DOD Rubberneck Analog Delay Review

 

In a roundabout way, this review is a long overdue tribute to the tireless work of one Mr. Tom Cram, the former Marketing Director of DigiTech and the figure behind DigiTech’s and DOD’s most recent works. All you need to know to get a functioning perspective on the weight of his work is that:

1. Starting from his kitchen table, he single-handedly revived DOD in 2010 (a time when DigiTech’s higher ups would have rather focused on digital effects) saving the “original boutique brand” and a cadre of critical DOD designs from the abyss of obscure collector’s pieces.

2. He and his team have produced about one pedal every month from 2015 to 2017 under the DOD/Digitech umbrella. We’re talking the Obscura delay, the Looking Glass Drive, the updated Whammy, and the Boneshaker overdrive, to name a few.

I don’t have to go too deep into the controversy surrounding Harman’s sudden dismissal of Tom and his team (there’s plenty to find online about the subject, and Tom has made it perfectly clear he simply wants to move on to bigger and brighter things.) For all intents and purposes, Tom has had his hand in or has been directly responsible for the sum of DOD/Digitech’s releases for the last decade, producing a godly assortium of innovative effects. DOD has been a reputable brand name since the seventies, but Tom and his team brought that name into the light of modernity. Indeed, each design carries a signature brilliance that Harman was lucky to have, and if we’re an eighth as lucky, Tom will pick up the good work again.

Today, we’ll be looking at the very last pedal Tom & Crew unleashed upon the world under the DOD brand: the Rubberneck delay, a feature-dense analog delay pedal that blows most digital delays clean off the road.

 

Features:

  • Up to 1.5 Seconds of Analog Delay
  • Tap Tempo with 3 Tap Ratio selections
  • Rubbernecking allows ‘rubber band’ stretched delay performance
  • Modulation Speed and Depth controls
  • Delay Gain and Tone controls
  • Regen footswitch provides performance control of repeats
  • Loop Send/Return inserts effects into delay feedback path
  • Delay Tails and Dry Signal defeat options
  • Remote footswitch input for added performance control
  • True Bypass

Head over to DOD for more info on the Rubberneck!

 

 

Collateral Cramage

At its core, the Rubberneck is a lava-warm DOD 680-inspired analog delay with 1.5 seconds of delay time at its disposal, and DOD has packed a myriad of neat features in to make the most of that ample time. At its most tonally basic, it’s a warm salt-water bath, but if we’re going to talk about the Rubberneck, we should probably start with the feature that shares its namesake: “rubbernecking.” DOD’s colloquial term for that classic timebending pitchshift you get when you modulate the time on an analog delay invokes the doppler effect of craning your neck while in a moving vehicle. By holding down the Bypass switch, the Rubberneck will stretch or halve the delay time, jumping up or down an octave to match the change. Which direction it goes, and how fast it reaches its destination is up to you, controlled via the green LED-lit Rubberneck Rate knob directly next to the footswitch. Fully torqued in either direction will yield a quick rubberneck, while closer to the center will wind the pitch up or down slowly. Personally I find that turning the rate just short of full either way is the coolest and most musical application, but a slow, chaotic melt is always welcome as well.

On the opposite side, we have a tap-tempo footswitch, the rhythm of which is determined by the division selector toggle north of the bypass switch. As you might expect, the pitch of the repeats reacts to the input on the tap-tempo, so if you’ve got a mean sense of rhythm you can tap in some interesting pitch shifts. I’d be happy with that, but the footswitch also doubles as a Regen trigger for the repeats. The LED knob next to the footswitch, while indicating the set tempo, also sets the decay of the repeats when the Regen switch is engaged, allowing for subtle changes from some repeats to slightly more repeats, or wild splits from single-repeat slapback to infinite-repeat oscillation, and vice-versa.

The top three knobs on the Rubberneck are your basic Time, Repeat (decay) and Level knobs. Much like the Digitech Obscura, another of Tom Cram’s echo masterpieces, the Rubberneck features two sets of dual-concentric pots that operate four parameters collectively. The lefthand concentric pots control the vibrato-styled modulation rate and depth, the impact of which is indicated in the intensity of a yellow flash in the green LED/Rubberneck Rate pot. With the Modulation Rate turned counterclockwise, you’re privy to a world of yawning modulation designed to elicit disintegrating tape tones; clockwise, a chirping helicopter whirl.

The righthand dual-concentric pots are your tone and gain controls, which (and this cannot be overstated) absolutely make this pedal. The reason I say this, despite all of the bells and whistles Tom has Cram’d into the Rubberneck, is because these two knobs expand the tonal range of the Rubberneck beyond that of its contemporaries by allowing us to fatten, brighten, darken, and dirty its repeats at will. Okay, the tone knob does what a Tone knob does, but what do we need a Gain knob on a delay for? Only good things, my friends. The further you turn the gain knob past noon, the harder the Rubberneck’s repeats will push the preamp, culminating in a reverb-like pseudo-oscillation. The relationship between the gain and repeats is important, as the further clockwise the Gain knob is, the lower the threshold for oscillation becomes when the Repeat knob is pushed; the repeats verge on infinite at 9 o’clock when the gain is maxed.

