It’s time for another builder round-up! And this time we’re chronicling Chase Bliss Audio and counting down the fan-favorite builder’s 10 best pedals.
First, let’s share some backstory about Chase Bliss Audio and talk about what makes this builder so special.
Digital Brain. Analog Heart.
Chase Bliss Audio first hit the scene back in December of 2013 with the release of the smash hit Warped Vinyl, a mojo filled, lo-fi chorus & vibrato pedal. This groundbreaking release changed the pedal game by offering unprecedented digital control over its 100% analog effects. A plethora of 6 knobs, 4 flip-switches, 2 foot-switches, and 16 dip-switches offered guitarists a staggering amount of control and sound-design potential. The immense tweakability of that debut release would become a hallmark staple of all Chase Bliss Audio pedals.
A succession of bold releases over the next several years propelled Chase Bliss Audio toward an ever greater success that has yet to reach its peak. The builder has continued to shock the industry with collaborations, surprising pedal announcements, radical design improvements, the unexpected embracing of digital effects (with Dark World and the upcoming Blooper), and coming soon, an entirely new pedal format with motorized faders dubbed “Automatone” – the debut pedal in that line being the forthcoming Preamp MKII collaboration with Benson Amps.
Follow Your Bliss
Even with all the fanfare and unrelenting hype that surrounds this builder’s latest innovations and ever more inspiring pedal releases, I’ve always been most fascinated by the deeply human element present in Chase Bliss Audio. The brand’s founder and lead engineer, Joel Korte, is synonymous with the brand’s image, and a backstory of tragedy & perseverance along with a uniquely open connection with fans, fellow builders, friends, and family goes hand-in-hand with Chase Bliss Audio. While I can think of several notable gear companies whose founders used their own namesake for the brand, inflicting an obviously personal touch, the “Chase Bliss” moniker and the brand itself tell a more personal story than any other gear brand, a story that strikes a chord of familiarity with the human condition in many ways.
Here’s a Knobs produced video from 2015 that shares some insight into Chase Bliss Audio and the mind of Joel Korte and gives viewers a glimpse of the fearless ambition and jovial nature of this beloved pedal builder…
Some casual observers could easily mistake Chase Bliss Audio as a tale of one person following their own dreams, but the brand has always been about something more. It really comes through in the brand’s connection to people. I noticed this difference early on in how quickly the company responded to certain user feedback to dramatically update and improve certain aspects of the early Warped Vinyl and Wombtone pedals in the “MKII” versions. I’ve seen builders who’ve long been stubborn about updating their designs, but Chase Bliss Audio consistently strives for excellence, and sometimes this means overhauling things. They listen to ideas from their users and others, and it has shown in many of their later releases, particularly the pedals that were built as collaborative ventures with other people. Some products have also benefitted from being refined with help from teams of pre-release beta testers. The builder’s upcoming Blooper pedal is even being developed publicly, with crowdsourced feedback influencing the pedal’s direction.
And speaking of new pedals…
Upcoming Chase Bliss Audio Releases
Before we dive in, let’s talk about a couple exciting things Chase Bliss Audio has in the works as these releases may warrant a list update at some point.
One upcoming Chase Bliss Audio release is the Blooper, a digital looper pedal being developed in collaboration with Knobs Demos and Mark Seel from 3 Degrees Audio. Blooper is going to be a full-fledged digital looping pedal that will offer some cutting edge upgrades over other basic loopers. Expect multiple loop layers, plenty of levels of undo/redo, “Modifiers” that affect the loops in various ways, deep parameter control and customizable response options, MIDI, and much more. The design of the pedal has undergone a few changes since its debut at NAMM (including the addition of cool blue Modifier buttons on the south side of the pedal), and you can expect to see more changes before Blooper is released.
Here’s a recent Knobs update on the progress of the Blooper:
The Benson Amps Preamp gained a lot of traction in 2018, becoming a popular go-to pedal for guitarists looking for an amp-style preamp for their pedalboard. The impeccable quality of Benson’s work must’ve seemed ripe for the full Chase Bliss Audio “digital control over analog” treatment, and the two builders joined forces to tackle this ambitious project.
The Preamp MKII is being built in an all-new pedal format called “Automatone”. Housed in a robust enclosure with cool wooden side panels, the bigger eye catching aspect are the pedal’s 6 motorized faders. These faders give the Preamp MKII a tactile, pro studio mixer feel, and the faders will even move to indicate current positions of selected presets. The Preamp MKII also expands upon the original Preamp with a routable mids EQ section, new clipping options, optional fuzz, and MIDI functionality among other things.
