Moog Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox Review

The Moog Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox is one of my all-time favorite effects stompboxes. It hasn’t been covered at Best Guitar Effects, so I chose it for my first review contribution. Among my collection of effects pedals, it’s been like a versatile wild haired member of the band.

The Moogerfooger line of stompboxes was introduced in 1998 with the MF-101 Lowpass filter. The MF-107 FreqBox was added to the Moogerfooger line in early 2007. It was the first new stompbox to be produced by Moog after Bob Moog’s death. Other notable Moogerfooger releases include the MF-104M Analog Delay and MF-108M Cluster Flux.

The FreqBox sounds similar to a synthesizer because in its interior is actually an analogue VCO that is modified by the input signal in various ways. But while the FreqBox isn’t exactly a guitar synth pedal, Moog’s deep experience in analog synthesis and sound design are showcased strongly in this unique instrument, making it an original sound design tool with many possible uses that extend well beyond what musicians may expect from a typical guitar pedal.

Features:

The FreqBox contains an analog VCO with a continuously variable waveform which can be modulated by the audio input signal. Modulation of the VCO includes: hard sync, frequency modulation (FM), and modulation of the VCO frequency by an envelope follower. The amplitude of the VCO is controlled by the amplitude of the input signal.

Sound Design

  • Analog VCO
  • Front panel knobs for VCO frequency, Waveform, Drive, Output Level, Envelope Amount, FM Amount, and Mix
  • Sync switch On/Off

Hardware

  • Black brushed metal casing
  • Polished wood side panels
  • Metal bypass switch
  • Led bypass indicator

Ins & Outs

  • Audio in & out
  • CV/Expression Inputs for Frequency, Wave, Envelope Amount, FM Amount, and Mix
  • CV outputs for Envelope, Oscillator

Audio quality

  • All analogue circuitry
  • Classic Mooq designed oscillator and synthesis components
  • The input sound is not a processed version of the input signal, but the sound of the input signal modulating the oscillator.

Build Quality

The brushed black metal casing, knobs, and polished wood paneling of the FreqBox look good and relay serious quality. It takes up more space on a pedalboard, so that could be a consideration. I use the FreqBox in many different setups, so I usually hook it up real time on the floor, rather than keeping it dedicated to a pedal board. Although it’s a larger effects box, I think its size also makes it easier to see and tweak, especially in low light.

Visit Moog for more info about the MF-107 FreqBox.

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Sound & Performance:

Sound Sculpting

To get things started, I set the FreqBox’s Input knob so that the sound is the same level when the pedal is bypassed or activated. The FreqBox has a competent Drive with a nice analog warmth, but the real fun is exploring the harmonic distortion and fuzz overtones shaped by the continuous waveforms, FM amount, VCO Frequency, and Mix knob with the Sync mode switched on. These are not classic distortion sounds, but they provide a jagged glow of rich harmonics to explore and experiment with. Players can find a beautiful unique edge that serves a given vibe and cuts through a mix, especially when used with guitar or bass.

Demo With Guitar

Playability

One of my favorite ways to use the FreqBox is to fatten up a drum machine with a bit of drive and use a CV waveform or sequencer into the Frequency input to create bass lines. In this mode, I would have the Sync switch off and the Mix knob about halfway which allows both the drum machine and FreqBox to sound like separate yet entwined instruments. While the drum machine is going, the FreqBox becomes playable as hands are free to tweak the knobs. Without other effects in the chain, the sounds will cut through and the changes can be harsh and drastic. Adding a filter, delay, and reverb to the chain and slowly tweaking the FreqBox’s knobs can create a vast range of evolving textures and melodic sequences to explore in a single session.

Demo With Drum Machine

Overall-Rating-5.0

The Moog MF-107 FreqBox has a significant range of harmonic sound sculpting flexibility from its oscillator & synthesis features and can be used on just about any electronic instrument sound source. Its CV ins and outs work with expression pedals or other modular gear for deep connectivity in any pedal and/or modular setup. The FreqBox’s creative potential makes it one of the most unique, fun, and versatile effects boxes to own. While it’s not a typical guitar synth pedal, the synth-inspired textures produced from this pedal make the MF-107 quite enticing for guitarists, synthesizer enthusiasts, or any musicians seeking interesting new sounds and textures from their effects pedals. Although the FreqBox is currently out of production, I would definitely recommend prowling for a used one if you’re in the market for an inspiring pedal that will take your music in exciting new directions.

That concludes our Moog Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox review. Thanks for reading.

Malekko Scrutator Review – Best Bitcrusher/Filter Pedal?

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In order for your guitar to make sense to your computer, its signal has to be converted to a series of numbers that represent the crests and troughs of the waveform. These are called samples; the higher the sample rate, the more high-range frequencies can be accurately expressed. Those samples are then recorded as on/off memory bits that contain the volume information of the waveform. The more bits, the less compressed and more nuanced your signal will be. Bitcrushers take advantage of this music-computer relationship by taking your analog signal into it’s loving, digital arms and manipulating the sample rate and bit depth to create an increasingly crude compression/distortion effect.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. It was only recently that I became sure I understood the bitcrusher, and I’m still not sure I’m not afraid of it. The bitcrusher sits somewhere between overdrive and Armageddon machine, yielding surreal warmth at its most conservative and absolute mangled mush at the extremes. Originating as a popular offering in the realm of plugin software, a glut of savvy pedal builders have thrown their hat in the bitcrusher ring, reproducing and building on the effect in amazing and unexpected ways.

One such builder is Malekko Heavy Industry, a company one could describe as “enigmatic.” Today we’re taking a look at Malekko’s Scrutator, the first in a series of (so far, three) new units designed with Malekko’s proprietary DSP platform. The word “Scrutator” is an old, almost never used word which means “one who examines,” an appropriate nomenclature for a pedal designed to reduce your signal to its basest attributes and lay bare the grating nature of the bits below.

Features:

  • Six Knobs:
    Pre Amp control for effect input gain/attenuation
    Bit Rate reduction control from 16bit to 2bit
    Sample Rate reduction control from approximately 48kHz to 300Hz
    Q control for bandwidth and amplitude filter amount
    Mix controls the wet/dry
    Filter controls a filter sweep
  • Expression Pedal Input
  • Low-Pass or Band-Pass Filter
  • Clip LED indicates input clipping
  • True Bypass
  • 9VDC powered

Visit Malekko for more info about the Scrutator.

Sound & Performance:

Those of us with already overloaded pedalboards (myself especially) will rejoice hearing the news that the Scrutator is an MXR-sized baby compared to most pedals with this much meat. A few companies have packed their bitcrushers with really intense modulation parameters that transform your signal into angry, whirring will-o-whisps: the Scrutator is not one such pedal. The Scrutator is a much more straightforward piece of hardware, giving you a ‘crusher, a filter, and that’s it. The parameters manipulating the effects within, however, make the Scrutator one of the most musical bitcrushers on the market.

The lynchpin of the Scrutator is of course, the Sample knob, which serves as more an auditory gradient from clean to slightly overdriven to ringmod to broken fuzz to, eventually, a series of question marks and exclamation points. I found that the most useable (in terms of traditional) tones were found no further than 7 o’clock, and rolling past that point we entered into some pretty bloopy territory. Every reviewer who has ever reviewed a BitCrusher has already said something like this, but so help me, the video game nostalgia is palpable here. Stacked with an overdrive, the dirt that the Scrutator adds cannot be overstated. A laser-focused filter is amazing over overdrive on a bad day; add that bitcrusher into the mix, you’re in for some clippy, synthy insanity.

The Expression pedal input is a swiss-army knife for this effect; you can set it to any combination of the Filter, Q, Bit or Rate parameters, and also the directional sweep can be altered to sweep up or down when the expression pedal is brought to heel or toe. What’s great about this is that the knobs continue to serve a purpose after the expression has taken their duties. For example, I set the filter to sweep up when I brought my expression to toe, while simultaneously crushing the Sample Rate, but I didn’t like how bright the filter or how squashed the sample rate parameter made my signal when maxed out. To fix this, I simply dialed the Filter and the Rate knobs back ever so much and voilá! A much more usable and chewy filter tone, fully adaptable to your notes by use of the expression pedal.