On the right side of the Rubberneck there’s a switch that will, in the bottom two positions, determine whether the delay trails will continue when in bypass, and in the top position, kill the dry input. The great thing about having the trails active is that the Regen switch will still affect the repeats after the Rubberneck has been disengaged. The kill-dry configuration shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if you want to run the Rubberneck in a parallel signal chain for a wet/dry rig, or if you’re re-amping a dry take in the studio.

Perhaps my favorite hardware feature in the Rubberneck is the inline TRS effect loop, which will allow you to run the Rubberneck’s repeats through another, separate pedal or chain of pedals, adding your own special flavor to the trail. Everything is fair game, and I tried everything. I loved the way fuzz pedals both pushed the preamp and smeared out the repeats to create a filthy, almost-reverb wash. Pitch shifters are especially magical, as the repeats feed back into the shifter after it’s played, practically shifting infinitely into the cosmos. Think Rainbow Machine. It’s also important to note that the effect loop is routed before the preamp, so anything with a gain factor will also impact the oscillation threshold. I learned this the hard way running the repeats through the resonant filter from Alexander Pedal’s Colour Theory; as the sequence ramped, my repeats ran away from me, melting my sum signal into indiscernible mush in a matter of seconds.

Finally, the Rubberneck also includes an input for a three-switch footswitch, and while I didn’t get a chance to play with the Digitech FSX3, I was able to get it to function in a limited way with a two-switch footswitch controller. Of course, when I say “limited,” I mean that a standard two-switch controller won’t do what you want it to do at all; plugging in your standard TRS footswitch will engage the regen indefinitely and only allow you to disable it and enable the Rubberneck. There’s no question that this is a matter of proprietary hardware, which is kind of lame, but when utilized as intended, the FSX3 (or any other allows for instant, remote control of the rubbernecking and regen features, as well as an added capability to disable and enable the modulation.

 

Deductibles

Gross, gritty hiss and tone suck is inherent in analog delay, but compared to analog delays past this thing is downright HiFi. There is a nigh-unnoticeable noise that becomes more apparent as you increase the delay time; this is a common flaw in analog, BBD based delays, a function of the repeats decaying at a rapid rate before they reach the output. I do wish that there was an easier way change the direction of the Rubberneck feature, because bending down to turn the pot in a show context is… not easy at all. Impossible even. This might have been solved with a simple two-way switch that affords either an up or down option, freeing up more of the potentiometer for a finer range of rubbernecking speeds. The same problem applies to the Regen knob, so maybe asking for a preset footswitch isn’t entirely out of the question? Additionally, I should also note the lack of stereo outputs is lame to a tiny degree (in the spirit of fairness, the reissued DOD Meatbox included a TRS stereo out,) but that’s easily ignored if you’re not using it in a stereo context, which most guitarists don’t. Finally, a tap-tempo input might have been nice for easier integration or replacing a tap-enabled pedal. Otherwise, I struggle to find something proverbially “wrong” with the Rubberneck.

 

 

Packed with features that rival full-featured digital delays without the gross digital artifacts, I would argue that the DOD Rubberneck stands out as not just one of the best analog delays on the market today, but one of the best delays all around. Tonally, it offers an expansive array of sounds ranging from bright slapback to ambient wash to clean dub delay to everything you can possibly imagine in between. In a veritable sea of delay, the plucky Rubberneck stands out amongst its contemporaries in sheer bang-for-buck. At this price point, you probably won’t do better than the DOD Rubberneck, and with everything it has to offer, why would you want to?

That concludes our DOD Rubberneck review. Thanks for reading!

Top 5 Pedals of the Year 2018

 

I decided to do something different this year, something very hard to do.

While there were hundreds of new pedals that came out in 2018 and at least a few dozen great releases, I’ve narrowed my attention with this year’s roundup to focus on just 5 of the very best pedals.

I could argue in favor of longer lists, particularly if my goal was to pick the best pedal of the year in each category of effect (delay, reverb, fuzz, etc.). But there may not always be a truly revolutionary or essential product released in a given year for each effect type. For example, I’d still argue that the best tuner pedal this year is the Sonic Research ST-300, a pedal that’s a few years old now. And besides, the more you add to a list, the more you dilute its relevance. It’s especially important to be concise when picking the very best of the year.

By constraining myself to picking only 5 pedals, I’ve forced myself to scrutinize pedals even more closely. I’ve tested and re-tested the pedals on my short-list, trying to uncover all the benefits and drawbacks of each one. In the end I’ve chosen 5 pedals that are leading in innovation and offering guitarists new sounds and new ways of approaching their instruments. If you’re just looking for your next 3-knob overdrive pedal, look elsewhere. If you want to push the limits of the sounds you can coax from your guitar, read on.

The main purpose of this article isn’t to generate more hype for builders’ latest releases; it’s simply to showcase the very best releases of the year. I want to shine a spotlight on a few builders and products that are pushing boundaries and giving musicians innovative new tools for making music. My commentaries on each pedal summarize what you can expect if you’re not already familiar with each release. And along the way I’ll provide relevant constructive criticism that may help companies improve their offerings.

If you’re looking for bold new pedals, these are my uncompromising top picks.

