This week, guitarist Josh Smith made the rounds on UK guitar and gear social media in the in-between hours of his tour with Ariel Posen. Sporting a recently built pedalboard by Dan, Josh stopped in to TPS to talk over his approach to gear on the floor, offer up some pro tips on the art and craft of blues guitar, and to let Ariel out of the bag (literally) for some fresh air and an impromptu jam session.
As Josh shared his experience and perspective, the episode was dotted with insights into improving as a player and enhancing tone through strategic pedal picks. To that end, here’s my top-five of Josh Smith nuggets of wisdom gleaned from his conversation with Dan & Mick.
1) Favor clarity over compression.
Josh held no secrets about his pursuit of dynamics and avoidance of compression. For his live playing set up, it’s important that the only compression that takes place is that produced by the amp working hard. In fact, Josh is such an anti-compression advocate that whenever possible he dials in other pedals to squash it out. After touring through the board, Josh called attention to how any of his pedals that have an onboard volume control are typically set to max. The reason? “[It’s to] get rid of compression!” In the end, Josh’s vendetta against pedal-based compression in live playing scenarios is about communicating with the audience and preservation of what he’s creating under his fingers. “I’m trying to not have compression, I want all that headroom so that whatever I do with my hands, I hear it…I want all those dynamics and to be in control of that.” This way, the audience hears all that Josh intends, highs, lows, and everything in between.
2) The right setting for the right settings.
The Lovepedal Tchula has been the heart of Josh’s pedal board for at least a decade. However, he’s received regular questions from fans saying that when they picked one up it sounds nothing like they expected. For Josh, the answer is that some pedals simply sound best in live set ups, with amps dimmed out. “That’s a gigging man’s pedal: it’s made for loud amps, maximum dynamics, it’s made to be played at a gig,” Josh remarked. In short, your pedal picks should account for both the tone you’re seeking as well as the predominant domain you’re playing in.
3) Experiment with amps till you find your holy grail.
TPS has opened many of our eyes to the wide world of a dual amp setup. Josh too favors this layout, with the Fender Super Reverb and Vox AC30 as the twins on the other end of his rig. This pair, however, came entirely by accident when Josh had to provide a last-minute gear request for a back line at a festival. To his pleasant surprise, the two sounded as though they were meant for each other. “One fills in where the other one stops…and especially when you put a pedal on in front of both of them because they both react and a Vox takes it totally differently than a Fender does.” The lesson to be learned here? Don’t be afraid to experiment with new combinations of gear. You never know, you just might find your signature sound!
4) Choose delays that either add to the sound or get out of the way.
Under the hood of Josh’s compact board were two delay pedals: the TC Electronic Hall of Fame Mini and Catalinbread Echorec. The first was loaded up with a custom Tone Print slap back that served the purpose of getting in quick behind Josh’s playing to enhance and tighten the sound. The second served the purpose of providing space in the drifting distance and a vibey delay. As Dan commented, the Echorec delay EQs shelves the bottom end frequency so the resulting sound is not a mushy amalgamation of too many low-end-laden echoes. “You’re just getting this lovely echo that is right in the perfect frequency that doesn’t muddy things up.” As Josh reflected, “my whole delay thing is that I like to have the slap available at all times and that slightly longer one with a few repeats for epic moments and prettiness!”
5) Commit twenty-five hours to drilling something new to grow as a player.
Following a blazing run through and on-the-fly Stevie Ray Vaughan medley, Josh remarked, “there’s no short cut to that tone.” Whether it’s that elusive tone or a new technique, Josh shared a tip for ensuring your evolution as a player happens. As Dan & Mick remarked at the struggle they both felt when trying to wrangle Josh’s super-heavy strings, gauges 13-58, Josh insisted on the necessity of a focused routine. “Give it a month and you’d be good, you get used to it.” If that sounds too long, Josh prescribed a more attainable target: give it twenty-five hours of focused playing. Whether it’s a new picking style or workout regimen for playing with heavier strings, he underscored that investing a little over a day in your playing can go a long way.
With that, Josh signed off from the hour of gear hacks and guitar lessons. But before he headed back out to tour, he was joined by Ariel Posen for a quick session that’s not to be missed. Once you’ve had a listen to that, be sure to head over to Riff City to explore your next item of gear that will take you further.
TPS Rig Rundown
Amps: Fender Super Reverb (reissue); 1961 Vox AC30.
Pedals: Sonic Research Turbo Tuner ST-300; Lovepedal Believe; Deep Trip Bog Fuzz; Lovepedal Tchula; King of Tone Guitar The Duellist; Lovepedal Purple Plexi; Catalinbread Echorec; TC Electronic Flashback Mini; Eventide H9.