I feel like I should also talk about the Mix and Preamp knobs, because despite being unaffected by the expression, they play an integral role in the Scrutator’s character. Through use of the Preamp, you can attenuate the volume of the bitcrusher; you might choose to set it at unity for rhythm bloops or boost it for lead bloops. Either way, whenever you clip the Scrutator, a tiny LED light under the Preamp knob will flicker to let you know: “Hey! That’s loud!” Clipping the Scrutator actually has a pleasing, compressed effect to my ear, making the loss more obvious the further the Bit knob is cranked. The Mix knob, on the other hand, will allow you to mix in any amount of crushed or not-crushed signal into the sum signal. You might not use it this way, but I set it at about 2 o’clock and cranked the preamp to be just above unity, then swelled in filtered digital space whales. Fun.

The Scrutator can also be set to be affected by either a low-pass or band-pass filter by deactivating while holding down the footswitch, unplugging, and then plugging back in the device. It is kind of annoying that one has to power down the Scrutator to change the filter setting when this could have just as easily been featured using a toggle switch, but with the sheer quantity of variables and no preset option I could see why this is a better design, from a live performance standpoint. The Scrutator is already a small target to hit, and unless you have very long and dextrous toes, having one more thing to look out for is a figurative pain in the neck. Or a literal pain in the feet if you’re a Steven Wilson type and play barefoot.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

With its slight profile, clever design, and expression out The Malekko Heavy Industry Scrutator stands out to me as one of the best bitcrushers on the market today. It is a carefully considered piece of hardware, built for the initial confusion and lifelong delight of its master. It’s also a very specialized pedal, but the few things it does, it does with gusto, and considering some of its more popular competitors retail for up to 50% more, I’d be stunned if we didn’t see a ton more Scrutators on ‘boards around the world. It’s certainly not a sound for everyone, but guitarists who love mangling their sound bit by bit will love what this pedal can do.

That concludes our review of the Malekko Scrutator. Thanks for reading!

Electro Harmonix HOG2 Review – Best Guitar Synth Octave Pedal?

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The Electro Harmonix HOG2 is “an Octave and Harmonic Generator/Guitar Synthesizer that can simultaneously generate multiple octaves and harmonics from your input signal.” Like an EHX POG2 on steroids, the HOG2 can create octave intervals from -2 to +4(!) with a couple 5ths and a 3rd in between. The HOG2 features improved algorithms and sound quality than the original Harmonic Octave Generator and now offers complete MIDI control of every single editable parameter. Improved sound quality is always a good thing, but the unprecedented MIDI control may allow some seriously unique possibilities for guitarists who want to plunge deep in the HOG2. Here’s quick rundown of the pedal’s feature before we launch into our Electro Harmonix HOG2 review.

Features:

Sophisticated new algorithms improve the quality of the ten generated octaves and harmonics as well as the Freeze function.

Full MIDI control over all parameters and presets.

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A Master Volume for added control and convenience. Volume levels are saved as part of a preset.

10 Controllable harmonic intervals and 7 Expression modes.

Freeze modes holds a note or chord so you can play over it or slide to new notes like a keyboardist playing portamento.

Amplitude envelope controls your attack or decay speeds.

Dedicated resonant filtering with sweepable frequency control.

Separate lower and upper harmonic amplitude envelopes.

Save and recall up to 100 preset programs with the optional Foot Controller (sold separately).

External expression pedal included.

Standard 9VDC 200mA power supply included.

Visit Electro Harmonix for more info about the HOG2 Harmonic Octave Generator.

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Sound & Performance:

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the EHX HOG2 as it’s a seriously inspiring pedal and one I’ve had very high expectations for since its announcement. If you’re a fan of the original HOG or the POG2, you might have an idea of what to expect. But don’t be fooled. The HOG2 really stands alone, not only among other guitar synthesizers or octave pedals, but among any other guitar effect period. While it draws some obvious comparisons to the POG2 (with a nod EHX’s own Freeze and Superego pedals) thanks to its multiple octave voices and sliders, the HOG2 takes this concept above and beyond with some interesting sonic possibilities that cannot be achieved with any other pedal or guitar processor.

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The HOG2 has a total of 10 voices which may be used together in any combination. These are -2 Octaves, -1 Octaves, Original, +5th, +1 Octave, +1 Octave + 5th, +2 Octaves, +2 Octaves + 3rd, +3 Octaves, and +4 Octaves. The HOG2’s voices are created by an impressive use of DSP power and are triggered instantaneously with no noticeable latency. Even when playing fast runs it’s amazing how smooth the HOG2 sounds, and the tracking is impressively stable. It’s only when using several voices and playing some pretty complex chords that you may notice a little glitched-out warble, although performance is top tier in most situations and certainly improved over the original HOG. The sheer amount of pristine musical voices the HOG2 can create from a standard mono guitar signal trumps anything else I’ve heard from an octave/synth pedal. The higher range voices are shimmery and ethereal while the -1 Octave and -2 Octaves are smooth and organic sounding. Suspended 4ths, 5ths ,and added 9ths sound especially pleasing with higher voices while the lower octave voices can pull off some authentic bass guitar tones from a standard 6-string guitar.

The Original voice is interesting in that it doubles the Dry Output signal with a digital recreation of the signal. While it may seem redundant at first, the Original voice and Dry Signal each have their uses. You can use the Dry Signal to blend in an unaffected guitar signal to retain the most pure, unprocessed tone. Using the Original voice is primarily for when you plan to pitch shift the voices via an expression pedal (or MIDI control) or affect the voices with the Envelope or Filter section. You can also use the Dry Signal with the Original voice for a doubling effect. Detune the Original voice slightly for a chorus-like, modulated sound.

Electro-Harmonix-HOG2-Review-Best-Guitar-Synth-Octave-Pedal-04And speaking of pitch-shifting, this is where the HOG2 really starts to get interesting. Plugging in the included EHX Next Step Expression Pedal (or any compatible expression pedal) with Exp. Mode set to Octave Bend or Step Bend allows you to achieve some incredibly smooth pitch bends. Step Bend lets you bend one whole step while the Octave Bend sends your pitch soaring up one full octave. I sometimes noticed a slightly “stepped” pitch glide from the original HOG on the Octave Bend setting, but the HOG2 sounds absolutely pristine thanks to its improved pitch algorithms. The really cool part is that you can pitch shift any (or all!) 10 voices up or down a full octave. This means you can take that +4 Octaves voice up to +5 Octaves(!) and the -2 Octaves voice down to -3 Octaves. (To pitch shift the voices down, simply push the Exp. Reverse button.) Just watch your ears and the ears of your pets if you do find yourself brave enough to shift that +4 voice up an octave as it can get intense.

The Expression Pedal has a few other uses that make it an essential live tool for getting the most out of the HOG2 with your feet. The Volume option gives you control over the volume of the generated voices, letting you fade them in and out over your Dry Signal or complete silence the signal when not using the Dry Signal. The Freeze + Gliss is probably my favorite Exp. Mode as this allows you to freeze a note or chord and then play another note or chord and morph seamlessly between the two by rocking the expressional pedal. The effect is similar to sounds produced by the Electro Harmonix Superego Synth Engine except with precise expression pedal control over the rate of glissando. Freeze + Vol lets you take the HOG2 from silence to a sustaining pad-like symphony generated by the notes or chord you’re holding. The Wah Wah mode gives you a filtering effect that is voiced to capture the vibe of a classic wah pedal sound and does so very well. The Filter mode gives you manual foot control of the Filter’s Frequency parameter. This is an awesome way to add some movement and realtime tone-shaping to the HOG2’s voices. You can also set the range of the Filter sweep with the HOG2’s Frequency slider to perfectly suit what you’re playing.

Electro-Harmonix-HOG2-Review-Best-Guitar-Synth-Octave-Pedal-05The Filter is a key component to dialing in the overall tone of the HOG2. It’s such a great-sounding filter that I wish EHX would release it in a stereo MIDI-controlled standalone pedal. Seriously, guitarists and synthesizer fans who like quality filters will dig what EHX cooked up for the HOG2. The Resonance lets you adjust the Q of the filter which emphasizes the cutoff frequency for a potentially aggressive sound. For more subtle filtering just pull the Resonance somewhere around middle and listen for how it affects the peak frequency. The Frequency adjusts the cut-off of frequency of the Filter and will let you round off the high end if those higher voices need to be reined in. You can also get some great bass octave tones by filtering out most of the high end and using the -1 Octave and/or -2 Octaves voices. The HOG2 will give you some incredibly deep sub-bass sounds.

