We usually consider the important pieces of gear to be the pedals we use, the amp, or even the guitar to be what makes our performances “tip top” and just plain awesome. I find that while I am attached to all the other things I mentioned before, we do take for granted sometimes the things that can make our sound, performance and even our life easy. So we usually leave out things like buffers, routers, splitters, midi controllers and even pedal switchers out as things that might do that for us.
For me personally, a big part of playing is being able to do exactly that; perform and enjoy ding it. One of the huge buzz killers most guitar players have is tap dancing with your pedals, syncing your delays, turning one pedal on and the other off and the mistakes we can make in the process is for sure where a lot of margin of error (and attention) can be placed and to this I thank God for the gear I’ve chosen to take care of all of that. RJM released the Mastermind PBC in late 2014 and it’s the most powerful pedal board controller on the market for the price and footprint. Lets dive in to the amazing features you can have with this all in one unit.
Enter the Mastermind PBC
So I mentioned it’s an all in one solution? Well it is. With a 10 loop switcher, 3 build in buffers, fully customizable midi control, a build in line mixer, and even a built in tuner, this bad boy brings features only available previously to rock stars who had custom rigs made. I’ll explain in more detail all of those things but the features don’t stop there. They also made the controller full customizable in almost every way possible you can imagine.
The only thing you can do with the PBC that you might ask is change the pedal order. The PBC uses a relay system and while you can’t reorder the pedals like a matrix, you do get the best sounding system possible which for me is more important. Its rare were switching the drive pedals natural order will ever produce a result that won’t require some tweaking from the drive, tone or volume setting. So in my case I commit to the order I have and stack with that order.
RJM music also made sure you had a nice big display for you to read important information on demand. Things like engaged loops, buffers, and output are available for you on any page except the system settings. While your on pages such as the looper page you can see whats on or off visually from the switches themselves. RGB LED’s help make it possible to see with a color code system the RJM team provided or you can customize it to you’re liking. If Hot Pink is you’re preferred color for Engaged loops you can set that up (if that’s you’re thing, to each his own…) or any color you want via the MasterMind Editor software that works on PC or MAC. With this software you can go very deep in the editing detail of functions, behaviors, and look of the PBC. Something I’ve come to love about it as myself I’m a big tone tweaker.
The Looper, Buffers and The Line Mixer…
So I mentioned that the Mastermind PBC is a 10 loop switcher. What this means is that you can have up to 10 pedals running into the PBC system. If you’ve never used a switcher before, I’ll explain it in a few simple words. A pedal switcher is a device that uses a signal circuit to physically connect and disconnect your pedals from the signal chain. This can be very useful for pleas that suck tone like for example the POG series from Electro Harmonix. Non controlable loopers will just do that but the added benefit of the Mastermind PBC is that you can program presets of engaged loops, this means that you can turn off 4 loops and engage 3 others with one single tap. Yup, thats cool right? That’s just one part of the availability of features you can do with one click but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Along with the 10 loops theres two break out points before the output, between loops 4 & 5 and loops 6 & 7. These can be useful for a couple of reasons. One being the ability to put a volume pedal after your drive pedals and before modulation effects. The break between 4 & 5 seems like a good place to do this if you setup your drives on the 1st 4 loops. The breakout between 6 & 7 is great if your going to be setting up an effects loop out from your dirt pedals into the amp. If you leave these break outs untouched then they just automatically bypass and they continue the loop chain. Buffers are set up at the main input, between the loop breakout 6 & 7, and on the stereo output. All of them can be set up globally or also toggled on a preset basis. This is particularly be great if you have pedals that don’t take buffers well (commonly germanium chip based fuzz pedals) and you want to disengage the buffer before using the fuzz pedal.
