What Are Pedal Switchers?
Pedal switchers let you take full command of your pedalboard. Say goodbye to tedious tap-dancing around your stompboxes, as a switcher may be the ultimate resolution to your problems!
In this buyer's guide, we shall explain exactly what pedal switchers do and highlight their full capabilities. We'll provide advice on how to set them up, and also give tips on how to use them as effectively as possible. Not only that, but we'll identify and compare some of the best examples available, with different price-points in mind to accommodate everyone!
What Does A Pedal Switcher Do?
Switchers (also known as loopers) are made specifically for effects pedals. In essence, they let you manage your pedalboard more efficiently, but offer far more than that. With several inputs (or "loops"), you can plug a few or indeed all of your pedals into a switcher.
The main perk of a decent switcher is that it will allow you to engage or turn off one or more of your pedals with just a single click. This means no more frantic balancing on one foot during a section change, whilst you try to turn off and on several pedals. A switcher will take care of it all for you!
High-end switchers offer full programmability, letting you save multiple pedal combinations as presets. These can then be recalled and switched to other presets, allowing you to create patches for particular sections of a song, for example. And even some switchers have several preset banks, letting you tailor-make presets for a whole song or even a particular gig! Therefore, a switcher can act as the central controller for your whole pedalboard. With most featuring MIDI inputs/outputs, you can even use them to control the parameters of compatible pedals.
Why Do I Need A Pedal Switcher?
From what we've explained above, a pedal switcher can be the ultimate secret weapon in your setup. A feature-packed switcher can act as the centrepiece of your entire rig, letting you easily manipulate other pieces of gear in you arsenal. In a live situation, a switcher can be your best friend. If you're not particularly fond of the sounds offered by a digital multi-FX unit, but on the other hand appreciate their ease-of-use, then a switcher is the best thing.
Diving deeper into how to programme a switcher, imagine yourself in this scenario. You're playing a song that has a clean verse, with a heavy chorus that demands the use of distortion. In the verse, you want your favourite phaser and reverb pedals on to add depth and character to your sound (example 1). However, for the chorus you want to engage a thick-sounding distortion, with some overdrive and delay (example 2).
Without a switcher, that means you'd need to quickly turn off the phaser and reverb, and then immediately turn on your distortion, overdrive and delay to meet the start of the chorus section. That can be a huge pain when you just want to rock out and put on a good show. So with a switcher, all of that can be done by pressing one footswitch!
Does A Pedal Switcher Improve Your Tone?
Apart from letting you manage your pedals more easily, a switcher will also improve your tone and give you far more clarity. If you're playing through several pedals, all connected by multiple cables in one long chain, you're inevitably going to lose some high-end and overall fidelity. With all that build-up of capacitance, your sound will be duller and quieter with less sustain.
As a rule of thumb, a shorter cable run ensures a purer, more natural tone. While buffer pedals can combat the loss of presence by transforming your signal into a lower impedance, switchers are also effective at keeping it strong. This is because most switchers have isolated loops, meaning that the pedals not engaged in a preset will just be bypassed entirely. Some switchers also have built-in buffers, killing two birds with one stone. So a switcher doesn't just make you setup more ergonomic, but it also can improve your tone!
Can Pedal Switchers Send MIDI Commands?
If you have lots of MIDI-enabled pedals, then some switchers out there can control those too. If you're unaware what MIDI is, it's basically a signal used specifically by electronic musical equipment. Standing for "musical instrument digital interface", MIDI is the most common method used to allow musical equipment to communicate with each other.
There are a lot of high-end digital pedals that have MIDI integration for this purpose, such as those offered by Eventide and TC Electronic. Their multi-modulation, reverb and delay pedals let you save particular settings as presets, which can be recalled using a MIDI controller like a switcher.
How Does MIDI Work With Guitar Pedals?
A MIDI controller sends what are known as "PC" and "CC" messages across multiple MIDI channels. Ranging from between 0-127, a MIDI message will communicate to an enabled device to initiate a change. There are many switchers that can serve as MIDI controllers, and you can programme a patch on the switcher to send a message (or several) to your MIDI-enabled pedals. A switcher with MIDI can therefore let you access your pedals' presets and change them on-the-fly. Not only that, but with some pedals MIDI can also let you change their parameters and settings with a particular PC or CC number/message. How cool is that?
Another benefit of using a switcher with MIDI functionality is that you can take MIDI-enabled pedals out of loops. This is because most pedals with MIDI will respond to a particular PC or CC message that can turn the effect/preset on or off. So if you're using a switcher like a Boss ES-5 (that has only 5 loops), then you can keep a MIDI-enabled pedal outside of the ES-5's signal chain and save one of its loops for another pedal.
There are also certain guitar amps that have MIDI integration too. Hughes & Kettner are the most well-known brand for this, who have pioneered the concept of a programmable valve amp. Their popular Tubemeister amps feature a MIDI In on the back panel, which can receive MIDI messages in the same way that a MIDI pedal can. This means that with a switcher, you can also flip between amp channels using MIDI. The possibilities are almost endless...