Here are the Top 5 Best Pedals of the Year 2018

Red Panda Tensor

Builder: Red Panda, Pedal: Tensor, Effect Type: Pitch-Shifter/Looper

The Red Panda Tensor is essentially a pitch-shifter and looping pedal with the ability to compress and stretch the duration of audio to warp your sound in various ways. Think forwards and backwards looping, tape-stop effects, and rapid-fire stuttering glitchiness. Plug in an expression pedal and you can do old-school Whammy style pitch bends and dive bombs (as well as control any combination of knob parameters thanks to a recent firmware update). Also, with the newly released Remote 4 controller, you can save and recall multiple presets or gain access to the Tensor’s newly expanded looper functionality. (Disclaimer: the Remote 4 just came out, and I haven’t tried it yet; I fell in love with this pedal long before and didn’t know about Red Panda’s intentions to release this expanded functionality. Strangely, a few months ago I was thinking that more looper control options would improve the pedal, so it’s great to see this implemented.)

Regarding the Tensor’s pitch-shifting, this was an aspect of the pedal I was highly anticipating after first playing a prototype nearly two years ago at Winter NAMM 2017, yet the finished pedal somehow surpassed my expectations. I’m a huge fan of pedals like the DigiTech Whammy V and the Electro Harmonix HOG2, and while those pedals may win against the Tensor when it comes to polyphonic pitch tracking accuracy, the Tensor takes the overall crown for a more subtle reason. When you play through either of the former pedals with a fully-wet blend, intending to quickly shift from your fretted note pitch to a pitch-shifted interval, those pedals have more of a tonal coloration and latency, even if these aspects are arguably negligible. The Tensor on the other hand is amazingly transparent and more responsive than both of the aforementioned pedals; you can leave the Tensor activated with the Blend maxed and may not even notice it’s on until you sweep the expression pedal to shift your pitch up or hit the Hold foot-switch to trigger a loop or glitch effect. Any noticeable coloration is surprisingly subtle. And while the Tensor’s monophonic pitch-shifting is incredibly smooth when you’re not applying vibrato or hitting two or more notes in unison, when you do play in a way that induces a glitchier sound, it still has an endearing quality akin to that of the earlier Whammy pedals.

The Tensor’s Hold function makes it easy to trigger short loops (up to 4.8 seconds) for quick bursts of stuttering repeats. For example, in Record mode with the Hold foot-switch set to Momentary, you create a loop by simply pressing Hold to record it and releasing the foot-switch to play it back. You could then use an expression pedal to “tape stop” the loop and flip it in reverse. Or you could just quickly tap the Hold foot-switch with each new note or chord to create cascading bursts of stuttering loop fragments. The Time knob can speed up or slow down the loop, and the Pitch knob shifts the pitch of the loop up or down. Both of Tensor’s foot-switches can be easily assigned to Momentary or Latching to suit how you want the pedal to respond during performance.

Another unique draw of the Tensor is its deep MIDI functionality. The Tensor’s MIDI implementation for parameter control is perhaps the most well executed and strictly MIDI compliant implementation I’ve seen in a pedal; other pedal builders should take note of Red Panda’s flawless implementation of MIDI CC functions. With MIDI CC messages you can control all of the Tensor’s surface parameters and “secret” functions like semi-tonal pitch-shifting, pitch glide, and the extended looper controls. With a cheap USB/MIDI adapter you can get all this running on your pedalboard with a MIDI compatible effects switcher.

While MIDI-over-USB in a guitar pedal may not be as pedalboard friendly or standardized as 5-pin MIDI or ¼” TRS MIDI (meaning I probably wouldn’t want to see USB MIDI as standard on every MIDI compatible pedal), this aspect of Tensor opens up a world of possibilities for laptop musicians and DAW users. When I first connected the Tensor to an iMac via USB, the pedal was instantly recognized by the computer’s Audio MIDI Setup utility. You can then select it as a MIDI output destination from Ableton Live 10, Logic Pro X, or your DAW of choice and achieve the fastest possible MIDI communication with the pedal through its direct connection to your computer. This makes MIDI automation incredibly responsive and facilitates some inspiring possibilities. But one downside of this is that I’ve experienced added signal noise every time I’ve connected the Tensor to my iMac. I don’t have this issue with other pedals. (For example, the HX Stomp’s MIDI-over-USB is noise-free.) While you can do some cool things by sequencing the Tensor from your computer, these possibilities might be limited to one-time studio tricks unless the pedal’s receptivity to noise interference is alleviated. I’ll update this section if I confirm that this issue has been addressed as this inherent flaw is the only glaring strike against what is otherwise a perfect pedal.

It’s worth emphasizing that even without all the mind-boggling MIDI possibilities or the expanded functionality offered by the Remote 4, the Tensor is a bold and creative pedal that fulfills Red Panda’s vision of helping musicians create new sounds. The Tensor is a tour de force. Now can the Red Panda Particle V2 come out already?

Visit Red Panda for more info about the Tensor

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Line 6 HX Stomp

Builder: Line 6, Pedal: HX Stomp, Effect Types: Multi-Effects/Amp Sim

With the Line 6 HX Stomp, the DSP modeling pioneer sought to take their acclaimed Helix amp & effects modeling and contain it within a pedalboard friendly stompbox for guitarists and bassists. They’ve definitely succeeded there, but the totality of what they’ve accomplished with the HX Stomp has greatly exceeded even my demanding expectations in many ways.

