Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal Review

 

The Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal is a new kind of audio processing engine that offers piano-like sustain effects for guitars and other instruments. The distinctive, sophisticated appearance and ergonomic design put the Plus Pedal in a class by itself; it’s sure to invite stares from all the gearheads.

Now, of course, there will be some comparisons to pedals like the EHX Superego and Freeze, but the Plus Pedal is decidedly different. Some things are obvious; the actual “switch” is very different. Instead of a stomp switch, you get a great piano-like sustain pedal. This pedal works similar to an expression pedal in that a “half-press” makes it behave differently than a “full-press.” Can’t do that with a stomp switch. You get real-time feedback of half-press vs. full-press by watching the LED brightness. There are some things that are also different under the hood. The actual technology within the pedal is much different than that of other pedals on the market. The Plus Pedal is based on a new method of digital sound processing called Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping (patent pending). Instead of creating tones using an oscillator and filter based synth engine, Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping works by creating a smooth, circular loop out of a source signal that is recorded as you go, sampling only the last segments of your incoming notes or chords. These tiny bits are sampled in real time and looped together to create a seamless, warm and responsive sustained tone.

 

Features:

Sound Design:

  • A new kind of audio processing that offers piano-like sustain/sostenuto for electric guitars and other melodic instruments
  • Hand-crafted brass damper/sustain-style switch
  • Four rotary knobs on the face of the pedal adjust the dynamic properties of the wet signal, including Blend, Sustain, Rise, and Tail
  • A two-position slide for controlling the play mode between Single and Group modes
  • A second two-position slide for Split and Mix modes to isolate the wet signal or mix it
  • Multiple signal routing options including a built-in effects loop
  • Gradual Control with the main switch with the options to press halfway, or all the way
  • Further control options include a quick, hard, full tap will act as a kill switch for the sustained sound
  • Multi-stage LED indicates on, half-press, full-press
  • “Wet Only” mode

Ins and Outs:

  • One 1/4” main input (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” main output (top-mounted)
  • 9v DC, center negative power jack drawing 130mA (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” effects send (side-mounted)
  • One 1/4” effects return (side-mounted)

Technical stuff:

  • Input: Unbalanced TS, 1MΩ, max input +6.8dBu
  • Outputs: Unbalanced TS, 100Ω, max output +6.8dBu
  • Sample Rate: 26kHz
  • A/D D/A conversion: 16 bit
  • Frequency Response, Analog/Digital: 20Hz to 22k/13kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: -97dB (A weighted); ref=max level, 22kHz bandwidth

Let’s have a more in depth look at the main knobs of the pedal:

Blend (how much): Controls the volume of the wet signal produced by the Plus Pedal. The 12:00 position is an exact 50/50 blend of wet and dry signal. It has a very convenient indent in the potentiometer’s path as you turn it.

Sustain (how long/how many): Now, this is kind of a magical and busy knob. I will do my best to describe it in detail. First of all, the Sustain knob changes its functionality when you switch from Single Mode and Group Mode.
In Single Mode: The Sustain knob allows you to control the behavior of the hold function while the foot-pedal is pressed. When set to minimum, you will get the natural decaying properties of a ringing guitar string. Whereas, when set to the maximum, signified by an infinity (∞), the Sustain knob will keep the sustained note/chord completely static for as long as the foot-pedal is pressed without applying any frequency filters on the top end.
In Group Mode: The Sustain knob allows you to control the number of sustained layers allowed to be played simultaneously. You can choose between 1 and 5 layers. As you rotate the knob to choose the number of layers, watch for the LED to blink once for each number from 1 to 5.

Rise (fade in): Sets the fade in speed of new sustain layers generated by the Plus Pedal. A minimum setting will let you bring in new tones instantly, while the maximum setting will result in extended, gradual swells. Try somewhere between nine and noon for a starting point.

Tail (fade out): Adjusts the amount of spillover after you’ve released your foot from the pedal. The maximum setting here also features an infinity symbol (∞) and when it is set to this point, the layers will continue to stack up on top of one another (up to five layers) and create rich, harmonic soundscapes.

 

There are several useful ins and outs on the pedal. Input and dual output jacks and 9v power jack are conveniently mounted up top. On the right side, you have options for a separate effects loop as well as two switches that allow for additional control. One switch allows for Group or Single mode. In Group mode, the pedal will collect whole groups of audio layers. In Single mode, it will focus on the most recent note. A second switch allows for Mix or Split on the output. In Mix mode, the more common mode, your wet and dry signals are mixed together on the output. In Split mode, only the isolated wet signal is generated by the plus pedal. There is even an option for the Clean Out/FSW output to harness your unaffected dry signal at all times. I can see this being extremely useful in a recording studio setting. A note regarding the size of the Plus Pedal. It’s about 2/3 the size of a standard volume or wah pedal. In my efforts to keep my pedalboards really small these days, I was struggling to figure out where to put the Plus. I then learned that it’s best to put it first in your chain. Therefore, I don’t put it on a board. I just carry it with me and plug it in between my guitar and my board. It draws 130mA so it can’t use a battery, which would have been convenient, so I just keep a longer power lead available on the board and plug it in that way. I like it next to my board like that. It’s kind of handy to have it off to the side where you can angle it to work more ergonomically for you.

Visit Gamechanger Audio for more info about the Plus Pedal.

 

 

A great starting point setting for this pedal?

With all that’s going on and with a pedal that is arguably not just another familiar thing you’re plugging into, let me give you a great starting point group of settings. Ignore the effects loop for now, just plug your guitar into the top-mount input jack and your amp to the top-mount output jack and set your knobs and switches to the following points:

BLEND: 12:00
SUSTAIN: 12:00
RISE: 9:00
TAIL: 9:00
MODE SWITCH: Single
MIX SWITCH: Mix

*Higher settings will give you a more ambient/spacey sound, while lower settings will give you a more natural/subtle sound. Think of these settings kind of like how you use the settings on a reverb pedal.

A very important word on using the foot switch properly to get the most out of your Plus Pedal:

The quality of the wet signal will always be determined by the amount of time between the attack of the note and the time that the foot switch is pressed.

For a more synthetic, distorted sound, follow the note attack quickly with the foot switch.

For a more smooth, detailed sound, allow more time between note attack and foot switch.

I first saw the Plus Pedal late one night sitting up in bed searching around the far corners of the internet. There were these guys in white lab coats showing off this strange-looking pedal that looked like someone took at piano damper pedal and stuck it on an old wedge-style fuzz pedal enclosure. I thought it was a joke. As soon as I realized it was for real, I was like…. “Whoa……. Someone has actually done it!” Having been a piano player for years before I was ever a guitar player, this seemed like a welcome addition to my board. I’ve always loved the feel and natural simplicity of the piano sustain pedal. It just seems so incredible that someone actually thought to put this into a guitar pedal. Then I started seeing more and more pics of it in some of the FaceBook groups and on Instagram. I recall telling another member of the BGE Team that I thought this might be a contender for Pedal of the Year. After finally using the thing, I can very safely say that this pedal has impressed and shocked me to the core. It is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to my rig. I have used other pedals like loopers, samplers, and synth engines and have gotten similar kinds of effects. The Plus Pedal is just, by far, the most intuitive, simple approach to seamless guitar sampling.

I recently chose the Plus Pedal as one of my picks for the Best Guitar Effects Pedals of the Year 2017 article. This little guy was an easy choice to be one of the Pedals of the Year. The very first time I used the Plus Pedal, I realized something had just changed in my life. I struggle to even refer to it as a “pedal”. It’s more like an extension of my instrument than a mere piece of equipment. What makes it so great is a two-fold answer. First, the most obvious thing is the actual pedal/switch/damper. The big brass thing that you step on. It’s just brilliant. This would not be a Pedal of the Year pick for me without that. The operation and the feel of using it – there is no other way to say this, it’s simply PERFECT. The most intuitive thing ever. Everyone knows what a piano sustain pedal is and what it does. The way the pedal is constructed, and the shape of the enclosure makes it very easy to use. I was up and running exactly the way I wanted to be in less than a minute. The second point that makes this a Pedal of the Year is the sound. I have used other “similar” pedals, and the Plus Pedal just has more of an organic, warm sound. The way it naturally rises and falls just sounds exactly like what it does to a piano. As you’re playing, you get this nice washy sustained sound. The first time I plugged it in, I ran a Les Paul into the Plus Pedal into a crappy little amp with a 2.5” speaker. Point is, nothing good in the line to make it sound nice, however, it sounded incredible! I always like to have a reverb in my chain no matter what and using the Plus pedal kind of had that sound. It was like a reverb, and not like a reverb at the same time. It was as if I’d just bought a new kind of a reverb pedal. Something fresh and cool sounding. Using it this way was kind of fun and inspiring. One of my favorite ways of using it is to set the sustain and tail for infinite sustain. You get this beautiful drone sound and you can control the level of that drone with the Blend knob.

 

 

The Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal is a completely new concept that’s perfectly executed, easy to use, and produces beautiful sounding results. After all, in the end, isn’t that exactly what we’re looking for in a pedal? I don’t plan to ever part with my Plus Pedal. It’s going to be one of those things that will be in my studio making things sound their best and proudly on display when not being used. I can’t say that enough; the thing is just beautiful to both the ears and the eyes. It’s one of those things that you want people to see you using. The intuitive design and a near over-supply of sound and routing options make this the obvious choice for a serious musician looking to get something new to come out of their amp’s speakers. Add to that the newly designed science behind the actual sound sampling and you have something truly unique. I can’t wait to see what will be the next offering from Gamechanger Audio. The Plus Pedal is a game changer of epic proportions.

That concludes our review of the Plus Pedal from Gamechanger Audio. Thanks for reading!

EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter Review

 

The mad scientists in Akron have done it again. The Data Corrupter is one of the latest offerings from Earthquaker Devices and is likely to help you get started on that Summer home improvement by peeling the paint off all your walls. Earthquaker Devices have created their own spin on the familiar PLL-style pedal loosely based on the Electrax Sythax and the “Basic Frequency Synthesizer” by Ray Marston, only with better tracking and sustain. The Data Corrupter is an incredible fuzz / modulation / octave / oscillator machine that is sure to corrupt everything you feed into it, and it will destroy everything in its path.

 

Wait. What does this thing even do?

According to the manual, The Data Corrupter is an analog PLL harmonizer with modulation that takes your input signal and brutally amplifies it into a crushing square wave fuzz, multiplies it, divides it, then modulates it into a three-voice synthesizer. Need I go on? They pretty much had me at “brutally amplifies…”. At the heart of this signal destroyer is the Master Oscillator. The three-position switch on the oscillator control feeds your input into either Unison, -1 Octave, or -2 Octave. Use this to fine tune the tracking response for your preferred instrument. From here, the Data Corrupter will do the science and split off a synthesized frequency. Further controls allow you to select the octave/interval as well as the volume of this voice. The Frequency Modulator applies pitch-bend modulation to the Master Oscillator. A Glide Mode gives you a smooth portamento as each note slides into the next. In Vibrato Mode, the pitch modulates up and down in a retro sci-fi effect! The Subharmonic assimilates the input into one of eight lower octave programs between one and three octaves below the input. The Square Control blends in a great sounding square wave fuzz which I thought sounded great on its own!

Those not familiar with a PLL (Phase Locked Loop) will be surprised by how interesting and finicky these things can be! A PLL takes your input signal and compares its phase and frequency against an oscillator, generates an output proportional to their difference then feeds it back into the oscillator. This causes the oscillator to lock onto the input signal and generate a synthesized frequency. Serious science going on here. So what does that sound like? Well, it’s a super thick, nasty undertone with funky octaves and harmonics all over the place. Tracking inconsistencies will make things feels pretty loose and random as you noodle around the fretboard.

 

 

Features:

Control Surface:

Obviously, there is a LOT going on here. Thankfully, the control surface of the pedal is nicely arranged so you can just get down to business. It’s divided up into sections where you can kind of focus on one part at a time.

Master Oscillator. This part is the heart of the entire device.

• One small three-position switch gives you Root Control:

1.Unison
2. -1
3. -2

• An eight-position rotary allows for octave/interval control with options for:

1. U/U
2. +1/U
3. +1/5
4. +2/U
5. +2/M3
6. +2/5
7. +2/m7
8. +3/U

Frequency Modulator.

• One toggle gives you control between:

1. Glide
2. Vibrato

• A knob to set the rate

Subharmonic section. This section is very similar in control to the Master Oscillator.

• A small toggle for root source:

1. Unison
2. Master Oscillator

• An eight-position rotary allows for another batch of octave/interval options:

1. -1/U
2. -1/5
3. -2/U
4. -2/M3
5. -2/5
6. -2/m7
7. -3/U
8. -3/M2

A three-knob Voice Mixer section allows you to blend in:

1. Square
2. Subharmonic
3. Oscillator

And you can blend each voice in one at a time. A must-have option for any crazy pedal.

Lastly, there’s a Master Volume for the entire thing. If you’re looking for a seriously loud-ass pedal, this is the one. I found unity gain to the dry signal to WELL below noon. In fact, it’s below 9:00.

Ins and outs:

The Data Corrupter has top-mounted (!) mono 1M input and 1K output jacks and a 9v power jack drawing 25mA.

More:

Designed and built in the USA
Measures 5.65″ x 4.75″ x 2.25″ with knobs
True bypass and uses electronic relay based switching

Visit EarthQuaker Devices for more info about the Data Corrupter.

 

 

Data Corruption further explained:

Now, if everything up to this point has made about as much sense as a midnight Trump tweet, have no fear, I will break this down for you. In a nutshell, the Data Corrupter is here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and it’s all out of bubble gum. Unless you’re some kind of math genius or an expert on PLL-based pedals, you might plug into this thing and feel like the world just ended. You might feel overwhelmed and maybe even question why you picked this thing up. My advice… start small and work your way up. I recommend starting out with trying each of the three Voice options one at a time. Try the fuzz first. Just tear into it. The fuzz all by itself is damn near worth the entire price of this pedal. Now try playing just the Oscillator Voice. Get familiar with it. The Oscillator lets you drop (in octaves) the input source pitch. Since some of the frequencies of the Oscillator are too high for our human ears, this comes in super handy. Personally, I like the -2 option here. From there your signal is fed into the PLL and multiplied to create one of 8 different intervals. Stay with me now. In the section above, I wrote all this out for your brain to freeze up on like you’d had too much frozen yogurt. For the 8-position knob, don’t look at all the stuff printed there. JUST LISTEN. Trust your ears to do the work. Just find the setting that you think sounds the best. One end is higher pitched, the other end is lower pitched. I tend to prefer lower, in general, but since this has two voicings (in addition to the fuzz) I set a high one AND a lower one. The high one I usually mix quieter than the lower one.

Now, let’s turn that Voice all the way down and mess with the Subharmonic. Same thing here, kinda. You have two options for where that signal is coming from. You have Unison or Master Oscillator. When you choose Master Oscillator, the subharmonic will be a division of the Master Oscillator. What? It just means it gets more complicated. I prefer pulling from Unison. When you do that, it will be a division of the fuzz tone and Frequency Modulation will be taken out of the equation. Wait, what’s the Frequency Modulation? That’s the little section in the middle of the pedal that you can add to the Master Oscillator. You have two options here. Glide and Vibrato. I prefer glide for more of a subtle effect. Vibrato is cool with rate set way high for a laser machine gun effect.

Now back to that Subharmonic. Here you have another 8-position rotary giving you more options of how the signal is divided. Again, don’t read the little letters and numbers printed on the pedal. Just use your ears again and turn it until it sounds best (or worst, depending on what you’re doing). Ok. Still with me? You have it all set up now. Now you can start blending all the voices together. You can decide if you want the sound to be clean or dirty. If you’re after clean, just keep the Fuzz voice all the way down. If you’re after the nasty, just turn that fuzz up! Now mix in that Oscillator and/or Subharmonic. I suggest, for most applications, keeping these relatively low in the mix. Generally, for most usable, real-life situations, you’re gonna want to just use these to flavor your fuzz/clean tone. If they are up too high, they will dominate your signal. Now, this may be exactly what you’re looking for. If so, go for it. But that’s a really difficult beast to tame! You may find that you’ll just surrender to it and let it decide what notes pass through. It really comes down to a question of control. Do you want to be in control, or do you want to give that up to the greatest corrupter of all data?

 

 

Guitars, keys, and drums, oh my!

Seems like the obvious instrument with guitar effects is, well, the guitar. I obviously ran a series of guitars into this thing. I felt like humbuckers tracked a little better than single coils, especially on the neck pickup. Also, since the pedal is monophonic, single notes sounded better than chords. Power chords sounded better than more complicated chords. Liking what I heard, I decided to continue on to the next instruments in the studio. I have this old KORG CX-3. It’s kind of a Hammond clone and has a wide range of beautiful organ tones. Well, the Data Corrupter absolutely destroyed it. It was really fun to hear an old familiar tone get taken to the cleaners. The coolest thing is the ability to blend, just mixing in a hint of the dirty, crazy, and interesting tones that the Data Corrupter produced. It was also fun to run some old drum machine patterns into it. Imagine the coolest Nine Inch Nails drum track if it were played through the console on the Mother Ship in the original Alien movie. That’s what the Data Corrupter did for me, and all I had to do was plug into this box. I kinda think I liked drums the best. It’s as if the pedal was secretly made just for that purpose. Pretty sure drums and a DC will meet again in my studio!

Probably asking too much here, but there are a few things that would have made it so you could get a lot more from this pedal. I would have liked to have seen MIDI, or some way to save some presets. With a pedal this complex, when you find a cool sound, you’d love a way to save and recall that! Even just a few on-board presets slots would have been cool. Expression would be super fun. It sounds pretty cool to cycle through the rotary switches by hand. It might be complicated to assign a rotary to expression, but it would be cool. Even just using expression to blend in the wet signals of each of the three voices would be rad. It also seems like it could benefit from a little bit better tracking accuracy. I know that this is a characteristic of PLL effects and they, generally, feel a bit “wonky.” But as I played there were moments where a tighter feel would have been really nice.

 

 

The EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter will give you some of the most bizarre and beautifully intense fuzz tones and chaotic guitar sounds you will ever hear. If you’re getting sick and tired of so many fuzz pedals out there that sound just like everything else, this pedal may be your answer. You really can get as tame or as insane as you like with the blend controls. This pedal truly is a new spin on an old idea and one of the most accessible takes on a PLL pedal, being thoughtfully designed and nicely laid out in a way that makes sense for the first time PLL user. And LOUD? You damn right. At times you will think you have found fuzz Nirvana, other times you will think you smell smoke emitting from your speaker cabinet. Still, you must go on and explore the new world of fuzz that is laid out before you. Great rewards will arise from your efforts. (Ear plugs sold separately.)

That concludes our EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter review. Thanks for reading.

Boss/JHS Pedals JB-2 Angry Driver Review

 

2 Builders, 1 Pedal, and Why It’s Okay to Be Angry

Boss needs no introduction as the Japanese brand has become synonymous with guitar effects pedals in the four decades since releasing their very first pedal: the Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble. JHS Pedals, however, is a much younger brand, growing from humble beginnings as a small boutique pedal repair and mod outfit to becoming one of the fastest growing US based pedal brands thanks to their dedicated and growing fanbase. In one of the most surprising pairings in the guitar pedal world, Boss teamed up with JHS Pedals to create the JB-2 Angry Driver. The result of this unlikely pairing of companies from across the globe is one of the more unique takes on a traditional overdrive pedal that breaks the mold to offer a much wider range of overdriven dirt tones than any of Boss’ previous compact drive pedals.

