Last year, i set up a near-perfect pedalboard with all my favorite analog stompboxes. I say “near perfect” because the massive board turned out to be bigger than most of the stages I was standing upon, and I hate being cramped when I play. Of course, there are some excellent integrated pedalboards available from Boss, DigiTech, Rocktron, Vox, Zoom, and others–and I’ve used most of them with stellar results–but I wanted to try something a little different at a recent opening slot for Beck’s half-sister, Alyssa Suede, at San Francisco’s Beale Street.
Line 6 must have been reading my mind (hey, get outta there!). The company’s M13 Stompbox Modeler ($699 retail/S499 street) looks like an expensive custom pedalboard, but its footprint is smaller than even a Wii Fit floor controller. The true-bypass multieffects unit includes 86 different stompbox models, a 28-second looper, tap tempo, an onboard tuner, MIDI In/Out, two expression-pedal inputs, an assignable effects loop, and 1/4″ stereo I/O.
In addition, Roktron’s compact Utopia series Guitar Wah ($139 retail/S99 street) and Volume/Expression ($109 retail/$79 street) pedals allowed me to incorporate two more of my essential effects into the system without significantly devouring added real estate. Another benefit was portability. I stuffed the M13, its AC power adapter, and all my guitar cables into a conventional messenger bag, and placed the very lightweight Utopia pedals in the front pocket of my guitar’s gig bag (along with the set lists, a roll of gaffer’s tape, and my guitar strap). In fact, my entire rig–a Prestige Musidan hollowbody, an Egnater Rebel-20 head and Rebel-112X cabinet, and the M13/Rocktron setup–was so streamlined that I was plugged in and ready to rock before the preceding band’s drums were offstage, and, after the set, I was packed up and tipping back a cherry cola at the bar within five minutes. Of course, getting your rig on and off stage faster than the Flash means little if the time you’re spending on stage is ruined by crap-sounding gear. Happily, I was a happy camper.
LINE 6 M13
Satisfying my military-bred sense of order, the M13’s effect models are divided into color-coded LEDs that match the finishes on the company’s four Modeler pedals: a green screen designates delays, blue is for modulation, yellow is for distortion/compression, and purple is for filter effects, while the best reverb pedal based on the Verbzilla pedal is illuminated by orange. If you’ve ever accidentally stepped on the wrong pedal in mid gig, and then turned yourself into a spastic buffalo while trying to quickly find and kill the jet flanger, this simple organizational method will keep you off the anxiety meds. You can run up to four effects simultaneously from an easy-to-grok pedalboard arranged into four channels With three different pedal options per channel. Three dual-function switches let you construct effects chains (called Scenes), enter tap tempo, control the looper, call up the tuner, and access system setup options. It’s all your choice whether to run the M13 as a “dumb” board of 12 separate on/off pedals, program it for a series of Scenes with multiple effects, or switch between the two modes. Tweaking on the fly is a gas, because the M13’s auto-save function instantly remembers every parameter adjustment. (If you suffer from buyer’s remorse, you can select manual save.) Everything about this unit is delightfully butt simple–as long as you download the M13 Advanced Guide (line6.com). At press time, the basic manual included with the unit omitted some essential data on programming Scenes and other operations.
Anyone familiar with the Line 6 Modeler series (DL4 Delay, MM4 Modulation, FM4 Filter, and DM4 Distortion) will know the score on the M13’s sonic muscle. Every effect sounds good, and the limited, stompbox-style parameters still offer enough options for refining the basic tones to your taste. Initially, I wasn’t thrilled with the clang-y coldness of some of the distortion sounds–I’d been using some boutique pedals for a while–but when I heard recordings of the gigs I played with the M13, the roar was pretty awesome. The distortions, fuzzes, and overdrives cut right through the band mix and drove rhythm parts and solos with absolutely raging timbres. I wasn’t really a looping guy, but the M13’s easy-to-use looper let me improvise a spacey, layered intro for a song without incident, so now I’m kind of hooked. Throughout ten club gigs, I always found the M13 to be a portable genius box that added to my tonal palette without damning me to programming pressures, sweating over multiple cables and connections, or otherwise making me crazy.
ROCKTRON UTOPIA PEDALS
I’m never without a best volume pedal and a wah, so I was jazzed that the Utopias arrived at the GP offices the same time as the M13, as the light and compact pedals were perfect matches for the uber-portable M13 rig. Of course, there can be a compromise when utilizing lightweight materials, and, in the case of the Utopias, the trade off is pedals that feel a bit squishy. Under fire, however, any wobbles are negligible, and I was always able to perform smooth volume swells and precise wah manipulations.
The expression function of the Volume/Expression mated well with the M13, and, although I didn’t employ this utility at gigs, studio tests confirmed that parameter control was fast and flawless. In addition, the volume function has enough range to be perfect for subtle silence-to-scream swells, pedal-steel effects, and rapid on/off chopping. The Guitar Wah has a wide bandwidth, which makes it easy to perform vocal-esque yowls, low-end burps, old.school funk chicka-chicka, and Mick Ronson-style midrange accents and tone shaping. I’m a long-time fan of some classic wahs, but, in action with a loud rock band, the Guitar Wah sounded as good as any wah I’ve used onstage.