The Line 6 HX Stomp was a late-2018 release, yet I’ve already seen it find an essential place in my guitar pedal rig. As a matter of fact, the HX Stomp is easily the most important pedal in my signal chain right now. It has replaced 3 other pedals, and I’m finding myself feeling committed to making this pedal my dedicated “amp-in-a-box” for all my current and upcoming musical endeavors. With 60 detailed Helix guitar amp models (and tons of cabs, mics, & bass amps), the HX Stomp may make you forget all about miking cabinets in the studio and lugging heavy amps to gigs. And why do either when you could get all your live tones from the same piece of gear you used to record your music in the studio? And that’s not even taking into consideration the plethora of effects in this thing. The HX Stomp may be the pedal of the year for many musicians based simply on the far-reaching ground that it covers and the impeccable quality with which it delivers in nearly all areas.

The HX Stomp’s bright and spacious LCD display gives users 6 blocks for selecting effects and amp/cab/mic models. You can even load impulse responses if you have some go-to favorite speaker emulations you prefer using. I was skeptical that the 6 blocks might be limiting, but I’ve only reached the pedal’s DSP limit on a few rare occasions like when attempting to run 2 amp/cab/mic blocks in parallel with some other stereo effects. If you’re really trying to get a dual amp sound, try using a mono amp block and a stereo cab block with different combinations of cabs, mics, and mic placement. But the HX Stomp can handle some pretty powerful signal chains of DSP hungry Helix quality effects. For example, 6 blocks consisting of a pitch, overdrive, amp/cab/mic, stereo modulation, stereo delay, & stereo reverb could all be run with ease. The HX Stomp is by no means skimping on processing power, and no other pedal this size can do anything close to what the HX Stomp can manage in terms of DSP multi-effects processing.

And about the effects – the HX Stomp has a formidable collection of modeled effects spanning the history of Line 6 all the way back to sounds from the DL4, FM4, and M series pedals (among others). It should come as no surprise that the modern Helix effects grab the most attention, particularly Line 6’s detailed delay and reverb algorithms which sound absolutely gorgeous in stereo. And the Helix quality pitch and harmony effects sound pristine. Also, while the HX Stomp brings back those early digital drive sounds from the DM4 Distortion Modeler (The Edge is a notable user of those algorithms), the revamped Helix quality overdrive, distortion, and fuzz effects come closer to rivaling many of their real-world counterparts. I’d argue that some of these modeled effects even surpass the pedals they were inspired by.

The HX Stomp is very versatile in terms of how you can implement the pedal in your rig. It could be a compact multi-effects unit to compliment your existing amp; the “4-cable method” will even let you apply some HX Stomp effects in front of your amp and some in your amp’s effects loop. And if you’re tired of lugging a heavy amp to your gigs, it can’t be emphasized enough that the HX Stomp’s amp and cab models are more than worthy enough to make this single pedal your all-in-one amp+effects unit for stage and studio. The HX Stomp is a more than capable virtual amp for your pedalboard, allowing you to easily run your signal direct from the pedal (with Unbalanced or TRS Balanced cables) to an audio recording interface or the FOH mixing board.

Navigating the HX Stomp is pretty simple and intuitive once you learn the basic functions of its few knobs and buttons. Foot control is easy, too, thanks to the pedal’s trio of assignable foot-switches (and optional expression pedal and/or external foot-switch control). The HX Stomp forgoes the “Command Center” functionality that made the HX Effects more of a pedalboard control hub. You can either control HX Stomp directly, or you can control it from a MIDI effects switcher. In my testing the HX Stomp performs very well when used with an effects switcher. You can easily control its functions with CC commands, activating and bypassing individual blocks as well as the entire pedal. There are options for Analog Bypass (true bypass via switching relays) or DSP bypass. You can also use your switcher to activate the Tuner. Presets can be easily recalled by program changes, but be advised that there isn’t currently an option to have preset labeling start from “001”. This means preset recall will be off by one digit (PC1 = 000, PC2 = 001, etc.) when using some professional MIDI effects switchers and certain other MIDI gear. I’ve suggested the 001 preset numbering option to Line 6 to ensure maximum ease of use with all MIDI gear and will update this section if that’s rolled out in a future firmware update.

I can’t overstate how astounded I am by the HX Stomp as an all-in-one pedalboard solution. It’s easily the most powerful and sonically versatile pedal to come along since the Eventide H9, and I’d be quick to recommend the HX Stomp to anyone as a top pick for a desert island pedal. My only real concerns with the entire package are some performance issues I’ve encountered when testing the pedal as an audio & MIDI interface. The unit froze once when using several audio/MIDI features simultaneously, and choppy audio playback coming from my DAW had me reaching back for my Focusrite interface and just running HX Stomp’s audio outputs into that unit. I’ve already brought my findings to the attention of Line 6, and I expect that with a few little firmware tweaks, the HX Stomp will be firing on all cylinders very soon as a worthy audio & MIDI interface for the recording guitarist. Fortunately, the pedal’s standalone performance as a smaller sized multi-effects unit are unmatched, and I’ve experienced no notable performance issues in that area.

Line 6 has long been one of the biggest names in digital modeling, essentially pioneering the concept. Their expertise has made the HX Stomp a very formidable multi-effects pedal that could compliment any pedalboard or become your whole rig if only a handful of effects are needed. And of course the most powerful weapon in the HX Stomp’s arsenal is its amp & cab modeling. It’s definitely the biggest draw for me and what cements the HX Stomp’s place as a next generation pedal that could take over your pedalboard and make you leave your amp at home when heading to the studio or playing out live. Line 6 is entering 2019 with a market leading multi-effects pedal, and I expect that a few other builders will be scrambling to catch up to Line 6’s commanding dominance in this area.