What Are The Best Pedal Switchers?
There's a great choice of switchers available at Andertons Music Co. Ranging from simple and inexpensive to fully kitted-out rig organisers, we're sure that if you're looking to add one to your pedalboard you'll find it here.
Boss have developed a range of switchers that are becoming somewhat of an industry standard. Their ES-8 and ES-5 units are feature-packed monsters boasting MIDI integration, with 8 and 5 loops respectively. With an ergonomic screen/interface, you can effortlessly navigate through their multiple settings. Letting you create and store many presets and pedal combinations, the ES series switchers are among the best you can buy.
An advantage that they have over others units is their super-intuitive signal chain re-order feature. With most switchers, you have to determine the order of your pedals and place them in the loops in that sequence. However, with the ES series switchers you can edit their order completely on the fly. This means that you don't have to worry about your pedal chain at all, avoiding that awkward mess of re-arranging cables.
Another amazing thing about this feature is that you can also place pedals in parallel. This is where two pedals essentially run side-by-side in the chain, so that a pedal running after another is not compromised by the sound of the one before it. Many players will run delay and reverb in parallel for this reason, so that delay repeats have more fidelity. This means that you can also run effects in stereo, and split them so that they are separated by the amps on different sides of the stage. Which, by the way, sounds unbelievable!
Providence's PEC-2 is a slightly less expensive alternative to Boss' ES-8. Featuring the same number of loops, the Providence has 5 loops wired in series with the other 3 loops completely separate. This means that you can easily split the pedals that you prefer running in the front of your amp with the ones sent through your amp's effects loop.
For example, you would conventionally place your overdrive, distortion, fuzz and compressor stompboxes in front of your amp for the best tonal results. Therefore, plugging them into the PEC-2's 5 series loops would be the best solution. That means that the 3 separate loops can be saved for your reverb, delay and modulation effects. This makes the PEC-2 somewhat more logical to setup, whereas an ES-8 or ES-5 will need to be wired in a more technical fashion in order to let effects run through both sides of your amplifier.
The PEC-2 also has versatile buffered and non-buffered inputs. So if you're running a long length of cable into and out of the switcher, the high-quality buffer will restore your signal's presence. But on the other hand, some fuzz units react badly to buffers that are placed before them in the signal chain. They are very temperamental beasts, and buffers can make them sound anaemic and weak. So if you are using a fuzz pedal, it would be best to plug into the non-buffered input so that it doesn't affect your fuzz's sound. However, if you still want the perks offered by a buffer, you should buy a dedicated buffer pedal. That way, you can place your fuzz in loop 1 with the buffer pedal placed directly after it in the second loop.
Boss recently released the MS-3, which is a switcher/multi-effects hybrid. Featuring 3 loops, the MS-3 has 112 built-in modulation, reverb, delay and other effects that can be used alongside pedals that you have connected in the loops.
The best way to set the MS-3 up is to place your favourite overdrive and distortion pedals in the loops. That way, you can then use the MS-3's high-quality built-in effects to colour your core tones. The MS-3 is thus ideal for smaller pedalboards, if you want a more low-maintenance setup that's simpler to manage. Not to mention, it's more portable too!
Boss MS-3 Demo With Rabea Massaad
However, if you're looking for a less-technical solution that just allows you to switch between your pedals on the fly, then we recommend reading the next section. Although far more basic in terms of operation, these switchers can still serve as great tools to simplify your pedalboard and make it more manageable.
Walrus Audio offer a number of simple, easy-to-manage switchers that won't break the bank. Their Transit series switchers come in various sizes, sporting between 3 to 5 loops. With no MIDI integration or programmable functions, these switchers are no-nonsense utility boxes built for guitarists wanting to just tidy up their pedalboard.
The Hotone pedal switchers are also basic, but offer great flexibility considering their prices. Their small footprints mean that you can save essential real-estate on your board, and while their loops are wired in series, the Cybery model does work as a MIDI controller and can even save up to 40 presets. If the multiple functions of the Boss and Providence switchers intimidate you, then these are a great shout!
Which Pedal Switcher Should I Buy?
It's clear that there are some great switcher options out there. They may seem quite overwhelming in terms of what they do, however after doing some research you will soon realise how powerful they can be. We certainly hope that this guide has helped you understand them better!
Make sure that before purchasing a switcher, you have everything you need to set it up. Most switchers will include a power supply, but if not, make sure that your pedal PSU can supply enough current/voltage. As the majority of switchers are digital, they will require a large amount of current in order to work. If you don't feed it enough, it won't work and you may damage the unit. Preparation is key!
You will also need lots of patch cables too, so you can wire up all of your pedals in the switcher loops. We recommend using solderless patch cable kits in order to do this, as you can cut the cables to the appropriate lengths you need. This makes your pedalboard cleaner and look far more tidy.