The Envelope brings in some cool Attack & Decay effects. There are separate controls to affect either the Lower or Upper voices. You can either add some Decay for fades and staccato effects or slow down the attack to remove your picking transients or fade in the notes and chords you’re playing. Using different settings for the Upper and Lower voices produces some cool results, too. For example, try setting a quick Decay on the Lower voices and a slow Attack for the Upper voices to create a quick stab of lower notes with a shimmery pad of harmonic octaves on top. Very cool!

The Spectral Gate is also useful when using multiple voices to retain a more focused sound that doesn’t clutter up the mix. It adds an emphasis to the most prominent harmonic of your input signal to generate an even cleaner effect with a bit less high end making it useful as an extra tone-shaping control as well.

The MIDI implementation is one of the biggest improvements to the HOG2, offering complete control of every single aspect of this incredibly deep guitar synth. You can control the HOG2 with any external MIDI controller or even program and automate the pedal from a hardware sequencer or DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Ableton Live. I played a gig using the HOG2 with complete MIDI automation of the pedal and achieved some incredibly complex and precise pitch modulation what would have been impossible to pull off in a live situation otherwise. You can even use MIDI to create some wild pitch arpeggiation spanning +1 to -1 octave with clever automation of the Exp. Reverse and Coarse/Fine tuning parameters. The full MIDI capabilities of the HOG2 make this pedal an essential companion in the studio or as part of a MIDI controlled live rig. The HOG2 will likely become your head-turning secret weapon when you integrate it into such a setup.

The HOG2 can also save and store presets. This is performed most easily with the HOG2 Foot Controller (sold separately) which gives you access to up to 100 of the units presets. Without it you can still save and recall a single preset to the unit by pushing and holding the Exp. Mode button for 2 seconds to save your settings to the current preset bank and pushing and holding the Spectral Gate button until the Preset LED lights up to recall the preset. If you’re using MIDI you can access up to 120 total presets without the need for the HOG2 Foot Controller. When sequencing MIDI to control the HOG2 I just made a single default preset to recall and programmed MIDI for particular songs to automate the HOG2’s parameters as needed.

There’s not much to complain about. Some guitarists might wish the HOG2 Foot Controller was included, perhaps even instead of the expression pedal. Also, while the algorithms sound extremely good, you may still notice some jiggly anomalies when using the higher voices with 2nds, 3rds, and 7ths. The Filter sounds so good that you may wish, like me, that it had its own in/out to be routed anywhere in your signal chain, but of course that doesn’t take away from how awesome the Filter sounds within the HOG2. (I’ll just keep crossing my fingers for an Electro Harmonix MIDI-controlled stereo filter pedal.) There’s also the matter of size, as this pedal (and its accompanying Foot Controller and Expression Pedal) take up a lot of room on your pedalboard. But if you like octave effects and guitar synthesizer pedals, you may not mind clearing some room to make the HOG2 the new centerpiece of your pedalboard. The HOG2 is certainly one of the most ambitious guitar pedals from EHX and one that will inspire the bold guitarists who tap into the sonic power it offers.

Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The Electro Harmonix HOG2 is quite possibly the most inspiring guitar synth pedal I have ever played. Its array of 10 voices combined with powerful Envelope and Filter sections provide an unprecedented amount of customizable textures for some of the most surreal sounds you’ll ever hear generated from a guitar. While the HOG2’s included Next Step Expression Pedal gives you plenty of realtime control possibilities, it’s the pedal’s complete MIDI integration that pushes it over the top as a wellspring of guitar octave synthesis inspiration. Until the HOG3 hits the scene the HOG2 will likely reign as the best guitar octave synth pedal in the digital realm. In the right hands this pedal will create some legendary sounds.

That concludes our Electro Harmonix HOG2 review. Thanks for reading.

 

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TWA Great Divide 2.0 Review – Best Analog Synth Octave Pedal?

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Some things really are worth the wait, and if you’re a fan of octave dividing pedals and analog guitar synthesis, the TWA Great Divide 2.0 is definitely one of those things. The Great Divide MkI was first unveiled back at NAMM 2011 to the awe of synth loving guitarists, but it took 2 more years to be finally released to the masses as the Great Divide 2.0 Multi-Voice Synth Octaver.

So why did it take so long to release the Great Divide? And what changed for the MkII version? Well, it turns out that this pedal was going to be costly to make, so some minor design changes needed to be made including the sacrifice of having presets. But worry not, as TWA made no compromises in the sound quality department. They even went as far as adding a few features for even more sound-sculpting options! You can tell that this guitar synth pedal was a real labor of love as TWA spent so much time perfecting it and squeezing in more variables to tweak than have ever been seen in an analog synth octave pedal. So let’s get on with the TWA Great Divide 2.0 review and find out if it’s really the best analog synth octave pedal around. Here’s a quick run down of the features before things get massive!

TWA-Great-Divide-2-0-Review-Best-Analog-Synth-Octave-Pedal-02Features:

Access to 5 distinct voices including Syn, +1 Oct, Dry, -1 Oct, and Sub.

The Great Divide Mk. II features the following controls:

Dry Level Fader
-1 Octave Level Fader
+1 Octave Level Fader
+1 Octave Envelope Switch (sort of like Synth resonance, or maybe a cosmic death-ray)
SUB Level Fader & Switch with 4 Selectable voices ( -1, -1.5, -2 or -2.6)
SYN Level Fader & Clock with 5 Selectable Voices (0, -1, -1.5, -2, -2.6)
SYN waveform switch w/4 options (Saw/Pulse, Chopped Saw/Pulse, Square, Modulated Square)
Cross-modulation option for -1 OCT (tracks SUB clock)
Raw clock option for SUB voice (think MASSIVE, vulgar square wave)
12 Internal Trimmers to control various sound parameters (Tweaky-Tweak)
3 Voice Off Switches – shut off +1 Oct, Dry, and -1 voices (left to right, respectively).

EXP In: External Effects Loop to patch in other effects (AWWWW Yeah!) via TRS cable or connect an expression pedal to control the overall output volume.

S3™ Shortest Send Switching™ for uncolored true bypass tone. In the event of a power loss, S3™ switching automatically reverts to bypass mode.

Powered by 9VDC, tip-negative power source, 100mA minimum (PA-9 Power-All recommended).

Visit Godlyke for more info about the Totally Wycked Audio Great Divide 2.0.

See the lowest price on eBay.

Sound & Performance:

First, let me say… this pedal is a monster! From the moment you activate the Great Divide 2.0, it unleashes a commanding presence that dominates the frequency spectrum, particularly the low-end. This is one of the beefiest analog octave guitar pedals I’ve ever heard. While the DRY and +1 OCT voices keep plenty of mids and highs in tact, the quaking low-end possibilities make the Great Divide 2.0 a sonic force to be reckoned with for both guitarists and bassists alike. Of course, as you’ll discover, all the voices of this pedal can be tonally tweaked to your preferences, for example bringing in some extra high-end aggression to the lower octave voices for some unbelievably huge sounds.

TWA-Great-Divide-2-0-Review-Best-Analog-Synth-Octave-Pedal-03I’m going to cover my impressions of the various sounds this pedal offers while keeping it light on the technical talk. Just watch the Great Divide 2.0 review video and listen to it in action. While this pedal may seem complex at a glance, it’s really easy to come to grips with and yields great results when experimenting with the various voices and settings you can adjust. Just remember to be mindful of your volume levels when plugging into the Great Divide 2.0 for the first time as this pedal is loud!

Starting with the -1 OCT voice, the Great Divide 2.0 produces a smooth, organic low octave tone that’s great on it’s own for monophonic synth bass lines. Right away you can’t help but feel that this pedal just begs to be used for recording and live integration within a band setting. The default -1 OCT tone is a pretty clean sound and tracks surprisingly well all over the fretboard. It can get get a little jittery on lower registers if you let notes ring out, but overall, the Great Divide 2.0 is right up there among the best (i.e. most stable) tracking I’ve heard from an analog synth pedal. Sustaining notes are smoother from around the 7th fret and up, although your individual results will vary depending on factors ranging from pickup type/selection, neck scale length, whether or not you’re driving the pedal with a compressor, and overall playing technique. Sloppy playing yields sloppy results, so tighten up for precision fatness! Also, a neck pickup (humbucker or single-coil) typically yields the most stable tracking.