Visit Line 6 for more info about the HX Stomp

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WMD Geiger Counter Pro

Builder: WMDevices, Pedal: Gieger Counter Pro, Effect Types: Wavetable Distortion/Bit-Crusher/Filter

I’d been looking forward to the WMD Geiger Counter Pro since first playing a prototype way back at The NAMM Show 2015. After patiently waiting for years, the GC Pro finally arrived, and as expected, it’s a monster.

The Geiger Counter Pro is a distortion device that uses digital wavetables to saturate and distort your input signal, re-shaping the harmonic content to generate new textures and tones. There are 512 wavetables spanning 32 banks, yielding an incredibly wide range of sounds to explore. You can set a static wavetable or adjust the Table parameter to change the character in real-time. A Morph function smoothens the transition between wavetables, adding an expressive way to contour your sound via CV, expression pedal, MIDI, or by just grabbing the Table knob and turning it. The sounds can range from subtle drive tones to extreme distortion and splatty fuzz, even just straight-up chaotic noise. I’ll be quick to admit that most of the fun this pedal is found in conjuring up the extreme tones that easily spew from this pedal, but also, some of the less experimental wavetables evoke many shades of more mild overdrive flavors.

The Geiger Counter Pro is also a bit-crusher that lets you reduce Bit Depth & Sample Rate to crunch up your guitar (or other instrument), but this pedal is unique in how these aspects were thoughtfully implemented by WMD. The Samples knob reduces the sample rate in the signal path before it goes into the wavetable generator and bit reduction sections. Reducing the sample rate beforehand adds aliasing artifacts to the signal before it’s processed further. As you begin cutting the Samples knob, you’ll hear the upper frequencies change and seem to fold in on themselves. Then you can change the wavetable and hear those characteristics be affected in a different way. Lowering the Bits will square the sound and distort the signal, and raising the Gain will also add more distortion. The Bit Depth section can also be placed before or after the Wavetable, adding further flexibility to the sounds you can create.

While the Geiger Counter Pro’s wavetables offer a way to change the tonality of the pedal in terms of which frequencies are heard and accentuated, there are a couple other parameters that lend to shaping your tone in a more obvious way. The Tone knob can brighten or darken the wet signal before it’s fed into the digital processor. The Tone circuit is optional, so while some audio material (namely guitars) may benefit from some tone shaping, other sounds (drum machines, full audio stem mixes, etc.) may benefit from being mangled by the full-range onslaught of wavetable destruction. There are no rules. And in any scenario there’s still an excellent Low Pass Filter with a slightly resonant peak that can be used to roll off any harsh frequencies that may result from the pedal’s more extreme settings.

One of the best aspects of the pedal’s larger foot-print (which still manages to be pedalboard friendly thanks to the pedal’s top mounted I/O) is that it has 2 additional foot-switches that give users easy onboard access to the pedal’s 16 available presets. It can be annoying when builders make you buy extra gear to access basic features, but the Geiger Counter Pro was designed to give you quick access to all of its functions. Another case in point is the clever CV/EXP control routing of parameters. Two obvious LED strips have dedicated push-buttons for selecting which parameters you want to assign to the pedal’s pair of CV/EXP jacks. I’d imagine that a big part of why this pedal took so long to finish was that WMD were striving to ensure that this complex seeming beast would be as easy to use as possible.

The connectivity is a big aspect of what makes this a definitive wavetable distortion machine in any hardware format. Not only can you connect it to a Eurorack modular setup thanks to its dual CV inputs, the MIDI In allows you to control the pedal from external MIDI gear as well. Sadly, the Geiger Counter Pro VST was out of commission for the two Macs I tried to load it on, but I managed to easily set up a Max for Live device chain in Ableton Live 10 to test out the pedal’s MIDI functionality from my computer. Parameter control was immediate and responsive, and the pedal seems to work well with MIDI overall.

The Geiger Counter Pro is arguably an acquired taste, one for musicians who love finding new ways to manipulate and obliterate their instruments. While its greatest strengths are in its punishing extreme distortion and bit-crushing sounds, you can apply the Geiger Counter Pro in more subtle ways, too. I’ve been using it to filter other pedals, and you can stumble into plenty of wavetable settings that seem to bring out interesting frequencies and tones that you can’t really get from simply turning a tone knob alone. Few pedals come close to offering such a wide range of sounds, and the Geiger Counter Pro will give users an endless palette of sonic destruction for years to come.

Visit WMD for more info about the Geiger Counter Pro

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Meris Enzo

Builder: Meris, Pedal: Enzo, Effect Types: Guitar Synth/Delay/Pitch-Shifter

In 2017 Meris entered the pedal game with 3 incredible offerings: the Ottobit Jr., Mercury7 Reverb, and Polymoon. We even gave special mention to Meris as the Best New Pedal Builder of 2017. Going into 2018 no one knew what to expect next from the SoCal based trio (yes, the company is currently comprised of only 3 magical people), but jaws dropped again when the Meris Enzo was unveiled.