When the Blooper and Preamp MKII are released, both of these pedals will likely shake up our list, but today let’s count down from 10, starting with my favorite discontinued Chase Bliss Audio pedal…
10. Spectre (discontinued)
Product Page: Spectre, Effect Type: Analog Flanger
Ah, yes, the infamous Spectre. I still love this pedal. I love it so much that I’ve kept 2 of them. This now discontinued treasure was Chase Bliss Audio’s bold attempt at an all analog through-zero flanger. It is as famous for its deep, distortion loving flange as it is for those swooning “whale songs” that wash over your guitar when you push up the Regen.
The Spectre uses a pair of analog delay lines and modulates one against the other to create its flanging sounds. That moment when the delay times sync up is the ever elusive “zero point” where the signals cancel each other out and the flanging moves “through zero”. The pedal was calibrated in a way so that the pedal can move through zero twice, and if you add in Ramping modulation of the Zero knob (and maybe Ramp a few more parameters), you can get all kinds of strange flange-like modulation happening.
As cool as this pedal was (and still is), it was a massive undertaking by Chase Bliss Audio, boasting the builder’s most complex and component filled through-hole assembled circuit board to date at the time of its release. This made it a very expensive pedal to keep in the line-up for something that had a more obscure appeal compared to the builder’s other hits.
Before this pedal was inevitably discontinued, two versions were released: the original Spectre and the Spectre “Blue Knob Mod”. The BKM version addressed the noise issues that were present in the original pedal and also attenuated the extremity of the flange feedback (Regen) for less intense “whale song” sounds. While many of the early purple knob versions have also since been modded to BKM specs at the request of their owners, I’d argue that both versions still offer unique benefits to collectors and players. The cleaner BKM is arguably better for non-distorted guitar tones and can even achieve some great chorus sounds. The original Spectre’s noise may not be an issue if you’re primarily using the pedal with dirt, and so its sounds and the more intense feedback sounds may be appealing. And as another point of note, I kept a Spectre on my board for over two years “always on” with the Mix rolled down as the pedal imparted a character on my sound that made it a favorite Chase Bliss Audio pedal of mine for adding some extra tonal mojo.
9. Wombtone MKII
Product Page: Wombtone MKII, Effect Type: Analog Phaser
The Wombtone MKII is the successor to the builder’s original Wombtone pedal, with both pedals being inspired by the legendary Mu-Tron Phasor II. Not all builders have always been candid about the sources of inspiration for their products, but Joel has a penchant for sharing directly with followers on social media, and his transparency has always set a good example for other builders to follow. The Wombtone was intended to bring back the sounds of the classic Mu-Tron Phasor II while adding upon and improving the formula, and the Wombtone MKII further improved upon the original Wombtone.
The Wombtone MKII sports 2, 4, & 6 stage phasing options for lots of variety when it comes to funky, swirly, hypnotic phasing. I’d argue that the MKII version is clearly superior than the orginal due to the added 2 stage option, the improved Feedback response, the extended slower Rate speeds, and the added Mix control, not to mention the general tweaks to MIDI functionality and the fact that the MKII moved the previously bottom accessed dip-switches to the top side of the pedal.
Chase Bliss Audio nailed their formula for a rock solid phaser, and it’s hard to contend with the beautiful sounds and formidable array of options the Wombtone MKII provides. A favorite feature of mine is plugging in an expression pedal with no Ramp dip-switches enabled and being able to manually sweep through the phase filtering for cool notched phase tones. Lots of cool sounds all around. It’s no wonder the Wombtone MKII is one of the two longest running pedals in the Chase Bliss Audio line-up. And the other longest running production pedal…
Product Page: Gravitas, Effect Type: Analog Tremolo
The Gravitas dropped back in 2015 right around the same time as the Wombtone MKII and Warped Vinyl MKII, and it still remains incredibly popular among guitarists who crave pulsing, vintage flavored analog tremolo. I’d also say that it was Gravitas that really re-popularized the concept of harmonic tremolo which many other builders have since been adding to their tremolo pedals. Gravitas really hit home with that vintage, amp-inspired tremolo, and it set the new modern standard for tremolo pedals chasing that kind of old school flavor.