Angry Blues

The Angry Driver takes a familiar Boss pedal, the BD-2 Blues Driver, and pairs it with a variation of the JHS Pedals Angry Charlie. The BD-2 is one of the more famous Boss pedals, debuting in 1995 and still remaining in production to this day. The BD-2 is a characterized by its open and amp-like response compared to more clipped and compressed overdrive pedals and excels at a range of lower to mid-gain drive tones. The JHS Angry Charlie has been released in many iterations although it has always retained a sound that recalls a cranked British amp, a sound favored by guitarists who like meatier guitar tones. Between the two styles of dirt, the JB-2 Angry Driver looks set to offer a formidable range of drive tones.

 

 

Here’s a quick rundown of the pedal’s features before we dig in.

Features:

  • All-new overdrive pedal with massive tonal range, jointly developed by BOSS and JHS Pedals
  • Combines the voices of the BD-2 Blues Driver from BOSS and Angry Charlie from JHS Pedals
  • Three dual-concentric knobs provide independent drive, tone, and level control for each overdrive type
  • Mode selector for choosing individual overdrive types, two series connections for stacking, or parallel connection for unique new sounds
  • Also includes a mode for toggling between BOSS and JHS overdrives with the built-in pedal switch
  • Remote switch jack for controlling pedal modes and bypass from an optional footswitch or effects switching system
  • Multi-color LED indicator shows BOSS mode (blue), JHS mode (red), and both together (purple)
  • BOSS five-year warranty
  • Powered by Boss PSA series power adapter (current draw: 50mA) or 9-volt battery

Visit Boss for more info about the JB-2 Angry Driver.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

The JB-2 is a box that contains a lot of tone. Let’s break it down and talk about the sounds in detail.

Boss BD-2 Blues Driver

With the Mode knob pointing straight up to noon, you’ll be in Boss Mode which gives you a sound that’s pure Blues Driver. I hadn’t played a BD-2 in quite some time, so it was nice to get reacquainted with this classic circuit. As indicated by the labels below the knobs, the lower outside partitions of the dual-concentric knobs control the 3 familiar Blues Driver parameters for Drive (Gain), Tone, & Level. With the Drive set low in the ballpark of around 9 o’clock, the Boss circuit provides a cleaner response that’s a bit livelier than your bypassed clean tone. It just seems to have a bit more attack and cutting power. You can play chords and melodic clean passages that retain definition and clarity, yet the sound pops out a bit more in the mid-range. As you dig in with a harder pick attack, you’ll get a little more bite without the pedal really breaking up much. Pushing the Drive up a bit towards 10 or 11 o’clock brings in some more dirt for slightly hotter leads. Once you take the Drive up to noon or higher, you’ll find some grittier tones suited to classic rock rhythm playing. It’s a very well-rounded circuit in itself that has a range of useful applications outside of blues guitar playing. The response of the pedal varies depending on the output level of your pickups, but you’ll have no trouble finding solid tones whether you’re using single-coils or humbuckers.

JHS Pedals Angry Charlie

With the Mode knob fully clockwise to the JHS circuit, you’ll get a taste of Boss’ interpretation of the Angry Driver. This mode really excels at dirtier drive tones, and this is the setting you’ll go to when crunchier sounds are called for. The JHS side has a noticeably darker tone that will find favor with guitarists who prefer warmer and woolier flavors of dirt. I personally like how the JHS circuit has a very present lower mid-range, yet the pedal retains plenty of articulation in that area and doesn’t get muddy when chugging out palm-muted riffs. While various JHS releases of the Angry Charlie circuit benefit from additional eq or presence controls, the iteration presented in the Angry Driver still does a solid job at reproducing the essence of what makes the Angry Charlie loved by its fans. The Tone knob will let you color the sound as needed for the typically dark or a relatively brighter sound.

Dynamic Duo

The real benefits of the Angry Driver are found when using both of the circuits together. The JHS/Boss Mode lets you use the pedal’s bypass foot-switch to toggle from JHS to Boss Mode and vice versa. The pedal is always active in this mode, so you’ll have to plug an external foot-switch in the Remote jack to bypass the pedal. (Another way to utilize both circuits in this mode would be to put the JB-2 in a loop of the Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher, activating the pedal when its loop is active and using the MS-3’s CTL OUT with the JB-2’s Remote jack to alternate between JHS and Boss circuits.)

There’s also a pair of modes that allow you to use the two circuits in series in either order: JHS → Boss or Boss → JHS. Running the Boss JB-2 circuit into the JHS Angry Drive is akin to slamming a British amp with an overdrive pedal, a common technique that’s well represented in this convenient mode. Reversing the order is a bit novel and unorthodox, but you can still get some interesting sounds if experimental dirt tones are what you’re after. If you want the ability to break away from traditional dirt sounds, the JB-2 encourages you to do so.

The last Mode option is the Parallel Mode which lets you blend both circuits together side-by-side for layered overdrive tones. I really like the textures you can get from this mode. Try setting the Angry Charlie circuit to the kind of darker, dirtier grit it’s known for and add in a cleaner, brighter Blues Driver tone to the mix. You’ll have a chimier top-end with a bottom that’s like warm velvet. Then try brightening up the Angry Charlie circuit with higher gain and let the BD-2 circuit emphasize the lower frequencies. More great tones abound.

An external foot-switch will come in handy in the modes using both circuits simulataneously in case you want to bypass one of the circuits to use the other one by itself. The manual details which circuit can be bypassed in the 2 series modes and Parallel Mode, and several useful options are available.

It’s hard to find any serious faults with the Angry Driver. The closeness of the dual-concentric knobs might be a bit tight for larger fingers, particularly when adjusting the parameters of the Boss circuit. Also, the Angry Charlie circuit is sometimes a little dark for my usual tastes, but for a pedal this size, the sheer amount of quality tones onboard greatly exceeds the norm. Since there are so many useable settings, some users may wish you could access more than one or two sounds at a time, particularly during a live performance. But having too many great tones is hardly a thing to complain about. And even if the JB-2 doesn’t find a home on your pedalboard, you’re still likely find plenty of use for the Angry Driver as a studio tool or bedroom jam machine. But if you need a drive pedal to achieve one great sound (or two if you use an external foot-switch), the JB-2 will happily fill the spot of another compact drive pedal that has limited tonal options.

 

 

The Boss/JHS JB-2 Angry Driver has a wider range of tonal options than most single stomp compact overdrive pedals, and guitarists looking to replace another pedal that isn’t pulling its weight on their pedalboard will find a lot to love in the JB-2. The classic BD-2 Blues Driver is still as good as it has always been, and the JHS Angry Charlie inspired circuit is a suitable companion that greatly expands the drive tones offered in this unique pedal. While you may wish you could easily access more than one or two sounds during a performance, the sounds of the JB-2 are worth exploring on stage, in the studio, or at home. Boss’ first collaborative pedal is a winner, and I hope we see the esteemed builder doing more such partnerships in the future.

That concludes our Boss/JHS Pedals JB-2 Angry Driver review. Thanks for reading.

Top 22 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2018

The NAMM Show 2018 will likely be remembered as one of the best in recent years for new pedals as the sheer quality and quantity of standout releases made this year’s show really something special. Several well-known and up-and-coming builders are pushing the limits of what musicians previously thought was possible from boxes of components, knobs, switches, and… buttons.

While all of us at BGE have respect for all the great builders in this industry and the great work they do, the aim of this article is to shine a light on the few pedals that stand out above the rest with special attention paid to pedals offering new sounds and innovations to guitarists and other effects loving musicians.

If we covered all the updates of older pedals and the swathes of tweaked overdrives and other solid but not quite as innovative releases from all the builders we know and love, this article would at least double in size. You can find more comprehensive lists of full NAMM coverage elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for the very best of what’s new, this is the place you should start. And with that…

These are the Top 22 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2018…

 

Empress Effects Zoia

One knob, 44 buttons, a display screen, and the truth…

Zoia Horn was a librarian and intellectual freedom fighter who believed that the right to privacy and freedom of thought should take precedence over big government motions to spy on citizens and strip away freedoms. She was once jailed for refusing to testify in court as a matter of conscience. Zoia encouraged non-compliance with the heinously named Patriot Act and even opposed library fees, citing them as “barriers to information access”. Zoia Horn was a revolutionary, an Empress whose life’s work was to herald the advent of a world where human potential could flourish without the sin of restriction.

The Empress Effects Zoia pedal is a bastion of creative freedom that (when released) will contain a treasure trove of well over 50 effects modules that can be linked together in simple or complex combinations. It’s like the equivalent of a massive modular pedalboard or DIY multi-effect in a single pedal. It brings the myriad sound design possibilities of software like Pure Data or Max/MSP to guitarists in a pedal format, unrestrained by keyboard, mouse, and desktop computer. Those unfamiliar with such platforms may find it difficult to fully grasp what the Zoia is without experiencing it firsthand, but the idea is to give musicians the power to create any effect(s) they can dream up.

The Zoia is at once a sandbox and universe of creative potential. Imagine stringing together a whole chain of different effects and recalling an entire signal chain at will. Now imagine tempo-synced LFOs, ADSR envelopes, and/or envelope followers routed to modulate various parameters throughout your signal chain. Imagine sending LFOs as MIDI CCs to control other pedals. Imagine re-wiring the inputs and outputs for stereo I/O or pre/post signal routing. Imagine custom granular synthesis, FM synths, all kinds of other obscure effects, Empress Echosystem/Reverb style delay/reverb combinations, and more effect combo possibilities than you could possibly imagine until you start digging in. The Zoia undoubtedly represents one of the boldest leaps forward in guitar pedals in recent years.

The Zoia is for musicians who want to venture into uncharted territories by becoming the sound designers of their own effects. Start with a drive type. Then add a Tone or EQ section. Maybe go back and link a compressor on the front end. What about an octaver effect? Maybe have an envelope follower modulate the drive amount in real-time as you play. I had a crazy idea for a reverb with both high-pass and low-pass filters on the wet signal. In a couple minutes I was hearing these sounds at NAMM. Then for fun, assigning an envelope follower to have the input signal modulate the filters created a sound with some strange sitar-like resonance. Lots of calculated sound creation and happy accidents will be found in the Zoia.

Users will be able to share and trade their complex preset creations, and Empress will be continuously expanding the Zoia with more modules and features. The version of Zoia at NAMM offered only a hint of what kinds of possibilities will be in store. When the Zoia is released, musicians will be liberated from the closed-ended guitar effects pedals that came before. If you just want to plug-in and play, the Zoia may not be for you. But if you want to create all-new sounds or the obscure effects you’ve been dreaming of for years, the Zoia may be the last pedal you ever need.

 

WMD Geiger Counter Pro

In development since 2011, the WMD Geiger Counter Pro was unveiled way back at Winter NAMM 2015, then shown again at Winter NAMM 2016… and Winter NAMM 2017. This is the 4th year Best Guitar Effects has featured this pedal in our Best Pedals of NAMM roundup. But guess what? They’re being built now, and it’s finally coming out in February 2018.

The GC Pro is a digital wavetable bit-crushing distortion pedal that packs in 512 wavetables for an incredibly wide range of distortion textures. It contains all of the 256 wavetables from the original Geiger Counter with an additional 256 all new wavetables. A new “Morph” mode allows you to smoothly blend wavetables for further texture sculpting, perhaps my favorite tonal feature of the new pedal.

The GC Pro also has 16 onboard presets which can be selected from the pedal or via MIDI. There are 2 CV inputs which can be assigned to various parameters. All parameters are MIDI controllable. WMD is also releasing the Geiger Counter Pro VST which you can load in your DAW of choice as a plugin to take full control of the pedal from the pedal. I’m already imagining the possibilities of what could be done pairing this pedal with Ableton Live 10. The Geiger Counter Pro will be one of the most original and unique distortion pedals to be released in years.

One more thing… There will also be 50 limited edition black units sold directly through the WMD website, so you might want to get in on that if you vibe with the alternate paint-job.

 

Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay / Pitch Shifter

Guitar effects have come a long way since reel-to-reel tape decks were first used in creative ways to produce slapback echoes, double-tracking, and flanging among other effects, and the introduction of bucket brigade device (BBD) delay chips ushered in a new wave of effects, replicating the delay, chorus, and flanging effects previously achievable only through far more cumbersome and costly means. While everything from mechanical springs to light-bulbs has been employed to create new analog effects and sounds, there really haven’t been many breakthroughs in recent years that have yielded new types of analog effects using existing or new technologies. Well, the Thermae was one of the surprise pedals at NAMM with new tricks up its sleeve.

Chase Bliss Audio has become one of the leading innovators in analog effects, using digital means to precisely control all parameters affecting 100% all-analog signal paths. This approach has brought guitarists presets, MIDI, and among other features, parameter “Ramping”, that add to the uniqueness of the builder’s interpretation of classic analog effects. Now the Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay / Pitch Shifter is bringing something new to the world of analog guitar effects pedals: pitch-shifting delay.

Pitch-shifting to specific intervals was first pioneered over 4 decades ago in the Eventide H910 Harmonizer and lives on today in their H9 Harmonizer. Other companies brought the concept to pedals first as seen in the early Boss PS-2 & PS-3. But these effects are all digital. While BBD based analog delay pedals can do pitch-shifty sounds by adjusting tempo and/or tap intervals, the Thermae has been engineered to shift pitch to precise intervals from -2 octaves to +2 octaves with various 4ths & 5ths in between.

It’s fascinating to note which pitches that engineer, Joel Korte, chose to make available. My initial assumption was that octaves and perfect 4ths & 5ths might have simply been a matter of mathematical convenience when implementing digital control over the analog components. But really it was a matter of practical selection of the most musical note intervals that would sound pleasing in more free-form jam scenarios. After all, had the Thermae included major and minor 3rds, using these intervals would require a bit more thought rather than just letting the pedal create harmonies to your playing in more serendipitously musical ways.

One last point of note is that the Thermae shouldn’t be considered a 1:1 replacement to the Tonal Recall RKM despite its super long delay times and normal delay mode. The modulation is a bit different, and the Thermae’s LPF provides a more resonant filtering compared to the Tonal Recall’s smoother high-end roll-off. The Thermae is more of a novel and exploratory effect for guitarists looking for something a little different, but it certainly offers an experience unlike anything else that’s come before.

 

Red Panda Tensor

The Red Panda Tensor was first revealed at Winter NAMM 2017, and then I said that it looks like “the most exciting Red Panda pedal since the Particle”. Red Panda is known for making wild sound-mangling pedals, and the Tensor is arguably their most insane release yet. The Tensor can stretch your playing up to 4:1, pitch-shift from -2 to +2 octaves, do tape stop effects, and all kinds of weird forwards, backwards, and alternating looping craziness with time compression from 1:4 to 4:1. A secret I heard a year ago was that the Tensor might even add MIDI for taking full control of the pedal’s functions, and the Tensor does offer MIDI over USB. Parameters can also be assigned to the expression/CV port for further control. The Tensor is again one of the best pedals of NAMM and looks like it’ll be yet another excellent release from Red Panda.

 

Electro Harmonix 95000 Performance Loop Laboratory

Electro Harmonix pretty much invented the concept of the looping pedal back in 1982 with their 16-Second Digital Delay, and they’ve maintained a looping presence over the years with with a reissue of the classic unit along with the more recent 360, 720, and 22500 pedals and their flagship 45000 Multi-Track Looping Recorder. Even the smash-hit Canyon Delay & Looper draws on EHX’s legacy in looping with a dedicated Looper mode. But the Electro Harmonix 95000 Performance Loop Laboratory is arguably the most ambitious looping pedal ever conceived.

Optimized for table-top and floor usage, the 95000 boasts a massive 6 pannable mono tracks and a stereo mixdown track, a number which you can double by connecting another unit with a standard MIDI cable for the ultimate loop laboratory. The connectivity possibilities are vast with stereo I/O, Mic Inputs with phantom power, MIDI I/O, USB jack, memory card slot, and more. The tempo can be adjusted in ½ step intervals or smoothly for pitch-warping and tape-stop effects.

The 95000 also boasts full MIDI implementation over its functions meaning you could customize an external MIDI controller to take over full operation of the unit. You can also synchronize the 95000 to MIDI Clock, and its looping functions can quantize to the beat for precision looping which is a pretty dig deal if you plan to synchronize the 95000 to external hardware.

This barely scratches the surface of what the EHX 95000 offers, but looping artists will be doing some incredible things with this unit in the years to come.

 

Free The Tone Programmable Analog 10-Band EQ PA-1QG (& PA-1QB)

I never thought I would be excited about a graphic EQ pedal, but I got to spend some time with both of Free The Tone’s new Programmable Analog 10-Band EQ pedals, the PA-1QG (for guitar) and the PA-1QB (for bass) before The NAMM Show, and my expectations were greatly exceeded. I expected that they would sound excellent given Free The Tone’s reputation for crafting pro gear for discerning musicians, and sure enough they do.

With a flat response, they’re incredibly transparent when active or bypassed thanks to Free The Tone’s refined HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) circuitry. The EQ frequency bands chosen on the guitar version (PA-1QG) have been excellent so far for sculpting tones. I haven’t had a chance to plug in my bass yet (because NAMM and NAMMthrax), but the PA-1QB also may be well-suited to extended range guitars if my initial impressions are any indication. The pedals are incredibly easy to use, and I was tweaking, saving, and recalling presets before I even read the manual.

The biggest draw of these pedals may be the MIDI implementation for recalling presets; when using the pedal(s) with an effects switcher, you can recall a preset that perfectly contours your tone for any combination of other effects you’re using. Pending our in-depth review, these are likely the best dedicated pedal based EQ pedals guitarists and bassists are likely to find.

 

Alexander Pedals Colour Theory Spectrum Sequencer

The Alexander Pedals Colour Theory Spectrum Sequencer is another forward thinking pedal that offers musicians new sounds and ways to approach using guitar pedals. It’s essentially an 8-step sequencer that has 6 modes: Pitch, Mod, Filter, Tremolo, Oscillator, & PWM (synthesized octave). You can tap in a tempo for the sequencer or alternate between manual scrolling through taps. The 4 parameters for each mode can be sequenced, and you can also use an external app like TouchOSC for easier programming and creation of up to 16 onboard presets. The Colour Theory also has full MIDI implementation for external control from an effects switcher or other MIDI source (again, like the TouchOSC app). You can also use the Colour Theory as a sequencer to control parameters on other pedals via their EXP/CV ports. Very cool. Lots of inspiration abounds in this little box.

But… the sounds, the sounds! When I heard about the Colour Theory before NAMM, Alexander Pedals was originally going to have only 4 modes, and they were considering scrapping one for another mode. But instead they decided to go all-in, keeping the 5 modes and adding a 6th mode: the PWM setting which does some pretty killer monophonic squared synth sounds. While all the sweet sequencing fun is what the Colour Theory is centered around, the option to manually step through a sequence makes things even more interesting. You could have one preset containing 8 different sounds, easily accessible by scrolling with the Tap foot-switch or by selecting sounds directly from a MIDI effects switcher. This is going to be one incredibly versatile pedal and a sign that Alexander Pedals is really pushing the Neo Series into uncharted territories.

 

Chase Bliss Audio Condor Analog EQ / Pre / Filter

Chase Bliss Audio delivered a one-two punch at NAMM with the showing of two epic new pedals. The Condor is the builder’s take on an all-in-one EQ/Preamp/Filter pedal that offers many unique possibilities outside of what those individual types of effects may have achieved separately. There’s a low-end sculpting Bass control with a dedicated switch that adjusts its shelving range. Then there’s a Mids section that can boost or cut mids across a wide frequency spectrum (150Hz – 5kHz) dialed in with a dedicated Frequency control; the Q can also be adjusted for more precise or broad mids contouring. Then there’s a LPF control that can roll off the highs or be used for filter sweeps with 3 settings for the cutoff resonance. There are also clean and overdrive modes in case you’d like to use the Condor as a dedicated overdrive pedal.

