Erja Lyytinen is an extraordinary Blues guitarist in more ways than one. She knows all the right bends, and she is a great slide player, too, but what sets her apart is her judicious use of effect pedals to spruce up her tone. Most Blues-anoraks swear by the old saying that “the tone’s in the fingers”. Erja’s tone is in her fingers, too, but that doesn’t stop her from adding a little extra spice with a few well-chosen effects. All done with exquisite taste, naturally.
I got to know Erja when she came into our shop in 2013 to have her battle-scarred pedalboard serviced. Pedals kept popping off and the PSU wasn’t up to the job, either. Some of the switches had become noisy, and she experienced problems with the signal becoming intermittent mid-gig. Erja’s ‘board had become a source of headaches, which is not how touring equipment should be. It was time to do something about the issue, by taking a fresh look at her signal chain.
We zoned in on a Pedaltrain 3 frame, because it comes with its own hard case. Two PSUs were selected to keep all of Erja’s effects powered properly – a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 and a Pedal Power ISO 5. All pedals were attached with 3M Dual Lock tape, which is the professional choice, giving you maximum security. I custom-made all of the patch cables for the new pedalboard, which are kept in place (and out of harm’s way) with adhesive clips. It was great to see my handiwork in action at Erja Lyytinen’s next gig, where she managed to coax an amazing palette of tones from her effect chain.
One of her signature traits is to use several overdrive and distortion pedals, often simultaneously. Her favourite gigging amp is a Fender Twin Reverb combo from 1975. This amp is well known for its copious amounts of headroom, almost guaranteed not to break up into distortion. The Twin Reverb has a very clear and bright tone, which is well suited for use with single coil pickups. Sometimes hiring in a backline poses its own special challenges: The hired amp might have burnt out tubes resulting in a lifeless sound. In these types of situations, a few well-chosen overdrive pedals can make all the difference!
Erja’s ‘board uses the following gain-shaping effects:
• An Ibanez Tube Screamer for a soft, linear overdrive.
• An Xotic SL Drive for muscular Marshall Plexi-type distortion tones.
• A Mad Professor Sky Blue Overdrive, which offers a lot of gain, and works a treat with many different guitar models.
• A Mad Professor Mighty Red Distortion for singing lead guitar parts.
• An Xotic EP Booster, which is mainly used to even out the different signal levels of the guitars Erja uses. It can also be used to bring worn-out amps back to life.
A Fulltone Wah-Wah is Erja’s wah of choice. This pedal is a high-end update of the old Vox wah pedals, and it has a very warm sound. It’s just the ticket for bluesy and psychedelic guitar excursions. Watch Erja play the track “Let it shine” using her overdrives, a delay pedal, and the wah-wah.
A new addition to Erja’s setup is a Digitech Whammy, which she keeps separate from her pedalboard for now. We will add the Whammy to her ‘board later, but there’s some intricate planning involved, as her ‘board is already rather crowded. Erja uses the Whammy for lead lines, where she runs it two octaves above the regular signal.
Sometimes she will set the Whammy to give her an octave down sound for heavier and fatter tones. This is great for adding some chunk to her slide playing, especially at the start of her show, where Erja is playing without the band. Very often one of her two delay pedals will be turned on, too – either the tape delay-style Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay, or the modern TC Electronic Flashback. The delays run on completely different settings, representing both ends of the delay spectrum.
Erja also uses traditional Blues-genre effects, such as tremolo and Leslie. This clip sees her using the Strymon Lex during the choruses:
In contrast to many Blues guitarists, Erja Lyytinen uses a wireless system during many songs. Erja likes to move on stage, and often among the audience, too. Her gigs aren’t overly serious affairs, and having a wireless system increases the fun factor. For some of her traditional numbers, where tone is crucial, Erja switches to a quality guitar lead. Her Little Lehle switcher allows her to move silently from wireless to cable. Another Lehle – the Little Dual – is for switching between amps. This makes it possible to run a backup combo, or even run two amps simultaneously in large venues. Her pedalboard is connected to the backline with a ten-metre cable loom, containing two amp signal leads, as well as the power line for the ‘board.
Erja Lyytinen’s favourite pedal combination uses the TC Electronic Flashback Delay, a chorus, the Xotic SL Drive, and the Mad Professor Sky Blue Overdrive. This is what she has to say about this sound:
“I love to have a lot of gain in my overdriven tone, because this seems to lift you up, making it much easier to play fast solo runs. My SL Drive has its gain set to 11 o’clock, followed by the Sky Blue Overdrive, which has its gain set to zero, but its level at 10 o’clock. For some solos I love to add the chiming depth a chorus pedal brings to the sound. And using a delay effect is almost compulsory. You get more sustain in each note, and it makes your playing sound larger and more bombastic.”
Erja’s pedalboard has been modified a couple of times, most recently in the autumn of 2015. I look forward to our next meeting, after her spring tour is over. Let’s see what we will come up with next!
02.01.2016 Kimmo Aroluoma
The author is a former Stoner Rock guitarist, who needs a lot of Brian Eno to keep himself up and running. He is also the co-owner of Custom Sounds, as well as the man behind Custom Boards.