Perhaps the biggest reason to have a Helix pedalboard patch to provide flexibility for the professional, traveling guitarist. Its just not practical to travel with a lot of large vintage, boutique amps unless you have a lot of support. Old amps don’t travel well as they can be fragile and tend to break down a lot. Travel by bus or van can accommodate a fair amount of equipment, but air travel with guitar amps is expensive, unreliable, impractical and a pain.
As a result, many traveling musicians often have to depend on what’s available at the venue or through local rentals. Helix can help solve this travel dilemma in a number of different ways.
Helix Into the PA
The simplest approach is to use amp and cabinet models, and run Helix directly into the PA. This doesn’t require any other amp and minimizes setup complexity and time. However there are some issues with using Helix direct into a PA:
- The PA is front of the house and as a guitar player, you’re at the mercy of the sound man to make sure your desired tone is reaching the audience.
- You can use stage monitors, but these are often smaller than a typical guitar amp and positioned in front of you instead of behind you. This sounds different, feels different, and presents a different interaction between the speaker and your guitar.
- Your stage monitor might not be dedicated to your guitar, so you’re trying to interpret your tone mixed in with other content.
Helix into a dedicated FRFR
This is a modification of the using Helix directly into the PA where you have a (usually stereo) tap into a stage FRFR amp dedicated just to your guitar. You’re not likely to get a boutique stereo FRFR amp from the venue or be a be able to rent one locally. But a simple pair of powered monitors can be adequate and pretty predictable. These monitors can be positioned behind you and dedicated to just your guitar. You can still have another monitor in front of you for other content. But the separation will make it easier to interact with your guitar tone.
Helix as a pedalboard into a guitar amp
Venue or rental amps will often be generic Fender or Marshall amps, but the quality could be pretty variable and its hard to predict what speakers are in any given Fender amp. This is also only part of your guitar tone. Many guitarists travel with their pedalboard and this gives them a fair amount of control of their tone. Better, more predictable results can be achieved by setting up the board to expect to be running into a clean amp. Then you’re not depending on the amp to deliver critical drive, overdrive and distortion tones.
This patch essentially uses Helix to create the traditional pedalboard to be used into the front of the guitar amp. Helix is a lot simpler and more flexible than a traditional hard-wired pedalboard, and can be easily reconfigured for unique situations.
Any of these approaches can work, and don’t require you to travel with your own bulky guitar amp. I prefer the dedicated FRFR approach and think a pair of JBL EON10’s or something similar works pretty well as a stereo FRFR for your own stage guitar monitor.