The Condor initially seems like more of a creative tonal sculpting tool than a master of EQ or dedicated filtering pedal. While I would love to have seen the Condor released as two birds: an “EQ version” with Bass & Treble shelving/boosting/cutting and a “Filter version” with LPF and HPF (with both versions retaining similar Mids filtering & boost/cut functionality), the single pedal released looks like it will yield some solid general low/mid EQ-ing with high end roll-off and some cool creative filtering and tonal coloring effects along with some really funky filter modulation thanks to Chase Bliss Audio’s signature ramping effects. (High shelving can still be achieve through subtractive EQing by lowering the Bass & Mids and raising the output volume.) I will say that as far as going in a different direction from other dedicated EQ and Filter pedals, the current configuration of the Condor does still seem like a pretty standout candidate for shaping the sound of other pedals (particularly dirt) from a position later in your signal chain. Typically, a bit high-end rolloff and bass boost or cut is all that’s needed. The super flexible Mids section is another huge bonus. The Condor can also do tremolo sounds, phasing-like modulation, and auto-filtering. Having MIDI, presets, expression control, and all the usual CBA bells and whistles makes this bird even more enticing.

 

Gamechanger Audio Plasma Pedal

The Gamechanger Audio Plasma Pedal already commanded our attention before NAMM with its flux capacitor meets Tesla coil inspired light show courtesy of a xenon-filled tube, but it turns out that the prototype pedals at NAMM sounded pretty good, too. Pushing up the Blend control mixes in a unique style of distortion that is rich in harmonic coloration and fuzzy texture. The Voltage controls the intensity of the distortion. At lower settings it’ll starve out the signal, making it very responsive to staccato playing, and at higher settings the electrified distortion is more prominent. The xenon-filled tube always provides a visual indication of the distortion for a synesthetic effect. There are also familiar tone controls and a Drive parameter, but the pedal may undergo a few more tweaks and design revisions before its release later this year. In any case the Plasma Pedal is another strong showing from Gamechanger Audio and is certainly a pedal to keep your eyes on.

 

Rainger FX Reverb-X

The new Rainger FX Reverb-X is a digital reverb in a similar format to their previously released Echo-X delay (which was also back at NAMM with a new graphic look). The Reverb-X is a digital reverb with up to 6 seconds of decay time. Optional distortion lets you make it dirty for shoegaze style reverb excursions. There’s also an awesome Gate function that lets the huge reverb be heard while you’re playing; the Igor foot-controller comes in handy for activating the effect at will. The pedal is ultra-compact with all the jacks top-mounted on its tiny enclosure, so it’ll be an easy fit on any pedalboard. And seriously, it can’t be stated enough how cool this pedal sounds. Mr. David Rainger managed to put a lot of mojo in this thing. Killer all-around vibe presented at NAMM, so creative guitarists will want to check it out.

 

Neunaber XD-1 Experimental Drive Prototype

First off, the Neunaber XD-1 Experimental Drive Prototype is not a pedal that will be released in its current form. As stated by Neunaber, it is a “proof of concept submitted for your evaluation”. It’s essentially an example of the direction Neunaber may head in with the release of their inevitable drive pedal. The goal was to create a drive pedal that could respond well on any setting in a musical, amp-like manner while not sounding overly compressed.

I spent some time with it at NAMM and was wowed by the Red channel. It had a nice big heavy sound and was incredibly responsive, arguably some of the best heavy tones I’ve heard from a pedal. The Tone control on the unit was a tilt EQ that lowers the bass as the treble is boosted and vice versa. It’s not my personal favorite style of EQ, but it worked well enough for the prototype unit, and the Mid knob did a solid job of cutting and boosting the midrange. But most impressive was the amp-like sound of the distortion, a quality which may also be due to the unit being paired with the Iconoclast, a speaker emulator that already has a nice speaker cabinet style “sag” which contributes to the amp-like feel. But the distortion was simply awesome throughout the range of the Red Gain knob. The Blue channel was a decent low to mid gain affair, but I’d like to see it spruced up for the actual release. The upper range of the Blue Gain could use a little refinement as the channel transitions from clean to breakup. It was confirmed by Mr. Brian Neunaber that more development time had been put into the Red channel before NAMM. It’s likely that a release version of this concept will be up to full Neunaber spec and be even more impressive than the iteration show at NAMM. But I’d happily enjoy the Red channel as-is, a testament to how good it was in the prototype unit.

 

Death By Audio Waveformer Destroyer MK2

This pedal is one update that deserves mentioning because it solves the main issue of its previous iteration. The original Waveformer Destroyer is a badass monster of a fuzz & distortion unit with 4 foot-swiches to select various sounds and a Master volume control. 8 internal dip-switches let you customize the various distortion sounds available. This is a solid approach for creating a set of preset sounds to use when performing, but it isn’t as conducive to spontaneous creativity since you can’t easily access all the available sounds.

The Death By Audio Waveformer Destroyer MK2 takes the 8 internal dip-switch functions and assigns them to external flip-switches. This makes the pedal extra huge, which may not be cool if you’re using a small board, but this makes the pedal super fun for easily trying out new sounds. As a studio tool, the Waveformer Destroyer MK2 could provide a ton of flexibility for layering different textures quickly. Or if you’re using a modular setup, you could run beats and synths into the pedal and more easily find rad distortion sounds to mangle your audio signals.

This pedal will also be a limited run as they’re pretty complicated to assemble, so you might want to keep an eye on the Death By Audio website to pre-order.

 

Epigaze Audio Ascension Reverb

The Epigaze Audio Ascension Reverb was on display at Summer NAMM 2017 and was one of the best pedals of the show. It was back again at Winter NAMM 2018 in anticipation of a Spring release and is still one of the most hotly anticipated pedals we’re looking forward to. The Ascension Reverb has 3 modes: Hall, Modulated Hall (with tremolo), and Shimmer. There’s also a droning self-generated pad that can be tuned to any of the 12 keys of western music. A side-mounted knob allows the Pad to be faded in and out. There’s also a Send and Return loop for adding other pedals into the wash of reverb. This heavenly reverb pedal will likely be very popular among fans of ambient guitar textures and pretty much a hit with anyone who appreciates beautiful reverb tones.

 

Keeley Electronics Aria Compressor / Drive

Keeley Electronics is a legend when it comes to guitar compressor pedals, and their consistently stellar overdrive releases and drive mods over the years show proven expertise in that area as well. Now hot on the heels of the success of their D&M Drive pedal comes the Keeley Electronics Aria Compressor / Drive. In a similar combo enclosure to the D&M Drive and Caverns V2, the Aria gives guitarists a Keeley Compressor Plus and an all-new Keeley take on the Tube Screamer style circuit with Low and High gain modes. While TS mods are a dime a dozen, Keeley has found more ways to reinvent this circuit than any other esteemed builder, so the Aria will definitely we worth looking into if you’re a fan of TS flavors of drive. Also, the Compressor Plus side retains a full parameter set from the original pedal including an internal Single Coil / Humbucker switch. The TRS signal routing from the D&M Drive is also present for pro guitarists who want to route the 2 circuits to different loops on an effects switcher. The Aria will definitely be worth a look when it drops and will likely be yet another sleeper hit from Keeley Electronics.

 

Beetronics Royal Jelly Fuzz/Overdrive

The Beetronics Royal Jelly is a blendable fuzz/overdrive pedal made in collaboration with veteran pedal designer, Howard Davis. The Royal Jelly lets select between 2 preset settings of fuzz and overdrive. You can set either preset (labeled Queen & King) to be only fuzz or overdrive or any ratio of each. The Buzz foot-switch lets you add a stinging bite to the fuzz for a more aggressive sound akin to some vintage fuzz pedals. There are Hi and Lo tone controls as well as a Blend which lets you mix in your dry signal, particularly useful for refining bass tones or when stacking the pedal with other distortion pedals or a hot amp. Beetronics had a neat demo station at NAMM which let you adjust knob settings while a pre-recorded guitar track was fed into the pedal, but considering all the mojo in this thing, the Royal Jelly is a pedal best experienced and played firsthand.

(Forgot to snap of a pic of this one. Thanks to Filipe for sending over a photo for our article.)

 

JHS Pedals Bonsai

In the vein of their hit Muffuletta that offered a plethora of cloned Big Muff circuits, the JHS Pedals Bonsai replicates 9 different variations of Tube Screamer style overdrive sounds. JHS went to great lengths to recreate the sounds of several classic pedals as well as offering a few other variants. The modes include sounds of the Boss OD-1 Over Drive, an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer from 1979, an Ibanez TS9 from 1982, an Ibanez Metal Screamer from 1985, an Ibanez TS-10 from 1986, an Exar OD1 Overdrive from 1989, the Hot mode of an Ibanez TS7 from 1999, the Keeley Mod Plus TS-808 mod from 2002, and JHS’s TS9 Strong Mod. The Bonsai looks like a Swiss Army Knife of great Tube Screamer tones that will satisfy any guitarist who can’t get enough of those classic sounds.

 

Malekko Downer

The Malekko Downer is another rad looking pedal released on the same DSP platform as the Charlie Foxtrot and Scrutator. It’s a wave-folding, saturating, octave filtering noise machine. It can do pretty basic distortion stuff if you want it to, but blending in the other effects is where things get really interesting. It can do cool warped pitch effects and general octave stuff as well as high/low pass filtering, trem-like effects, and almost ring-mod like sounds. This is another cool and edgy pedal from Malekko that will appeal to guitarists looking for less traditional sounds and more inspiring textures.

 

Pigtronix Ringmaster Analog Multiplier

The original Pigtronix Mothership Analog Guitar Synthesizer was noteworthy for its crazy 100% analog synth sounds and also for having a ring mod section that tracked the pitch of the input signal. When Pigtronix dropped the long-awaited Mothership 2 Analog Synthesizer, they focused on shrinking all the synth functions, but the ring mod effects were notably absent. Well, they’re back and expanded upon in the new Pigtronix Ringmaster Analog Multiplier.

The Ringmaster is essentially a ring modulator that is also capable of producing tremolo effects. The big draw of the pedal and what separates it from other analog ring mod pedals is its ability to track your input signal to maintain consistency of the ring mod effect while you play. If you’re going for tremolo effects, you can also change the speed of the trem in relation to the frequency of the notes you play; higher pitches yield faster speeds while lower pitches produce slower speeds. You can also do random Sample + Hold effects. For modular gear fans, the Ringmaster also has a Modulation CV output as well as External Carrier Input and Internal Carrier Output options. The Ringmaster looks like it would make an excellent companion to the Mothership 2, and I know fans of that pedal are already giving the Ringmaster a good hard look. Time to get F.A.T.’er.

 

Death By Audio Deep Animation

There were a few awesome envelope filter pedals at NAMM, but the Death By Audio Deep Animation was the one that stood out the most for me. The Deep Animation is one of the thicker and heavier envelope filters I’ve heard. It’ll do all that quacky, funky, auto-wah guitar stuff you’re used to, but it has a lot more potential than that. The 6-position Frequency Selector, Sensitivity, and Intensity knobs control the tonality and response of the pedal with an output Vol knob to match or boost your signal. A dedicated Up/Down foot-switch lets you change the direction of the filter sweep. And it can sound seriously massive with bass heavy audio content.

But the coolest part of the Deep Animation is the Trig (Trigger) input jack. Similar to how you’d use sidechain compression or gating, the Trig input lets you use an external sound source to trigger the effect. You could use a kick from a drum machine, maybe another band member’s instrument, or even your own signal from earlier in your signal chain. Envelope filters typically respond best to your clean guitar signal, but you can get some cool sounds by filtering later in your audio path, particularly after distortion. If you were to split to your guitar signal to feed the Trig input while simultaneously running it into a gnarly distortion pedal before it hits the Deep Animation’s main Input, you could achieve the absolute tightest auto-filtering of a distorted/effected guitar signal. Some seriously cool possibilities await to be discovered with this pedal.

 

Crazy Tube Circuits Echotopia

Crazy Tube Circuits had a lot of cool new pedals on display, but the Echotopia was the biggest standout showing for me. It’s a tape echo style delay with 4 heads, each with their own individual panning knob for discreet placement across the stereo field. The Crazy Tube Circuits booth had the Echotopia feeding two amps spread apart, and the stereo image created by this pedal was inspiring to behold. Thankfully, the Echotopia also has tap tempo and 3 selectable tap divisions for easily setting a precise tempo for the 4 synchronized delay heads. Modulation is present with dedicated Rate & Depth controls. A Mood knob further augments the delay sound, and the Tap foot-switch can be pressed to induce oscillating repeats. An expression pedal can control either the delay mix or Feedback. The Echotopia can be run in mono, but it looks like more of an enticing consideration for guitarists who run a stereo rig.

 

Totally Wycked Audio MM-01 Mini Morph

Totally Wycked Audio had several prototypes of promising new pedals at NAMM, but the Mini Morph was surprisingly my favorite. It’s actually a shrunken down version of the TWA Dynamorph, so you can look up that pedal to get a better feel for what the Mini Morph is all about. Essentially, it’s a fuzz that responds to your playing dynamics to alter the tonality and harmonic content of the distortion while you play. It’s particularly noticeable when chords are ringing out and during your initial pick attach as an audible sweep of frequency articulation can be heard. The Mini Morph is simply fun to play and warrants a closer look if you’re looking for some fuzz tones that have a unique flavor.

 

Ohmless Pedals Multitool

While not really an effect (unless you count the preamp boosts), the Ohmless Pedals Multitool is a junction box utility pedal that provides several vital functions for performing guitarists. The Multitool has 2 inputs, each with a switchable preamp boost providing up to 25dB of clean headroom. This comes in handy for matching signals when switching between guitars with differing output levels or for running hotter signals. On the right side is a passive Send & Return with optional buffer. This is useful for things like compressors (buffered) or fuzz pedals (unbuffered) that you want to be shared between both guitars. Then there’s an OpAmp buffer with a separate Tuner Out followed by another Send with Stereo Returns. This is where you’d put the rest of your effects. There’s also an optional Phase inversion switch on the Right output and a Ground Lift on the isolated Left output. The Outputs each have their own dedicated Mute switches and can be summed from Stereo to Dual Mono. The Multitool is one of the most versatile compact junction boxes, and there’s also a version for switching between acoustic and electric guitars if that’s what you need.

 

In Closing…

This list doesn’t encompass all of the great pedals shown at NAMM, and this has been the most difficult list to curate since I started covering the pedals of NAMM several years ago. Still, I feel confident in the assessment of these being the standout pedals of the show. Many other builders are doing great things, so do your best to consider all factors when buying new gear and not just the hype and excitement surrounding a few pedals.

If you’re in a band, hopefully some of these pedals can help invigorate your music with new sounds. If you’re a hobbyist, that’s great, too, but maybe consider recording some of those awesome sounds you’re making in your bedroom and showcasing them on YouTube, Instagram, or elsewhere. The main goal of this article is to inspire you. If something you found here does that, find a way to share that inspiration with others.

Until Summer NAMM 2018…

Cheers,

Gabe

Meris Polymoon Review

 

The Meris Polymoon is the 3rd pedal release from the SoCal based pedal builder, following on the heels of their other two recent offerings, the Ottobit Jr. and Mercury7 Reverb. Meris’ previous pedals were based on their 500 series rack modules, but the Polymoon is their first all-new offering in a dual foot-switch pedal format. While the Polymoon can generally be classified as a delay pedal or modulated delay, this general categorization doesn’t do justice to the myriad possibilities contained within the Polymoon’s unassuming little white enclosure.

The Polymoon was initially inspired by the concept of chaining together rack delay effects to create all-new sounds, a practice utilized in the 80’s by guitarists including Allan Holdsworth and Frank Zappa. Before the Polymoon, the notion of chaining together a series of ultra-high quality stereo effects algorithms was usually limited to either using rack gear, some very expensive multi-effects processors, or a series of high-end guitar pedals. The concept is rare in a pedal as it is, and the Polymoon is one the most advanced attempts at a delay this sprawling and complex.

While companies have said it before in various marketing copy about their products, the Polymoon really is like several pedals in one because it offers such a wide range of parameter options across a series of different effects. Put very simply, the signal flow of the Polymoon goes something like this: Input → Dual Dynamic Flangers in Parallel → 6 Delays in Series (with Early Modulation and Late Modulation options) → Dual Barberpole Phasers in Parallel → Filter → Output. While you could reduce the Polymoon to just a dry single-tap delay, this pedal is all about the journey to the dark side of the moon and beyond.

Here’s a rundown of the Polymoon’s features before we dig in.

 

Features:

  • 1200mS real time selectable multiple-tap delay line
  • Massive multi LFO modulation controls
  • 6 custom tuned LFOs with adjustable waveforms for subtle to aggressive pitch shifting effects
  • Adjustable Tilt EQ filter in delay feedback
  • Tempo syncable stereo Barberpole Phaser
  • Multimode stereo Dynamic Flanger w/ feedback
  • Unique feedback topology
  • Dimension control for smearing reflections
  • Selectable quarter or dotted eighth note Tap Tempo
  • Digitally controlled Analog mix control
  • Stereo input and output
  • Switchable input output headroom level for Guitar, Synthesizer or Line levels
  • Expression pedal control over all parameters simultaneously
  • Presets available via external 4-Preset switch or MIDI
  • MIDI in/out over TRS via the EXP jack
  • External Tap Tempo over TRS
  • MIDI beat clock synchronization
  • Premium analog signal path and 24-bit AD/DA w/32 bit floating point DSP
  • Premium Analog Devices JFET input section
  • Color – white powder coat with fine iridescent flake
  • Designed and built in Los Angeles, California U.S.A.

Specs:

  • Premium quality 24 bit A/D and D/A
  • 32 Bit floating point DSP hardware
  • Premium low noise Analog signal path throughout
  • Digitally controlled Analog Dry path for wet/dry mix
  • Analog Devices JFET input circuitry
  • Selectable True Bypass (Relay) or Analog Buffered Bypass
  • 150 mA total power consumption
  • Durable white powder coat with fine iridescent flake
  • Current draw – <150mA
  • Dimensions – 4.25″ wide, 4.5″ long, 2″ tall

Visit Meris for more info about the Polymoon.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

While the Polymoon has a lot of complex options and sound design features lurking within its tidy control surface, the visible knob parameters give you a solid place to start for dialing in some hypnotic delay sounds. The top row of knobs offers traditional controls for Time, Feedback, and Mix. The bottom row provides parameters for Multiply, Dimension, and Dynamics which we’ll discuss more in a moment. With the bottom trio of knobs set fully counter-clockwise, you’ll get a nice clean digital delay. It’s solid if you find yourself needing it, but things start getting much more interesting very quickly when you start using the other parameters.

 

 

The Multiply knob brings in more delay taps. Up to 6 are available. Each new tap adds a slight change in rhythmic feel, and if you’re running the Polymoon in stereo, you’ll hear that each tap also has its own panned position in the stereo field. In stereo the 2 tap option is a basic ping-pong delay; it’s a personal favorite along with the 3 tap option that repeats in series from left to center to right (or vice versa if you have your output cables reversed). On higher Multiply settings you’ll get delays that dance across the stereo field.

The Dimension control smears out the delay taps and extends the trails, changing the feel of the delay to a more reverb-like wash of ambience. The effect is quite prominent and begins to significantly dissipate the transient attack of your delay repeats as you push the knob up from minimum to around 9 o’clock. As you push the Dimension up to noon, your wet signal will have already transformed into a cloud of delay-ish reverb. At lower Time & Feedback settings this sounds like a bizarre chamber reverb. Maxing the Dimension with moderate to high Time & Feedback creates a larger atmosphere, similar in character to a cathedral or hall reverb. The controls are very interactive, so you can tweak those 3 parameters along with Multiply to get some cool interstellar ambience that’ll gladly fill in when you want some shoegazing reverb sounds.

