Trey has used a wide variety of pedals over the years, and if you browse through the tour-by-tour pages from TreysGuitarRig.com, you’ll see how the pedal array has evolved over time. Here we’ll focus on the prime drivers of Trey’s tone that have held a place in the Rig for the long haul, including the pedals above: the TS-9/808, the Ross Compressor, and the Digitech Whammy II. It’s no accident that when Trey brings out his “just the facts” rig, as he did for the National Symphony Orchestra show at the Kennedy Center, above, these are the pedals that make the cut.
Tube Screamers (modified TS-9).
Trey uses multiple gain stages to create his signature sound, and perhaps the most important stages — and key drivers of this sound — are the two Ibanez/Maxon TS-9 Tube Screamer Pedals “stacked” atop one another in his signal chain. He can use them separately or together; one is dialed in to what Trey has called “full scream” and the other is a more lightly distorted boost. The Tube Screamer is a well-pedigreed distortion pedal, made perhaps most famous by Stevie Ray Vaughan, who used both the TS-9 and also the earlier version of the pedal, the TS-808 (one of SRV’s 808’s was recently for sale). Tube Screamers can produce a sound that ranges from a clean boost with a slight purr (think live versions the composed passages of songs like Fluffhead, Coil, etc.) to a juicy, thick, creamy, mid-boosted distortion (think of the opening lick from Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, the Fluffhead closing jam, Disease, etc.).
The original Tube Screamer was branded as the Ibanez TS-808, but it was actually produced by Maxon for Ibanez until the early 90s. Both companies continue to produce the pedal under different branding with varying levels of consistency with the original 808 design.
The TS-808 has become highly sought after in the last 15-20 years because of the perceived superiority of its sound over the newer and more ubiquitous TS-9. As a result, a cottage industry has sprung up of boutique pedal manufacturers who will modify the stock TS-9 to conform to the specs of the original 808, including replacing the primary tone-driving chip with the JRC4558 chip that is called for in the original 808 schematic. See Mike “Analogman” Piera’s Tube Screamer history for a comprehensive analysis of the Tube Screamer and the modifications that can be made to it.
Trey himself has generally been known to use a pair of Analogman TS-9 Tube Screamer pedals (Analogman has documented his work for Trey here), and the TS-9 image above was taken by Analogman at SPAC in 2004. As you can see, the two pedals in this photo both have the Analogman “Sunface” logo (the red sun/smiley face on the silver sticker) on the pedal’s front face. I have pointed out in the tour-by-tour breakdowns that Trey’s TS-9 pedals do not always have the sticker. Perhaps Trey is using stock pedals (doubtful) or another mod company on at least some of his gear; or perhaps, as Trey has done with his Mesa Mark III, his Bogner amps, his Boomerang pedals, his Leslie G-37, and other gear, the branding has been deliberately removed or obscured. I do know from interviews that what appears to be black gaffer tape obscuring the logo on the outermost TS-9 over the last few tours (including 2016) is velcro that is used when weather protection is required; that pedal is an Analogman TS-9.
The pictured pedals also have the “RE-J Project” sticker over the Ibanez/Maxon logos, which indicates that they have Analogman’s “Silver” mod, in addition to the standard Analogman TS-9 mods. On his site, Analogman says that Trey has used both the Analogman TS-9/808 “Classic” mod and also the TS-9/808 “Silver.”
Another key driver of Trey’s sound has been the vintage Ross Compressor. For years, this was considered by many would-be Trey-impersonators to be the key to unlocking his sound. I was among those who was sure that I needed one to sound like Trey. Turns out it also requires 10,000 hours of practice.
In general, a compressor is designed to even out the volume of an instrument across various input levels. So it boosts quieter signals and squashes louder ones to keep the sound within a particular range. The Ross Compressor was not considered especially desirable before it was known that Trey used one. Now Reverb.com describes it as the Holy Grail of compressor pedals, and the fetch upwards of $500 and up used. Not to worry, though, there is also a cottage industry of small builders making clones of the Ross, which come in closer to the $200 range.
The Ross Compressor was famously absent from Trey’s rig during 2.0, and fans who longed for the 90s Trey sound actually got together (under the name People for a Compressed Trey) and bought him another, as documented by this article in Glide.
Recently, Analogman has said that “in mid 2016 [Trey’s] old ROSS comp was finally on it’s last legs so he tried our new REV5 small compROSSor with MIX and ATTACK knobs” and, according to Analgonman, “He liked it more than the Ross, and got two more for backups.”
Digitech Whammy II
There are only a few guitarists out there who can claim to be true masters of the Whammy pedal in the sense of incorporating it into their moment-to-moment playing, as opposed to using it as a whacky effect. Tom Morello and Johnny Greenwood are certainly among them. Trey is right up there, having really made this one of his signature effects in 3.0 (though it’s been in the rig for much longer).
The Whammy pedal has two sides; a harmonizer and a pitch bender. Trey most frequently uses the pitch bender, which allows the user to bend pitches using the expression pedal to various degrees up or down. Trey almost always uses this feature in its middle position, which is 2 half steps down. So by depressing the expression pedal, the guitar tone sweeps down two half steps, eg, from an Bb to an Ab. Then as your sweep the pedal back up, the tone returns to the original note. In early 3.0, Trey was experimenting with this sound, dubbed the “Whale,” quite a bit. Mr. Miner wrote about it here, and an example from the June 11, 2010 “Light” is below:
Back in the “Excalibur” days, when Trey would hold the guitar above his head and swing it up and down, he’d use the full octave or 2 octave bend features to give the illusion that swinging the guitar was causing the wild pitch bends.
The harmonizer adds a second pitch to whatever pitch the user is inputting, so a player can have a harmony following along in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, etc. Trey uses this occasionally deep in ambient or noise jams to very strange and mesmerizing effect.
Trey also likes to use this pedal as an octave pedal — either up or down. The Whammy II can do this, but other pedals are better at “tracking” octaves (Electro-Harmonix POG, Mu-Tron Octave Divider), so they sound more natural and less effect-like when doing it. The Whammy will distort and create occasional digital errors/artifacts when tracking octaves, which makes it sound almost like an analog synth. Listen below.
Subsequent reissues of the Whammy II went back to the style of the original Whammy I, which requires the user to bend down and twist a knob to select modes. Trey prefers this version in part because modes are selectable by tapping a footswitch.