How to make a "Bare Rig" that works for live guitar playing
A "bare rig" means a setup that uses the absolute least amount of gear to play live. It's good to come up with something like this so you're not "that guy in the band who's tweaks his settings for a half-hour just to play".
An ideal bare rig setup is something you can plug in and be ready to play in less than 5 minutes.
If I wanted to - and this is no joke - I could bring nothing but:
- One Squier guitar
- One guitar strap
- One guitar cable
- One power cord (for the amp)
- My Fender Frontman 212R
...and be able to perform club gigs with just that gear and nothing else.
The 212R comes with a pedal to switch from A (clean) to B (overdrive) channel easily, and in addition has a "More Drive" setting (also switchable via the floor pedal) for even more gain. And while on the clean tones, the built-in reverb does the job adequately.
Now I'm not saying I prefer to gig that way, but if I had to, I could get by with it. The above setup is as bare as you can get.
My personal opinion is that the most effective bare rig setup uses no more than four pedals at the most. Some guys have a floorboard with a ton of pedals on them, but for me that quickly turns into wasted money from all the 9V batteries you have to buy for all that stuff. It's either that or you have to bring along a bulky power strip to handle all those power adapters and extra wires.
Using one pedal to get the most
When you want a do-it-all, you get a DigiTech RP255. Everything is built-in to that pedal. Compression/sustainer, reverb, overdrive, distortion, chorus, wah, noise gate, flanger, phaser, pitch, vibrato/rotary, EQ, delay, and can act as a volume pedal to boot.
The RP255 basically does everything, with the only drawback being it doesn't run on battery and requires a power adapter to work.
Using separated effects
Personally, I don't think there's any way to accomplish this without using at least six pedals, which are (and yes I'm listing mostly BOSS pedals purposely because you can usually get them cheap and they're good and rugged for stage use where you'll get your money's worth):
- Compression/sustainer (BOSS CS-3)
- Delay (BOSS DD-7)
- Chorus (BOSS CH-1)
- Overdrive/distortion (BOSS DS-2)
- Wah (Dunlop Cry Baby)
- Noise gate (BOSS NS-2)
...and if you include an A/B channel switcher for the amp, that's seven pedals.
You could eliminate the delay, chorus and wah, but you'll miss them dearly.
Although I've said this before, I'll say it again: You cannot beat the price of a DigiTech RP255 considering all you get in a single unit. If you were to separate everything in the RP255 into separate pedal effects, you'll easily spend $500 or more and be required to have a massive pedal board to control it all.
While it is cool to have separate effects pedals, it really hits your wallet hard and that's why the RP255 is much more of a cost-effective solution. Believe me when I say you will not regret buying one. Yeah, I know, I sound like a sales guy for DigiTech, but seriously, if you go the all-separate-pedal route, you will spend way more than you should.
Using built-in amp effects and external pedals
Some amps (like Fender G-DEC series) have a bunch of effects built right in.
Are these any good? Well, that depends on how you use one.
Typically, if you stick to using just the amp's effects, you'll get mostly the sounds you want and it will perform just fine.
Mixing outboard effects in with amps that have their own effects however sometimes just doesn't mix.
The general rule is this when it comes to mixing pedals with an amp's effects: Only use digital.
The built-in effects to the amp are digital. If you mix in analog pedals with that, what usually happens is "mud" or digital "screeching". Trust me when I say that it sounds like crap.
Purposely use digital pedals on the other hand, and the signal will retain a much "cleaner" sound and won't mud out or screech on you.
Is it usually true that all-analog or all-digital is better?
Typically, yes. But you can mix analog and digital if you go about it the correct way.
For example, if you have an analog distortion and analog wah pedal followed by a digital delay pedal as the last effect in your setup, that will work fine because digital delay pedals usually don't muck up a signal hardly at all.
If on the other hand you have a digital chorus followed by an analog spring reverb, that will sound like crap because the high-treble/flat (by design) signal of the digital chorus doesn't "agree" with spring reverb at all. It sounds awful, and no matter how much tweaking you do it just won't work. You would literally have to put an EQ pedal in between the digital chorus and the spring reverb just to get the correct control over the sound, and that's a total waste when you could just switch over to an analog chorus that the spring reverb would agree with much better.
Experimentation is required when it comes to mixing digital and analog. But said honestly you can save yourself a lot of headaches, time and money if you just decide on which side of the fence you want to stay on and stick with it. Either go all-digital or all-analog, commit to it and you'll get the sound you want a whole lot easier.