As one of today’s most prolific blues guitarists, Josh Smith has undeniably taken a leaf out of his forebears’ books when it comes to playing style. Championing an orthodox approach to 12-bar blues, Smith effortlessly taps into the tones of the greats while simultaneously imbuing them with a modern flavor.
Naturally, such a likening to the past stylistically would therefore encourage one to conclude Smith takes a similar approach to his gear.
Well, it turns out Smith’s approach to his pedalboard is far, far more sophisticated, and indicative of the blues guitar titan's ability to blend classic-era blue styles with intelligent modern-day technology.
How does he marry these two opposing worlds, you ask? Well, thanks to a new video from Sweetwater, Smith explains the process himself – signature Ibanez FLATV1 in hand – in enlightening detail.
The first four pedals are nothing out of the ordinary. After the customary TC Electronic Polytune 2 Noir, his signal goes into the Vemuram Myriad fuzz pedal – a boutique silicon-and-germanium diode unit that the blues ace helped design.
A second Smith-designed pedal also appears – the Lovepedal Tchula, which he describes as his “main pedal” that contributes to “95 percent” of what audiences hear when he plays live – but not before the Mythos Argonaut octave pedal that’s tucked away in the second layer. Yes, there's more than one layer.
It is, however, after the Tube Screamer-style King Tone Soloist that things start to get really interesting, and begin to unveil Smith’s penchant for merging vintage blues sounds with contemporary tech.
Up first is the Chase Bliss Preamp MKII – you know, that crazy motorized slider-equipped pedal that came out last year? – which Smith labels a “revelation." In fact, he can’t speak highly enough about it.
Dubbing it “eminently tweakable," Smith observed, “The underlying audio part, the analog circuit, is really, really good. It’s a great sounding circuit.”
From Hendrix-y Marshall Super Bass and Plexi tones, to specific Rat-style distortions and Big Muff fuzzes, Smith says the slider pedal – which can switch between silicon and germanium for the clipping – “can do just about any drive you could possibly want to do."
It's a drastically different approach to old school players, who would've had to compile a ton of specific pedals on one pedalboard to achieve such diverse drive and modulation tones.
That’s not the only futuristic gadget that the orthodox blues player has on his board, though. Elsewhere, he’s got the insanely intuitive Poly Digit reverb/delay pedal, which he uses to wire his signal and loop his pedals in a number of innovative ways.
Another honorable mention is the Eventide H9, which has been a mainstay on his board ever since it came out. Again favored for its tweakability and versatility, Smith’s penchant for the digital H9 derives from its smartphone/iPad connectivity.
“I do a lot of sessions," said Smith, "and the ability to have my iPad on the music stand... If a producer asks me, ‘Hey, can you get me Andy Summers' [Electro-Harmonix] Electric Mistress thing?’ Well, I don’t have an Electric Mistress, but I can get close. Anything you ask me for, it’s in that pedal. And it sounds good.”
Safe to say, the old school blues players never had access to kit anywhere near as intelligent as this.
But then again, that’s one of the reasons why Smith is at the forefront of the guitar scene right now: not only is he championing a virtuosic vintage style of blues, he’s also pushing the genre’s boundaries and blending it with up-to-date, state-of-the-art tech.
Come for the pedalboard breakdown, stay for the sensational playing and marvel at one of today's most accomplished performers at the peak of their powers. You might want a notepad and pen, though. There's quite a lot going on, and we've only just about scratched the surface.