A few things make the Gravitas special (besides tap-tempo, presets, and MIDI). It has a unique Drive control that sets the gain before your guitar hits the tremolo effect. If you crank the Drive and Ramp the Volume knob, you can even achieve a dual tremolo effect. Then there’s the ModuShape section which is especially useful for shaping the feel of the tremolo for the perfect rhythmic throb. The Gravitas is also the only Chase Bliss Audio pedal that lets you power it at 18-volts for increased headroom which is definitely worth trying if your power supply has an 18-volt output.
The Gravitas became an instant favorite of mine and many other guitarists, particularly because of how simple and effective it is at achieving solid and smooth tremolo sounds. (Gravitas also inspired another weird thing.) It kind of seemed like just another modulation pedal to add to the Chase Bliss Audio line-up, but the care Joel put into getting it right has made Gravitas an endearing modern classic that easily outshines and outclasses most comparable tremolo pedals that come to mind.
7. Warped Vinyl HiFi
Product Page: Warped Vinyl HiFi, Effect Type: Analog Chorus / Vibrato
The Warped Vinyl HiFi was a surprise release that Chase Bliss Audio released right at the end of 2017. It’s the latest iteration of the builder’s iconic Warped Vinyl concept, following the Warped Vinyl MKII. It’s also the final word on Chase Bliss Audio’s signature chorus & vibrato pedal.
The Warped Vinyl HiFi cleans up the lo-fi sound (re: grit & noise) from the previous two versions, opting to give users a more refined modern chorus experience, yet it still retains a distinctive Tone control that can achieve very dark tones akin to the previous Warped Vinyl pedals. While some users still cling to their MKIIs, I personally feel that the HiFi’s cleaner sound and ability to still dial in similarly dark-ish tones comparable to previous versions make this the superior Warped Vinyl pedal overall.
There’s another unique aspect that makes the Warped Vinyl HiFi the best in the series: the Lag. This knob adjusts the static delay time that the ModuShape section modulates. You can Ramp this parameter to further “warp” the wobbly sounds of this pedal, adding yet another way to make the pedal live up to its namesake. It’s also fun to cut the Depth so that the LFO is inactive and then manually adjusting the Lag to create some jarring warped sounds like jerking your guitar’s trem bar.
The pedigree the Warped Vinyl HiFi is built upon, its huge feature-set, and its gorgeous sound add up to not only another stellar Chase Bliss Audio release but what is also a top contender for the title of best mono analog chorus & vibrato pedal out there.
6 & 5. Tonal Recall / Tonal Recall RKM (tie)
Battling for the 6th & 5th spots on the list are the original Tonal Recall and the Tonal Recall RKM. These instant classic pedals wowed musicians for bringing back analog delay sounds comparable to the original Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man and early Boss DM-2 pedals. And of course they came with the addition of awesome features like user presets, Ramping, tons of parameter controls, tap tempo, expression pedal control, MIDI functionality, more.
I’d say that of everything these pedals offer that makes them great, what makes the Tonal Recall pedals most special is simply the glorious analog delay tones. Chase Bliss Audio was one of the first builders to go all-out with using reissued MN3005 bucket brigade chips, replicas designed specifically to recall the iconic sounds from those classic early analog delay pedals. Chase Bliss Audio nailed the Tonal Recall pedals in execution specifically in regard to the classic analog delay tones they provide.
“But there are two units–what’s the difference?” The original Tonal Recall uses a pair of MN3005 chips to achieve up to 550ms of delay time. The Tonal Recall RKM uses 4 MN3005 chips for up to 1100ms of delay time. Chase Bliss Audio also tweaked the RKM a bit for smoother saturation when pushing the Regen into oscillation territory, and the Tone circuit was modified slightly. While I think the RKM has become more popular overall, I’ve since realized that I actually prefer the shorter delay times of the 550ms version, and I like using the middle flip-switch to switch between using 1 or 2 MN3005s to half and double the delay time without causing pitch shifts. (The RKM will switch between 1 and 4 chips.) For most users though the big consideration will simply be how much delay time is needed. Of course, there’s also the Thermae, but we’ll get to that one in a moment.
Product Page: Brothers, Effect Types: Boost / Overdrive / Fuzz
The Brothers is Chase Bliss Audio’s powerhouse multi-circuit overdrive, boost, and fuzz pedal. It was designed in collaboration between Chase Bliss Audio and Resonant Electronic Design, and is still one of the builder’s most significant releases.