TWA-Great-Divide-2-0-Review-Best-Analog-Synth-Octave-Pedal-04The SUB voice features a dedicated SUB CLOCK that selects the interval of octave division. You can choose from -1 octave, -1.5 octave (an octave and 5th), -2 octaves, and -2.6 octaves (two octaves and a 6th) with the SUB CLOCK slider. Why these particular intervals? Well, this isn’t some digital synth emulation, and these are some of the most stable note divisions that can be achieved with real analog octave division. While you may not have previously thought of using a -2.6 octave interval harmony, you might find some interesting textures by experimenting with it as well as the -1.5 interval. Also, that extra super low 6th south of -2 octaves gives you extended low range for some incredibly deep sounds. Try using the SUB voice alone with the SUB CLOCK at -2.6 for some super low synth bass runs!

The +1 OCT voice utilizes a form of distortion to generate an overtone that’s one octave higher than your base signal. Think of those classic Octavia fuzz effects to get an idea of what’s going on here. It’s an aggressive sound that can add some ripping high-end to your sound if you really want to pummel an audience with an over-the-top sonic assault. There’s also a dedicate +1 ENV switch which lets you add further articulation to this sound via a dedicated envelope filter (more on that when we go under the hood in a moment).

TWA-Great-Divide-2-0-Review-Best-Analog-Synth-Octave-Pedal-05The SYN voice is probably my favorite voice of the Great Divide 2.0 as it yields the most diverse range of sounds right out of the box. The SYN Clock lets you choose from 0 (unity), -1 octave, -1.5 (an octave and a 5th), -2 octaves, and -2.6 (two octaves and a 6th) intervals. This is similar to the SUB CLOCK voices with the added Unity voice option. The SYN Voice fader also gives you 4 waveform/tonality options: Chopped Saw + Pulse, Saw + Pulse, Square (which always uses Unity interval!), and Modulated Square. The SYN voice produces modulated sounds with an aggressive edge thanks to their Saw and Square wave origins. The pulsing effect is dependent on your input single and increases in speed as you rise in pitch and slows down as you play in lower registers. These sounds can be really cool on their own but work exceptionally well when combined with the -1 and/or SUB voices to create thick textures with hints of modulated movement.

The controls on the surface provide a world of analog octave synthesis enjoyment, but what if you still want more? The Great Divide 2.0 serves up even more tweaking potential if you dare to dive under the hood. 10 trimmer pots and 2 switches give you access to low-pass filters, volume/gain controls, and more. Try flipping the X-MOD switch to let the SUB Clock add subtle modulation to the -1 OCT voice. Then you can tweak the -1 LPF and/or flip the SUB LPF switch to adjust the -1 OCT and SUB voices to your tastes, giving you 2 distinct lower octave sounds to use for different situations. You can also tweak the response of the +1 ENV. The differences in texture provided by the +1 OCT ENV and +1OCT ENV SPD are somewhat subtle to my ears but still useful for getting the +1 ENV sound just right. The +1 OCT DRV lets you adjust the input gain of the +1 OCT voice to tame it or go for even more paint-peeling, face-melting insanity. Use with caution… or reckless abandon if that’s more your style. The +1 OCT on the pedal I tested was a little hot, resulting in noise between playing. A slight tweak of the +1 OCT DRV got rid of the noise while leaving the great tone of this voice intact. I also prefer to open up the SYN LPF for a full range sound and attenuate the -1 OCT LPF to adjust it to my rig. This all adds up to plenty of options for finding your sound!

The Great Divide 2.0 also features an EXP jack that has 2 possible uses. You can plug in a standard expression pedal for volume control. This lets you create synth pad-like swells. Use this in front of a reverb, and be blown away. The Great Divide with a reverb and exp. pedal are a killer foundation for some mesmerizing soundscapes. Also, the EXP jack lets you use a TRS send/return cable to patch in another pedal after it passes through the Great Divide and activate both with the Great Divide’s true bypass foot-switch. I got some awesome results adding a fuzz pedal to the mix. You could also try adding an EQ pedal for deeper tonal contouring of your synth sound.

There isn’t much to complain about really. One issue I did have is the slight bleed from the +1 OCT voice into the signal even when its not in use. Whether or not I cut the +1 OCT level fader down or deactivated the voice with its dedicated on/off switch, a faint +1 OCT sound persists in the sound. This isn’t a problem with some voices as the loudness of the other tones drowns out the noise. But when using the SUB -2.6 octave setting (one of my favorite sounds thanks to its extra smoothness when compared to the -2 setting), the faint bleed from the +1 OCT taints the pristine low-end sound. Reducing the +1 OCT DRV didn’t help but, but surprisingly, maxing it out removed the noise entirely! This worked to clean up the sound, but it comes at the sacrifice of quick access to a cleaner, lower gain +1 OCT in a live setting since you’d need to dive within the pedal to make this adjustment. But this is the only technical gripe I’m left with, hardly a concern that would keep me from purchasing this awesome pedal. However, it would be nice to see added signal clarity to clear up that minor issue if any slight hardware updates are ever made. It’s also a shame that the option for presets was scrapped to keep costs down as it would be nice to have a few of the great sounds you dial in available via foot-switch. But once you’ve got a feel for the pedal and know what you’re looking for, making a few quick slider adjustments shouldn’t be that difficult.

With all the great sounds this pedal offers, the Totally Wycked Audio Great Divide 2.0 is quite unlike any other synth octave pedal around. Let’s see the final result.

TWA-Great-Divide-2-0-Review-Best-Analog-Synth-Octave-Pedal-06

Overall-Rating-4.5

The TWA Great Divide 2.0 is an awesome beast of a pedal and the most in-depth monophonic analog octave guitar synth around. A total of 5 voices can be tweaked and blended to taste for some outright massive sound-shaping possibilities. The creative potential of this pedal really puts the “Great” in Great Divide, and whether you want to play it straight or dial it in with the internal controls, you’ll be in for an unparalleled treat of analog octave synthesis. And yes, this monster plays well with distortion, so crank it up! The Great Divide 2.0 is the ultimate contender for the best analog synth octave pedal and is a definitely a must-try!

That concludes our TWA Great Divide 2.0 review. Thanks for reading.

 

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Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine Review – Best Guitar Organ Synth Pedal?

Electro-Harmonix-B9-Organ-Machine-Best-Guitar-Organ-Synth-Pedal-01

Electro Harmonix have been absolutely dominating the market lately when it comes to polyphonic guitar synth pedals. EHX’s Superego Synth Engine, Ravish Sitar, and HOG 2 Harmonic Octave Generator have proven that quality polyphonic synth sounds can be achieved from a standard guitar signal, negating the need for one of those finicky hexaphonic pickup systems. And while it was EHX’s own POG & POG 2 pedals that seemingly launched the craze for making the guitar emulate organ-style sounds when paired with a modulation pedal, Mike Matthews and Co. have gone one better and created the Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine to achieve authentic organ tones from a single pedal. The EHX B9 may have been long overdue, but it couldn’t have come at a better time, representing the current pinnacle of Electro Harmonix’s guitar synth expertise in what is likely the best guitar organ synth pedal available. Here’s a complete rundown of the pedal’s features before we jump into our Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine review.

Electro-Harmonix-B9-Organ-Machine-Best-Guitar-Organ-Synth-Pedal-02Features:

Dry Volume knob controls the volume of the untreated instrument level at the Organ Output jack.

Organ Volume knob controls the overall volume of the Organ preset.

Mod knob controls the speed of modulation. Modulation varies per preset and includes vibrato, tremolo, and chorus.

Click knob controls the percussive click level. For a few presets Click controls parameters unique to the preset.

Bypass foot-switch toggles the B9 between Buffered Bypass and Effect mode.

Dry Output jack outputs the signal present at the Input jack through a buffer circuit.

Organ Output jack outputs the mix set by the Dry and Organ controls.

Preset Descriptions:

1. Fat & Full – This sound adds an extra octave below and above to make your guitar sound twice as big. Fills out any band in an instant! MOD Type: Chorus.

2. Jazz – This preset has the cool, smooth jazz tone reminiscent of the late great organist Jimmy Smith. MOD Type: Chorus.

