adjusted very well.

I already had many Fuzz pedals (EHX Graphic Fuzz, Flying Tomato Fuzz, Spaghetti Western Fuzz and various Clones). Many pedals, that sound fantastic with guitars, were, however, with E-Piano, as well as with Synth, absolutely unsatisfactory! Fuzz on the Piano or Synth is a completely different construction site and good/famous Fuzzes do not necessarily sound well at the Synth. While Fuzz is more "evil" on the guitar, on the Synth it's rather "broken".


tc electronic Helix

Especially because the Toneprint Editor settings (Vol. etc.) facilitate the cooperation of Synth and Effectboxes considerably, I have selected another device from TC Electronics. The other reason was the Feedback control - which can only be found on a few stompboxes and allows much more "live electronics" sound. The Helix also fulfills my wishes - it is extremely versatile and perfectly compatible with the Fuzz.

I would have also taken the Helix Phaser as a "Mini" device (in mono) - but there is none. Maybe not that bad, because some Phaser effects only "work" in Stereo and can be realized this box too.

It is really amazing how great the TC effect pedals are built - very "valuable", without any negative points - the concept behind the TonePrint pedals looks well thought-out and well-engineered.

That I have a Phaser-Box despite my Phaser-Module (MOTM), is because the Phaser behind the Overdrive and especially before a Fuzz sounds unique. Metal guitarists (I think) like to work with this combination.

The conspicuous "cleanness" of the TC devices is taken away extremely well by the Booster in the Lehle D.Loop. So the Stompboxes simply sound a bit more like Stompbox and they are also refined! Really very convincing. For me this is almost the most surprising finding of this whole pedalboard adventure.


T-Rex Fuel Tank Junior

I would not have thought that the connections (5) would go out - nevertheless the T-Rex Fuel Tank Junior Multi-Power Supply is still in the case, because it is so small and practical.

It provides five isolated 9V outputs with up to 120mA per port. So I feed the 5 effects that all sound very good. No hum, etc. perceptible.

Since the Lehle D.Loop (with the relays) needs 195mA, I operate it with a stronger standard Power Supply and 12V (see second case picture below). For me, it is still more practical and cheaper than other, equally good multi-power supplies. They sould have at least 6 connections, one of which must provide between 12 and 18V. Most of them would neither fit into my small pedalcase.



Because I like it so much and because the MIDI situation with the D.Loop is "unique" (MIDI short cable): for the pedalboard I have added an extra mini MIDI interface: the MIDIFACE II THRU 1x1.

Since the interior of the Pedalboard is completely consumed by all the cables, the MIDI interface (with Velcro tape) fits perfectly to the rear part. It is only removed for transport (to fit the cover).

It was the only interface in the form of a box, that I could find - I come across this because there are two MIDI connectors comming out of the case. For other MIDI interfaces, I need the two w/w gender changers (see picture) to connect the male MIDI connectors. With the small MIDIFACE II it is, with a USB cable in the desired length, the most practical way.



Pedalboards also want to be transported. My case is a cheap box from the hardware store (the wood is conspicuously bad). The lid serves as a pedalboard and the crate as a lid. Perfect.

I painted it black and equipped it with hanger hinges, locks and handle. Everything is very small and absolutely bordered. There are Power Supply, Power cables, Audio Input cable and MIDI cables inside.

The Audio-In cable must be there, because it is hidden in the D.Loop and can not be easily inserted and unplugged. The D.Loop (heavy) is screwed - the rest is fixed with Velcro.