The Enzo is a remarkably unique guitar synth pedal and pitch-shifter that also has a deep filter section, a 2 tap delay, and some ring modulation thrown in. You can even apply compression or chorus-like modulation to your dry signal in Dry mode. While the Polymoon pushed boundaries by being a delay with several other effects that could be applied to it at once, the Enzo differs in that while it’s primarily a guitar synth, it can function like a few different pedals depending on what you feel inspired by in the moment. You can also split your wet & dry signals to dedicated outputs for processing the synth sounds separately from your guitar.

The core of the Enzo and arguably its biggest attention grabbing aspect are the amazing guitar synth tones the pedal offers. The Mono and Poly modes in particular are shining examples of some of the best tracking and most sonically pleasing guitar synth textures I’ve ever heard in a pedal that relies on a standard guitar pickup. The Mono mode is incredibly responsive and feels more instantaneous than any other digital mono-synth I’ve played. Equally impressive is how well Mono mode handles string bending and vibrato. It’s exceptionally playable for monophonic synth leads or synth bass. The Poly mode is noteworthy for how well it processes dyads and triads to generate smooth chordal synth sounds; it’s great for lush pads, especially when you add in some Modulation, Delay, and Filter Envelope movement. The Arpeggiated mode is intriguing in that it uses your source audio material and the Tap Tempo rate to generate synthesized arpeggios based on the harmonic content and dynamics of your playing. While it can seem to produce somewhat unpredictable results at first, when you get it locked in just right with your playing, the results are mesmerizing and unlike anything I’ve heard from a standalone guitar pedal. All of these amazing synth sounds can be further tweaked with either Sawtooth or Square Waveshape voices, Modulation for detuned synth sounds, optional Delay (in mono & stereo), Sustain for longer note release times, Ring Modulation, and deep filtering. Speaking of the filtering…

It’s worth pointing out how incredible the Enzo’s Filter is before I mention the Dry mode. I really enjoyed the smooth feel of the Ottobit Jr.’s slightly resonant Low-Pass Filter, and the Polymoon has a great sounding Filter applied to its delays, but the Enzo’s Filter is much more in-depth than the filtering aspects in either of those pedals. This is fitting for the Enzo considering how synonymous filtering is with synthesis. Enzo’s Filter section has 6 options for Ladder & State Variable Lowpass, Bandpass, and Highpass filtering which deliver a lot of versatility. There’s even a Filter Bandwidth alt parameter for dialing in resonance ranging from a shallow rolloff to very “peaky” filtering like you’d find on a real hardware synth. I also like that the Enzo’s LPF options seem to sweep down closer to silence than the Ottobit Jr.’s Filter. The optional Attack & Decay Filter Envelopes can also be set to Triggered Envelope or Envelope Follower to respond to your audio signal in dynamic ways. The Filter quality is one of the more surprising aspects of the Enzo and can be used to affect your synthesized sounds or be applied to your dry guitar in Dry mode. It may also be tempting to plug a hardware keyboard synth into the Enzo just to try the different Filter modes – filter junkies from any musical background should take note.

The Dry mode’s immediate benefit is that it lets you pitch-shift your guitar in the range of -2 octaves to +2 octaves. And the Enzo happens to be on par with the Red Panda Tensor for the fastest and smoothest pitch-shifting I’ve heard in a compact pedal. Musicians with access to both pedals might find it a worthwhile experiment to A/B them to draw their own conclusions. I will say that when it comes to using the pitch-shifting from either of these pedals to drop-tune your guitar a few semi-tones, the Enzo performs better with polyphonic playing and can better handle complex chords, vibrato, and pinch harmonics without inducing as much glitchiness. As a small point of constructive criticism, while the lag of the Enzo’s pitch-shifting makes it great for longer pitch sweeps, I wish there was an option for more instantaneous interval changing when controlling the pitch with the Pitch knob or via MIDI CC. As it is the Enzo is better suited for re-tuning and more gradual pitch-shifting than immediate note changing via pitch-shift. But in any case, if Meris takes their expertise further into the realm of pitch-shifting and real-time harmonizing, expect unexpected results that could contend with and possibly overtake Eventide, the company that invented the digital Harmonizer.

In Dry mode you can also apply compression to your audio signal with the Sustain knob. This is useful for helping achieve the smoothest possible pitch tracking, but be advised that it does raise the perceived output level, and the Enzo doesn’t have a master volume control. Perhaps an automatic volume output attenuation aspect would have been helpful to make the compression more useful on higher settings without increasing output volume. You can also add a hint of Modulation for a chorus-like sound (which also increases perceived volume slightly) or add in some fun Ring Modulation for metallic and dissonant guitar tones. And you can apply the sweet Filter and Filter Envelopes to your guitar (with the Portamento being used here to create ascending & descending pitch effects). And of course you can use the solid double-tap (or single-tap) Delay on your dry guitar tone and apply Modulation to the delays if desired. Using the Polymoon for a simple ¼ note ping-pong delay in stereo has become one of my go-to sounds, and the Enzo can also give you a taste of that as well.