3. Gospel- This preset has the upper octave drawbars added to capture that great soulful organ tone. MOD Type: Chorus.

4. Classic Rock- This preset captures the classic rock sound of songs like Procal Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Add a touch of distortion for a classic dirty organ. MOD Type: Chorus.

5. Bottom End- This preset has the lower draw bar sound. Perfect for adding bottom to your guitar or playing B3 bass sounds. With the CLICK control up you can lay down a bass line like the one on Sugarloaf’s “Green Eyed Lady.” MOD Type: Chorus.

6. Octaves- This preset uses the fundamental tone plus one octave above. This sound is great for songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time is Going to Come.” MOD Type: Chorus. CLICK control adds not only key click, but higher harmonics.

7. Cathedral- Turn up the reverb and you are at the seat of a giant cathedral organ! Psychedelic rock tones easily pour out. MOD Type: Tremolo. CLICK
adjusts the tremolo depth.

8. Continental- This is the classic combo organ sound similar to classic songs “96 Tears,” “Woolly Bully” and “House of the Rising Sun.” MOD Type: Vibrato. CLICK controls vibrato depth.

9. Bell Organ- If you crossed an electric piano with an organ this is it. MOD Type: Tremolo. CLICK adjusts the amount of bell or chime added to the sound.

B9 is powered by included 9VDC power adapter (requires 100mA).

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Sound & Performance.

The B9 follows a pedigree of EHX synth guitar pedals that I’ve had in-depth experience with, putting me in a unique position for an EHX B9 review. I’ve raved about the Electro Harmonix POG 2 before, an octave pedal that utilizes DSP to synthesize its accompanying octaves, and the POG legacy has set the stage for EHX’s successive synth pedals which have impressed me with their excellent sound quality, accurate tracking, and clear note definition. Aside from sounding great, EHX’s synth pedals are also noteworthy for being somewhat forgiving of less than perfect technique, meaning they’re less likely to trigger random notes and wonky noises, something that cannot be said of guitar synth systems utilizing hexaphonic pickups. The B9 is similar in this regard, picking up notes that cross a certain volume threshold and generating its organ sounds accordingly. While it won’t mask outright sloppy technique, it doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your playing to generate great sounds. (But some changes to your playing will result in greater organ-like authenticity as I’ll point out in a moment.)

What becomes immediately apparent upon playing through the EHX B9, besides the sheer quality of its organ emulations, is how quick and responsive the tracking is. Single notes and full chords are heard immediately and ring out with clarity and definition. The B9 also tracks your vibrato and glissandos exceptionally well although this results in less authentic organ sounds, of course. I’d recommend refraining from string bends and vibrato, a challenge if these nuances are an essential part of your technique. It’s a feat worth managing as you will be rewarded with some pretty convincing organ sounds, especially if you can adopt a style of phrasing and note choice akin to a key-bound organist.

The B9 has independent volume controls for the wet and dry signals, letting you blend your guitar in the mix as well as playing with just the pure organ sound. You can also run your wet and dry signals to separate amps via the B9’s dedicated Dry and Organ outputs. This offers more flexibility for further tonal coloring of the wet and dry signals although you can still play them both through a single amp by using just the Organ output to blend both signals together.

The pedal also has a bit of dynamic range, sensing notes played at different volume levels and generating its organ sounds at a volume level corresponding to the input signal. This lets you vary your pick attack for more expressive playing when playing single notes. A lighter pick attack can also be used to avoid triggering the Click sound if desired. For chordal work, however, it can be better to play with even dynamics for smoother sustain and consistent note volume. This can often be accomplished best with a compression pedal placed in your signal chain before the B9. As with any synth pedal, the B9 should be placed first in your signal chain before any other effects with the only exception being when using a compressor before the pedal.

While the B9 doesn’t have a dedicated tone control, you will notice that your pickup selection and guitar’s tone knobs affect the tonality of the wet signal. EHX fine-tuned each emulation so that it’s easy to recall a sound quickly and achieve a quality organ sound, but it’s still worth experimenting with the sound of your guitar through pickup selection and tone controls to find the ideal organ tone. I had great results with both humbuckers and single-coil pickups. While you can color the tone of the pedal with your guitar’s tone knobs, don’t darken the tone of your guitar too much as this may result in the B9 not detecting your higher pitched notes.

The B9’s ease of use will certainly add to the appeal of the pedal with guitarists who just like to plug in and play with no complex editing menus getting in the way. Setting the volume levels of the wet and dry signals is self explanatory via the 2 dedicated knobs. The Mod and Click controls add modulation and a percussive click attack to certain organ presets, respectively.

Electro-Harmonix-B9-Organ-Machine-Best-Guitar-Organ-Synth-Pedal-03The B9 offers 9 presets that cover a lot of organ variation. The Fat & Full preset beefs up your sound with additional +1 and -1 octave tones for a massive organ sound and is one of the B9’s go-to presets that defines what this pedal is capable of. Since each note generates 3 separate tones, keeping your playing light on the polyphony keeps the frequency spectrum from getting too muddy. But this is definitely the preset to use for an organ sound that commands attention and dominates the mix when you really want to go all out. The Jazz preset offers a warmer, more mellow organ sound that blends into the mix without being overly prominent. Like the name implies it’s great for jazzy playing. Throw this preset a “B9” chord for fun and see where it takes you. Gospel adds an upper octave with an overall brighter tone to capture a church organ type of sound. Yes, it sounds as heavenly as the name implies! The B9’s Classic Rock setting will make your Deep Purple or Steppenwolf cover band complete without the need for an actual organ player. Magic Carpet Ride, anyone? Also, try it with an overdrive or dirty amp setting! The Bottom preset adds a booming low octave organ tone, great for laying down some fat bass lines. Add some Click for a more harmonic attack, and be sure to try using this preset with your dry signal for a cleaner sound with massive bottom end presence. The Octaves preset adds an octave up tone and offers more control of the higher end of your signal by using the Click knob to bring in the upper harmonics along with the percussive click sound. This preset can be tweaked to sound dark and mellow or quite bright depending on your tastes. The Cathedral preset is another standout. Use this with some heavy reverb for epic Phantom of the Opera organ sounds, great for creating a moody atmosphere or ripping some wild organ solos. The Cathedral’s tremolo can add some subtle modulation or heavily throbbing rhythm to your sound as well. The Continental preset definitely pulls off that House of the Rising Sun vibe, complete with a pulsing vibrato that can take your sound to seasick extremes. The Bell Organ preset blends an organ with an electric piano for some sounds unlike any other preset. The “bell” harmony is a major 3rd that occurs over 3 octaves above your base tone. That means if you played an open E note on your low E string the bell harmony would be equivalent to the A flat/G sharp note heard on the 16th fret on your high E string. This gives you access to high register piano-like sounds that even have a hammer-like piano click attack.

It’s refreshing how great the B9 sounds and how far guitar synthesis has come, although it’s maybe less surprising if you were already impressed with Electro Harmonix’s Ravish Sitar pedal. That last piano-like Bell Organ preset is almost a tease for possibilities that could perhaps be realized in future EHX synth pedals that emulate other instruments. I’d imagine many synth hungry guitarists who are fans of the quality sounds offered in the B9 would love to see an EHX piano/harpsichord synth pedal, violin/cello/harp “String Machine”, or after hearing the awesome tones of the Bottom preset, perhaps a lower octave pedal that emulates tones of classic bass guitars and upright bass sounds. I would also love to see a MIDI-controlled EHX synth pedal with oscillators and filters that emulates some of the classic and modern sounds heard on the past 30 years of dance/electronic music. With EHX leading the way in modern guitar synthesis with the proven technology found in their B9 Organ Machine, Ravish Sitar, HOG2 Harmonic Octave Generator, and Superego Synth Engine, I’d imagine that the continued success of these pedals will lead to even more guitar synth pedal surprises on the horizon.