When you turn the Dynamics knob up from its minimum position, you’ll activate a pair of parallel flangers that respond to your picking dynamics. The more you increase the Dynamics, the more prominent the flanging effect will be on your repeats in accordance with the strength of you pick attack. This can create a subtle movement that flows with gentler playing or a warped detuning effect when you really dig in. I found it really fun to play lightly and then hit a loud unison bend. It sounded kind of like several guitars bending the note from different pitches, coming gradually into proper tuning as the flanger began to calm from the initial attack with the successive audible repeats ringing out at the same pitch as my dry signal.

The indicator lights above the Bypass & Tap foot-switches are actually buttons. Pressing the button above the Bypass foot-switch activates the Dual Barberpole Phasers. There are 3 speed options available. The Slow option is a churning 0.1Hz speed phaser that’s great for long slow sweeps. The Sync option moves at the fastest speed, a quarter note of the current delay time as set by the Time knob or Tap Tempo. The Slow + Sync option is a more moderate speed that’s locked in at a whole note of the delay time. This provides a consistent movement that flows well over multiple bars of playing, like steadily navigating through a wormhole in space.

 

More Below the Surface

The Polymoon surface controls already display a lot of potential for dialing in epic delay sounds, but there awaits a multitude of other options hidden behind the Polymoon’s pale curtain. Pressing and holding the Alt button while adjusting other parameters accesses various other functions. The first option many guitarists will seek is the option to switch from the default ¼ note delay tap division to dotted 1/8 notes. Simply pressing & holding the Alt button while hitting the tap foot-switch toggles between the two options. Some guitarists may wish for at least a few other tap division options (triplets?), but the two available settings will satisfy most common delay needs. And of course the Multiply options also add rhythmic variation.

If you want more from the Polymoon’s flanging effect, there are two additional Alt parameters worth exploring. The Alt of Dimension lets you change the direction of the envelope peak follower between up and down or select an LFO option. The Dynamics’ Alt function either sets the response speed, aka Attack Time, of the envelope or the LFO speed if the LFO option is engaged. While I initially favored the envelope options, the LFO flanging is also very nice when set to slower speeds. Combine that with the phaser and some intergalactic delays will ensue.

Another useful Alt sub-function is the Feedback Filter. This custom coloring tool applies filtering to the entire wet signal. When set at noon the response is flat, but turning it clockwise can dramatically high-pass your delay sound. Turn it counter-clockwise for a darker and warmer delay sound. It can get pretty dubby at higher settings or be low cut just enough to let your delay signal float above your playing. The darker settings can get quite murky, especially if you add modulation. Speaking of that…

 

Hex Modulation Matrix

The Polymoon has 16 Early Modulation & 16 Late Modulation options which can be applied to the wet delay signal. (The 1st option is Modulation Off, so technically that’s 15 active options.) Being able to apply any of these options or mix and match 2 of them in the Early & Late positions takes the range of sound customization to a whole different level of complexity.

There’s a set of 6 triangle LFOs that modulate the delay network. The Early Modulation is linked to LFO 1, rippling its effects across LFOs 2-5 while the Late Modulation primarily affects LFO 6. The manual provides more details about how it all works. I’m just going to cover a few of the kinds of sounds available.

5 of the options provide standard delay modulation with varying Rate & Depth settings. Yes, this is in addition to the flanging and phasing possibilities. The Slow & Moderate Speed settings give Shallow Depth to provide more subtle movement, adding even more multi-dimensional qualities to the delays. The Fast Speed options add a feel that’s more akin to a tape delay with super erratic wow and flutter. Even if you’re going for a cleaner, drier delay sound that’s free of the phasing and flanging options, adding a hint of subtle modulation from the Early and/or Late Modulation options will give you a bit of that classic 80’s rack-mount delay vibe. It’s definitely worth trying and adds yet another layer of flexibility to the Polymoon.

3 of the options provide FM Modulation. This is a glitchy, dissonant type of pitch modulation that kind of runs away in a swirl of noise. Traditionalists probably won’t get it. But if you’re already looking at this pedal, you’ll be intrigued. It’s worth pointing out here that the other parameter knobs are highly interactive with the Early & Late Modulation types. The FM Modulation particularly benefits from trying different settings of the Dimension and Multiply parameters to augment the FM noise into unique textures. Set the Late Modulation to 96Hz FM Modulation, crank the Dimension, and add some Slow Phasing for a breathtaking swirl of the most musical white noise you’ve ever heard.

The last 7 Modulation options are all pitch based. There are various combinations with intervals spanning an octave down to an octave up. Again, adding more taps adds more movement as different pitches leap in and out above and below the notes you’re playing. The Dimension proves itself useful yet again for turning the sound into a pitched pad effect. My favorite pitch option is the basic “Octave Down & Octave Up” setting, and if you just want to emphasize either the upper or lower octave, use the Feedback Filter to roll off the lower or upper frequencies, respectively.

 

Integrating Polymoon

 

 

Aside from the many options available to shape your sounds, Meris thought of just about every way musicians might with to incorporate this pedal in their setup. The first thing I did was enter the Global Setting Configuration Mode to activate the TRS Stereo Input for full stereo implementation. You can also set it for Kill Dry if you wish run it in a parallel effects chain or want to use it as an external insert/bus effect in a Mixer or DAW. The Polymoon also gives you Instrument and Line/Synth level options to interface with various audio signal levels. Buffered Bypass and Relay Bypass options are available, and you can have optional spillover trails and/or “Glide” for seamless transitions between presets. Glide sounds awesome, by the way, morphing the delay sounds as you change presets. Each of the Polymoon’s 16 presets can also have different settings in the toe and heel expression pedal positions for dramatic sound changes when you sweep the expression pedal. If you’re using MIDI for preset selection, you can also use MIDI CC 04 to control the exp sweep to shift between the different toe and heel sounds. Also, Meris will be releasing a 4 Button Switch for preset selection if you want to keep things simple yet still be able to access a few different sounds in a live situation. To make the most of this pedal via presets without using MIDI, the 4 Button Switch likely be a must-have when it drops in early 2018.

 

The Good, the Rad and the MIDI

If you’re among those of us on the fringe who insist on using MIDI to control every aspect of your gear, the Polymoon and other Meris pedals like the Ottobit Jr. and Mercury7 Reverb may have piqued your curiosity. Whether you’re using a MIDI compatible effects switcher or a DAW like Ableton Live 10, Meris pedals offer bold musicians the kind of unlimited possibilities that full MIDI implementation provides. To access the Polymoon’s MIDI functionality, you’ll need to select MIDI from the Global menu options and use an external MIDI adapter such as the upcoming Meris MIDI I/O or currently available Chase Bliss Audio MIDI Box. For this review I used the CBA MIDI Box, and it worked flawlessly.

Yes, the Polymoon has a MIDI continuous controller (CC) message for every single parameter and non-Global function. There is also support for Preset Send and Receive via MIDI Sysex or CCs, allowing access to whole libraries of presets stored on smartphones, tablets, and/or personal computers. But there are a couple small areas of MIDI operation that may confound some MIDI users. Using program changes to select presets automatically activates the pedal; a dedicated Bypass program change can bypass the pedal. But if you’re using the pedal with a MIDI effects switcher, you’ll still have to program your switcher to select presets (via program changes) and turn the pedal on and off with the Activate/Bypass CC. It’s easy to do, but this negates the necessity of the redundant Activate functionality of the current program change behavior. In my workflow when automating pedals for live performance, I’ll typically select presets via program changes at the beginning of a song and use the Activate/Bypass CC to turn the pedal on and off as needed throughout a song. Since Meris pedals will automatically turn on when selecting presets, I have to send a MIDI CC to bypass the pedal shortly after selecting a preset. Perhaps a beneficial use of the current program change behavior would be in a scenario where a keyboard player is using keys to send program changes to control a Meris pedal. This could offer a quick way to select from 16 different presets and immediately bypass a Meris pedal as needed. Users of rack gear may know of other beneficial scenarios.

Another MIDI anomaly is that since the Bypass program change is assigned to the program change typically labeled “1” on MIDI compatible hardware/software that I’ve seen, you’ll need to send program changes 2-17 to select presets 1-16 on your Meris pedal(s). A solution to all this confusion would be if Meris pedals had at least the option to only select presets (without activating the pedal!) when receiving program changes 1-16, and just in case the “Preset Select/Activate” and “Bypass” program changes are useful to anyone, perhaps those functions could be assigned to program changes 100-116 (Bypass = PC 100, Presets 1-16 = PC 101-116).

Aside from those minor MIDI quirks, I can’t really find a major fault with the Polymoon, but there are a few other minor things to share that don’t necessarily detract from my overall impressions of the pedal. As I mentioned before, some users may wish for a few more tap division options. It could also have been nice to have more than 6 Multiply options, maybe some with even more diverse placement of the various taps. If Meris can cram in 16 Alt modulation options around a knob’s range, more Multiply settings could’ve surely been added. Speaking of the Alt options, when accessing the 16 Early & Late mod settings, you’ll have to rely on your ears as you turn the knob to hear when a different setting is active as the options are tightly spaced; it can require more attention to notice the sonic changes when auditioning the more subtle modulation options. But none of these little things detract from the overall Polymoon experience as the pedal offers a massive amount of sound possibilities many users will barely scratch the surface of.

 

 

The Meris Polymoon is truly a one-of-a-kind pedal and a masterpiece of original delay design that harbors an incredibly diverse range of modulated delay sounds. Despite the pedal’s complex signal flow, it offers an intuitive surface interface that immediately yields inspiring results. As you delve below the surface, even more boundless possibilities are revealed. Alt knob functions expand the sound palette immensely, and the MIDI implementation, forgiven of a couple unorthodoxies, pushes the Polymoon’s versatility well beyond many pedals from rival builders. With delay sounds ranging from clear single taps to heavily diffused multi-tap delay ambience with filtering, flanging, phasing, and other modulation options, the Polymoon is a journey unto itself and is one of the most rewarding sources of new sounds guitarists are likely to find in a dual foot-switch stompbox. In other words the Polymoon is a must-try for delay lovers and arguably the most stellar offering from Meris to date.

That concludes our Meris Polymoon review. Thanks for reading.

Keeley Electronics D&M Drive Review

I must admit that when I first saw the Keeley Electronics D&M Drive, I wrote it off as just another dual overdrive pedal in a crowded market of such pedals. Even knowing that it’s a product of Robert Keeley’s renowned expertise at crafting outstanding overdrive and boost pedals and a collaborative effort with a couple guys who know thing or two about great guitar tones, I initially passed it over without giving it a second glance… that is, until nearly the end of 2017 when we were rounding up the Best Guitar Pedals of the Year, and our readers gave a massive show of hands that this was most definitely one of the year’s best pedals.

So I decided to try the D&M Drive largely on the merit of knowing that our readers are some of the most informed and knowledgeable effects aficionados around. And I’ve gotta say, you all spared us the shame and regret of possibly overlooking one of the best overall overdrive pedals to come along this year. So what’s the story here? Why is the D&M Drive such a big deal? Let’s put together a picture of the names behind this pedal; the reasons will become clear.

 

Drive to Perfection

Mr. Robert Keeley has had his fingers on the pulse of the boutique guitar pedal market for over 15 years. Since 2001 he and the Keeley Electronics crew have been modding and building custom pedals for guitar heroes including John Mayer, Brad Paisley, John Petrucci, and countless others. Any major style of boost, overdrive, and distortion pedal you can think of has probably been on Robert’s workbench at some point or another, and many of these classic circuits have been overhauled and refined into all-new Keeley Electronics pedals. While it could be argued that there are really only so many ways you can clip a diode and build a circuit around it, this is a pedal builder that has consistently found countless ways to squeeze every bit of sweet tone possible out of a box of wire and resistors.

Now enter Daniel Steinhardt and Mick Taylor, the two guys from whom the D&M Drive gets its namesake. Dan is the founder of The GigRig, a UK based company that specializes in building high-end effects switchers and utility products for professional musicians. Guitarists including Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, Andy Timmons, Noel Gallagher, and many other touring pros have relied on Dan’s careful attention to detail and tonal purity when crafting pedalboards that are would tour ready. Mick was previously an editor of UK’s Guitarist magazine, a gig which no doubt contributed to his own expertise when it comes to great guitar tones. Together Dan & Mick host That Pedal Show, one of the best resources for pedal related content on the Internet. If you have any doubt about the integrity of their ears for tone, head on over to their YouTube channel and peruse a few of their videos. If you love guitar effects pedals, you’ll likely be hitting the subscribe button before you leave.

So long story short – Robert Keeley, Dan, & Mick made a pedal. And it’s a good one. Here’s brief rundown of the D&M Drive’s features before we get into the nitty gritty.

 

Features:

  • 2 independent drive circuits – Boost & Drive
  • Boost & Drive modes may be used separately or together in either order (Boost → Drive or Drive → Boost)
  • Gain, Tone, & Level controls and bypass switches for each side
  • Order switch flips order of Boost & Driver channels
  • Top-mounted I/O and power jacks for minimizing pedalboard footprint
  • Optional TRS mode allows Boost & Drive to be routed to separate loops in an effects switcher.
  • True Bypass
  • Powered by 9VDC 55mA+ center negative power supply.

Visit Keeley Electronics for more info about the D&M Drive.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

 

Mick’s Boost

Let’s start from right to left. The Boost is Mick’s side of the pedal. It’s essentially a boost and low to mid gain overdrive. But it has a surprisingly wider range of use than is characteristic of your typical 3-knob overdrive. You often hear of overdrive pedals having specific sweet spots and applications that fulfill a specific purpose yet lack in overall versatility. Well, the D&M Drive’s Boost circuit is no slouch, and this side alone has plenty to write home about.

With the Boost side’s Gain knob turned all the way down, you can kick on the Boost and get a pleasing clean boost of volume. There’s plenty of volume on tap, so you can easily push an amp, another dirt pedal, or the Drive side into further overdrive. The mid-range is clear and not overly pronounced, yet it seems to have to enough subtle character to impart a little bit of pleasing extra flavor to your guitar signal. This makes the pedal surprisingly suitable to use as a tone enhancer, kind of like setting an Xotic EP Booster to unity gain for some extra tonal mojo. The Tone knob comes in handy here for attenuating your treble response to either add some extra sparkle on the top-end or warm things up by rounding off those highs, particularly useful for taming any harshness from a hotter single-coil bridge pickup.

One peculiar aspect of the Boost side is how the circuit seems to descrease in high-end response as you increase the Gain. This helps give the Boost side a warmer, more mid-focused boost when using it for typical overdrive purposes. I think most players will appreciate this subtle characteristic of the Boost circuit. The Tone knob works sufficiently enough for opening up the top-end a bit, but I second the notion of another publication’s review in wishing for some kind of Presence control. I’d be curious to hear how a Presence parameter placed before the Gain control might help keep that top-end open before it hits the dirt. But aside from that musing, it must be stated that the D&M Drive’s Boost circuit is very well developed and is likely to be the favored circuit among many discerning guitarists. As it stands, it’s easily one of my personal favorite boost/drive circuits.

 

Dan’s Drive

Now while Mick’s Boost side covers a few different bases, Dan’s side is primarily focused on delivered one thing: big, meaty drive tones. You could try to argue that there’s a few flavors in here, but it’s really all about big ‘ole dirt overdrive and distortion. You’ve just gotta decide how much you want.

The beauty of the Drive side is that it can provide all the dirt you need if all your your amp has is a clean channel, but if you pair it with a slightly hot and cracklin’ amp sound, you can get some beautiful drive sounds by pushing your crunch channel with this bad boy. That’s probably my favorite way to use it. Of course, if you are running into an amp with at least two channels, you can still find a middle ground setting with the Drive side that will work well with both.

 

Dynamic Duo

The really great thing about this pedal is that the circuits play off each other well. Just like how the two hosts of That Pedal Show bring different perspectives on gear with some overlapping tastes and an understanding of what they’re each bringing to the table, Dan & Mick have a pair of complementary circuits in the D&M Drive that offer something greater when their merits and strengths are combined.

A common setup in general and with this pedal is to run Boost before Drive. With the Boost First option you can get great results by keeping the Drive side to a more moderate setting and then slamming it a bit harder with the Boost to add some edge when ripping into a solo. Reverse the order of the circuits and a whole different set of possibilities opens up. You could just set the Boost for a lighter or moderate boost and get a really saturated lead tone when kicking on the Drive in front of it.

 

D&M Drive + Effects Switcher

The D&M Drive offers another very unique feature that sets it apart from other dual circuit drive pedals that came before it. Many professional guitarists have adopted pro-grade effects switchers (like the Free The Tone ARC-53M or Boss ES-8) to handle effects switching during live performances. This offers many advantages for gigging guitarists, most notably being able to control all of your pedals from a single condensed area rather than having to tap-dance all over your pedalboard. Dan came up with the clever idea of using TRS I/O jacks to allow guitarists to patch each circuit to separate Send/Return loops in their effects switcher. This lets you use both sides of the pedal from your switcher as you would from the pedal’s own foot-switches. This approach can also allow you to spread out the D&M Drive’s 2 circuits in your signal path with, say, a different favored overdrive pedal in between the D&M Drive’s Boost and Drive sections.

 

 

The Keeley Electronics D&M Drive is a top-tier dual overdrive pedal with two distinct circuits that work well together and are each capable of standing on their own. While many such “overdrive & boost” combo pedals feature solid drive circuits with a generic boost also on board, the D&M Drive boasts a roaring, hot-rodded Drive circuit and a Boost section that can cover a range of clean boosting and mid-gain overdrive sounds. Whether or not you’re a previous player of Keeley Electronics’ pedals or are familiar with That Pedal Show and its hosts, if you appreciate great overdrive tones, the D&M Drive has more than enough great tones to spare.

That concludes our Keeley Electronics D&M Drive review. Thanks for reading.

Alexander Pedals Syntax Error Review

Sweating bullets in the Nashville heat and overwhelmed by the bustling showfloor at Summer NAMM 2017, I had the good fortune of meeting up with Mr. Matthew Farrow at the Disaster Area/Alexander Pedals booth. Alexander Pedals had a smorgasbord of exciting products new and old splayed across the table, but chief among them was this little GameBoy they were calling the Syntax Error. Eager to see what all the fuss was about, I (somewhat blithely) blurted out, “What does it do?” Smooth, right? Matthew’s response was something like, “The question is, ‘what doesn’t it do?’” Bold implication, but fast-forward to December, and I’m still having a tough time answering that question. I’ve never heard anything quite like the Syntax Error. I’d love to just label it a multi-effects pedal and call it a day, but there’s so much more to it than that.

 

Gratuitous gut-shot just because

 

Features

  • Four Modes:
    Stretch: 2 Second Buffer “delay” with reverse repeats
    Cube: Cubic distortion with band-pass filter
    Ring: LFO-affected Ring Mod
    Freq: Bode-styled Frequency shifter
  • Modes cycled via low-profile alt button
  • Four knobs control six parameters when holding the center alt button: Tweak, Code, Mix (Level,) Sample (Bonus.)
  • 9V Power input
  • Buffered Bypass
  • Instrument or Line level Mono input
  • TRS Stereo Output
  • 16 programmable presets via bypass switch or MIDI input
  • Multijack input for Expression, Footswitch, or MIDI control
  • USB Mini-B input for firmware updates, MIDI, or TouchOSC controls

Visit Alexander Pedals for more info about the Syntax Error.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

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True to its title, this “Audio Computer System” flexes some hilariously bulbous digital muscles, utilizing a 32 bit micro-controller to process four intricate digital effects plus the choice of MIDI, CV, or expression pedal control that you might fancy. There’s a relatively new industry trend where forward-thinking builders have begun moving toward more Eurorack-ish and synth-friendly effects, and the Syntax Error exhibits this thought process in a very on-the-nose sort of way. The inclusion of a frequency shifter, which in the guitar world is not unheard of by any stretch, but certainly rare, is one good example. The parameters on this thing are also a tweaker’s El Dorado; the touchy knobs ensure that each micrometer of movement changes its designated parameter greatly. This is often the function of some of the parameters having a complete cutoff at around 9 o’clock, but even in the case of the Code knob on Stretch mode (which is fully active on the full sweep of the knob,) you really have to listen and zone in on what you’re playing with to get the desired effect. Digital pots are sweet. Through the use of certain MIDI devices (like the Disaster Area DMC-4,) you can even achieve ramping of any of the Syntax Error’s parameters via the red-ringed ¼” Multijack input OR the Mini-B USB input, which opens up a whole new world of interactivity. This is one of those pedals that plays with itself, each component of a given mode feeding into the gestalt in evolving ways but also remaining completely independent of the other parts that make it possible. It’s also the kind of pedal that can sit comfortably in a few places in your signal chain, whether it be right after your most conventional overdrive or between a delay and reverb.