The A side of the pedal features JFET Boost, Drive, and Fuzz circuits based around three circuits from Resonant Electronic Design. The B side offers a similar trio of options that are IC based. Both sides have dedicated Gain & Tone controls. Having the equivalent of 6 different circuits is kind of like having 6 pedals in one. But that’s just the beginning.
In addition to being able to use any of Brothers’ 6 gain staging circuits by itself, you can run two circuits at once, one from each side of the pedal. These can be combined in any combination and used in series or parallel. Basically, we’re talking about up to 33 combinations… not to mention the infinite subtleties of how you can dial in the Gain & Tone on each side to contour the overall sound and either Mix them in parallel or drive one into the other in series (the level of the first gain stage going into the second is also controlled with the Mix knob). This all adds up to an incredible amount of flexibility for what is one of the most versatile boost and dirt pedals out there.
The Brothers offers a huge range of options and remains quite compact considering all it does. It’s pretty much the size of an average drive pedal, yet it can easily kick 2 or 3 other pedals off your board to help make room for other pedals. What pedals? How about these next few…
3. Dark World
Product Page: Dark World, Effect Type: Dual Digital Reverb
Hot off the success of the Brothers, Chase Bliss Audio released another collaborative pedal, this time teaming up with Keeley Electronics and Cooper FX for the Dark World Dual Channel Reverb. The Dark World was also an especially significant release as it defied everyone’s expectations for the long-awaited CBA reverb by going full-on digital. For a builder that has broken through many boundaries for the benefit of pedal loving musicians, breaking their own “Digital Brain. Analog Heart” mantra was one of the best decisions the builder ever made.
The left side of the pedal is the “Dark” side, offering some unique reverb algorithms from Cooper FX partially influenced by the builder’s Generation Loss and Outward pedals. The Mod reverb is probably the coolest mode on the whole pedal, having an inspiring lo-fi sound with modulation. It sounds like an old VCR chewing up a dusty old tape. It also kind of reminds me of the original two Warped Vinyl pedals, giving an unintentional nod to Chase Bliss Audio’s early work. The Shim mode creates a unique pulsing shimmer reverb, and the Black mode opens a dark portal to an infinite reverb that responds dynamically to create lush cascading reverb pads.
The right side of the pedal is the “World” side, bringing in a trio of Keeley engineered reverbs that are inspired by more conventional real-world reverbs. The 3 options are Spring, Plate, and Hall, and they all offering fulfilling reverb when something more “normal” is called for.
While the reverbs can all stand on their own, a unique aspect of the pedal is that you can use a reverb from both the Dark and World sides at the same time, combining them in either series or parallel. This creates even bigger ambient effects and opens up some creative possibilities. One of my favorite tricks is running the Mod and Plate or Hall in parallel and setting the Pre-Delay just above minimum with a slow Bounce Ramp; this produces an exceptional dual modulated reverb. A central Tone knob lets you dial in the high end of the overall sound.
However you use it, the Dark World is a dream for achieving great reverbs with ease. One of its biggest strengths is how surprisingly simple it is to use and quickly get inspired. And thankfully, all of your dual reverb creations can be saved and recalled as presets.
Product Page: Thermae, Effect Type: Analog Delay / Pitch Shifter
Named after a Roman bath house, the Thermae is one of the most unique and remarkable pedals Chase Bliss Audio has released to date, transcending the analog delay pedals that came before it in several unique ways.
Here’s the Themae intro video. Never has maintaining good hygiene sounded so good:
Thermae utilizes 4 reissued MN3005 chips to produce glorious analog delays, and the digital brain inside the pedal can pitch shift the delays to several musical intervals. The pedal can move through intervals in selected note divisions at the Tap Tempo rate or be manually stepped through. Perhaps the strangest thing about Thermae is that its inherent complexity is arguably both a drawback and one of its greatest aspects. Rather than trying figure out how to achieve a response from the interval and note division settings, it’s usually more rewarding to just play and experiment with settings until you find something that sounds interesting. The pedal produces some very distinct sounds, and when you dial it in just right, it’s mesmerizing to behold.
Aside from the pitch shifting aspects which are a big draw, the pedal can also function as a more traditional analog delay when both Interval knobs are set to Off. This makes Thermae a compelling alternative to Tonal Recall RKM, and while I originally felt like I preferred the Tonal Recall’s analog delays to Thermae’s, I’ve since come around to preferring the Thermae on all fronts. The unique LPF knob with its slightly resonant filter cutoff give the repeats a unique flavor that can be defined by the user to accent a certain peak response. And the all-new modulation section is incredibly unique in how a certain “wobbly” character can be added to the waveform. And of course, the infinite oscillation is on point, and the LPF can be cleverly used to tame it if needed.
