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.
All analog, monophonic guitar synthesizer.
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.
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.
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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