Building a pedalboard for Lo-fi/Slacker Rock

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Building a pedalboard for Lo-fi/Slacker Rock

Slacker pedalboard
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Your pedal board needs to be versatile, and Slacker pedal boards are often processing jangly, single-coil guitar tones.

Slacker Rock is the loose term for a movement of lo-fi rock that has been around for decades now. It encapsulates elements of grunge, rock, lo-fi and indie, melding looser, more relaxed playing styles with less emphasis on playing music perfectly note for note (unlike metal players who need their own pedalboard rundown!), and instead focuses on the energy of a performance, often with a particular relaxed vocal style, while guitar tones range from jangly, brittle tones to big, fuzzed out and grungey sounds.

Your pedal board needs to be versatile, and Slacker pedal boards are often processing jangly, single-coil guitar tones. As a starting point, Stratocasters and Jazzmasters are the weapon of choice for Slacker pioneers Pavement, and more modern players integrating influence of Slacker Rock, like Courney Barnett and Mac DeMarco, continue this trend with a Jaguar and Strat respectively. There’s a rub between the often loosely played chords, and single coils help make each string of a chord more articulate, contributing to the loose, jangly, Slacker sound. Other players like Alex G opt for a humbucker-equipped approach, though coupled with the clarity of an acoustic guitar on a lot of his music.

Volume pedal

The dynamics of Slacker guitars can vary pretty wildly, from intimate, clean chords to explosive chords – think Blur’s ‘Song 2’. For this reason a volume control can be a really helpful tool. We put it at the start of the chain so it can also serve to reduce the input of your gain pedals and compression. A volume pedal at the end of your chain can adjust the volume of the resulting sound, while a pedal at the start can clean up your tone dramatically as your drive pedals stop distorting as their input is starved. It also serves to adjust how much tone is going into your next pedal: a compressor.

Volume pedalCompression pedal

Compression and clean tones go hand in hand. Compressors serve to balance out a tone overall, but they can also allow attack to poke through before the compressor clamps down on the remaining note for a more defined, articulate tone.

Putting a compressor early in the chain allows two things. Firstly, the compressor has less information to process, and your clean signal has more dynamic, which gives the compressor more space to do its thing.

Secondly, the levels of noise, drive and grit aren’t being amplified as they haven’t been added yet, so you can rest assured that you’ll have crisp, balanced drive as we add it.

Modulation pedals

A big signifier of Slacker rock is tuning. While traditionally, musicians would make sure they’re not only in tune themselves, but in tune with each other, Slackers take a different approach.

The looseness of their playing creates an emotive rub anyway, and the modulations in pitch help to create that feeling. You can augment this feeling by adding more modulation for either overt chorus, phaser or flanger effects, or subtle, long shifts that are reminiscent of lo-fi cassette tape sound, the tape’s speed ebbing and flowing.

Distortion and drive pedals

Slacker rock has a particularly distorted tone, rather than an overdriven one, and that’s an important distinction to make. Overdrive is more subtle, even with overt settings, and has a softer impact on your overall tone, retaining the character of your amplifier. Distortion, however, clips more harshly and often serves to create a tone all of its own. While the character of an amp will still be audible, distortion does a more comprehensive job of creating a sound all of its own.

A good place to start is some of the more famous (and affordable) Boss distortion pedals, like the DS-1. The DS-1 is famous all of its own, even having a few different models like the DS-1X and DS-1W, the more recent Waza Craft tribute to the original circuit!

The famous ProCo Rat (and again, all its variants!) is another great option, offering enough tonal shaping to create a great tone

More drive

While the distortion we’ve begun to add serves to create a particularly more jarring, distorted tone, it can help to have an overdrive after the distortion to soften it a bit. At low settings, an overdrive doesn’t need to add more gain per se, but can help relax your distorted tone. Use this to settle back into a band’s mix, maybe while there’s a lead vocal happening that needs its own space.

If you can’t be bothered, no worries! Be a slacker.

Fuzz (more, more drive)

Fuzz and grunge tones are often synonymous with Slacker Rock, particularly because the two genres came up together. Slacker brings elements of jangly Britpop together with American grunge, and for this reason a fuzz is a great option to really beef up big riffs.

A Big Muff is a great (and true to Slacker) option, you can either elevate riffs or push the fuzz so hard that it begins to fold into lo-fi bliss. An even more extreme option is something like the Catalinbread Perseus that blends an octave and fuzz together, ultimately resulting in a lo-fi, 8-bit style fuzz.

Delay & Reverb pedals

This one is entirely optional, and if I know Slackers, they won’t bother. Spring reverbs are great if you have the option, as they nestle nicely into a guitar tone, as well as being commonly built into guitar amps.

Tape-style delays are good as well, as they offer the subtle pitch and timing modulation that defines a lot of lo-fi and slacker sounds. A little slapback delay, always on of course, can help your guitar sound pop out a little from a dense arrangement.

Keen for more info about our home-grown Slacker? Watch more Courtney Barnett here.