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.
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.
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).
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.
The 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.
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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