Tuesday, January 20, 2015

John Popper-like Rig on the "Cheap"

I'd love an Axe FX.  That being said, it is way more than I need.  New, the Axe FX and midi controller like John Popper would run $3,000 new and still require some sort of amp or speaker to run it.  I already own a QSC K10, which would work great, but we're still talking $3,000 and the time it would take to program at home, tweak live, and adjust as needed.  I am not a full time player.  In fact, I am not even gigging right now.  While there are MANY terrific gear options around, I'd like to share what I am using, including pros and cons, and how close it gets to a Poppler-like rig.

I am still messing with the order of pedals, but above is the following:

Lone Wolf HarpBreak
Zoom MS 100bt
Saturn Works Looper
Xotic EP Booster
Strymon Lex Rotary Pedal
Pedaltrain Nano
Visual Sound 1spot Power Supply with daisy chain

New, this rig would run 1/3 of the cost of the Axe, if not even less.  That is still pushing $1,000, though.  While there are cheaper options, this rig works great.  The HarpBreak works like a dirty amp.  The Zoom is used with the looper to create an effects loop I can turn off and on so I can cycle through MANY effects including just about anything JP has ever used.  The EP acts like a clean amp if set up as such, and the Lex is a FANTASTIC rotary pedal.

This rig is a compromise of size and function without sacrificing tone!  It really works well for anything I ever play, and I think it is very easy to tweak.

If you had two Zoom pedals (or a Zoom 70cdr), you could do without the HarpBreak or EP Booster, which would save you close to $200 (I have also used that comb with the 100bt set to go between an EP Booster model and a RC Booster which sounds damn near identical to the HarpBreak).  That is only four pedals and also saves space.

My board didn't cost me $1,000.  I bough everything other than the 1spot and looper used (I got the 100bt new, but on sale).  Here is a breakdown of my costs:

Lone Wolf HarpBreak ($100)
Zoom MS 100bt ($100)
Saturn Works Looper ($25)
Xotic EP Booster ($95)
Strymon Lex Rotary Pedal ($200)
Pedaltrain Nano ($35)
Visual Sound 1spot Power Supply with daisy chain ($40)

While there are many other pedal options, especially in the world of multifx, this rig gives me a level of tone and flexibility the other pedals don't.  For one, I can run my clean, dirty, and rotary on the fly without any planning.  I can also easily tweak them in real time.  Other gear, like the Zoom G3 and Digitech RP360 are harder to adjust in real time and they also require you to cycle through presets or carefully coordinate scenes.  Their rotary tones also really really suck compared to the Lex.  

The Zoom MS 100bt doesn't require an effects loop, but it would have to always be on, which is frustrating when you want to use an effect on a whim.  The loop lets me turn take the 100bt out of the signal path while I cycle presets.  While not as convenient as a full pedal board, it is functional and I don't feel I am giving much up.  The only con is trying to move from one effect to another without audibly cycling.  

I use this setup for everything - acoustic, country, blues, and rock....no issues or complaints from anyone.  I should not that it also easily covers the JP tones with Brother's Keeper.  In addition, you'll note that even when using the 100bt for "amp" tones, I do NOT use the amp models.  I much prefer the Bass Booster and RC Booster, which are models of the Xotic EP Booster (with much more gain and eq options) and RC Booster/BB Preamp.  

While I currently have the EP and HB on my board, it sounds just as good using the Zoom 70CDR for all my effects and the Zoom 100bt in place of the EP and HB.  It is scary how much the 100bt can sound like the EP and HarpBreak.  While this saves space and offers even MORE eq options, I find that I like the ability to place the EP and HB in different parts of the chain than having them in the same position.

For example, I have since switched the EP Booster until the very end of the chain so I have a volume control that won't push any other pedals into clipping.

Depending on YOUR needs, other units and arrangements could work way better.  I really like the tone and cost of the other Zoom pedals and anything Digitech has done with the RP series (and iStomp).  I also love the Tech 21 Sans amps.  There are endless ways to go about a pedalboard - and not really right or wrong ways!


  1. Hi Mike, great to find this site! I disagree that the Digitech RPs don't have a good rotary effect--I love the way it sounds. Talk's cheap, so check out this piece by way of reference: http://www.hunterharp.com/it-takes-a-lot-to-laugh-it-takes-a-train-to-cry/

    Couldn't agree more that "There are endless ways to go about a pedalboard - and not really right or wrong ways!" The gear that makes the sound that inspires you is the gear you want, and we're lucky to have so many great sounds to choose from. Rock on!

  2. I was looking at your posts from way back January 2014, and I thought your rig is already pretty cool. But when I saw this, I was really shocked! You went from a large rig to something minimal. Though your number of pedals diminished, the quality of your stomps now are really awesome. Anyway, it’s nice to know that the pedals are performing great as your setup for different kind of gigs, and that you haven’t got any complaints about the sound quality. Thanks for sharing this with us, Mike. All the best!

    Dorothy Payne @ Rainbow Music

    1. Thanks! I have a lot of back problems, so the smaller/lighter the better. Plus the Zoom pedals are amazing!