The Swiss Army Knife Guitar Rig - dummies

By Dave Hunter

If you’re not at all sure yet what kinds of sounds you’re looking for from your guitar and equipment, then you need options. Several types of amps out there are designed to offer a broad range of sounds — some of them, a little of just about everything — as well as some guitars and effects pedals that are particularly versatile, too.

Many of these are also great solutions if your playing situation requires that you jump between extremely different sounds from song to song, or mid-song even, as many gigging cover bands may require.

You’re better served as a guitarist by settling on just a handful of core sounds and concentrating on your playing more than on turning knobs and flipping switches. Even so, each of the following versatile items is a good piece of equipment in its own right and may present a good starting point for homing in on a few sounds that really work for you and your music.

  • Modern multichannel tube amps: Many makers offer footswitchable multichannel amps that give you everything from blackface Fender-style cleans, to Vox crunch, to Marshall leads, to high-gain California extremes, all in one package. Mesa/Boogie’s Mark IV and Mark V, Fryette’s Sig:X, and Bogner’s Goldfinger are all pretty expensive but do a lot of tricks for the money.

    [Credit: Photograph courtesy of Fryette Amplification]
    Credit: Photograph courtesy of Fryette Amplification
  • Digital amps: For the maximum number of amp sounds in one box, and lots of effects and speaker cabs too, the current crop of digital emulating amps packs a big punch. Fractal Audio System’s Axe-FX range, Line 6’s long-running modeling amp line and compact POD units, and several others on the market pack an astounding number of sounds into a single unit.

  • Multi-FX units: If you don’t know where to start with your pedal collection (if you feel you need several effects pedals in the first place), a relatively affordable multi-FX unit may be the way to go.

    Makers such as Zoom, Korg, DigiTech and others manufacture products that offer several types of distortion, modulation, filter, delay, and reverb effects in a single floor controller (some of which contain amp modeling, too), at prices starting below $100 for the more compact units.

  • Switchblade guitars: Several guitars on the market have design features and advanced switching options that aim to give you a little of everything from the main blueprints for electric guitar tone, namely Gibson and Fender.

    Paul Reed Smith was one of the first makers to become popular with a range of guitars carrying multiple humbucker and single-coil sounds, and a design hybrid somewhere between the Big G and the Big F. Other high-end makers such as Don Grosh, Tom Anderson, John Suhr, and several others produce extremely versatile guitars.