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Our "That Pedal Show" Blog

Expression Pedals 101: What is an Expression Pedal and How Do I Use One?

By Andy Perrin | September 19, 2017

That Pedal Show 9/15/2017

I don’t know about you, but the most underutilized (never utilized?) jack on any effect on my board is for the expression pedal. I kinda know what they’re for, but have never really ventured into that world. Thanks to Dan & Mick’s crash course I’ll definitely have to go and pick one up and experience my existing gear in an entirely new way.

Here’s just three highlights from this week’s episode.

Ernie Ball’s Expression Delay and Distortion

Every now and then, an item shows up on the market that truly reimagines what an effect pedal can be. We saw that this past year with TC Electronic’s redesigned Flashback Delay 2 and Hall of Fame Reverb 2, which recreated the humble footswitch as a pressure sensitive “Mash” control (if you missed that one, check out our past TPS blog.

A few years back, Ernie Ball likewise provided a fresh look on how sounds might be manipulated by guitarists when their hands are otherwise occupied with the instrument. The result was two pedals that leveraged the lessons learned from their famed volume pedals for a digital delay and distortion pedal that literally rocks: the Expression Overdrive and Ambient Delay.

As Dan summed up, “The idea is, in the heel position, they’re bypassed. When you dial in and lean the expression part of the pedal forward it engages the pedal and turns it on.” For the Expression Overdrive pedal this engages a parallel movement of the overdrive and built-in boost. When it comes to the Ambient Delay, the blend of delay and reverb ratchet up together when the pedal is swept on. In short, the pedals offer a new take on how to control an effect in real time and thus opens up the spectrum of sounds tucked away inside the stompbox.

Bigger Skies with the Strymon Big Sky

The reverberating vistas of the Strymon Big Sky are already a game changer. From wide open realms to the outer reaches of the universe, the ambient spaces created by the Big Sky never disappoint. This pedal changed the way I play. And now, I’ve got to change the way I play it due to the perspective Dan & Mick gave on its expressive qualities.

As Dan demonstrated, almost any parameter on the Big Sky can be controlled by the expression pedal with the added benefit of being able to tailor the minimum and maximum of the feature in question. On top of this, as a digital pedal the Big Sky allows you to control the effect with the expression pedal by sending continuous control (or c.c.) messages via Midi. For example, when demoing the Big Sky on a “Choral” reverb engine, it was possible to bring in just the ooh-ahh sound of the reverb in behind the signal giving the sense of an ever-broadening and multi-dimensional space as the expression pedal was rocked back and forth.

Stock, out of the box this pedal is incredible and its deep customization is intuitive—the prospects of the new terrain with the expression pedal just makes the skies even bigger!

Playing with Time and Rate on the Walrus Harmonic Tremolo

As Dan demonstrated, when the Walrus Audio Monument Harmonic Tremolo pedal was partnered up with an expression pedal it opened up new ways of managing the effect on the fly.

In the examples played in the episode, Dan highlighted how the simple rock of the expression eased or excelled the rate of the tremolo effect. In this case, it was the Roland EV-5 pedal, which includes a side-mounted knob to control the minimum setting of the expression pedal. In short, you don’t have to start at zero—it’s up to you to determine the starting point of the parameter (in this case tremolo rate) in the heel position. As Dan commented, this type of functionality could be very useful for songs that required variations in tempo “or if you needed a specific sound [in a song] that was at just the right speed, you could make that the heel down position.”

This week Dan & Mick celebrated 100,000 subscribers and it has been great to be part of the journey. For any and all sounds heard on That Pedal Show, head over to Riff City so we can help you build your customized pedalboard. Need to express yourself? Be sure to check out our full line-up of expression pedals that partner well with any effect with that easily overlooked expression pedal jack.

Rig Rundown:

Guitars: Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster; Collings 290 DCS; Fender American Vintage ’63 Stratocaster; Duesenberg Bonneville.

Amps: Marshall Plexi 1987 XL (50 watt), 4x12 Marshall cabinet; Two Rock Classic Signature.

Pedals: D’Addario Pedal Tuner; Keeley D&M Drive; Thorpy FX Veteran; Walrus Audio Monument; JAM Pedals Delay Llama Supreme; Empress Echo System; EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine; Strymon Big Sky; Ernie Ball Expression Drive; Ernie Ball Ambient Delay; Roland EV-5; Source Audio Reflex.