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.
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.
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).
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.
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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