Welcome to the latest edition of Feedback, a look (down) at the pedalboards and equipment of some of our favorite musicians. Today, we hear from Ben Bloom, guitarist for Seattle jazz-funk instrumental octet Polyrhythmics, who just released their sixth album, titled Man From the Future, earlier this month via Color Red Music. In this in-depth look, Bloom shares the tools he used to bring the band's cinematic sound to life.
Over the years I have always tried to have one small pedalboard that I could use for all my gigs, and not just for Polyrhythmics. I limited myself to a small board that just covered the basics, like wah, boost, phaser, simple analog delay, and trem. As we started production on Man From the Future, it became clear to me that I was going to need some more functionality from my pedalboard in order to pull off the sounds of the record, live. I took my favorite staples, expanded out for more functionality, and designed a board that would withstand the travel and stresses of the road, yet still be light enough to fly with and large enough to accomplish all the sounds in the catalog.
The Pedalboard: I use a modular board built by a company called Temple Audio out of B.C. Canada. The model I use is called the Duo 24 which is 24.5 x 12.5 x1.5H. These boards are really cool because they are very light, very rigid, and feature a set screw to mount your pedals instead of the old velcro which was getting pretty unreliable touring the way we do it. I carry it in a Pelican Air road case which is also very light, but very strong, and the whole thing comes in at under 45 pounds all loaded up with cables and everything!
My signal chain starts with my cable going from my guitar which is a Lava ELC coily cable so I don't trip and fall over it on stage.
The Wah: The first pedal is a Teese/RMC 'Real Mccoy' Wah which is very, very reliable as far as wah pedals go. It has a very sweet mellow tone which I love for tunes like "Man From The Future," but it can still get aggressive enough, too, when needed, like in "Chelada." It is extremely durable, which is important because I use the wah a lot and I'm not very nice to it.
Phaser: From the Wah the signal flows to an MXR Phase 90. The one I use is the 1974 Script re-issue which has been modded to have an LED light so I know when it's on! I usually set it to the slowest setting and vibe out. I use this on a lot of older tunes but also on the song "Man From the Future."
Tuner: From the phaser, the signal flows to a Polytune Tuner. Nothing fancy there, but I do tune often. You should tune often, too.
Distortion: For distortion, I use a Lovepedal Eternity E6. This is my favorite "singing" lead-tone pedal. I have used this box for over 10 years and I just love it. It has as much gain as I could ever want but also stays laser-sharp and focused, tight low end, and really natural breakup. The pedal has a pretty aggressive mid-range bump which helps it cut through a big band. This is the lead sound on "Digital Cowboy," for example.
Boost: The Lovepedal goes right into a cleanish boost. Most time, when I'm soloing, both the Lovepedal and the Ikon are on. I love the punch and focus that the Ikon gives. It just kind of throws the sound an extra couple feet in from... really makes everything just sound tighter and better. I use this pedal to play cleaner lead lines, and also some of the chunkier rhythm parts. Depending on the gig or if I'm using a back-line amp, I sometimes keep the Ikon on all the time and just bring the output volume down a little to thicken up the clean sound of my guitar.
Delay: The signal then goes into a Strymon Timeline Digital Delay. I am traditionally a simple delay guy and get confused by complicated delay units like the Strymon. Because there is a wide array of delay sounds we have used in the studio — many of them stemming from analog gear that is too unreliable to use live — this pedal has allowed me to dial in preset delays which range from Echoplex type tones to ping pong and modulated delays. I have about 10 pre-sets that I use mostly and just tap-correct-tempo on the fly as needed. I run an M-audio expression pedal with the Timeline which helps me further explore the tonal landscape like in songs such as "The Cutdown" or "Corpus Callosum." Every record we make, we seem to add more delays so I may get to all 99 pre-sets someday!
Reverb/Tremolo: From the timeline, we go to the Strymon Flint pedal which is a reverb and a tremolo pedal in one, kind of like the second channel on a Blackface Fender amp. I really like spring reverb and there are so many great sounds, but my favorite go-to sound is a '60s deluxe reverb drip. When playing on hollow stages, sometimes the spring reverb rank in my amp would just take off, so I got used to using the pedal. It is also very handy when using backline amps to dial in a consistent reverb sound night to night. The trem, I have set to a slow Blackface setting. It can go slower than any Fender but still has all the vibe IMHO, so I use that too. I have an extension footswitch for the Flynt which lets me toggle between two different reverb settings and I love this feature. I usually set one to be really wet and surfy that I'll use for tunes like "In The Trees " or sometimes "Chelada" and then the other to be just a nice light ambient spring which I use most of the show.
Tremolo: Last pedal on my board is the Dr. Scientist Tremolessence, by far the coolest trem I've ever played. It can get really loud (it has an internal boost) and very aggressive. I primarily use the square-wave chop setting and it excels at that! When we play "Octagon," this is featured.
Power: The board is powered by a Strymon Zuma power supply mounted underneath the board which works well to provide quiet, "isolated" power to each of the pedals and seems to be holding up well!
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