For all of the genres and subgenres that rock ’n’ roll gave rise to, distortion is one element that links them all the way back to the beginning. Just listen to the fuzzy tones on Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” and Goree Carter’s “Rock Awhile,” which are widely recognized as the first rock songs ever recorded. Distortion introduced a whole new attitude to musical expression that attracted rebels and free spirits and free thinkers while disturbing the sensibilities of those who preferred an easy listening experience.

Like penicillin, distortion was discovered by accident. Players forced to use faulty, damaged, or cheap, poorly made amplifiers liked what happened when they plugged in and cranked up the volume. Before long, players were trying to get the sound on purpose by intentionally damaging their equipment—Link Wray is famous for having punched holes in his amp’s speaker with a pencil he found lying around the studio.

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There’s a ton of effects out there that do all manner of badass things to your guitar signal, generating everything from face-melting saturation to atmospheric soundscapes. It’s tempting to pack your pedalboard with these types of pedals, but there’s another class of gear—often overlooked—that you should seriously consider. We’re talking about utilitarian pedals. They’re tools more than they are effects—not fancy or flashy, but they can make your life much easier on stage.

Playing live is not the same as playing in the studio or in the practice space, where you have much more control over all the various factors that can effect the way you sound. When you play a gig, you’re at the mercy of the venue’s acoustics and sound tech.

Here’s a list of pedals that allow you to retain as much control over your sound as possible when playing live.

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The EP101 Echoplex® Preamp recreates the magic of the Echoplex EP-3’s preamp section, coating your guitar signal with secret sauce. What do we mean by that, and what’s the deal with the EP-3? Read on!

The Echoplex EP-3

The Echoplex EP-3 tape echo unit has become a legendary piece of gear among tone connoisseurs, but not only for its delay effect. Guitar players discovered that the EP-3 somehow sweetened up their tone, whether or not the tape echo effect was active.

Built using Field Effect Transistors instead of the tubes used by the EP-1 and EP-2, the EP-3’s preamp provided an organically warmer and fatter sound when players ran their signal through it. Guys like Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, and Eric Johnson made it an integral part of their sound, taking advantage of the way it warmed up the distorted tones of a cranked tube amp while taming high end harshness.

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The Echoplex® EP-3 tape machine was the secret ingredient in some of the most iconic tonal recipes from the ’60s and ’70s. Top guitar players loved its deliciously warm, organic modulation and sweet musical voice of the preamp so much that they’d use it as a tone-sweetener with the delay effect turned off.

The problem for modern players is that the original EP-3 machines are expensive, temperamental, and larger than a VCR. They require a ton of maintenance, and it’s increasingly difficult to find the correct tape cartridges. So even if you can find and afford a perfectly running EP-3, a single gig can take quite a toll on the machine as well as wear out your precious tape.

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