I can’t deny that the key to the Syntax Error’s surface game is the Sample knob, as it not only lends itself wholly to the “Dawn of the Information Age” aesthetic it has going on, but it’s also the difference between calling the Syntax Error a vanilla multi-effects pedal and calling it a glitch in the Matrix. While the other knobs’ parameters vary from mode to mode, the Sample knob remains static, adding that sample rate reduction to any of the four modes.

Stretch

DISCLAIMER: If you’re looking for a clean reverse delay, look elsewhere. Seriously, close this page and research something a little more hygienic. Stretch’s reverse repeats will leave you feeling the need for a hot shower.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about this piece of work.

Stretch mode sends your signal through a buffer whose speed is determined by the Code knob. If you’ve ever imported a song into a DAW and changed the buffer rate, that’s kind of what you’re getting here, albeit chopped up into delay-like repeats to function in real time. The buffer stretches your signal from normal speed all the way down to reverse, and everything in between. Clockwise will increase the sampled signal up to 2 seconds; counter-clockwise, down to near nought. Everywhere between full CW and CCW, the signal is intermittently pitch-shifted to accommodate the altered buffer. The Bonus knob (accessed by holding the center Alt. button) controls the feedback of the repeats. It won’t self oscillate, but with Code at around two o’clock, it will feed your already buffered signal back into the buffer, pushing it further down into lower-octave hell. The sample-rate reducer controlled by the the Sample knob is actually fed into the buffer at the same time your signal rate is, as opposed to being laid over the top of the whole thing, so the sound of your bits being crushed are replayed in the repeats as well.

You can create all sorts of weird rhythmic patterns with this mode, benefitting from the weirdness of the buffered signal interjecting violently at what appears to be random intervals. There is a slight haptic pop when the sample resets, which at first is annoying, but after playing for a while becomes a part of its rhythmic charm. There’s also an ultra weird spot at noon on Code where all logic breaks down and your signal becomes caught in what I can only describe as a quantum uncertainty in whether it wants to speed up or slow down, so it just stops working normally, sputtering digital nonsense. It’s still locked into the Buffer length set by the Tweak knob, though, so it’ll jump in and out of this Schrödinger state at a set tempo, which is great for grimy sounding beats. Stretch really shines when used in conjunction with huge reverbs and volume swells, adding its own depth and weirdness when you get a wash going. I happened to use the OBNE Dark Star to generate a pad, then added in the Syntax Error’s reversed flavor to create a pitch-black evil sounding beat. Spooky as hell.

Cube

Filtered fuzz! A classic means to a critical lead role, loved by guitarists and synth aficionados alike. Alexander has chosen to mathematically simulate a thick digital fuzz through a sacred mathematical equation passed down via lightning bolt from on high by the Lords of Riff: (abs(INPUT^3))^3. You don’t have to understand it to know that it means business, but my guess is that Cube takes the absolute value of your signal (abs,) does something to it by a factor of three, and then takes the whole enchilada and blows it up by a factor of three again. My head hurts. At any rate, Cube is a cubic distortion (a term when Googled mostly yielded more math,) run through a band-pass filter. Alexander has acknowledged that this is as close as we get to a “normal” effect in the Syntax Error, which is true only in the sense that normal has long been dragged into the recycle bin, right-clicked, and henceforth been deleted forever. Here the Syntax Error’s Code knob works double duty as both gain and mix, Tweak as the sweep of the filter, and Bonus serving as the resonance of the filter. Sample is a powerful tool that adds the last bit of dirt you may be missing in the off chance you don’t want to go full cubic. Used in conjunction with an expression pedal, you can achieve crazy filter sweeps that evokes the digital facsimile of a wah. There’s a pretty significant amount of noise here, but that’s likely due to the exponential increase in signal output, and therefore, an exponential increase of the noise floor. Besides, it’s a fuzz, and fuzzes get messy.

Ring

The Ring mode is built around a super neat concept that takes a wide-range ring modulator and runs it through a sample and hold LFO for a complex back and forth of dispatch noises. I initially thought that the sample and hold was a filter that the ring mod passed through, but in this case the LFO modulates the frequency of the ring mod. Code determines the rate of the LFO, Tweak becomes the frequency of the ring mod. On the lower frequencies, the ring mod behaves like a tremolo, and with the LFO active, you get a jittery variable-speed trem. Bonus is an EQ on the wet signal, making the Freq voicing more viable as an atmospheric element rather than a blanket effect on the whole frequency spectrum. This is especially important if you have plans to play over a dial-up tone, rather than inside the AOL mainframe.

Freq

If we’re going to talk about the Freq voice we have to discuss the Bode frequency shifters that inspired it. You see, a frequency shifter offsets the frequencies it draws from your dry signal by adding or subtracting hertz and detuning the harmonics. This effect shouldn’t be confused with pitch shifting, which is a function of multiplying the harmonics of the signal to more or less move along a logical intervallic line. Though the functions in this application can be construed as similar, a frequency shifter does not necessarily preserve the harmonic content of your signal. In buzzwords, the Freq mode is equipped to produce barberpole flanging textures, cascading pitch-shifts, and all-around weird vibes.

In Alexander’s take, Code serves as a compass for the wet signal’s frequency shift, pitching the target frequency up or down, and relying heavily on the feedback (Tweak) to determine how deeply the shift affects the overall signal. Alexander has added a delay rate control (Bonus) to the mix, allowing you to control when the affected signal kicks in. This mode was built for flangey/phasey wackiness, the ascending or descending frequencies of your input signal generating crazy Star Trek sounds. Held notes will constantly trigger the feedback cycle, generating consistent discord, but plucked and muted notes send the spiral downward with a discernible start and end point. With the feedback dialed back just shy of ten o’clock, the frequency shift stops before it gets really rolling and Freq almost becomes a disharmonic slapback delay.

Error Code – 404

There wasn’t really much about the Syntax error that I didn’t enjoy. This isn’t so much a complaint as a matter of fact, but I should note that the Syntax Error may best be served always-on in a loop on an effects switcher as activating/bypassing it does cut the signal briefly. It doesn’t appear to support tap tempo which would be nice for the Stretch and Freq modes, but I can look past that as the otherwise full MIDI implementation means I can just sync MIDI CC’s when I build my presets. All-in-all, I’d say the Syntax Error is a triumph.

 

 

The Alexander Pedals Syntax Error is a fresh uncommon means to achieve fresh uncommon tones, all in a small, decked out enclosure. It had me feeling like I’d been shot by a laser and converted into a .exe file. The sheer volume of features and interesting yet practical sounds packed into this thing demonstrates not just Alexander’s commitment to Do(ing) Good with Great Tone but also their unprecedented aptitude in doing just that. Furthermore, the prospect of potential firmware updates seems to imply that there’s still so much that Alexander can do to expand on not just the Syntax Error but the NEO series and the way each installation interacts with the others. That makes an investment in the Syntax Error one that’s almost guaranteed to increase in value over time. In other words, pick one of these up and you’ll be throwing your power disk into the MPC’s stupid face in no time. Okay, that was my last nerdy reference.

That concludes our review of the Alexander Pedals Syntax Error. Thanks for reading!

Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi Review

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am morally obligated to be honest and say that not only do I LOVE Chase Bliss Audio’s work, I like everyone on the Chase Bliss team on a personal level. You’re free to call bias, but let’s be real: we’re all CBA fan-folk. You can’t love guitar pedals and not be. From the very first Warped Vinyl to today’s Warped Vinyl HiFi, everything Joel and the rest of the Chase Bliss team altruistically toils away to serve the undeserving worms that we are is almost guaranteed to blow us away. And some of us will even take a break from the “will I/won’t I” nail-biting and pull the trigger on tossing a portion (or the sum) of our savings into a Tonal Recall or Brothers, consequences be damned.

Earlier in December 2017, CBA made it even more difficult to remain frugal. In a totally unexpected announcement, Joel & Co. put the world on notice: the third (and likely ultimate) Warped Vinyl pedal was to be released with “HiFi” attached to the moniker. In the face of this news I was, like my gear nerd brethren everywhere, floored, then inquisitive as to why Chase Bliss chose to reissue the pedal a third time. Of course I made plans to get one of these in my hands by any means necessary.

We’ve reviewed both the Warped Vinyl and Warped Vinyl MKII, so to avoid beating a dead horse, I plan to focus on what has changed in the Warped Vinyl HiFi in this review rather than expounding in great detail the features that have always been there. I will say before we get started: this is more than just an alternate skin.

 

Features:

  • All-analog signal path.
  • Bypass foot-switch activates or bypasses the effect via true relay bypass. Can by changed to a momentary bypass via a dip switch in the back of the pedal.
  • Tap Tempo foot-switch sets the tap tempo and always honors the last two stomps. Serves as a tap tempo with the Hold dip switch active
  • Preset toggle switch recalls presets. Middle position reflects current knob positions, right position recalls right preset, and left position recalls left preset. Further presets can be recalled via MIDI through the use of a Chase Bliss MidiBox or Faves switch (both sold separately)
  • Exp input jack allows expression pedal control of parameters selected via dip switches on back of pedal.
  • Midi/Tap input jack can be used for tap input or output with a regular ¼” instrument cable.
  • Powered by 9-volt battery or 9VDC power adapter (consumes ~25mA).
  • Ramp control knob can be set to control any of the 5 parameters (Volume, Mix, RPM, Depth, Warp) individually or simultaneously via dip switches on the back of the pedal. Controls the ramp time in which this takes place.
  • Tone (Ramp) control knob dials in the tone of the wet vibrato voice when no Ramp dip-switches are in use. All the way clockwise is transparent and shimmery, and all the way counter-clockwise is dark and murky.
  • Lag controls the Delay time of the wet signal
  • Mix control knob can be set from 100% wet, to 100% dry, or anything in-between.
  • RPM control knob sets the rate of the modulation. Can be overridden by the tap tempo switch.
  • 1/2/3 (3/6/8) toggle switch sets the tap division for tap tempo. A dip switch on the back accesses the “3/6/8” divisions. Activating the Hold dip switch also enables the R/-/+. More on this later.

ModuShape:

  • Depth control knob sets how deep the mod goes. Crank it clockwise for insane, pitch-bending modulation.
  • Warp control knob sets the center point of the modulation. Set it counterclockwise to make the wave ramp up quickly and down gradually. Set it clockwise to make the wave ramp up gradually and down quickly. Set it at noon for a perfectly symmetrical wave.
  • Left Wave Shape toggle switch sets the first half of the wave modulation. Left for sine, middle for triangle, right for square.
  • Right Wave Shape toggle switch sets the second half of the wave modulation. Left for square, middle for triangle, right for sine.

Dip Switches:

  • Lag, Mix, RPM, Depth, and Warp dip switches on the left side simply turn that parameter on or off for ramping or expression pedal capability.
  • Lag, Mix, RPM, Depth, and Warp dip switches on the right side control whether the parameters rise or fall in ramp mode. This also affects the direction of movement with an expression pedal.
  • Bounce dip switch makes parameters go back and forth (i.e. modulate) or ramp and hold.
  • Hold dip switch activates the Tap switch’s Hold function
  • MoToByp dip switch activates momentary bypass, activating pedal only when Bypass foot-switch is pressed in.
  • Tap Control dip switch allows tap tempo to modulate RPM rate (P) or Ramp speed (R). Bounce needs to be on to modulate Ramp speed.
  • Tap Division dip switch selects from “1, 2, 4” tap divisions (1) to “3, 6, 8” tap divisions (3).
  • Sweep dip switch selects where Ramp sweeps. In “T” (top) the ramping (or expression control) will occur between the current Ramp knob position and the max position (fully clockwise). In “B” (bottom) the range is set between the current knob position and the minimum position (fully counterclockwise).

Visit Chase Bliss Audio for more info about the Warped Vinyl HiFi.

 

 

Build, Sound Quality, & Performance:

My test unit arrived in an orange-stained wooden box. The first and most obvious change made to this new model is the glassy burnt-orange finish, tastefully accentuated by heavy-duty rose gold knobs. The already-chiropractically-burdened will be pleased to know the Warped Vinyl HiFi retains the classic slim and lightweight Chase Bliss form factor, fitting effortlessly on any pedalboard.

While ostensibly cut from the same cloth, I can’t say for sure whether the HiFi is objectively “better” than the previous Warped Vinyls. I can say, however, that the HiFi is capable of a much wider range of chorus tones than previous versions. The HiFi’s predecessors were geared toward the darker vibrato/chorus side of the modulation spectrum as was appropriate for its wobbly name that recalled the warmth of an old phonograph, and so more often than not, that’s how they were used in practical applications: to conjure up a murkier, warmer, grittier kind of modulation akin to an old sun-warped record. Now, with an upgraded audio fidelity, the removal of the LoFi swich, and the simple addition of the Lag knob (replacing Volume), the HiFi focuses on its livelier chorusing powers to great tonal benefit.

Depending on how you aim to play the Warped Vinyl HiFi, you may not even need to use the EXP/CV Input, but it can be rewarding. With no dip-switches active, the Tap Tempo ceases functioning when an expression pedal is plugged in, and the chorus movement becomes fully dependent on the expression input for modulation. I can actually see how this would be useful in some scenarios: you won’t get the benefit of automatic ramping, but with an expression pedal you can ease in the effect to add chorus/vibrato flavor to taste as opposed to relying exclusively on the pedal’s internal tempo. It sounds kind of similar to a flanging effect. This is a great way to thicken up your sound by adding harmonic content and pushing your preamp statically without necessarily committing to the stereotypical writhing choral sound.

 

Changes

There have been three times (so far) that a new Warped Vinyl has struck the Earth, each time irreparably tilting our perspective on what is achievable in the realm of Chorus and Vibrato, particularly in such a tiny package! This latest addition to the family hosts a few key changes that have been asked for in the effects community for some time, and we’ll run through all of them.

 

Lag vs. Volume

Sometimes, in moments of weakness, I forget that chorus effects are actually super-short delays tethered to an LFO source signal to create glistening harmonic movement. The Lag knob is a highly-requested addition to the HiFi that takes advantage of this reality and is arguably THE most sizable improvement on the Warped Vinyl’s framework. It controls the length of the delay on the wet signal, thickening the overall sound and in some cases adding pitch-bendy effects to the tone in a significantly more active way than the Depth knob when used in tandem with the Ramp feature. Yes, cranking the Lag expectedly increases the noise in the signal in bucket-brigade-like fashion, and discerning ears will notice a very slight hiss in the signal, particularly with higher Tone settings. I noticed it when I left the HiFi on Ramp while I was writing this review with my headphones on. CBA does disclaim this phenomenon in the manual, but I should inject the caveat that in a musical context the difference is so negligible I had to fight with myself to even mention it.

Warped Vinyl MKI & MKII featured a volume knob in the center top row which was both expression and ramp-enabled, allowing the user to achieve limited tremolo effects through dip-switch powered volume modulation should they so choose. With the Lag knob now in that slot, the sum signal level of the pedal is now controlled by a trim pot inside of the enclosure and is no longer dip-switch enabled. I wrote in my 2017 Pedals of the Year mention of the Warped Vinyl HiFi that some of us will miss the tremolo capabilities, but I for one think that switching to a Lag knob and going all-in on a fully-featured chorus/vibrato pedal was the absolute best possible choice. From an outsider’s perspective it completely rounds out Chase Bliss Audio’s catalogue and allows further room for the Gravitas to breathe as the CBA family’s specialized tremolo.

 

Hold

Like the Tonal Recall, the HiFi now features a Hold foot-switch. Through the use of the new Hold dip-switch, the tap tempo becomes a momentary hold switch, the functionality of which depends entirely on what dip-switches are active, much like the expression/CV input. With just the hold dip-switch engaged, the HiFi ramps up in tempo from wherever you are on the RPM to a slow and easy 10 o’clock. Activate the RPM Ramp dip-switch on the left-hand dip-switch row and the Hold switch serves as an activator for the RPM ramping, a low-hanging fruit for those looking to get weird. The toggle that once controlled the Tap Tempo Division now controls how the Hold switch interacts with the Ramp knob. “R” will cause the HiFi to begin ramping, as long as Hold is depressed. Releasing Hold freezes the Ramp where it is, tapping it once will instantly bring the Ramp back to 0 on its sweep. The “Minus” on the toggle sets the ramp to be constantly active until the hold switch is stomped. So “Plus” predictably only allows Ramping when the hold switch is held down, freezing the Ramp when it’s released.

You can see the Hold switch in action in Chase Bliss’s demo featuring Zack Warpinski here:

 

 

Signal Clarity & Brightness

One of the characterizing aspects of the previous Warped Vinyl models was their inherently dark, lo-fi tone. On those iterations, there was a Lo-Fi dip-switch that added even more to the eerie grit of an era long buried by the sands of time. Not only has that switch been replaced by the Hold dip-switch on the HiFi, but the special darkness that was so specific to the earlier MKI and to a lesser degree in the MKII has been engineered out via higher-quality components and a more refined circuit layout, making way for a brighter, cleaner future. If you’re a fan of the old ways, you can still get pretty close to those darker tones by dialing back the Tone(Ramp) knob when no parameters are set to ramp.

 

Surface Mount vs. Through-Hole

Most people will skim over this section, and I’ll admit that the prevailing thought process when I vet effects is: “I don’t care if it’s a box of tiny humanoid entities translating my signal into their native alien tongue. If it sounds good, I’m playing it!” In this case though, I’ll still point out Chase Bliss Audio’s choice to switch from through-hole to surface mount design (aka SMD/SMT). Why is this important? Historically, while surface mount components are a decidedly more efficient and streamlined delivery system for increasingly complex electronics than the larger components used in through-hole design, they are also more notorious for what’s called parasitic capacitance (and some would argue less tonal mojo). This is an unwanted and nigh-unavoidable interaction between individual electronic components and sometimes the circuit board itself that can create resonant circuits and cause ugly high-frequency oscillation or component cross-talk, thus at best effectively ruining any hope for true signal clarity, and at worst rendering reliable operation a distant fantasy. There are computer programs that can calculate the parasitic effects of components to help mitigate them, but builders have to take this phenomenon into consideration any time they make the choice to utilize SMT, often necessitating much more complex building techniques and convoluting the build process. Despite the increased difficulty threshold inherent in making the switch, Joel and his team actually managed to RAISE the aforementioned headroom and increase the signal clarity of the Warped Vinyl HiFi (as accomplished previously with the Tonal Recall). To me, that demonstrates a craftsmanship and care I already knew embodies the Chase Bliss Audio spirit and will be evident to anyone who gets to experience this pedal in all its glory.