While the focus of the B9 seems to be ease of use and having one quickly accessible sound from the pedal’s single foot-switch, I personally prefer the performance flexibility offered by the Ravish’s customizable presets and dedicated preset foot-switch. For some guitarists, the smaller enclosure of the B9 being set to single great organ sound will be enough for that one organ song in your live set. But for guitarists that really like to dig in and milk the most out of every pedal on their pedalboard, you might be hoping like me that the success of the B9 leads to a B9 Organ Machine Deluxe with expanded preset options and selection. Also, it’s a little surprising that EHX didn’t add in expression pedal control of the modulation to simulate the variable speed nuances of a rotating Leslie speaker cabinet, but aftermarket expression pedal mods are already available for guitarists that must have expression pedal control. You could also consider using the B9 with a dedicated rotating speaker simulator for even more authentic results. But even with all that in mind, know that the EHX B9 is still the essential pedal on the market for simulating organ sounds with a traditional guitar.

The Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine is the premier guitar organ synth pedal and yet another great guitar synthesizer pedal from EHX. Let’s see the final result.

Electro-Harmonix-B9-Organ-Machine-Best-Guitar-Organ-Synth-Pedal-04

Overall-Rating-4.5

The Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine is the best guitar organ synth pedal available and another shining example of EHX’s guitar synth wizardry. The B9 offers dead simple ease of use thanks to its 9 finely tuned presets and sounds fantastic throughout its range of sounds. There’s a preset in this pedal that’ll capture an organ tone reminiscent of the most famous organ sounds in your head, and creative guitarists will use it to create textures unheard of until now. The B9 is the new go-to pedal for recording and live use whenever quality organ sounds are called for.

That concludes our Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine review. Thanks for reading.

 

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Electro Harmonix Ravish Sitar Review – Best Guitar Synth Pedal?

Electro-Harmonix-Ravish-Sitar-Review-Best-Guitar-Synth-Pedal-01

Having already been greatly impressed by the fast and responsive polyphonic tracking of the POG2 Polyphonic Octave Generator, I had a feeling the Ravish Sitar was going to be something special. While its name gives away the source of inspiration for the creation of this pedal, the Ravish Sitar offers a whole new world of sound design possibilities beyond its obvious sitar-like effects.

Ravi Shankar to Ravish Sitar

Let me assure you that the Ravish Sitar is no one-trick-pony. Sure, a sitar emulator might be a cool idea for a song or two. It could even form the basis for an entire project or album. But sometimes us guitarists want to get a little more utility out of our guitar pedals than one type of sound. But while the focus of the Ravish is to provide a convincing emulation of a sitar that’s complete with resonating sympathetic strings and optional modulation for a tanpura-like drone, its range of timbres extends to include those reminiscent of cello, organ, synth-guitar sounds, and more. While its reign as the sultan of sitar synthesis is without question (as you’ll discover in the review), the bigger question is whether or not the Ravish Sitar is the best guitar synth pedal around.

Here’s a quick rundown of this pedal’s features before we seek sonic Shambhala in our Electro Harmonix Ravish Sitar review.

Features:

Electro-Harmonix-Ravish-Sitar-Review-Best-Guitar-Synth-Pedal-02Independent Timbre controls for the Lead and Sympathetic tones.

Independent Volume controls for Dry, Lead, and Sympathetic voices.

Play in all 12 chromatic keys in major, minor, and exotic scales.

Create your own custom sympathetic scales; up to 17 notes, including microtones.

Freeze the sympathetic strings by holding down the Preset footswitch.

Fade and freeze the sympathetic strings with optional expression pedal.

Control the decay of the lead sitar notes.

Modulate the sympathetic notes to create movement similar to that of a tanpura.

Bend the pitch of the Lead voice from 1 semitone up to 1 octave with an optional expression pedal.

Separate outputs for main mix and sympathetic strings.

Selectable Q control on lead voice allows variation from organic to synthetic.

10 fully programmable presets.

Powered by included 9.6VDC 200mA power adapter.

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Sound & Performance:

The Ravish Sitar is quite possibly one of the best kept secrets in guitar effects pedals. I can imagine that many guitarists look at it and either love it or loath it right away, depending on whether or not they have a taste for the exotic sounds of the instrument that it seeks to emulate. But there is much more to this pedal than meets the eye. While the Ravish will definitely please sitar enthusiasts and fans of traditional Indian music, it packs an incredibly diverse range of synth-like guitar tones that adventurous guitarists will appreciate.

While it’s often fun to just plug in a pedal and start strumming away, you’ll get a lot more out of the Ravish by taking a moment to become familiar with its controls and how they interact. When you first fire up the pedal and start hitting notes, you’ll get a cacophony of dissonant tones if you’re not playing in key with the tuning of the sympathetic strings in the various presets. The digital display indicates the selected preset and key signature, and 4 orange LEDs indicate the scale and whether or not the key signature is sharp. To use the Ravish Sitar’s sympathetic strings to the fullest extent, some basic knowledge of music theory and scales is helpful, but even if you’re just playing basic chord progressions and simple pentatonic scales, you can still get amazing sounding results.

Electro-Harmonix-Ravish-Sitar-Review-Best-Guitar-Synth-Pedal-03The Ravish certainly captures the exotic vibe of the sitar, creating mesmerizing accompaniments to single notes and chords. It’s pretty incredible just how smooth the textures sound even with polyphonic chordal passages. Adding a bit of Modulation to the Sympathetic voice makes the surreal ambience even more hypnotic. You can also adjust the Decay of the Lead voice to affect the envelope filter style attack, creating the subtle metallic movement that completes the sitar-like vibe.

The Decay is part of how you really get the most out of your Lead voice. Using it in conjunction with the Lead Timbre knob allows you to make the Ravish sound like a sitar or a range of other instruments. With the Sympathetic and Dry Level knobs turned down, cutting the Lead Timbre knob fully counterclockwise produces a very woody tone that sounds reminiscent of a cello. Add a little palm muting for a pseudo-plucked cello attack. As you push the Timbre knob gradually clockwise, the tonality of the Lead voice will transform, and the Decay function will begin to have a more noticeable effect. Leaving the Decay at 0 will produce the most prominent attack envelope while raising it as far 9 will create a consistent attack and tone that’s vital for creating some dramatic, very un-sitar-like effects. Exploring the Ravish’s Lead timbres reveals sounds from 16-bit video games, accordion and bagpipe textures, organ-like effects, and even those emulated guitar tones from old-school keyboards. There’s some serious fun to be had for any guitarist looking for something a little different. Also, a little bump of the Ravish’s Q parameter is ideal for making your Lead tone stand out a little more in the mix when used with the Sympathetic strings or other musical elements.

To touch back on my introduction, the Electro Harmonix POG2 showed that the brilliant engineers over at EHX know a thing or two about harnessing modern DSP power to create pedals with insanely fast pitch tracking and incredibly smooth polyphonic performance. The Ravish Sitar carries on this standard with extremely precise and reliable performance. While some lesser pitch and synth pedals are known for their unstable “wobbling” pitch effects, the Ravish Sitar has no such issues, producing smooth harmonic textures even when playing chords with 3 or more notes. It’s also surprisingly dynamic, producing louder sounds when you pluck the strings harder. While some synth and pitch pedals benefit from increased tracking accuracy when having a compressor placed before them, you would only need a compressor with the Ravish if you simply want to even out the dynamics due to minor volume inconsistencies in your playing. Basically, the Ravish’s tracking is superb and very revealing of your technique. It’s quite impressive that a digital instrument can be so responsive and musical.

There are a few more little surprises in the Ravish’s bag of tricks that add to the creative possibilities. Holding down the preset button suspends the resonating Sympathetic strings, creating a droning texture to improvise over. If you plug an expression pedal into the Drone input, you can fade in and hold the sympathetic strings, an effect that is especially beautiful with some delay or reverb added after the Ravish Sitar. It’s also possible to create your own scale of up to 17 notes for customized sympathetic textures. You can even use an expression pedal to control the pitch of the Lead voice, raising it from 1 semitone up to a full octave. At wider pitch interval settings the sweep sometimes seems to step through the notes, interrupting the smoothness of the pitch glide. Shifting the expression pedal more slowly or very fast reduces this perceived effect. Setting the Pitch to an octave up and leaving the expression pedal in the toe position lets the Ravish Sitar’s unique Lead voice produce a great sounding polyphonic octave up effect.

Electro Harmonix have yet again broken new ground in guitar synthesis with the Ravish Sitar guitar synth pedal. Let’s see the final result.

