Sometimes you need a little bit of help as a singer. Hiring a band or backup singers is expensive, especially if you’re doing it frequently. So how do you create live percussion and sound effects, without spending lots of cash?
Singing and performing along to a stomp box means you can create a bigger and more interesting sound, both on stage and in the studio. You have control of the instrument’s beat, timing and – if using an electronic pedal – looping.
We have the lowdown on the types of stomp boxes, the factors you need to consider when buying and using one.
Singing and performing along to a stomp box
As a solo artist, duo, or new vocal group, you sometimes have to work harder. You don’t have a group of dedicated musicians to rely on and if you’re just starting out, chances are you don’t have a backing band, backup singers and dancers or special effects. So a stomp box can be a great way of making your sound – and act – bigger. It adds in beats, rhythm or more voices as a live instrument that’s controlled by you. And you can even adapt your sound, adding reverb, or clarity, as desired.
This is a fantastic bit of kit, that’s light and portable and can be relatively cheap to buy if you’re not going top of the range. It plugs into your amp, a sound desk, or a studio desk – or you could go for an acoustic homemade stomp box if you’re using it for percussion only. A good one will also have a loop pedal. There are a number of ways you can choose to play it – or you can switch between these:
- Sitting while heel stomping
- Standing while heel stomping
- Sitting while toe stomping
- Standing while toe stomping
- Standing while heel & toe stomping
Did you know that the stomp box is one of Ed Sheeran’s favourite pieces of equipment?
What is a stomp box?
A stomp box is a self-controlled instrument. As it’s placed under the foot, it’s a handy way of accompanying yourself while singing or playing the guitar. A foot switch allows it to be switched on and off and looped as required. They’re usually built using metal chassis, but some musicians improvise by making their own from a wooden box with a mic inside. The first-ever stomp box is thought to have been the Maestro FuzzTone created in the 1960s.
Performing as a solo artist with a stomp box
It’s a really amazing tool that can take your act to the next level and it fits into any bag – perfect for planes, trains and buses. It’s also a great way to help you keep time and a sense of rhythm.
But the downside of a stomp box, is that it sits on the floor. This, of course, is also an upside – being able to operate it by foot, means you have the whole of your body free for performing. Yet you do have to be careful – especially if using a more complex model with lots of features – that you’re not tempted to stare at it or focus on it. Removing your gaze from the audience for lengthy periods can create a sense of detachment and make them feel alienated. It also looks like you’re nervous or not confident using it, something that applies to fiddling with it or drawing the audience’s attention to it.
While this isn’t a cause for concern in the studio, it’s best not to get in the habit of looking down for long. Dropping your chin will also have an impact on your vocal tone. Practice using it at home, without looking down – it’s the equivalent of learning touch typing, but much easier. Once you’re in the swing of it, it’ll come naturally and you’ll be able to operate it without even thinking.
Keep it simple, to begin with
You’re singing along to a stomp box, that means that your voice is the main attraction. Percussion, effects and additional sounds are fantastic ways to add depth to your sound, but it shouldn’t take centre stage. And when you’re new to singing with a stomp box, you might struggle to operate it and sing at once (less so if you’re accustomed to playing and singing simultaneously).
Try to get too complicated with your rhythms and you could find yourself struggling. So practice plenty and stay within your comfort zone for gigs and recording. Any poor quality backing – be it tracks, singers or a stomp box will only serve to detract from what you’re doing. With looping, you should practice building up gradually. Ensure the endpoint doesn’t sound messy and chaotic. Let each section have a little space before moving on to the next loop.
Performing as a duo with a stomp box
This makes life a little easier. If there are two of you – or more – you don’t have to do two things at once. You have the option for one person to operate the stomp box, while the other sings. But it can also bring other challenges. A stomp box isn’t like a standard backing track where you know exactly what to expect. Or if your duo partner plays an instrument, you might operate the box for them, while singing.
There may be some pre-loaded effects, but how and when these are played is up to you and if using an acoustic stomp box, you completely set the rhythm of the beat. This means that the person operating it has the potential to surprise the other singer. And while surprises can be fun, unless it’s an improvised piece or jam session, there’s no place for the unexpected at a gig.
Playing a stomp box at a gig
Agree beforehand what you’re going to do and practice it, especially while you’re becoming familiar with each other’s style. Once you’re been gigging for years together and are totally comfortable with going off-piste (and it’s not a high stakes show, audition or competition), then you can experiment a little more in a live setting.
Finding the right stomp box for you
Stomp boxes range from percussion only, to those with a basic loop function (record, overdub, play, and stop) and onto high-end loopers providing performance-oriented features including independent loops, quantization, loop multiply, and MIDI integration. So have a think about what you might need and what you plan to do with your stomp box. You might even want to use two stomp boxes on stage at once, to create multi-layered effects.