 

Weird CV/EXP Fun

So you probably already know about the fun that can be had using an expression pedal to modulate multiple parameters at once via the Ramp functionality. And you may know about using a CV signal from a modular Eurorack source for similarly inspiring escapades. But here’s something you’ve probably never tried…

Through the use of a drum machine, synth, or other external audio sound source, I encourage you to experiment with sending audio to the EXP/CV input to add spontaneous, organic modulation of the chorusing or Ramped parameters. While using a TRS cable, send audio to the EXP/CV jack via the Tip while the Ring remains floating unconnected. (Using a standard guitar cable would draw too much mA and cause the pedal to act more wonky than intended.) Without the benefit of having a drum machine here to test, I plugged in my iPhone and played around a little bit with a metronome track to interesting (and possibly unintended) effect, but I noted a relatively anemic response at first. Switching to a louder fully featured backing track was much more interesting, yielding aggressive reactions to the snare hits in the track. The response wasn’t extremely precise, but it did yield some very interesting movements along with the rhythm of the source material. With any parameter dip-switch set to Ramp, the ramped parameter will react to the input, and the tap tempo will be active. This all came about due to my weird/stupid curiosity, but maybe you’ll find some cool sounds this way, too.

 

Gripes

A few months ago I’d have probably kvetched that the HiFi, a bastion of chorus (subjectively an effect most well served by stereo) isn’t in stereo, and the HiFi doesn’t get off of that particular hook just because it’s a great device. I won’t name names, but there are a handful of popular companies with pedals that accommodate a single-input, single-output TRS stereo configuration to split your signal two ways, and with the addition of the Lag in the HiFi, this would have been a great opportunity to do just that. However, it is worth noting that while the HiFi further demonstrates CBA’s ability to resolve complex electro-tonal needs, and TRS stereo does exist, such an upgrade would require a complete retooling of Chase Bliss’s “universal motherboard,” the basis around which all CBA circuits are built. If I were feeling particularly sadistic, I’d suggest that they should at least consider it in the future. All of CBA’s pedal line-up, not just the HiFi, would sound INCREDIBLE in stereo (even simply via Wet/Dry outputs) and though each one fills a niche that satisfies those already running Chase Bliss pedals, the addition of stereo signal routing could really help to meet the needs of those in the market who are on the fence between CBA and some other legacy effects companies offering stereo pedals, as well as those of us who already run full stereo rigs and would like the option to split our signal from toe to tip. Masturbatory diatribe aside, let’s relinquish this fantasy and enjoy the truly immaculate pieces in this Blissful wheelhouse. With this latest release, we have to assume CBA is locked into the current mono configuration in one unnavigable way or another. Besides, stereo really isn’t necessary in this instance, merely a nice-to-have option on something that is already very nice to have in the first place.

 

 

The Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi is a serene work of beauty that offers unparalleled audio fidelity and tonal options in a compact all-analog chorus/vibrato pedal. To put it in musical parlance, the HiFi is not Chase Bliss experiencing a case of megalomania; it’s more a thematic variation, a reharmonization of a prevailing melody. With the addition of the Hold switch and Lag knob, the Warped Vinyl HiFi adds a new element of control and flexibility that was missing from the classic formula, and the added bonus of that cleaner signal path should convince any past doubters who weren’t feeling the lo-fi vibe. Is it good enough to be the LAST Warped Vinyl? That’s not my call to make, and I’d never presume to assume that that’s the case. All I know is that the updates are significant enough to differentiate the HiFi from its forebears, and in my opinion, forward-thinking enough to justify discontinuing the MKII with no regrets. You can still accomplish most of the tones that the last two models could, but now you don’t need to relinquish signal clarity. So for all we know, it may not be the last Warped Vinyl, but it’s definitely the cleanest and most refined to date. At any rate, it’s the best analog chorus/vibrato pedal of it’s kind in my book.

That concludes our review of the Warped Vinyl HiFi by Chase Bliss Audio. Thanks for reading!

Best New Guitar Effects Pedals of 2017


The Pedals of the Year are here!

 

There is no shortage of guitar effects pedals in the world. Every year thousands of pedal builders release countless new stompboxes for guitarists to obsess over. And likewise, there are plenty of guitar magazines and pedal blogs to find info about the latest and greatest, let alone the many enthusiastic voices on Instagram, YouTube, and in forums who seem to present every shiny new pedal they can get their hands on as if it’s the best thing since [insert your favorite pedal here].

But as strong as the hype may be sometimes, it’s important to not let yourself get carried away by the viewpoints of other people. At the end of the day your music will be better by following your ears and instincts and choosing the tools for tone that suit your needs. When researching pedals (or anything for that matter) it’s best to read widely and critically. Find views that are contrary to the norm and try to understand why someone else sees things differently. Keep an open mind, and you’ll often learn something new. Take this approach in pedal land, and you just may discover a whole new approach to making music.

 

Your Picks & Our Picks

 

We wanted to broaden everyone’s horizons with this roundup of Best New Guitar Effects Pedals of the Year 2017. We surveyed our readers and cross-referenced their votes with our own perspectives on the pedals released in 2017 to determine which ones are the overall best.

We’ve split our list into two parts. First, you’ll see 9 of the top picks based primarily on reader voting & public opinion. Then we’ll show you 8 BGE Team Picks that showcase some of our other personal favorites. Since this article is a collaborative effort written by 4 members of the BGE team (Jake, Paul, Anda, & Gabe), we’ll each present you 2 pedals in the Team Picks section.

And we’ll wrap things up with a special shout-out to the Best New Pedal Builder of 2017. Now here are the Best New Pedals of the Year 2017!

First up is the pedal that received the most votes from our readers…

 

Empress Effects Echosystem

Builder: Empress Effects, Pedal: Echosystem, Effect Type: Delay

No one knew for sure that this was coming, but everyone was hoping it was. The Empress Reverb was a strong contender to replace all those big multi-algorithm reverb pedals out there, and many of us were soon looking at our multi-algorithm delays and wondering if our time together was also running out. The very first time I heard that Empress Effects was going to build a delay pedal on the platform of the Empress Reverb I was like, “OMG. This is going to be HUGE!” Not to mention the Echosystem is the successor to beloved Empress Superdelay. I first got to play with the Echosystem at Winter NAMM 2017, in fact, I got to take the NAMM prototype home to begin beta testing. I recall being immediately intrigued by the dual-delay engine. “Wait… you mean this is actually TWO delays and they can work together in perfect unison??” Right away, I knew we had a winner.

The Empress Echosystem is based on nearly the exact same layout of the Empress Reverb. Nearly all the same knobs, switches, and ins and outs are here. If you love the Reverb, adding the Echosystem to your board will be easy as pie. The Echosystem has a dozen different modes/delay types with 36 different sub-modes at the time of this writing. The dual-delay engine allows any two of these sub-modes to be paired together and ran A into B, B into A, or in parallel (split left/right when using the pedal in stereo). That alone is enough reason to stop reading this and just go buy one. If you need more than that, allow me to continue. The EchoSystem has all the usual controls like TIME, MIX, OUTPUT, FEEDBACK, and TONE. Empress adds a couple more exclusive controls with THING 1 and THING 2; these do very interesting and different things in each mode. You also get stereo ins and outs and a Universal Control Port that uses a 1/4″ jack to handle expression, external tap, voltage, and MIDI. Full MIDI implementation (via the Empress Midibox, sold separately) and expression/CV control are at your fingertips with the EchoSystem. A speaker cabinet Simulator keeps things sounding right when you don’t have an amp around and want to just go direct into your DAW. Thankfully, with all of this you will be able to save and recall to 35 preset slots. One of the greatest features of the Echosystem is the fact that you get the latest and greatest of everything for many years to come with the ability to update the firmware. What does this mean? Well, if you want to be involved, you can join the Empress Voting Forum and actually make suggestions and join in on discussions about fixing bugs and adding features to your pedal. If you don’t want to be involved, you can simply go to the Empress website and download the latest firmware at any time. The pedal actually has an SD card slot allowing for the easiest firmware updates in the industry. There is something really cool about not being left out in the cold, and this pedal truly gets better with age.

The Empress Effects Echosystem makes the list because this thing is a game changer, and game changers always move to the front of the line in our book. This pedal also became the main delay for both my live board as well as my studio board. Just everything about it was superior to the other multi-algorithm delay I was using at the time. None of this fancy stuff matters without great tones/sounds, and what I was hearing coming out of the EchoSystem was just the best delay sounds ever. Not only do you get these pristine digital delay tones (they’re all digital, of course), but you also will find some of the best tape and analog emulations in the industry. My preference is for the odd, nasty, lo-fi sounds and, this is where it really shines for me on a personal level. You have a mode called Lo-Fi, but you also have some other very interesting modes that can be tweaked in ways that inspire and take your music in directions that are sure to satisfy your craving for “something different.” The other multi-algorithm delay I was using had too many limitations for me. For starters, I’ve been using that one since 2010b and since that time we have never seen anything new in the way of modes/sub modes. No new sounds. Just the same old, same old since its release. The desire to push things further made it a no-brainer for getting the Echosystem onto my boards. And likewise, a majority of Best Guitar Effects readers voted more for this pedal above all others, crowning the Empress Effects Echosystem as 2017’s Pedal of the Year.

 

Chase Bliss Audio Brothers

Builder: Chase Bliss Audio, Pedal: Brothers, Effect Type: Overdrive/Boost/Fuzz

Are you looking for a new and unique way to add gain to your tone? Shut up, of course you are. The only problem is, there are a million different pedals and a million different ways to add gain, so which one do you choose? For your consideration: the Chase Bliss Brothers adds that gain in all the ways. It’s got two complementary, all-analog drive circuits, each with a Boost, Overdrive, and Fuzz voicing, paired in two-way serial or parallel, full midi functionality, presets, expression/CV input, and 16 dip-switches for all sorts of expression goodness. Woof.

I have to make a concerted effort to not get sentimental when I talk about this pedal. We’ve just had so many good memories together; I’ve had it acting as the only gain source on my board since May and it’s only gotten deeper as I’ve grown more attached to it. While Chase Bliss’s signature dipswitch fleet can be intimidating, the Brothers is best grasped by starting at the knobs and getting comfortable with it through the mindset of playing through two very simple drive pedals. On Side A we have a warm JFET circuit, but for the readers to whom that classification makes any difference, “JFET” doesn’t quite do the tone justice. I still can’t get over that the circuit is based on an old projector amplifier, the progeny of Resonant Electronic Design’s Field Effects line of inventive drive pedals. Side B is Joel Korte’s IC design and harkens to a modern-feeling, “updated Screamer” vibe. The tonestacks on both sides focus on different facets of the frequency spectrum; Side A emphasizes transparency, letting more of the inherent tone of your guitar shine through, while Side B boosts the mid-range, further balancing out the mid-high, tight nature of the IC circuit.

Of course, we can’t ignore the more unorthodox features of the Brothers; they’re a big part of why it made the list! Namely, the ability to route the Brothers’ gain stages from A to B, B to A, or simultaneously in parallel, makes for incredible tonal flexibility. Want some ear-blasting riffbait that doesn’t obliterate your notes? Try Side A’s dense fuzz into Side B’s super clean boost. Want to warm up your overdrive tone with a gain that kinda-sorta cleans up? Pop overdrive B into a rolled back fuzz A. Need dirt but want to keep your high-end clarity? Run Side A’s overdrive parallel to Side B’s boost. Couple that with the back-mounted dip-switches that allow for pinpoint selection of which parameters you’d like controlled by your expression pedal; crossfading the tones of the two circuits simultaneously via expression is my favorite thing. It’s no surprise the Brothers was one of the most popular pedals of 2017: it’s a damn masterpiece.

Are there any drawbacks? The only thing I’ve experienced that I know is a deliberate built in feature to the Brothers is that when you engage either circuit when the pedal is fully bypassed there’s a few milliseconds of complete signal loss. This was designed into the Brothers to prevent any sudden voltage-change “pops” when the analog circuits are activated. In a band context you don’t even notice it, and this design choice is more than likely adding to the lifespan of your speaker by sparing it the jarring experience of having to disperse all that extra energy. Of course if it bothers you, you can bypass the mute entirely by just leaving the Brothers on for the rest of your life and adding dirt to taste with the expression in or automating it with your favorite DAW.

Read the Chase Bliss Audio Brothers review

 

Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets

Builder: Hologram Electronics, Pedal: Infinite Jets, Effect Type: Guitar Synthesizer

My first impressions of either of the strong offerings from Hologram Electronics hover somewhere between massively impressed and somewhat overwhelmed. I have thought of Hologram as kind of “smart effects for players that are smarter than me.” In other words, I felt they were over my head. I decided to tackle the review of the Infinite Jets last month and decided to just lock myself in a room until I either needed more water or I understood this incredible little box inside and out. The first few times I sat with this pedal I was just amazed at what was coming out of it. I was putting in very minimal effort as far as what I was playing, yet out the other end was just a symphony of incredible awesomeness. And who doesn’t want that?

The Infinite Jets is a dual-channel synth with all the bells and whistles and complete control you’d ever hope for. You will find four effects, Blur, Synth, Glitch, and Swell, with a total of 10 sub modes. There are three ways of sampling: Mono, Poly, and Manual. In Mono mode, the sampling engines work independently of one another and never overlap. This is useful for creating more clarity. Think of dialing back the feedback on a delay – same idea. In Poly mode, the sampling engines will overlap in the most beautiful way, creating a seamless wash of your signal. In Manual mode, you’re in control. You decide when to trigger the sampling engines using the foot switches. Those switches can also be set up in momentary, latching, or toggle. Plenty of “have it your way” is found on this pedal. Thankfully with all of this you have the ability to save a couple of presets. This was super useful when tinkering around. Additional control can be found in the LFO and Envelope controls. You have control over the LFO depth, shape, and frequency. You also have control over the Envelope shape and control over the effects duration with envelope times all the way out to infinity. The Dimension control is the magic knob on this pedal. It allows for interesting manipulations of parameters unique to each effect type. Sometimes it’s a high pass filter, sometimes it’s a sample playback length (which feels like a delay time). It really is the magic. You can also record up to 10 seconds of movement or automation of knobs. This is super handy since twisting that Dimension knob is super fun and musical but kinda hard to do while you’re playing. You also, of course, have the option for full expression control over knob movements. The signal path, including the drive and tone controls, is all analog, but you have digital control over them. This really is the synth pedal you are looking for, and then some.

It was a fairly simple decision to put this on the Pedals of the Year list. There have been so many posts about this pedal having a similar effect on people as it had on me, personally. My friend, Darren Jackson, released an album last week and the Infinite Jets is so obvious on one of his songs that I correctly identified it immediately. That says something when you can do that, when a pedal as a voice all its own. I have a studio of my own and the Infinite Jets is going to have a permanent place there as the “go-to” box for when I am stuck in a creative rut and I just need help finding a better way. Another bonus is the fact that this pedal has a wet/dry blend knob. I have bought and then sold so many pedals over the years that were freaky in a good way and did things that I just LOVED, but without a blend knob to make the effect more subtle, there was often no way for me to use them in a practical band setting. The Glitch mode is probably my personal favorite. Something about chopping up that incoming signal into the most incredible delay/tremolo kinds of sounds is something that I love. Another strong point is the ability to calibrate this pedal to the incoming audio signal. I used it on guitar, bass, and electric piano, and it shines across the entire spectrum. I went from knowing almost nothing about the Infinite Jets to having it as a staple in the studio. Infinite Jets, we easily crown thee, one of the best of 2017.

Read the Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets review

 

Keeley Electronics D&M Drive

Builder: Keeley Electronics, Pedal: D&M Drive, Effect Type: Boost/Overdrive

At a glance the Keeley Electronics D&M Drive may look like just another boost and overdrive combo pedal (with a beautiful sparkly orange finish), but it’s so much more than meets the eye. A collaborative effort between Keeley Electronics and Dan & Mick from That Pedal Show, the D&M Drive boasts 2 separate drive channels: a clean boost/mild overdrive on the right and a mid to high-gain overdrive on the left.

The Boost side is akin to a Keeley Katana boost on steroids, providing plenty of ultra high-headroom clean boost on tap. With the Gain rolled all the way down, the signal remains clean. There’s some subtle added definition to the mid-range, and the top end gains an almost high-definition quality. There’s plenty of output volume on tap as well. You could use this channel to add a little magic to your clean tone or balance your guitar sound when switching between single-coils and humbuckers. But of course, that’s not as fun as using this channel a slam into a preamp on the verge of or just starting to breakup. Use the Tone to mellow out the highs of a Strat or Tele or brighten up a Les Paul. Not to mention as you boost the Gain, the Boost side has a whole range of light to mild overdrive of its own to impart on your sound.

Yes, the Boost side alone is enough to make a very solid pedal, but the Drive side is a whole ‘nother monster that greater extends the D&M Drive’s versatility. Kicking on the Drive engulfs your guitar in a rich, full-bodied (sounds like we’re talking about beer) saturation that harkens back to the thick overdrive sounds on your favorite classic rock records. Now try kicking on the Boost in front of the Drive sound to kick it up into a higher gain lead solo tone. Harmonics practically scream from your speakers, and the raunchy swagger of this ordering is great for an 80’s LA rock ‘n roll vibe. Flip the order to feed the Drive into the Boost, and you’ll got yet another flavor of grit on tap.

The D&M Drive has several other nifty features and design efficiencies going for it. Labeling the order flip-switch positions “Drive First” and “Boost First” ensures first timers know what they’re hearing when experimenting with combinations. The foot-switches are adequately spaced to avoid accidentally stomping on both at once yet close enough so that you can do so when needed. An optional TRS I/O mode lets you route each channel to different loops on an effects switcher, a brilliant addition for professional guitar rigs. Thankfully, Keeley Electronics also uses non-relay bypass switches, so the D&M Drive’s channels can be set to always be active when powered up, another boon for guitarists who rely on an effects switcher. All the jacks are top-mounted as well to ensure that the wider form factor takes up as little ‘board space as possible. The power jack might be a little too close to the audio jacks when using some brands of cable, but it’s worth upgrading your patch cables for a pedal that sounds this good.

Read the Keeley Electronics D&M Drive review

 

EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter

Builder: EarthQuaker Devices, Pedal: Data Corrupter, Effect Type: PLL/Fuzz

The mad scientists in Akron have done it again. The Data Corrupter is one of the latest offerings from Earthquaker Devices and is one of the best pedals of the year for 2017. We have seen some great offerings from Earthquaker Devices of late, and this is no exception. The Data Corrupter is loosely based on the Electrax Sythax and the “Basic Frequency Synthesizer” by Ray Marston, only with better tracking and sustain. Earthquaker Devices have created their spin on the familiar PLL-style pedal with an incredible fuzz/modulation/octave/oscillator machine that is sure to corrupt everything you feed into it and will destroy everything in its path. If you have a pair of stiff new speakers to break in, this may be the ideal way get that done and have lots of fun at the same time!

According to the manual, The Data Corrupter is an analog PLL harmonizer with modulation that takes your input signal and brutally amplifies it into a crushing square wave fuzz, multiplies it, divides it, then modulates it into a three-voice synthesizer. Need I go on? They pretty much had me at “brutally amplifies”. At the heart of this signal destroyer is the Master Oscillator. The three-position switch on the oscillator control feeds your input into either Unison, -1 Octave, or -2 Octave. Use this to fine tune the tracking response for your preferred instrument. From here, the Data Corrupter will do the science and split off a synthesized frequency. Further controls allow you to select the octave/interval as well as the volume of this voice. The Frequency Modulator applies pitch-bend modulation to the Master Oscillator. A Glide Mode gives you a smooth portamento as each note slides into the next. In Vibrato Mode, the pitch modulates up and down in a retro sci-fi effect. The Subharmonic assimilates the input into one of eight lower octave programs between one and three octaves below the input. The Square Control blends in a great sounding square wave fuzz which I thought sounded great on its own! And all this is barely scratching the surface of all the options this pedal has.

Those not familiar with a PLL (Phase Locked Loop) will be surprised by how interesting and finicky these things can be! A PLL takes your input signal and compares its phase and frequency against an oscillator, generates an output proportional to their difference then feeds it back into the oscillator. This causes the oscillator to lock onto the input signal and generate a synthesized frequency. Serious science going on here. So what does that sound like? Well, it’s a super thick, nasty undertone with funky octaves and harmonics all over the place. Tracking inconsistencies will make things feels pretty loose and random as you noodle around the fretboard. The Data Corrupter is semi-controlled chaos in pedal form and is ready to take your guitar to spontaneously fragmented new places.

