1993.12 Guitar Magazine Piggy Interview
Voivod’s Denis D’Amour by Jon Chappell
Guitar Magazine, December 1993
Article courtesy of Rich A. Johnson, MN
When is an effects pedal not an effects pedal? When it finds its way into the hands of Voivod guitarist Denis D’Amour. Denis has devised perhaps the most ingenious method for a switching system yet. He made his inspired discovery one day while engaged in the rather mondane task of fixing his
humble stomp boxes after over-zealous stage divers had trashed them.
In a fiendishly clever scheme that is part guerilla-electronics, part road-repair savvy, Dennis cannibalizes Boss effects pedals and uses the
metal housings as fooswitches to trigger a variety of rack-mounted effects.
He also uses the Boss SD-1 Super Distortion pedal as an overdrive, but not in the way you would think. The process through which his system evolved is
as fascinating as it is amusing. But first some background…
Guitar Magazine: You don’t use that many effects. Your stage setup looks fairly clean.
Denis D’Amour: That’s right. I go straight from my Ibanez Universe guitar into my Marshall head, a JCM 800. I bought the amp new in ’87, though i had it modified with active effects loop circuitry. I run my rack from there.
In my rack I have a Digitech IPS 33 Intelligent harmonizer. From there I go into two SPX-90 IIs and then into an old Ibanez DM 1100 digital delay. I
use the DM 1100 just to split the signal. I don’t use the SPXs for that.
The neat thing about the delay is that is has a 180 degree phase output. So i run the delay at only 50 milliseconds —one cabinet has that sound and the
other has the phase sound. It makes for a very big sound on stage. Since I’m the only guitar player in the band I need a wide sound.
You’re not really using it as a delay then; you use it to thicken your sound.
So you’re running stereo on stage.
Yes. There are three outputs on the DM 1100. There’s a dry out, a mix out and an invert mix., with the 180 degree phase. The mix out goes to cabinet 1, the phase output goes to cabinet 2.
Then the 50-millisecond delay comes out of both cabinets, but the right one has the phase.
Yes, and sometimes it gets to be bit much. The sound engineer tells me “No, no it’s too much,” but i like it because it sounds so rich. He likes
it, too, but we have to watch it. It’s hard to hold back on chorusing, especially when doing chords. I love it.
And on ballads and slow introductions.
Everywhere man! Even when you’re doing dagadagadagadaga. Usually then though, I’ll turn it off.
Where do you use the IPS harmonizer?
The beginning of “Fix my Heart” [From Voivod’s latest, The Outer Limits] uses that, and you can hear the SPX harmonizer function in “Nothingface” [From the Nothingface album]. Most harmonizing on “Nothingface” came from the SPX-90s.
Have you ever explored the intelligent aspect of the IPS, such as designating specific scales?
Not that much —it’s still pretty new. And you have to have a lot of musical knowledge to exploit that element of it. But that is what i am learning now.
What do you use the SPX-90s for?
Delays, harmonizers and noise gates. Like in “Astronomy Domine” [Nothingface], the effect that simulates the old amp-tremolo sound —like on
old Pink Floyd albums —that’s done with the noise gate. The only trouble with that is there’s not much choice in the frequency. It’s either dadadadada or da…da…da.. da…
There is nothing in-between fast and slow.
Which means you can’t always get it to play in time with your tempo.
Right. In fact, when we recorded “Tribal Conviction” [Dimension Hatross] we had to write the song around the effect. Also in “Astronomy Domine.” But it’s a cool sound because it simulates the pick-up-switch flicking you see people doing on Les Pauls, but this does it electronically.
Is that then, for your effects?
That’s it for my rack, except for a switching system i put together myself.
What kind of system are you using?
I’m using Boss pedal boxes. I just use the boxes and the switches inside. I pull out all the circuitry. I love the boxes because of the large area for your foot, and the speed of the switches —they’re very fast. I’ll often put two pedals together and hit them simultaneously. That way i don’t need a mixer. I have five of those that control the whole rack. Every
effect I have had a Boss box for a switch. I can even use the same switches to step through the presets of the SPX-90s.
Do you use that feature?
Yes, but you have to map out the order of your effects in advance because you can only go up in the preset numbers. So you chain your effects as you need them, song by song, and then you can access them with the Boss pedal. I use the same type of switch for the bypass as the preset selector.
You have to be very careful when planning what effects you’ll need for an entire show them.
That’s true, although I have two, you see, so while one is on I can program the other if necessary.
That sounds like what a DJ does; he can cue up another sound on the second turntable —the one that’s not currently on.
That’s exactly how I use them. You program unit 2 while unit 1 is sounding. Then you hit a button activating unit 2. Then you can program unit 1 for the next effect, and so on. It’s only a matter of hitting one switch.
So you’ve gutted all these Boss pedals just for their housing and the little plastic switches?
Yes, I love the boxes; they’re very sturdy. It’s impossible to destroy them. An as i said, the large area is good for when I need to hit two at once, like in “Fix my Heart.” I just position my foot to hit them together. I really don’t need anything complicated. And if someone trashes it for some reason —which happens a lot because of the stage divers we get —it costs me just a few bucks to replace it.
And you can get those pedals in any city?
Oh sure, but i tell you, it’s really hard to take a new pedal and throw the electronics away [laughs]
You’re right, it must be terrible to take this nice, new pedal and destroy it.
Yes, well that’s why i try to buy used pedals when i can. I go into used music stores and ask for the ones that don’t work.
That’s a very clever system. How on earth did you come up with that?
Well, i used to use boss pedals on stage, and as I said, they were always getting trashed by stage divers. So i got familiar with fixing them.
I learned how they worked by having to fix them all the time. When i got the SPX-90 and when through the manual, it explained how to use the bypass
and preset jacks with momentary-on pedals. I knew that’s how the boss pedals worked, so I got the idea to use the Boss pedals for their superior
switches and the design of the boxes. You see, the switch that turns the effect on or off is independent of the effect. It’s the same switch, whether you have a chorus, distortion, delay, whatever. I just take the switching circuitry and route it to wherever… even another Boss pedal. I actually do that with the SD-1, the Super Distortion pedal.
So do you use a Boss for its actual circuitry
Sure, I use he SD-1 for all my single-note soloing. It’s rather funny that i put the pedal in the rack and hook up another, gutted Boss pedal as the on/off switch.
That way you can keep the cables in the rack short.
DD: Exactly. You see, the guitar signal only goes through the short cables connecting the SD-1 to the other units in the rack. On stage I can have a
cable 50 feet long from my switch-pedal back to the rack. There is no signal you see; it just turns the effect on and off. I have no circuitry on the floor, just contacts for the switching. I never unhook the cables that carry the signal and i can keep the cables very short.
What do you like about the SD-1 sound?
It’s very rich in harmonics. I like the increased sustain, but it’s the harmonics that you can’t just get with the amp sound. What i do, and what a
lot of people were doing in Montreal, [is] get the basic sound from the amp and then switch on the SD-1 for the high, sustained stuff.
And it’s not a very expensive pedal
No, I think it’s their cheapest. It’s not the Turbo, it’s not the new ones.
How do you run it?
The tone control and the level control are flat. The straight signal is the knob in the 12:00 position, and I maybe have the drive control between 1:00 and 2:00.
:What is a good example of this sound?
Every solo in the album [Outer Limits] has this setup —the JCM 800 with the presence and the preamp up full, and the SD-1.
Do you record with this setup?
Yes, i’ve recorded with the same rig since ’86.