Loops 7-10 can operate as Stereo loops via TRS stereo cables that you most likely have to have made or as I’ve seen a few use TRS “Y” splitters if stereo is a must for you which I know it is for me. If you normally use cables like Lava or George L’s you might have to consider the “Y” splitter as an option but they bulky under the board considering you’ll need one for the send and the return loops. Making a custom cable is a great option if your good with a soldering iron. It might seem like a hassle but the convenience and the pro rig look you’ll have after will make up for it. Loops 7-10 are also part of the internal line mixer which adds some very rock star features to the rig. Each of these 4 loops can be set internally to run in parallel or in series along with the untouched dry signal from the previous loops. This is a dream for someone who wants to run delay and reverb in parallel or who wants to run “wet-dry-wet” which is something everyone should try at least once. In parallel the loops will keep trails and this could be a great option for someone who likes to have that. The Stereo output buffer can flip phase on the “B” side and theres also a handy isolation transformer to help with ground noise when you play with two amps. In the event you need to use only a single amp the PBC can sum to mono your stereo output. So far everything’s been covered right? Well lets talk about midi…
MIDI on the PBC
So for guitar players MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is kinda of a blurry area in music. You’ll see most keyboard players well educated in the subject mostly because they use all the time and now especially with laptop worship rigs. Guitar players on the other hand are use to using just multi effect pedals or manually dialing in effects and not having to program any kind of midi commands. Disaster Area controllers are very good at keeping midi simple for guitar players but at the cost of power. RJM music seems to keep in mind product that had major midi power and the ability to do almost anything you want, so thats pretty much what you get. While you’ll need some midi 101 lessons it’s fairly simple to grasp. The Mastermind comes with a device list you can use to program popular midi device brands such as Strymon, Kemper, Boss, Chaise-Bliss Audio and more (you can set up a rig of up to 16 devices). This can keep programing simple with preset functions the pedal allows to be controlled with “Midi Control Commands” (aka Midi CC). So theres no need to go hunting for the manual and trying to figure out what CC number can automate the feedback level on your timeline. If you thought that the PBC was a great switcher, it’s an amazing midi controller. Program changes and CC can be set up on a preset basis. This means that with one switch you can change up the whole loop rig, change presets on your delay, and activate the freeze setting on your Big Sky. That sounds pretty cool huh? Well this is just one way you can set up your presets, the options are actually only limited to your pedals and what features they offer. So its very easy to change from a very ambient wet signal chain to your typical clean dotted 8th delay with that favorite drive. The PBC also has a built in Midi clock, which means that you can set a master BPM on a per patch basis and this would sync up all your time based effects. This is especially helpful when you don’t really want to tap in time on 2-3 different pedals. This is what I had mentioned before about focusing on the playing. Tapping in time is something that bugs me and having this option is a beautiful feature I love. I’m sure you’d love it too.
Non Midi Functions…
Besides all the epic midi options that go a lot deeper than I could describe without boring you to death, theres some extra connections that the Mastermind PBC offers. The 1st I’d mention is the expression pedal input. This can be set to send midi CC to any of the functions of your midi pedals. I know for a fact that Nigel Hendroff of Hillsong uses it as a mix control for his delay and reverb pedals. The options for this are also limited to what you can control via midi. While I personally don’t use it currently due to space and weight constraints I’m very curious to try it out for may different things.
The second is the external switch input. An external footswitch can be connected to this port to add one or two more switches to the system. These switches are fully configurable using the Mastermind PBC editor software and can perform all of the operations the on-board switches can. You can set one to be a universal tap tempo for the midi clock, or as a page up and down like I do, or for dedicated functions like the hold on your timeline or the hot switch on your eventide pedal. Like a said before, options are what you have if you haven’t picked up on that.
Function SW 1-4 are two TRS jacks (broken up as 1-2 and 3-4) that can be used for a a few very nice options. The one advertised is to switch channels and functions on your amp. This is great if you have an amp tone dependent rig that doesn’t get moved much need that but I found for fly rigs and standard worship players an even better use. The most recent JHS pedals added a feature called the Red switch, that can be used asa toggle for more drive like on the SuperBolt v4 or the G2 setting on The Kilt v2. The PBC can take advantage of this little bit of magic because they work just like an amp channel switch. For me this has been awesome because these settings can be programed on a preset basis as well. In my case, I have both these pedals I just mentioned and I’ve set the toggle for certain presets but also on the looper page on the PBC, I’ve set the loops they are on to have an extra hold function that would toggle the switch and even turn the PBC’s loop LED Red to let me know it’s been engaged. Theres a page were that can be toggled as well but it felt convenient to leave that hold function and its killer for me when I’m performing and I need to break away from the preset. If that’s not you and you need maybe a tap tempo out for an analog delay or an old school DD-5 then thats an option too. The Mastermind can tap the tempo into a non midi delay if you needed that on a preset basis. It will always sync to the Master clock on the PBC and your other midi based pedals. I like that so many options you had to buy external pedals before to have are available in this unit. So the value of the hardware and software the RJM puts into this is glorious and so worth what we would consider a normally high price tag. (Maybe your starting to understand why this is my favorite piece of gear to date? There’s more…)
Presets, Songs, and the Setlist Mode…
The Mastermind PBC has a lot of very important features so far we know we need but there’s also a lot done within how you can make, save, and organize presets (all 768 of them if you wish…). So I’ll mention that the PBC has an app available for Windows and OS X that can make most of the programing a lot faster. While the unit is for the most part standalone, the app makes it super nice to get changes on the fly in and to over all customize the user experience as well like customizing pages (I’ll get into this a little later as well), behavior, LED Colors, names, and presets. Because the unit is very visual I love to know that even if I forget what I did when programing, everything is available on the main screen. Naming presets is very helpful to this end and they didn’t stop there, you can even set up a database of songs. Every song (up to 1008) can have its own name, BPM time for the midi clock, and 10 presets available to it. Once you’ve setup every song your church has in the current roster you can then set up a setlist and you can make up to 64 of them at a time with a limit of 100 songs. I’m not sure if your gonna need more than that but just in case the limit is set pretty high. You can put the PBC after in a preset mode that when you bank up, the unit will display the song name and it will scroll though the preset buttons of that song just so you remember were everything is. When you are ready you can hit the preset corresponding to the 1st song in the setlist and you should be good to go. Making presets for song parts can be very useful and this my friends definitely makes that a lot easier. The way to transfer changes to the PBC can be done via a USB cable connected to your computer with the app or you can just save your settings to a USB memory stick and upload it to the PBC with the USB port it has for that, it’s that simple. For organizing a tour, or if you play for more than one band this is a huge help and a way to be ready for any gig. If your never sure about what song may show up in the list you can always set your PBC to an “All Song” mode that will let you scroll all the songs you have programed. Songs with a BPM dialed in will always perform to that time. If you set a BPM for a preset that will override the Song BPM so be careful with those settings.