 

Boss/JHS Pedals JB-2 Angry Driver

Builder: Boss/JHS, Pedal: JB-2, Effect Type: Overdrive/Distortion

What happens when the legendary Boss teams up with US builder, JHS Pedals? Guitarists get angry. That’s right, we’re talkin’ about the JB-2 Angry Driver.

The JB-2 combines Boss’ classic BD-2 Blues Driver with a variation of JHS Pedals’ own Angry Charlie. The Boss BD-2 first debuted in 1995 and quickly became renowned for its clarity and note definition, an amp-like overdrive character, and a dynamic playability that overdrives your guitar signal in proportion to the strength of your pick attack. The JHS Pedals Angry Charlie has also become popular in recent years due to its ability to produce great high gain British style overdrive and distortion tones. Pair the two in one box and you get a highly formidable rock ‘n roll machine capable of igniting your guitar sound with a wide palette of drive tones.

Each circuit has 3 adjustable controls (Drive, Tone, & Level) spread across a trio of dual-concentric knobs. The far right Mode knob is a 6 position rotary encoder that selects the drive circuit(s) in use, alters the routing when using both at once, and affects the functionality of the onboard foot-switch and any external switch connected via the Remote jack. The 6 Mode options in counter-clockwise order are: JHS Angry Charlie by itself, Boss JB-2 by itself, a Toggle mode that lets you flip back and forth between the circuits by pressing the foot-switch, Series JHS → Boss, Series Boss → JHS, and a Parallel mode for playing through both circuits side-by-side. This feature set gives you a huge amount of flexibility for creating familiar and all-new overdrive and distortion tones along with a few different ways to conveniently access these sounds during a live performance.

As for the sounds in action of this unique collaborative pedal, the BD-2 and Angry Charlie are indeed a rock solid combo that pair well together. The Boss circuit produces an excellent range of lower-gain to moderate drive sounds, accurately reproducing the results that its predecessor is known for. Whether you’re just adding a touch of grit to your clean sound, pushing a slightly overdriven amp over the edge, or saturating your tone for a searing solo, the Boss circuit has it all covered. The JHS ciruit takes it from there and kicks everything up a notch, specializing in “angry” drive tones with a warm growl. Whereas the Boss circuit seems to have a broader spectrum of tonal response, the JHS circuit is darker in character and has a pleasing smoothness across the low-end and midrange, giving it muscle and a menacing aggression. Both circuits are great for creating an amp-like drive response and cross perform well at mid-gain settings, albeit with different colors.

Things get more interesting when you pair the circuits. A recommended setting is running the BD-2 on lower Drive settings into the Angry Charlie, like a drive pedal hitting the front of a roaring Marshall amp. Also, you can’t go wrong with running both circuits in parallel for massive drive tones that retain a surprising amount of definition on the low-end. Boss and JHS Pedals have a winner with the JB-2 Angry Driver, and it’s a solid entry among our Pedals of the Year for 2017.

 

Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper

Builder: EHX, Pedal: Canyon, Effect Type: Delay/Looper

The Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper was an early release for 2017, but it remains one of the year’s very best. This affordable compact multi-algorithm delay pedal is packed with features and sounds that offer value well beyond its very reasonable price point. Do not mistake this for a beginner’s throw-away delay. If you haven’t played this pedal yet, put the Canyon at the top of your must-try list.

The Canyon’s big draw are it’s 11 different modes. Echo & Mod give you variations of a digital style delay; Echo is just a simple dry delay while Mod adds some smooth modulation to your wet signal. The Multi mode is a multi-tap delay that adds a series of taps at even spacing and consistent volume level. The Canyon’s Reverse delay is a standout with an “intelligent” reverse echo that tracks your playing to help create optimal reverse delay sounds. The DMM setting is another favorite, emulating the iconic EHX Deluxe Memory Man analog delay pedal. You can even access secondary knob functions to activate DDM style Chorus & Vibrato modulation. When I first played the Canyon, the Tape mode is where I initially spent most of my time. This setting has a nice saturation and modulated sound, and these parameters can also be accessed as secondary knob functions. There’s also a versatile Reverb mode that can put a plate reverb on your delay repeats or be used as a stand-alone reverb when you cut the Feedback all the way down. A secondary low-pass function is very useful for dampening your high-end to suit your guitar sound.

The following trio of “weird” delay modes are all top-tier. The Octave delay does the ascending octave sound better than any other pedal I’ve heard, probably due to EHX’s excellent pitch-shifting as seen in pedals like the Pitch Fork, POG2, & HOG2. The Shimmer mode is yet another strong mode with a modulated octave cloud that floats along with your playing. These rich sounds are achieved by emulating a chain of 4 pedals: compression, pitch-shifter, delay/mod, and another delay/mod. But don’t worry about how it’s happening; just enjoy the beautiful sounds produced. The S/H setting is a Sample-and-hold mode that grabs a note or chord you play and repeats it until you play something else. This mode is a ton of fun for controlled glitchy sounds. Turn the Delay time knob while a held note is repeat to speed it up and slow it back down without changing the pitch.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the Canyon gives you a 62-second Looper as well. Plug in an external tap-switch to tap in your tempo with a choice of ¼ notes, dotted 8ths, or 8th notes. The Canyon has offered a big serving of multi-delay excellence. Until EHX enters the arena of big-box multi-delays, the Canyon will likely remain their best overall delay pedal. The amount of great delay tones the Canyon offers is hard to beat in this price range.

 

Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall RKM

Builder: Chase Bliss Audio, Pedal: Tonal Recall RKM, Effect Type: Analog Delay

Here’s another pedal that made the list due to a very high vote count from our readers. The original Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall was one of last year’s best pedals without dispute. CBA engineer, Joel Korte, managed to take reissued MN3005 bucket brigade delay chips and stuff them into a reasonably small enclosure with more features than any other analog delay pedal that came before. 2017’s Tonal Recall Red Knob Mod, or “RKM” for short, doubles the original unit’s 550ms delay time to 1100ms courtesy of 2 extra MN3005 chips.

The Tonal Recall RKM’s massive feature-set also includes an all analog signal path, 2 onboard presets, 122 presets available via MIDI, deep MIDI functionality, tap tempo, hold for oscillation, modulation, CV/EXP input, Ramping for automating parameter movement, buffered & true bypass operation, and 16 dip-switches for further augmenting how the pedal behaves.

Any other differences to note? Well, the original Tonal Recall was one of the quietest analog delays around. The RKM is slightly noisier due to the 2 extra BBDs, but the repeats stay cleaner longer before breakup than the original Tonal Recall. The RKM also has a more musical oscillation than the original. But for many guitarists, the big decision comes down to whether or not you need the extra long delay time afforded by the extra MN3005s and $100 cost difference. More good news: if you’re already an owner of the original tonal recall, you can upgrade it to RKM specs through Chase Bliss Audio. Whether you choose the original or the RKM, BGE readers loved the Tonal Recall in 2016, loved the RKM in 2017, and will likely still love all iterations of this instant classic analog delay pedal in 2018 and beyond.

 

DigiTech FreqOut

Builder: DigiTech, Pedal: FreqOut, Effect Type: Feedbacker

Always on the hunt for the most interesting and super complicated pedals I can find, I often step back and just make sure I have the basics covered, too. The less exciting things out there like tuners, boosts, and buffers can also be the most important parts of the rig. Sometimes the least complicated effects yield the greatest results. Most players would think “What’s so exciting about a feedbacker?” I mean, it’s not like it does a lot, and how often are you really even going to be using it? I recall jamming a lot in the early days on these high-gain rigs in the basement blowing out my ears and loving the easily conjured natural feedback tones. Throw in that whammy bar and AH!! Guitar heaven! Then reality set in… Maturity and playing shows at “stage volume” pretty much killed the natural feedback. It wasn’t until I borrowed my buddy’s Gretsch hollow body that I found that sweet heaven again, if only for a moment, but I wanted MORE! The DigiTech FreqOut is the answer for instantly summoning natural sounding feedback tones in an unprecedented seven different harmonic tone options. This ensures you will always find the right feedback tone that works perfectly for the moment at hand.

The FreqOut’s control surface is nicely laid out with two knobs, two toggles, and one on/off switch adorning the pedal. It’s a very simple design yet is loaded with plenty of options. The Range knob is a center/ring arrangement with the center knob adjusting the gain. This is more of a “mix” knob controlling how much of the feedback signal is mixed with the dry signal. The ring adjusts the Onset, or rise time of the feedback signal. The Type knob allows you to select one of seven different feedback harmonic types. Options here include Sub (-1 octave), 1st (first harmonic/unison), 2nd (second harmonic), 3rd (third harmonic), 5th (fifth harmonic), NAT LOW (natural lower harmonic), and NAT HIGH (natural lower harmonic). The Momentary toggle lets you toggle between momentary and latching options for the switch. This is handy for using it quickly, activating the effect only a choice note during a solo. Or you can use Latching mode to let the pedal remain on until you manually bypass it. I prefer momentary mode, sneaking it in and out at will. The Dry switch allows you to toggle between having your dry signal off or on while the feedback is enabled. Possibly the coolest part of this pedal is the array of nine LED’s to the left of the pedal that give you real-time feedback of the feedback signal showing the rise time as it comes in. Single input and output jacks are located on the right and left side of the pedal with a top-mount, 9v (235mA) power jack.

Using the FreqOut is fun and simple. The results are exactly the way you would expect them to be with no surprises. For something really interesting set the toggle for momentary off and dry off. Then use an ebow and a slide. You still get the same ebow-type tones, but with interesting results when you select different harmonic tones. I plan to put this into a recording sometime very soon. If you have ever been a fan of feedback tones and you wish to have that on command even at a low-gain, “stage volume” situation, at home, or in the studio, the DigiTech FreqOut is definitely a must-have pedal of 2017.

 

Pedals of the Year – BGE Team Picks

In addition to the pedals listed above, here are a few of our other personal favorite pedals of 2017. When we polled our readers, the mainstream didn’t vote as highly for some of these pedals, most likely because they simply weren’t aware of them. It’s our job to change that. We think these pedals deserve to be on your radar because they offer new innovations and sounds worth exploring. Best Guitar Effects’ contributing writers, Jake, Paul, Anda, and Gabe, are each covering 2 pedals for the list. And we put our team “pics” on “picks”. Couldn’t resist… Sorry, not sorry.

 

Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher

Builder: Boss, Pedal: MS-3, Effect Type: Multi-Effects/Effects Switcher

When I first heard about the Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher coming down the line, I thought, “What a cool idea.” But like a lot of guitar players who are skeptical of multi-effects systems, I also had my doubts. Still, I was VERY curious. I picked up my first MS-3 with some level of skepticism. One of those things where you don’t rip the box, and you don’t remove the plastic film from the display, and you don’t even put any velcro on because you don’t wanna kill the resale value. I plugged in and started poking around. “Wait. What?? That sounds really good.” Still a bit skeptical, I added a bit of velcro to the bottom and built a small mock-up board around this thing. I did my best for the next week or so to try and make it suck in some way. I had already been using the Boss ES-8 for the past year, so much of this was picked up easily and, in fact, I felt like some of the switching and MIDI performance of the MS-3 exceeded that of the ES-8. Then, one day, it hit me. I didn’t really even want to admit this because it meant a LOT of work was headed my way, but I realized that my pedalboard life had just been turned upside down. The next morning I took my very large, beautiful, pedalboard apart. In a matter of minutes it went from absolute perfection to a pile of near-useless cables and wood. As much as I hated to see it go, it was time to build the future with the MS-3 and, man, was I looking forward to that!

The Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher is much like the now very familiar ES-8 in style and general appearance, with a much smaller footprint like the ES-5. It also includes nearly all of the functionality while boasting an incredible collection of 112 different effect types, each having several sub groups of effects. For example, one of the 112 effect types is “OD/Distortion”, and within that effect type you will find 21 different varieties of boost, overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. I’ve never counted each and every single option, but it’s staggering. That alone would put this thing on my board as a multi-effect. But it doesn’t end there. The MS-3 gives you full control over MIDI compatible pedals via its MIDI Out as well as 3 audio loops for patching in standard non-MIDI pedals. I know what you’re thinking at this point. “Only 3 loops??” But I have an MS-3 on two of my pedalboards, and I’m only using one loop in one MS-3 and two in the other. The MS-3 will set you free. You can control up to 8 MIDI devices at a time, a limit I have also not even closely reached. I have one MIDI pedal on one board, and I have four MIDI pedals on the other. The idea is to use the internal effects when and where possible. Boss has included many of its legendary classics in variations of Chorus, Flanger, Compressor, and a slew of Delay and Reverb modes as well as some less common goodies like Slow Gear, Defretter, Feedbacker, and Slicer among others. With all of that at your feet, the MS-3 would actually work well as a stand-alone pedalboard on its own for most of you out there. Where I personally needed a little reinforcement was in the weird kind of Lo-Fi dirt selections and to some degree the delays. The weakest link, for me, is the reverb. With everything the way it comes, the MS-3 would work very well for MOST of us. I just need a little help with the weird sounds that I need for my own personal enjoyment. Each foot-switch on the unit can be programmed to do any multitude of tasks. The intuitive and sophisticated graphics display makes it easy to know where you are at any given moment. The Boss MS-3 really does the job of being a catch-all, do-all for guitar effects. The needs of every player are thoughtfully considered here for sure, and when you include the incredible editing software, it’s just an obvious choice.

When I began playing guitar it was just an old Ibanez Iceman into a pawn shop Peavey Backstage. No pedals. Sadly, it was that way for years. Then around 1999, I picked up a brand new Boss GT-3. I was simply amazed, and I recall playing the first show with that thing and all these older musicians were all looking at it like it was a spaceship or something. For years I stuck with the GT series. It wasn’t until I bought one of the very first Strymon Timelines that the spell was broken. From then on, it was individual pedals all the way, and it stayed that way until this year… until the MS-3. Pedalboard insanity is cool and all, but for the past 7 years, I just kind of felt like I was fixing a problem that never existed in the first place. Many of the effects within the MS-3 are from some of the older GT Series units. Many of them we loved, and many we could do without. I was told by a Boss insider, the engineers at Boss went back into the lab for this one. They re-tooled each and every effect by giving them greater sonic characteristics as well as giving them greater control options to make them easier to dial in. When you give the MS-3 a chance, you’ll likely find something here that really changes things AND is something that you actually love the sound of. After all, what good is any of this tech if it doesn’t sound good? I think we can all agree that we’ve spent years where the tech exceeded the tone. Like anything, these things take time to get right. Well, Boss has gotten it right with the MS-3. If you ask me for my personal Pedal of the Year, this is it, hands down.

 

Effectrode LA-1A Leveling Amplifier

Builder: Effectrode, Pedal: LA-1A, Effect Type: Guitar Compressor

The Effectrode LA-1A Leveling Amplifier is a guitar compressor pedal inspired by the Teletronix LA-2A, the famous rack unit often regarded as the greatest compressor of all-time. And this isn’t the first time Effectrode has interpreted the optical tube classic; Effectrode’s PC-2A was already one of the best compressor pedals around. So what more could be done?

Well, the PC-2A offers a distinct edge over the LA-2A in terms of potential performance improvements for guitar and other instruments (aside from the obvious benefit of it being a small pedal and not a giant piece of rack gear). Within the PC-2A are dedicated Attack & Knee trimpots that allow you to perfectly calibrate the pedal to your instrument of choice. Eventually, musicians started asking for mods to make these controls external. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd is a noteworthy user of a modified PC-2A with external Attack & Knee knobs. And so a big mission of the LA-1A was to put Attack & Knee controls on the surface of the pedal. But that’s not all…

In deciding to initiate the LA-1A project, Effectrode also set out on a new mission: to create the quietest compressor ever built in any format. Low quality compressor pedals are often notorious for adding unwanted background noise, and thus the intent of achieving clean sustain, more volume, and a smoother audio signal is often compromised. To achieve the LA-1A’s incredibly low noise floor, Effectrode equipped the pedal with a parallel tube plate design that uses 4 identical input tube stages to achieve the highest possible signal to noise ratio. Audiophiles familiar with high-end phonograph preamps may be familiar with this technology. It’s an expensive form of noise reduction which has never before been implemented in a stompbox guitar pedal. What does this mean in layman’s terms? For preserving low-noise signal integrity during audio compression, the LA-1A is second to none.

There are a few other features and aspects of the LA-1A worth noting. The pedal also offers a foot-switchable boost section providing up to +6dB of real tube boost. There’s a Dynamic EQ switch that introduces a musical emphasis on the upper frequencies as you increase the compression of your audio signal. An external TRS foot-switch can be used for remote switching of the bypass & boost functions. There’s also a transformer isolated TRS balanced output for connecting to a mixer or audio interface and a gain pad (+6dB, +12dB, or +18dB) for matching output with any line or instrument level signal. And as another performance difference compared to the PC-2A, the LA-1A removes the Compress/Limit switch (a legacy feature from the LA-2A) since the Knee control on the LA-1A provides a more responsive and variable response between compression and limiting performance. In summary, the Effectrode LA-1A is the quietest, most featured packed, and most versatile iteration of this legendary style of photo-optical tube compressor.

 

Alexander Pedals Syntax Error

Builder: Alexander Pedals, Pedal: Syntax Error, Effect Type: distortion/ring mod/frequency shifter

Despite its ‘80’s arcade theme, the Alexander Pedals Syntax Error is not your dad’s effect pedal; unless of course your dad is a Galaga cabinet. Those of you who haven’t done much research on this lovely little time machine may see the Sample knob and think, “oh jeez, another bit-crusher,” and you’d be about… seven percent right. Thanks to the 32-bit micro-controller in this bad boy, the Syntax Error is more of a tiny computer than most pedals its size. The power contained in the un-ironically named “Audio Computer System” lends its users four different modes (Stretch, Ring, Cube, and Freq) controlled by six expression-enabled digital pots in a lean, four-knob form factor. Alexander’s cleverly-implemented omni-jack next to the output offers MIDI control and presets, CV, and expression pedal control if that’s your thing. There’s also a USB jack on the back of the pedal, and while there is no editor software up on Alexander’s site as of yet, it’s a pretty safe bet that a long-term goal could be to allow deeper user customization and/or firmware updates.

Let’s talk about the Syntax Error’s different modes. Stretch runs your signal through a variable-speed buffer, warping and repeating the notes played. By dialing the Code knob, you change the speed of the buffer which changes the direction in which the signal is played back. It ranges from normal speed to complete reverse. This creates some seriously glitchy dragging effects that at times seem to operate entirely independently from your playing. Next is Cube which is an algorithmic distortion run through a low-pass filter. If that concept confuses you, just think of it this way: (abs(INPUT^3))^3. That’s math for crazy cubic distortion. Cube is MEAN, and the tones in its wheelhouse range from angry distorted filter to pissed off distorted synth to irate distorted… distortion. Ring is a sample-and-hold/ring-mod combo that can do normal ring modulation sounds and spontaneous, glitchier sounding ring mod with the sample-and-hold kicked in. Finally, Freq is a bode-like frequency shifter with delay, opening up cascading dissonance.

The Syntax Error is a versatile pedal for guitarists wanting to dig in with many shades of weird. Thanks to the additional functionality like presets and MIDI control to make use of its many different sounds in a live performance, Alexander Pedals has ensured that the Syntax Error is more than a mere novelty, it’s one of the year’s best pedals.

Read the Alexander Pedals Syntax Error review

 

TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 Reverb

Builder: TC Electronic, Pedal: Hall of Fame 2, Effect Type: Reverb

The TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 Reverb expands on its predecessor with addition of the in-demand Shimmer reverb effect, a new Mash expression foot switch, and two more TonePrint slots, for a total of 3.