Electro-Harmonix-Ravish-Sitar-Review-Best-Guitar-Synth-Pedal-04

Overall-Rating-4.5

The Electro Harmonix Ravish Sitar is easily the best sitar emulator effects pedal ever created and also offers a wealth of great tones beyond its namesake. With deep control over the Lead voice and Sympathetic strings, the Ravish produces some of the most sitar-like sounds ever triggered from a guitar. Guitarists who dig deeper will find textures and sounds similar to organ, cello, and more. It’ll even emulate old-school keyboard style guitar tones and retro video game sounds. The Ravish Sitar has earned an irrefutable place among the top tier of the best guitar synth pedals available.

That concludes our Electro Harmonix Ravish Sitar review. Thanks for reading.

 

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EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander Review – Best Analog Guitar Synth Pedal?

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EarthQuaker Devices has been at the forefront of innovation in guitar pedals for the past few years. Whether its building a modern take on a classic effect like with The Depths (vibe) and Hoof Reaper (fuzz) or venturing into uncharted territory a la the Rainbow Machine, Organizer, and Arpanoid, EarthQuaker Devices has been breaking ground with every successive pedal release. Thus this humble-looking little analog guitar synth dubbed the Bit Commander deserves more than a passing gaze from any guitarist who has a taste for analog guitar synthesis and bizarre guitar tones. It also packs a few interesting surprises that even traditional guitarists will appreciate.

The Bit Commander offers a total of 4 voices: -2 octave square wave sub, -1 octave square wave, a mildly squared base tone, and a transformer based +1 octave tone. Aside from level controls for the 4 voices, there’s a master volume control and a Filter knob to adjust the tone. It’s certainly one of the more straight-forward guitar synths available as sounds are created simply by using the various level controls. But is it the best analog guitar synth pedal? You’ll find out in our EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander review.

EarthQuaker-Devices-Bit-Commander-Review-Best-Analog-Guitar-Synth-Pedal-02Features:

All analog, monophonic guitar synthesizer.

Control knobs:

Sub: Two octaves down level.

Down 1: One octave down level.

Up 1: One octave up level.

Base: Squared input signal level.

Level: Master volume control.

Filter: Tone control, more highs clockwise, more warmth counter clockwise.

True bypass switching for letting your signal pass unaffected when disengaged.

Powered by 9VDC power adapter.

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Sound & Performance:

With monophonic analog guitar synthesizers, there are a few things to consider up front. The quality of the sounds produced is dependent upon the integrity of the input signal fed into the pedal. It is necessary to play with precision and fluidity to achieve the best results. It’s usually important to play with your neck pickup. And it’s also generally more difficult for analog guitar synths to track notes lower on the neck.

Despite the inherent limitations of such devices, the Bit Commander doesn’t suffer as much from the shortcomings found in many guitar synth pedals. The Bit Commander’s tracking is very fast and responsive, keeping up with fast single note runs, legato playing, slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, string bends, and vibrato. For a pedal with a lo-fi 8-bit video game kind of vibe, the Bit Commander really rewards expressive playing. You’ll find this especially noticeable when blending the base tone with the lower octave synth tones.

The lower (-1) octave and sub (-2) octave square wave tones are both beautiful to behold. The square wave tones generated are smooth and very musical, albeit in an old-school analog synth sort of way. (Yes, that’s a very good thing.) The Bit Commander’s -1 octave and -2 octave square wave synth tones are thick and focused with the -2 octave sub tone sounding especially massive. These 2 tones are the traditional analog synth side of the pedal, offering a convincingly authentic analog synth sound but with the playability of a guitar. Despite the fact that EarthQuaker Devices recommends playing the Bit Commander from the 7th fret on up for best results, I was able to get consistent tracking even lower on the neck by adjusting where I pluck the strings.

Adding in the base tone signal and octave up makes things even more interesting. The base tone has a slightly dirty sound that blends in well with the lower octaves, and the octave up is reminiscent of a great octave fuzz effect recalling EarthQuaker Devices’ own Hoof Reaper Octave Fuzz. Great sounds are easy to sculpt thanks to simple to use controls for the different voices. I typically start with the Level control at noon and add voices to taste until I find a sound I like. The Filter control is essentially a tone knob that allows you to roll off the high-end a bit if that octave up tone cuts too much for you.

As awesome as this pedal is with all the monophonic synth-style voicings available, there are a couple features that really push this pedal over the top in terms of versatility. The Bit Commander’s octave up voice is great by itself or when used with other distortion or fuzz pedals for a custom voiced octave fuzz effect. Also, you can use just the base tone with the Level and Filter knobs for gritty distortion sounds. Yes, it’s polyphonic just like your typical distortion or fuzz pedal. Blend the Base and Up 1 controls for some ripping distortion that will decimate chords. Tame it by pulling the Up 1 control back just a bit and using the Filter control to roll off those face-melting highs. You can find some balanced settings for crushing bridge pickup chords. Then flip to the neck pickup and play above the 12th fret for some octave up fuzz.

The Bit Commander is one of EarthQuaker Devices’ finest pedals. It’s quite possibly my favorite EarthQuaker Device. Let’s see the final result.

EarthQuaker-Devices-Bit-Commander-Review-Best-Analog-Guitar-Synth-Pedal-03

Overall-Rating-5.0

The EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander is loaded with exceptional monophonic synth sounds, octave up fuzz, and gritty square wave distortion. The tracking is very fast and accurate, capturing the subtle nuances of the guitar surprisingly well. The base tone is very useful by itself as a great sounding distortion effect, and the octave up can be used alone or paired with your fuzz of choice. Combine the 2 for some nasty sounding distortion tones. There’s more to the Bit Commander than meets the eye. It goes beyond what many guitar synths offer while being housed in a much smaller package. Looking for the best analog guitar synth pedal? Try the Bit Commander, and you may look no further.

That concludes our EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander review. Thanks for reading.

 

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Red Witch Synthotron Review – Best Analog Guitar Synth Pedal?

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I love strange and bizarre guitar pedals. Any pedal that makes a guitar sound not like a guitar grabs my attention. And every time a new guitar synth pedal comes out, I’ve gotta try it. And a guitar synth from a company like Red Witch, makers of such gems as the Empress Chorus, Violetta Delay, and Fuzz God II pedals, is something I absolutely must put to the test.

The Red Witch Synthotron looks like it could be one of the best analog guitar synth pedals around, offering two separate analog synth voicings (+1 or +2 octaves up and -1 or -2 octaves down), a tone-shaping filter section, and some additional modulation effects to control of the overall sound and response of the pedal while being housed in one of Red Witch’s very compact dual-footswitchable enclosures. I’m anxious to try this one out, so let’s run down the features and get on to the Red Witch Synthotron review.

Features:

2 discreet, all analog synth voices.

True Bypass Syn footswitch for activating/bypassing the synth function.

True Bypass Filter footswitch for activating/bypassing the filter section. May be used independently of the Synth section.

4 Synth Control Sections:

Red column box controls the first oscillator.

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Flipswitch for +1 or +2 octaves up, Level knob for setting volume level, Decay knob for setting decay from zero latency (staccato) to longer delay times.

Orange column box controls the second oscillator.

Flipswitch for -1 or -2 octaves down, Level knob for setting volume level, Decay knob for setting decay from zero latency (staccato) to longer delay times.

Light Blue column box controls modulation and dry signal level.

Flipswitch for Tremolo on/off, Velocity knob for setting tremolo speed, and Dry knob for setting clean, unaffected guitar volume level.

Dark Blue column box controls Filter section.

Flipswitch for setting between Envelope Filter Mode and Sample/Hold Mode, Range knob for setting the sweep of the envelope filter (Filter Mode Only), Velocity knob for setting the speed of the Sample/Hold (S/H Mode Only).

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Sound & Performance:

I didn’t hesitate to plug this pedal in and start switch-flipping and knob-turning before I read the manual. The knobs are generally self-explanatory, but I’ll clarify their operation as I go along. A world of interesting sounds lies within the Synthotron, beckoning you with a call to the unknown.

You can essentially have up to three voices at any given time, your dry guitar signal, a +1 or +2 square wave synth voice, and a -1 or -2 square wave synth voice. The 3 signals (dry signal and 2 synth voices) can be easily blended to taste for a wide range of combined sounds, making the Synthotron quite adept at sculpting musical synth guitar tones. The +2 octaves voice sings with a violin-like sustain, while the -2 octaves voice will deliver an earth-rumbling sub-octave roar.