So the unit come stock with 3 pages that correspond to the basic functions of the Mastermind PBC, I’ll list them here:
1 Presets (this turns into songs when you engage the setlist mode) and the tuner (mutes the outputs)
2 Looper (On/Off switches for all 10 loops and series/ parallel toggles for loops 7-10)
3 Functions (buffers, function switches 1-4, output modes, and dry signal mute for the line mixer)
If you need to (and you will!) you can set up custom pages for different midi pedals you own. For example, You can set up a page for your Kemper amp Profiler so you can move setting on this on the fly. One that I’ve done and love is to set up pages for my Timeline, H9, and Bigsky. Each of the custom pages I have set up are used to have instant access to functions these pedals have on a dedicated page on the PBC. For example, my timeline page can bank up/down, engage preset A/B and respect the hold function it has, another tap tempo, and I set up dedicated play/rec/dub/pause buttons for the build in audio looper. The truth is I might lack imagination because thats all you will every be limited to on this unit. You can set up a total of 16 pages counting the 3 already done for you. While I don’t recommend it you can erase the build in ones and start your own thing as well. I’ve also made small modifications to the looper page like I mentioned before. I’ve named every loop to the pedal I have running into it and I’ve added to hold toggle on the loops I have the JHS pedals that work with the red switch. This helps maybe someone who’s using my board in the studio or even if I share it on stage to crash course it very fast.
Ok so I know I mentioned a lot of things and maybe I didn’t cover all of it but these are the features that speak to me the most. The time it an take to program this guy is actually more than I’d care to admit but the payoff is by care the best in town. Makes me remember when I used to do this on my old Line 6 POD XT live but with the tone of a modular pedal board but with everything I could ever ask for. The PBC uses 9V or 12V Power and needs at least 500mA of power to operate at recommended spec. You can use the power adapter that comes with the unit or you can also use a power out from your current isolated power station on the board. If you use “The Gig Rig Power” then you will have to buy a “TimeLord” power module to add it to the system and the Strymon power users are good to go right out of the box and Voodoo Lab Pedal Power products can use the 12VDC 400mA output. For $1000 MSRVP you can be sure that your getting more that you paid for and the rockstar perks are a huge plus for this unit. My only inconvenience was making the Stereo Y cables for the loops I’d be using the stereo wet pedals in. RJM could consider selling Y splitters that would make the transition a little faster but I’d say that it was still worth it by far. My current touring rig consist of this setup with a Kemper Amp Profiler and they both work perfect together. I use the Kemper stereo FX loop to get my wet effects post preamp and the drive pedals on the front end so they work like a pro and the PBC gave me the options to run with my kemper or not on the fly without having to disconnect anything. The Mono sum is also great for places I can’t run stereo and I love it. I totally recommend the unit to anyone who’s dreamed of these options. Soundwise it definitely sounds better than the lower priced Boss switchers despite not being able to move the loops around in order. That to me spells out “Awesome” and my friends have noticed the change in sound as well live from my previous switcher. Being able to run by dry tone, delay, and reverb in parallel helps me make sure everything I play is understood and I love that. Sometimes ambient tones are as easy as turning off the dry signal and I have an instant droning patch on the fly. The Mastermind PBC weighs in at 4lbs so keeping a board under 50 is still possible if your concerned about your current fly rig. If you have any questions about the Mastermind PBC I’d love to answer questions. Ron and Sherry of RJM are also very kind and if you reach out to them I’m sure they’d love to answer any of your questions as well. See you next time!!