Here are some of the most popular options on the market today.
SX stomp box
SX is a premium manufacturer, with industry-renowned models. The SX SBX II is ideal for singers, as it can be played seated or standing, meaning you’re not limited to one or the other on stage.
If you need a bug sound, you need a Wazinator Baby Grand. Just plug into your amp and enjoy deep thumping bass sounds.
TC Helicon stomp box
TC Helicon promises to tone your voice, provide controllable reverb and add backup sounds.
Beat Root stomp box
If you’d like a stylish box with a low carbon footprint, these UK made Beat Root boxes are great.
Cajon stomp box
If you’re on a budget, you can pick up a cheap cajon-drum style stomp box from ebay – or read on to find out how to make your own!
Ortega stomp box
Ortega produces a range of electronic and non-electronic options boxes in a variety of slick finishes. Their Quantumlooper has 16 pre-installed sounds and space for your own.
Tambourine stomp box
Ditch the traditional tambourine and have your stomp box make the sounds for you. If you use the tambourine a lot during gigs, one of these is perfect, as it frees up your hands to perform.
Stomp box – DIY
If you’re short on budget and just need a simple percussions box, try making your own – out of a cigar box! It looks cool and sounds great for a small acoustic set.
The best percussion stomp boxes
As with any instrument or bit of kit, there’s a lot of options out there. What’s best for one person might not be right for another, but there are some stomp boxes that getter better reviews than others and earn a great reputation in the industry.
Best for small budgets
The SX SBX III – Stomp Box can be yours for just over £30
Best for acoustic
Australian artists and musician Peter Sesselmann handcrafts these high-quality boxes that need no batteries or EQ. Many are made from hockey pucks, adding a cool and quirky edge.
Best for bass
Want some banging beats? This four-on-the-floor beauty the Meinl Percussion BassBoX
is a powerhouse but also handles smaller acoustic gigs.
Best for superstars
If you want to sound like a boss, you need a Boss. Ed Sheeran made his name using this brand’s loopers and stomp boxes. The model he used (he now has his own custom made version) is no longer in production but has been replaced by the Boss RC300, a three in one machine that’ll cover all your percussion and looping needs. It’ll set you back over £300.
Non-slip stomp boxes
This is an easily missed, but important consideration for performing with a stomp box: does it have a non-slip material on the bottom? Imagine tapping away on it at your gig, and the next thing you know – it has slid away and fallen off the stage! If you’re opting for a budget model that doesn’t have non-slip as standard, you can hack it yourself by glueing on some non-stick material to the underside.
And do be careful not to trip over your stomp box! If you’re not using it for a while, it can be easy to forget it’s there on the stage. Develop your peripheral vision and awareness, so you’re always conscious of what’s going on around you while you’re performing. Live venues can pose safety risks, so the more you can take in what’s going on around you, without being distracted, the better. This is a skill that experienced performers have finely honed.
Don’t let your stomp box overpower you
Ensure your levels are right. If you’re at a studio, the engineer or producer will let you know if these are ok.
Live gigs can be trickier. A good sound desk will be able to help, but if it’s a DIY type event, bring someone with you who can stand at the back and listen to your soundcheck – and be sure to include the stomp box in that soundcheck, even if you’re only planning to use in one song of the set.
It shouldn’t change your sound in a detrimental way
Some stomp boxes slightly alter the sound that’s passed through them, even when not on a setting like reverb. If you’re not using one to change the sound of your voice, you might be best opting for a brand with a ‘true bypass’ switch. This ensures that whatever is coming out sounds just as it should. Not every genre of music suits a processed sound. And the beauty of these is that you can create everything from acoustic blues, to heavily layered electro-pop.
Lead with your style and let the box enhance that, rather than getting carried away with what it can do.
As with any piece of musical kit, there’s a degree of technicality involved and often the best people to guide you are shop specialists. Find a stockist and chat through your needs and uses – you’ll be able to try some models out and identify which features are most important. That’ll help avoid spending loads of something you won’t use to its full capacity, or getting a model that’s too basic.
- How do I add reverb to live sound?
You can do this yourself with an electronic soundbox, but not an acoustic or home-made one. Effects can be controlled via a sound desk, if your venue has a good one and a willing engineer. Some mics will also have reverb features too.
- What is a multi-effects processor?
This is an all-in-one device that allows you to create electronic sound effects – like delay, reverb and distortion. They can be used for both instruments and the voice to add depth and live effects to your tracks.
- Why can’t I sing and play at the same time?
If you’re struggling to do two things at once and not coping, you need to return to basics. Work on each discipline separately until you can perform a song without having to concentrate at all. The gradually put the two together, working on the song a bar at a time, until you have them both down.
Do you sing along to a stomp box? How do you use it – do you have any tips? Let us know in the comments below.