FIG. 1: SKB''s Stagefive professional pedal-management system provides lots of options for routing and powering your pedals.
Rather than releasing another Velcro surface for attaching stompboxes, SKB took a “pro” approach with its model PS-55 Stagefive Professional Pedal Management system ($299). The first thing you''ll notice about Stagefive is that it''s big, with a wealth of power jacks, instrument and headphone amps, and audio loops. The pedalboard contains a raised, angled, carpeted surface with grooves for threading power and instrument patch cables. A large, rectangular, raised panel contains the electronics (see Fig. 1).
The Stagefive weighs more than 22 pounds before adding pedals. Powering many and varied pedals requires a heavy custom transformer with separate windings for each output; loaded with pedals, it weighs as much as a small tube amp. It''s over 20 inches deep (front to back) and 29 inches long. I''ve performed gigs in which I had less room than that! On the other hand, its 351 square inches of pedal-mount space fits a good selection of sizable stompboxes.
Stagefive offers a plethora of audio inputs and outputs so you can plug in all of your effects, keeping your pedalboard clean and well organized. It also has a cable tester. The unit''s buffered guitar preamp is designed to deliver a clean power boost to compensate for long cable runs and guitars with lower pickup outputs. There''s a non-buffered guitar input as well. To audition the buffered preamp, I tried the Stagefive with both single coil and Filtertron pickups (Gretsch''s version of humbucking pickups). The results were clean at lower gain settings but got thin and gritty at higher gain levels (see Web Clip 1). The unit was very quiet, however.
Stagefive has two completely separate loops. This lets you run a “true stereo” rig, in which two independent signal chains run into separate amplifiers. Each loop offers two independent ins and outs: you can configure pedals to be in front of the amp or you can plug pedals into the send/return loop of amps with effects loops. So in a sense, Stagefive offers four loops.
I tested the unit using three Analog Man pedals (Peppermint Fuzz, Mini Chorus, and Beano) and an Ernie Ball volume pedal, Zvex Machine, Rockman Ultimatum, V-Stack, and THD Electronics Quintet. I used both loops, sending one each to my Egnater MOD50 and THD Electronics Flexi-50 guitar amps. I swapped different pedals in each loop, putting the Mini Chorus and Machine into the effects loop of each amp. Stagefive''s loops functioned flawlessly, never altering the tone or affecting the output level of the pedals.
Stagefive includes a headphone amp, complete with a stereo headphone output and two unbalanced 1/4-inch inputs for playing along with another source. The headphone amp worked fine, but I would have preferred RCA jacks so I could easily plug in an iPod.
SKB apparently takes power very seriously. Stagefive offers twelve power outputs that cover nearly every configuration you can imagine. It includes two 1.3 amp, 9 VAC jacks of the type DigiTech uses. There are two variable DC jacks that feature a recessed screw to adjust the voltage between 4 and 12 VDC. These adjustable outlets can be set to give the proper voltage for your pedal or to simulate an almost-dead battery. (I don''t believe almost-dead batteries sound better in most pedals but maybe you do.) Four power outputs are standard 9 VDC jacks, and two can be switched between 9 VDC and 12 VDC. Finally, there is one 24 VDC jack for boutique pedals and one 18 VDC jack for pedals such as the MXR EVH Flanger and Fulltone OCD.
The package includes power cables to connect pedals to these outlets. It even comes with a battery-adapter cable for pedals that lack a power jack. You can switch the polarity on all the DC jacks, accommodating center-negative and center-positive power requirements. I used Stagefive to power 12 VDC and 9 VDC pedals, including battery-only pedals, with no issues.
This is a beast of a pedalboard, in both size and feature set. I would love to see some loop-switching functions, but I guess you can''t have everything. I used the integrated cable tester a lot but I didn''t have much use for the headphone amp; however, it''s a nice feature. I wish that SKB had made the board a bit taller and shoved all the electronics underneath the board to make it smaller. But overall, I like the Stagefive, and if you have the space and need a pedalboard with lots of I/O and power features, it''s worth a look.
Value (1 through 5): 3