The sounds produced by the Synthotron are pure square wave analog synth beauty, providing jagged, yet smooth tones that can sound like you’re playing an 8-bit NES game, not a guitar. Since the Synthotron converts your guitar signal to voltage to trigger the synth voicings, your guitar and pickups don’t affect the sound, although pickups and their settings can affect the tracking. The Dry knob can be using to blend in your dry guitar signal for a more full sound with organic guitar textures woven within.

The Decay control knobs are a useful addition to the synth channels, allowing the Synthotron’s voicings to ring out in all their sustaining glory if desired. With the decay knobs rolled back to the left, you can achieve staccato-like note stabs. With the knobs fully clockwise, notes will trail off gradually. Since the Synthotron is monophonic, you can play another note to interrupt the decay.

My biggest complaint with any guitar synth is latency, and I’m happy to report that latency isn’t a noticeable issue at all with the Synthotron. The tracking is fast and quite accurate. The quality of response can vary depending on what kinds of pickups you’re using, but input level can be adjusted internally for optimum performance. On a related note, I typically recommend using a high quality compression pedal in your chain before any guitar synth to ensure an even note level for the best possible tracking. The pedal seems to perform best when playing at the 10th fret and above, and with the -1 or -2 synth voicing, you’ll have no problem getting notes from lower registers.

Flipping the Trem toggle switch to the down position activates an interesting Tremolo modulation effect to enhance your synth sound. Using the Velocity knob with the Tremolo allows you to dial in some really cool warbling lead effects, further adding to the Synthotron’s bag of tricks. I rather like the way it sounds just a little shy of being totally maxed out. The Tremolo adds some nice textures that are worth exploring.

The Envelope Filter mode provides a means to hone in on a specific frequency to further tailor your synthotronic sound. This effect can be added via footswitch to enhance your synth sound with a cool “filtered” tone. And the Sample Hold function adds some really cool movement to your playing. The Sample Hold function of the Synthotron is the first random movement effect I think I’ve ever liked. It pulses to the rhythm and will certainly inspire you lay down some grooves. These functions are available from the 2-way S/H toggle switch and may be used independently of the synth voices to affect your normal guitar tone in creative ways. Try the Enveloped Filter by itself for some auto-wah-style, funky chord progressions.

I’m a big fan of guitar synth pedals in general, but I really, really like this pedal. Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-4.0

The Red Witch Synthotron is one of the best analog guitar synth pedals available. It features a small pedalboard footprint yet is packed with plenty of adjustable parameters for finding your perfect synth sounds. Tracking is fast, and the pedal responds very well to controlled dynamics. The ability to use the Envelope Filter separately from the synth adds even more versatility. This is one you should definitely check out if you’re looking for a guitar synth or an interesting pedal in general that will allow you to transform your guitar into an all-new instrument. Kudos to Ben and Red Witch for bringing this treasure trove of analog synth tone to the masses.

That concludes our Red Witch Synthotron review. Thanks for reading.

 
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Electro Harmonix Superego Review – Best Guitar Synth Pedal?

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I like to generalize guitar players by dividing them into two categories. One kind of guitarist likes to keep things simple. They just want their favorite guitar, a good amp, and maybe an overdrive or wah on occasion. Other guitarists are a bit more extreme. They’ll seek out any and every new way to effect their sound and are always looking for new guitar pedals to mangle and shape their tone. If you’re the second type, then Electro Harmonix has a new synth pedal you may be very interested in.

The Electro Harmonix Superego Synth Engine uses polyphonic granular synthesis to sample and loop what you play through it. An optional effects loop for the effected signal adds infinite possibilities. It reminds me of the Electro Harmonix Freeze pedal juxtaposed with a sound-on-sound looper or delay pedal with an effects loop… on steroids. Even that description doesn’t really do the Superego justice as this pedal is one of the most original creations I’ve ever encountered.

It is the best guitar synthesizer pedal out there? Let’s find out. I’ll run down the features of this revolutionary pedal and dive into the Electro Harmonix Superego review.

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Features:

3-Way toggle switch for selecting between Latch, Momentary, and Auto modes.

Auto mode captures, freezes, and sustains notes and chords as you play.

Momentary mode allows sampling and holding of single notes or chords when pressed.

Latch mode allows layering of sampled notes and chords.

Gliss knob controls portamento function when switching notes and chords.

Volume controls for Wet and Dry levels.

Speed/Layer control for adjusting attack and decay of the frozen sound in Momentary mode. It adjusts decay time of auto triggered samples in Auto mode. It adjusts the volume of previous layers in Latch mode.

Effects Send/Return for inserting effects into the wet signal.

9-volt power supply provided.

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Sound & Performance:

Starting off with the Momentary mode, I plugged in my Strat and went for a warm clean amp setting to get a feel for this pedal.

Pushing down the Superego’s footswitch allows you to sample a segment of your playing and continue playing over it for as long as the footswitch remains pressed. This happens pretty quickly as the Superego grabs and loops a smooth texture of the initial notes or chords ringing out when you press the footswitch. The Superego is a beautiful pedal for adding interesting textures to your playing, allowing you to create ethereal accompaniments quite unlike any other synth pedal I’ve ever heard. The sounds of pedal are divinely inspired.

The Speed knob allows you to control how long it takes the effect to fade in when activated and fade out when released. It’s pretty easy to get a feel for the pedal’s subtleties and dial in some truly mesmerizing effects. The Superego really excels at adding emphasize to held notes during a solo or for creating droning foundations to play over.

I find that the Superego can be quite sensitive to your pick attack. It’s best to “feel” your way into this pedal to get accustomed to how it samples your playing and triggers its droning effects. You’ll find that the smoother your technique is, the better this pedal sounds as is the case with just about any great pedal really.

Electro-Harmonix-Superego-Review-Best-Guitar-Synth-Pedal-13In Auto mode the Superego automatically detects note changes and samples the new notes you play. I was able to find the threshold for sample detection and with careful use of picking dynamics, hit notes harder to trigger sample notes while playing more softly to add melodies over the top.

By turning down the volume of the Dry signal, you can really hear the glissando of notes and chords as the Auto mode morphs from one to the next. The glissando of the Superego is a very textural effect that is unlike anything else out there, offering unique sounds as notes and chords morph into each other. Well, actually you can find similar excellent sounds in the EHX HOG2 from which these glissando effects are based.

A slight latency may sometimes be noticeable when listening to only the effected signal as the Superego samples its loop after the initial attack. This very slight delay is necessary to sample such pristine loops and is perfectly acceptable for dreamy soundscapes where feel is more important than strict timing. When blending the wet and dry signals, the latency is further rendered a non-issue as the Superego fades in its characteristic sounds after the initial attack.

The Latch mode lets you stack layers of sound. The Speed knob controls how many layers you can hear stacked. You could use this mode to carefully add harmonies and layer note fragments or build a wall of sound to infinity. The controls are actually fairly easy and intuitive to use yet provide just enough flexibly to sculpt its unique Superego synth effects.

The Superego really shines when you use other pedals in the effects loop, offering a whole new layer of depth to the sounds it can create. I experimented with various tremolo, delay, and reverb effects and also the Electro Harmonix POG 2 and Big Muff Pi with Tone Wicker with very musical results. Integrating the Superego with other pedals offers unlimited creative potential for adventurous musicians. Also, I highly recommend running the Wet signal with effects into a separate amp for even more interesting possibilities.

This pedal offers endless variety and will help create truly amazing soundscapes in the hands of the most creative and experimental guitarists. The Superego is a shining example of the kind of effect (along with the Ravish Sitar and B9 Organ Machine) that could only come from the brilliant engineers over at Electro Harmonix.

Let’s have the final result.

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Overall-Rating-4.5

The Electro Harmonix Superego is destined to become a coveted classic among guitarists who can appreciate what this unique sonic implement is capable of. Whether you’re adding subtle accompaniments or creating atmospheric soundscapes, the Superego gives you tonal possibilities that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s intuitive and easy to use, yet is as expansive and infinite as your imagination. The Superego is truly an instrument in its own right. Those who seek out the myriad possibilities contained therein will reap great rewards as this pedal offers a promise of great musical attainment to those who achieve unity with the Superego.

That concludes my Electro Harmonix Superego review. Thanks for reading.

 

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