From the perspective of viewing the Enzo as a standalone pedal, it’s a remarkable instrument considering that it has incredible synth sounds, an excellent filter, and some solid extra delay functionality among other things. I’ll admit though that I’d happily have traded the delay functionality for more waveshapes and/or synth tweaking parameters. The synth sounds are really that impressive to have me wishing for more, and I’d rather keep the Enzo near the front of my signal path with the Polymoon or other delay pedal handling delay duties near the end of my effects chain. And be aware that you’ll probably want to grab Meris’ Preset Switch or use the pedal with MIDI to gain access to saving and recalling multiple presets of the Enzo’s amazing sounds. Yes, it’s a drawback to not have easier access to multiple presets from the pedal itself, but it’ll be worthwhile to overcome for musicians who are enticed by what this pedal offers. The Enzo’s synth sounds are so inspiring that it makes me wonder if Meris will ever expand upon their synth framework in the future; with Enzo they’ve definitely solidified themselves as a builder at the forefront of guitar synthesis. Considering how far ahead of the game Enzo is, I’d love to hear where else Meris could take guitar synthesis in the not-too-distant future if they reapproach this concept in a future release. Now back to the present…

The Enzo does a lot and can be used in a variety of different ways despite appearing on the surface as primarily a guitar synth pedal. Perhaps the most profound aspect of the Enzo is that it shows Meris’ continued devotion to pushing the envelope (sorry, sorry, I had to), defying expectations, and creating some of the most inspiring and unique professional grade effects for discerning musicians who seek previously unimaginable new sounds from their pedals.

Visit Meris for more info about the Enzo

See the lowest price on eBay

 

Dr. Scientist The Atmosphere

Builder: Dr. Scientist, Pedal: The Atmosphere, Effect Type: Multi-Reverb

Okay, there were a few really great reverb pedals released this year, and I have a firm opinion about what I’d argue are the top 3 best reverb pedals of 2018. But in the end I decided that Dr. Scientist’s The Atmosphere wins as my overall pick to be included among the best pedals of the year. While it was still a difficult decision to settle on, I have several reasons for coming to this conclusion and crowning The Atmosphere with the highest accolades. It really comes down to several things that this pedal just does a little differently, things that add extra uniqueness and utility to this pedal that may give it wider appeal.

First, The Atmosphere features 16 different reverb modes built-in… Yes, sixteen different patches in a compact stompbox with top-mounted I/O jacks. There are a lot of cool sounds in this small pedal. The reverb patches are easily selected with the clearly labeled white Patch knob. The Atmosphere’s bold and bright LED screen shows which patch is selected. The parameters are all readily available and easy to access.

The sounds of the pedal cover a lot of ground, too. Classic flavored reverbs like Room, Hall, Spring, and Plate are included. While it seems like most of the patches already have some inherent modulation present in the reverb, there are several patches that modulate the reverb in various ways; these include Rotary, Vibro, and the Mod FX patch which has options for flanger, chorus, tremolo, and ring mod. The Oct patch produces octave up and down tones, useful for shimmer effects and/or deep droning reverbs. The Pitch mode adds dizzying pitch rising and descending effects; you can even set the pitch manually which is extra fun with EXP control. The Smear, React, Swell, and Aether provide unique sounds for ambient reverbs. The Aether’s reverse delay & reverb sounds are particularly inspiring as are the diffused sounds of the Smear patch. There’s a Gated reverb that cuts the reverb when you’re not playing, a cool Filter reverb with high-pass and low-pass filters, and an Alias patch that applies sample rate reduction to the reverb.

All of the patches have a unique pair of parameters (with their names displayed on the screen for each patch) and several shared parameters including Decay, Mix, Vol, and Tone. Kudos to Dr. Scientist for including the essential Volume parameter that is savable per preset and ensures that your Wet/Dry reverb Mix can be easily set to the perfect output level. The Res parameter is perhaps the most interesting as it adjusts the resolution of the DSP, warping the pitch and reverb audio quality. It reminds me of the Afterneath’s “Drag” knob or the Whateverb’s “Warp” knob, only The Atmosphere’s Res can be controlled via expression pedal or MIDI. Yes, it’s as awesome as you should already be thinking it is. You can even assign The Atmosphere’s internal LFO to modulate the Resolution. Speaking of that…

The Atmosphere has an internal LFO that allows you to modulate any of the pedal’s six parameters (not including the analog Tone control which acts as more of a global tone shaping control). The LFO is accessed by double-clicking the Patch knob to enter the pedal’s Main Menu Screen. From there you simply select the parameter(s) you’d like to assign to the LFO (or assign to EXP/CV). You can also select whether the LFO is on or off, set its waveform shape, and dial in its Rate & Depth. The LFO provides some compelling possibilities for adding more movement to your reverbs. Just assign parameters you want to modulate to the LFO and use the surface knobs to dial in the max range of sweep; parameter movement is also interactive with the LFO’s Depth. The Multi switch can be set to Tap Tempo if you want access to controlling the Tempo in real-time, or you could use MIDI Clock or send Taps via MIDI as well.

Another big reason The Atmosphere won as my overall top reverb pick this year is that seems to be a very performance friendly unit with the gigging guitarist in mind. Yes, I love stereo reverbs, but most guitarists are running mono rigs, and The Atmosphere is a straight-forward mono verb. I like that the Multi switch can be set to scroll through the pedal’s presets, so if you don’t have a MIDI effects switcher, you can still access your presets without buying an external piece of gear. I mentioned that the Tone control is more of a global tone parameter. Performance spaces all have their own unique room sound and might be brighter or darker depending on various factors from the space’s construction materials to the density of people in your audience. The Atmosphere’s active treble Tone control can brighten your reverb’s tonality in darker rooms and dampen the reverb if the room is already bright. And this master Tone setting will apply to all of your presets used during a gig. It doesn’t have a sweet spot; it sounds smooth and musical throughout its range and is arguably a secret weapon for quickly dialing in the tone for your entire array of patches.