The Thermae as a concept is exceptionally bold, even for Chase Bliss Audio. But no other builder could have pulled something like this off or pulled it off as well for that matter. It’s at once a tribute to the past delay designs that came before it and a testament to a new future of analog sound design that can only come from this pedal. And that’s why Thermae is the penultimate Chase Bliss Audio pedal on this list.
Product Page: Condor, Effect Type: Overdrive / EQ / Filter
Here it is. The Condor. The best Chase Bliss Audio pedal to date. The Condor isn’t the most exciting or flashy Chase Bliss Audio pedal, but it is an essential Swiss Army knife that has many utilities in its arsenal. It’s the pedal I keep going to again and again more often than any other pedal from this builder. Let’s talk about what makes it great.
Many guitarists will find use for the Condor specifically for its great pre-amping and overdrive abilities. The pedal has two modes, Clean & Drive, which cover a broad range of low to mid overdrive sounds. I often just use the Clean channel and run the Condor with other dirt pedals, sometimes pushing up the Gain knob to add a little something extra to the overall sound. It makes for a great pre-amp or gain staging pedal in this regard. But the Condor can definitely stand on its own in the overdrive department, and the Drive mode instantly transforms Condor into a very capable and tasteful overdrive pedal. And that’s where the EQ section comes in…
The big draw of the Condor for many users will be the EQ & Filter section. When using the Condor for its own overdrive, you’ll likely set the LPF knob for a smooth high-end roll-off, cutting the high end as needed until you achieve a perfectly warm texture. The Mids section is the most powerful and dramatic aspect of the pedal. It lets you sweep the frequency from about 150Hz to around 4kHz and apply boost or cut as needed. Condor even gives you 3 selectable “Q” options for setting the width of the boost or cut. For overdrive applications this powerful Mids section lets you set the mid boost point just right for lead tones that will perfectly cut through a mix. The Bass section lets you cut or boost the bass frequencies with three options for setting the cut-off/shelving point. I find this useful mainly for clearing the bass frequencies of my guitar to let other elements have more space and low-end clarity, but you can still beef up the bass if needed.
To go into the Filtering a bit more, the LPF knob is huge draw of this pedal. The LPF’s flip-switch provides 3 different cut off options, with the middle and right options offering mild and steep resonant peaks for some killer synth-style filtering. You can Ramp the Filter, control it via expressional pedal, or just grab that LPF knob and twist it as it has a surprisingly fast and smooth response. And yes, it can be controlled via MIDI as well.
There are lots of other tricks in the Condor’s arsenal. You can Bounce Ramp the Volume for Tremolo effects (and also Ramping the LPF can give it a harmonic tremolo feel). Control the Mid Freq via expression pedal for wah-like effects. Or control the Volume via expression pedal in place of a traditional volume pedal.
While I’m making a case for the Condor being the best Chase Bliss Audio pedal overall, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be your first purchase if you don’t yet have any other Chase Bliss pedals. You might want Brothers first if you don’t have any other dirt pedals. Or maybe you want a delay pedal like the Thermae or Tonal Recall. Or maybe something else is calling you. While the Condor is powerful on its own, it’s even more powerful when used in tandem with other effects. When you have your pedal selection in place, the Condor is like a point guard leading the charge, contouring everything just right so that your overall sound is at it’s best. When everything else is dialed in, it’s the Condor that will often put the final touch on things.
That concludes our list for now. It may change later after Blooper and Preamp MKII are released, so check back again later!
If you’d order the list differently, let us know in the comments! Or just tell us what’s your favorite Chase Bliss Audio pedal!
In the meantime…
Here’s a quick timeline of all official Chase Bliss Audio releases so far:
12/2013 – Warped Vinyl
09/2014 – Wombtone
03/2015 – Warped Vinyl MKII
03/2015 – Wombtone MKII
03/2015 – Gravitas
11/2015 – Spectre
05/2016 – Tonal Recall
11/2016 – Spectre (Blue Knob Mod)
03/2017 – Brothers
07/2017 – Tonal Recall (Red Knob Mod)
12/2017 – Warped Vinyl HiFi
04/2018 – Condor
05/2018 – Thermae
11/2018 – Dark World
??/2019 – Blooper
??/2019 – Preamp MKII