The onboard Shimmer effect is quite lovely, more choral than sparkling. The Tone knob intuitively opens up the shimmering high end. It was a great move of TC to add this. The onboard Tile, Ambient, and Gate effects have been removed to make room for the Shimmer and additional TonePrint slots. While I suspect those won’t be sorely missed, if you really want those types of sounds, use the TC Electronic TonePrint Editor app to experiment with gating and other adjustable parameters.

Up to three parameters can be assigned to foot-switch’s Mash function. It doesn’t take much pressure to engage Mash, but you have to mash it pretty hard to nudge the effects into their mid and top range. The feel of it could take some getting used to at first. For those who like more hands-on tweakability, up to three parameters can also be assigned to the Decay and Tone knobs in the TonePrint Editor. In the future, it would be great to have a wider Hall of Fame (X2 or X4?) that allows for more knobs and knob assignment, rather than stacking three parameters on top of each other. If the Flashback and Ditto Loopers can get bigger and more feature rich, so can the Hall of Fame.

The TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 is still a great all around reverb pedal due to its combination of onboard classic reverb emulations, stereo chain, compact design, and how adventurous and customizable it is through the TonePrint editor and growing library of artists’ presets. The sound and tone of the Hall of Fame are solid. I’ve use the Hall of Fame on vocals, guitar, synths, and drum machines, and it works well in any situation where quality sounding reverb is called for. With the addition of Shimmer and Mash and more encouragement to use the TonePrint slots, the TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 raises the bar over the previous version.

 

Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal

Builder: Gamechanger Audio, Pedal: Plus Pedal, Effect Type: Sustainer

The Plus Pedal is a new kind of audio processing engine that offers piano-like sustain effects for guitars and other instruments. The distinctive, sophisticated appearance and ergonomic design puts the Plus pedal in a class by itself and is sure to invite stares from all the gearheads. Now, of course, there will be some comparisons to things like the EHX Superego and Freeze, but the Plus is decidedly different. Some things are obvious; the actual “switch” is very different. Instead of a stomp switch, you get a great piano-like sustain pedal. This pedal works similar to an expression pedal in that a “half-press” makes it behave differently than a “full-press.” Can’t do that with a stomp switch. You get real-time feedback of half-press vs. full-press by watching the LED brightness. There are some things that are also different under the hood. The actual technology within the pedal is much different than that of other pedals on the market. The Plus pedal is based on a new method of digital sound processing called Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping (patent pending). Instead of creating tones using an oscillator and filter based synth engine, Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping works by creating a smooth, circular loop out of a source signal that is recorded as you go, sampling only the last segments of your incoming notes or chords. These tiny bits are sampled in real time and looped together to create a seamless, warm and responsive sustained tone. On the surface you have a hand-crafted, solid brass piano-style sustain pedal. There are four knobs on the face with rather self explanatory controls for Blend, Sustain, Rise, and Tail. There are several useful ins and outs on the pedal. These include top-mounted input and dual output jacks and a 9v power jack. On the right side, you have options for a separate effects loop as well as two switches that allow for additional control. One switch allows for Group or Single mode. In Group mode, the pedal will collect whole groups of audio layers. In Single mode, it will focus on the most recent note. A second switch allows for Mix or Split on the output. In Mix mode, the more common mode, your wet and dry signals are mixed together on the output. In Split mode, only the isolated wet signal is generated by the Plus Pedal. There is even an option for the Clean Out/FSW output to harness your unaffected dry signal at all times. I can see this being extremely useful in a recording studio setting. A note regarding the size of the Plus. It’s about 2/3 the size of a standard volume or wah pedal. In my efforts to keep my pedalboards really small these days, I was struggling to figure out where to put the Plus. I then learned that it’s best to put it first in your chain. Therefore, I don’t put it on a board. I just carry it with me and plug it in between my guitar and my board. It draws 130mA so it can’t use a battery, which would have been convenient, so I just keep a longer power lead available on the board and plug it in that way. I like it next to my board like that. There’s also an option to split your wet and dry signal output. This is great for recording, and it makes it very handy that it’s first in your chain, splitting off that signal before it goes through anything at all. I usually do that with a DI box anyway.

This little guy is an easy choice to be among the Pedals of the Year for 2017. The very first time I used the Plus pedal, I realized something had changed in my life. I struggle to even refer to it as a “pedal.” it’s more like a piece of musical equipment. I’ll get right down to it. The meat and potatoes of what makes the Plus so great is a two-fold answer. First, the most obvious thing is the actual pedal/switch/damper. The big brass thing that you step on. It’s just brilliant. This would not be a Pedal of the Year pick for me without that. The operation and the feel of using it… There is no other way to say this; it’s simply PERFECT. The most intuitive thing ever. Everyone knows what a piano sustain pedal is and what it does. The way the pedal is constructed, and the shape of the enclosure makes it very easy to use. I was up and running exactly the way I wanted to be in less than a minute. The second point that makes this a Pedal of the Year is the sound. I have used other “similar” pedals, and the Plus just has more of an organic, warm sound. Just the way it naturally rises and falls, it just sounds exactly like what it does to a piano. As you’re playing, you get this nice washy sustained sound. The first time I plugged it in, I ran a Les Paul into the Plus into a crappy little amp with a 2.5” speaker. Point is, nothing good in the line to make it sound nice, however, it sounded incredible! I always like to have a reverb in my chain no matter what and using the Plus Pedal kind of had that sound. It was like a reverb, and not like a reverb at the same time. It was as if I’d just bought a new kind of a reverb pedal. Something fresh and cool sounding. Using it this way was kind of fun and inspiring. One of my favorite ways of using it is to set the sustain and tail for infinite sustain. You get this beautiful drone sound and you can control the level of that drone with the Blend knob.

It’s easy to understand why the Plus Pedal is one of my top picks for Pedals of the Year. It’s a completely new concept, well executed, with beautiful sounding results. After all, in the end, that’s exactly what we’re looking for. I don’t plan to ever part with my Plus Pedal, and I have a feeling that I am just brushing the surface with all that I can do with this thing. I’m fairly certain that it will continue to inspire new ways of making my speakers dance.

 

Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi

Builder: Chase Bliss Audio, Pedal: Warped Vinyl HiFi, Effect Type: Chorus/Vibrato

The original Warped Vinyl MKI was Chase Bliss’s first innovative take on chorus and vibrato, featuring waveform “ModuShape” toggles, expansive parameter expression via CBA’s signature dip-switches, and a musical Ramp knob, which in an industry saturated with modulation, truly pushed the Warped Vinyl to the top of the hill. The Warped Vinyl MKII was a respectable improvement on the original with the addition of its Tone knob, expanded MIDI control & preset bank, and upgraded cleaner tone. Both were not just well received but indeed have become coveted artifacts that had every show-going gear nerd pointing ‘boardward mid-song, mouthing “yes!” whenever those glorious warbles spilled out eldritch into the world.

So, why remake the Warped Vinyl yet again in this new, burnt orange enclosure? For starters, we should recognize that the HiFi isn’t exactly a reissue. The new Hold switch, the once-Volume-now-Lag knob, and new dip-switch parameters set the HiFi far enough away from the previous iterations to be considered a piece all its own. On the subject of those dip-switches, CBA has dropped the Lo-Fi dip-switch to accommodate a switch that expands the function of the inarguably more interactive Tap/Hold switch, and obviously the volume dip-switches have been repurposed to now control the Lag. The HiFi also sports a cleaner signal path, allowing for much more transparent tones than its Warped kin, limiting it’s spook factor but increasing it’s usability across genres. Fans of the previous iterations of the Warped Vinyl might be missing the tremolo vibes that MKI & MKII were capable of when ramping the Volume knob, but don’t fret dear readers. What we lose in trem prowess we gain in much more direct control over the delay time which means a much broader spectrum of chorus/vibrato tones. Still, some owners of Warped Vinyl MKI and/or MKII who have grown attached to the volume control may not find enough reason to make the switch, which is understandable, but I have to put this out there: the ideological split between the darker black and white WVs and the newer, brighter model is palpable enough that, if I were to play Devil’s Advocate, I might suggest making the switch and making up the difference with a Gravitas or some other specialized tremolo. At any rate, I for one plan living on that Hi life for as long as possible.

 

Keeley Electronics Caverns V2

Builder: Keeley Electronics, Pedal: Caverns V2, Effect Type: Delay/Reverb

The Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 is a combination delay and reverb pedal. It’s updated from the V1 with better laid out controls, wider foot-switch spacing, an optional buffer for delay/reverb spillover, and a Mod selection switch. It’s also now a much prettier pedal; the design is clean, modern, and airy with abstract triangle art that serves as a metaphor for the complex sound possibilities and interactions between the delay and reverb. The Caverns V2 encourages you to turn knobs and get creative as the delay and reverb work well together, creating lush and complex sounds.

The tape style delay is a monster. The trails are very warm and analog sounding with a bit of lo-fi grit. At a relatively high Blend with high Repeats, turning the Time knob gives a sense of how much this delay can feedback and mangle into new and intense drone-like sounds. The Rate switch controls whether the modulation is off, deep, or light. When switched on, the Rate knob dials in the speed of the modulation. It adds more to a retro analog vibe and wobbly feel. The longest delay time is 650 milliseconds for deep cavernous echoes. The shortest delay times provide a quick slap-back echo and can go into self-oscillation territory with higher settings of the Repeats knob. It doesn’t have tap tempo, but I think it’s meant for those with a ‘set and forget’ approach or to be tweaked by sound explorers. A small warning that out of the box, the delay and reverb are in trails mode, so there could be some unintended sound artifacts when switching it back on if you’re not careful. Open the back-plate and switch it to True Bypass if that’s your preference.

The reverb exalts the sound coming into it. It doesn’t tend to muddy, dull, or completely wash out the tone even at full blend. Only in Shimmer mode, at higher knob settings, do the subsequent reverb tones and harmonics potentially blend into an ambient choir that masks your original signal. Shimmer mode is a lovely rendering. It has a ‘particles ascending and spreading out’ pattern to it. The Warmth and Rate knobs act together to dial in the strength and tone of the shimmer. Spring mode is emulated well and is reasonably convincing. Dialing in the Warmth and Rate adds a more pronounced spring modulation. With a continuous tone, the effect is more like a small wobble of pitch modulation. Modulation mode adds a choral effect and can achieve reverb closer to room, hall, and church by dialing the Warmth and Rate up or down.

Overall, I was really impressed with the sound of the Caverns V2. It’s expressive and can veer between peaceful ambience to potentially unruly soundscapes. I recommend it for guitar, bass, and monosynth. For what this pedal can do and the current $179 price, it’s a top pedal and deal for 2017.

 

Neunaber Iconoclast

Builder: Neunaber, Pedal: Iconoclast, Effect Type: Speaker Emulator

The Neunaber Iconoclast is a bit of an outlier among the rest of the pedals on this list. It seems like more of a utility tool or jam companion at first glance than something that will revolutionize your pedalboard, but it has been quite an essential addition to my personal setup in 2017, being one of the most viable options available that facilitates the transition to an “amp-less” guitar rig.

I was initially intrigued by the fact that the Iconoclast is a high-definition “stereo parametric speaker emulator” that was designed to exceed the level of sonic detail and articulation found in traditional loudspeakers. The engineer who designs Neunaber’s acclaimed effects algorithms, Mr. Brian Neunaber, previously worked with a company developing high-fidelity loudspeakers. This experience gives him a unique expertise in the area of speaker acoustics. Combining a distinct knowledge about speaker design with the renowned DSP programming seen in pedals like the Immerse, Neunaber created a tool that offers arguably superior results in many ways over what can be achieved from miking traditional guitar speaker cabinets.

Guitar speakers are essentially analog filters. Their jagged, unbalanced frequency characteristics give them their distinct sounds. But even though your ears may not notice it at first, the various dips and troughs of a speaker’s response are removing frequency content from your audio. The Iconoclast uses a smoother parametric equalization to simulate a speaker with a more balanced response. An Iconoclast app for Mac & PC provides immense flexibility by giving you deep control over the EQ curve of the simulated speaker effect. You can even load a favorite speaker impulse response file into the app to see the filter curve and use the EQ to create an approximation of the IR but with a much smoother response. The pedal’s Low, Mid, and High knobs then let you make further adjustments to the EQ as needed; they’re not simple amp-style tone controls, instead shifting the cab resonance, response, and high-end attenuation to simulate different cabinet types with ease.

The Iconoclast also has a dedicated Gate which is useful since it’ll most likely be at the end of your signal chain. (I like to use the Iconoclast before my delay and reverb pedals which is similar to adding those effects in post production after you record a miked amp and speaker cab.) There’s a stereo headphone jack with level control for silent jamming or warming up before a gig. The stereo I/O features balanced outputs which are ideal for running directly into front-of-house, a mixing console, or recording interface. The Dynamic Power Compression parameters found within the Iconoclast app help create a realistic speaker-like sag response that helps the Iconoclast pair with preamps and “amp-in-a-box” drive pedals for a convincing amp-style playability. Latency is well under half a millisecond, so there is no noticeable sacrifice in feel. You can also trade speaker presets in the Neunaber forums. The Iconoclast is not to be missed if you’re looking for quality speaker simulation, and/or if you’re considering leaving the amp at home when gigging.

 

Now there’s just one more thing before we go…

 

Best New Pedal Builder of 2017: Meris

Many new pedal builders come on the scene every year, and sometimes a few of them bring innovative new perspectives and inspiring new pedals. This year we wanted to give a special shout-out to a promising new builder, and we invited “aBunchOfPedals” to write a feature piece on a new builder that we also think deserves your attention.

Read about the Best New Builder of 2017: Meris

 

While the aforementioned pedals are the ones that made our list, there was no shortage of great pedals released this year. A few other fan favorites and interesting looking pedals of the year were the Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe, EHX Green Russian & Op-Amp Big Muff reissues, EHX Synth9, Wampler Tumnus Deluxe, Dwarfcraft Grazer, Strymon Sunset, and Source Audio Ventris Reverb.

Did we leave out your favorite pedal of the year? Let us know in the comments!

And that concludes our Best New Guitar Effects Pedals of the Year 2017. Thanks for reading!

Best New Pedal Builder of 2017: Meris

If you’re familiar with rack-mount gear and high end audio equipment, chances are you’ve already come across Meris. They’ve made a name for themselves in the past few years with their 440 Mic Preamp, Mercury7, and Ottobit 500 series rack modules. Huge sounds are coming from a team consisting of three core people. Terry Burton (founder) is an engineer who has been working in the industry since 2000. He was a senior design engineer at Line 6 for over 6 years. After that, he was the founder of acclaimed SoCal-based effects pedal builder, Strymon, and worked as an engineer there for almost 5 years. When he founded Meris in 2014, Terry already had a ton of experience in pro audio, so it’s no wonder they’ve come up with so many cool pieces of gear. Next up on the team is Jinna Kim. She’s the creative director at Meris and is basically responsible for making the brand look so slick. She’s worked for a bunch of big name companies like Disney, Sony Pictures, and Lexus. All you have to do is visit their website to see her hard work pay off. It has a very clean, yet futuristic look to it, and that’s all her. Finally, we’ve got Angelo Mazzocco, DSP Designer and Engineer. Angelo also worked at line 6 and has made a name for himself by creating DSP coding and one-off instruments for some serious musicians like Eddie Van Halen, Dweezil Zapa, and The Edge. He’s also a pretty sweet guitar player who does all of the in-house demoes.

So, you have a mini dream team of people with more than 30 years of combined engineering experience and a killer brand manager. How could it get any better? Lucky for us, in Jan 2017 they decided to start making effect pedals and released one of the most impressive pedal lineups I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. They released all of this over the last year. I’m talking about the Ottobit Jr., Mercury 7, and Polymoon. They managed to take the massive sounds of their rack gear and squeeze it into a pedal-friendly format, all while keeping important features intact. Each of their pedals is packed with features like MIDI implementation, expression pedal control, presets, instrument/line level choices, stereo in/out, buffered & relay bypass, kill dry, and more crazy sounds than you can shake a pick at. The pedals are easy to use, and the manuals are written perfectly. Let’s take a look at what I personally believe to be some of the best pedals to come out in 2017.

 

Meris Ottobit Jr.

Builder: Meris, Pedal: Ottobit Jr., Effect Type: Bit Crusher

First off, I just want to say that this pedal has the best bit crusher and low pass filter I’ve ever heard in a pedal. It’s so much more though. With a built in, programmable sequencer, you can easily get some crazy synth-like sounds and maybe even a touch of Dark Side of the Moon action. You can set the 6 step sequencer to control pitch, filter, or sample rate. Again, this is where the manual comes in quite useful. The sample rate reduction can be set from 48Hz to 48kHz, giving you a wide range of lofi sweetness. On top of all that, over 20 stutter modes makes glitching out easy. It’s especially useful with the tap tempo which makes the effect a lot more musical and easy to digest. Timing can also be set via external tap switch or external MIDI beat clock source. Ever wanted to sync up to 23.4 BPM? Well, now you can. Have you ever wanted to go full blast at 6,000 BPM? Say no more, – the Ottobit Jr. has got your back. Hook up a drum machine to this thing and have at it. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had with pedals involved this little guy.

 

Meris Mercury7 Reverb

Builder: Meris, Pedal: Mercury7, Effect Type: Reverb

As soon as you plug it in and start turning knobs, you know this is not your typical reverb pedal. Inspired by their 500 series module, the Meris Mercury7 Reverb has two modes: Ultraplate and Cathedra. The first one is modeled after a plate reverb with a fast build up; the second has more of a super lush build up with a slower swell (my personal favorite). There are some really nice tone shaping controls with low and high frequency filters to help you dial in that sweetness. Not only does the Mercury7 have in depth modulation controls, it also has vibrato and pitch shifting capabilities. The swell is just icing on the cake. Meris designed this reverb in hopes of capturing the sounds of the Blade Runner soundtrack, and I think they did it well. This is definitely some type of other worldly reverb. Go from subtle to spaceverb in a heart beat. It’s no wonder you don’t see many of these pop up on the used market.

 

Meris Polymoon

Builder: Meris, Pedal: Polymoon, Effect Types: Delay/Modulation

They said this was a delay pedal… I’m not so sure that’s all there is to it. Built to resemble the rack delays of the 80’s, the Polymoon can hang with some of the best modulated digital delays out there. Of course it can do conventional delay sounds, but where it really shines is with the addition of the “Dimension” feature. It basically smears your delay repeats and sustains them, giving you some of the coolest pad sounds in a pedal. It gets to a point where it heads into synth territory, and you can’t really even tell it’s processing a guitar. If that’s not enough, there’s also a built in phaser and flanger with variable speed and depth options. Still want more modulation? There are 16 (yes 16!) further modulation modes that can be set to affect the signal in early modulation and late modulation positions. This isn’t your average modulation though; you can go anywhere from a familiar slow and shallow mod, to octave modulation, FM modulation, and tremolo to name just a few. Check out their website for an extremely in depth manual. If I had to choose, this would be my favorite out of the Meris pedals simply because it produces sounds I didn’t think were possible with a guitar.

All of these pedals are unique in their own way, and it’s pretty impressive to see them all come out within a year. So where does Meris go from here? One thing we know for certain is that they are gearing up to release their own MIDI I/O box and a 4 Preset Switcher. I’ve been using an early prototype of the Switcher for the last couple of months and can honestly say that it’s easy to use and looks cool, too. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what’s next for their growing lineup. Meris should be a builder on everyone’s radar at this point. Beautiful sounds, wonderful designs, and excellent customer service have all been common place so far when dealing with Meris. Here’s to 2018!

 

Thanks to aBunchOfPedals for contributing this article! Be sure to visit the aBunchOfPedals YouTube channel!

 

See the Top 17 Best New Guitar Pedals of 2017!