The MIDI possibilities open up a lot of The Atmosphere’s potential, and Dr. Scientist put in a lot of effort in this area. Of course I had to dig in and push the pedal to its limits with MIDI control. I did find a threshold by sending lots of MIDI data where the pedal can behave strangely, but for 99.9% of MIDI users, this won’t be an issue. Still, I sent The Atmosphere a steady stream of moderate MIDI automation for 2 straight hours, and the pedal kept on working just fine. And by spending so much time down the MIDI rabbit hole with this pedal, I stumbled into some really cool sounds. I sent the pedal some random Filter stepping automation that made it sound like an old Maestro Filter Sample/Hold was being applied to the reverb. And I was able to use the Resolution’s MIDI CC to jump between 32kHz & 16hHz for some cool octave warping; it sounded extra wild alternating that with the Pitch verb’s octave changes. And yes, the pedal worked reliably when testing more commonly used MIDI functions like preset selecting and activating/bypassing from a MIDI effects switcher; those are features that most MIDI users will be accessing, and The Atmosphere seems solid here. My only little gripe is that Presets 1-16 are selected by Program Changes labeled 18-33 on professional MIDI effects switchers from Boss, Free The Tone, etc. I’d love to see the pedal reverse the Default/Preset selection order and make the common end user consideration for offset PC numbering so that PCs 0-15 (typically labeled as 1-16 on most pro MIDI gear) select the pedal’s 16 user Presets with Defaults selected by PCs 16-31 (commonly labeled 17-32). The current configuration isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, simply a small consideration that could facilitate even greater ease of use.

There’s a lot of GAS and hype surrounding nearly every new boutique pedal that comes out these days, but thankfully, The Atmosphere is a pedal that lives up to the stratospheric expectations surrounding it. Dr. Scientist did a commendable job putting so much functionality in such a small pedal while making it inspiring and fairly easy to use thanks to knobs for all of its main parameters and screen labeling for each patch’s CTRL 1 & 2 functions. Definitely give this one some play time if you’re considering your next reverb pedal. You’ll likely find several sounds in it that inspire you, too.

Visit Dr. Scientist for more info about The Atmosphere

See the lowest price on Amazon

See the lowest price on eBay

 

 

Runners Up?

I fought myself over this list for weeks. And I kept trying to squeeze in just one more pedal. But I knew if I did that, it would become a Top 6, then maybe a Top 10, or some other random number. If I had to pick one more pedal, maybe as a runner up, it would be the Chase Bliss Audio Thermae as I feel it’s another innovative release that offers some inspiring sounds. Other considerations included the Source Audio Ventris, an incredible sounding dual reverb pedal with massive customization potential when connected to the Neuro app. I also loved the Free The Tone PA-1QG, an excellent 10-band analog graphic EQ pedal with presets and MIDI. And several other crowd pleasing pedals were contenders for my extended list. Weighing out all factors, in the end I feel that the forward-thinking design, effects quality, and inspiration found in the 5 pedals on this list make this a definitive assessment of this year’s best and most innovative new pedal offerings.

 

The NAMM Show 2019 and Beyond…

While 2018 has been a stellar year for pedals, The NAMM Show 2019 is just around the corner. I’m already aware of a few exciting things that will be at the show and am sure that there will be many new surprises as well. You can expect to see a chronicle on this site of a select few pedals that will be worth keeping an eye on in 2019.

That concludes our Top 5 Pedals of the Year 2018. Thanks for reading.

Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe Review

 

With unparalleled attention to detail and a perfectly executed design, the Belle Epoch Deluxe from Catalinbread is THE final word in Maestro Echoplex emulation pedals. From the 22 volt power rail, to the later spec JFET preamp, to the mixer stage, to the high gain silicon transistor based record and playback amplifiers, to the feedback loop, this pedal is the exact EP-3 circuitry. Add to that the all-discrete, through-hole construction with orange drop 225P capacitors, carbon composition resistors, germanium diodes, and other premium parts. Beyond the technical aspects of this pedal, none of which matter when you are actually using the thing, the idea was to create both the sound and the experience of the EP-3. Look no further. This pedal harnesses the delay tones and preamp characteristics that made the original a legend.

Just for the record, let me start by saying that I have never used a Maestro Echoplex EP-3 delay unit. Because of this, I make no claims to have an understanding of what that “Echoplex feel” is. However, I’m not alone on that. There are only so many of those units around. Certainly not enough to fulfill the demands of all of us seeking that unique tape delay and preamp circuit tone. I wish I owned one. Sorta. I mean, I guess I’d want to also know how to service it and be sure I had a lifetime supply of parts and tape. With all of that in mind, I think I’m with the majority of you when I say that I’ll just rely on modern technology and look for the next best thing. Possibly even something…. better?

 

What’s in a name?

“Belle Époque,” French for “Beautiful Era,” is a phrase referring to a time when things were significantly more wonderful than they are now. When everyone smoked cigarettes, drank lots of booze, and fearlessly lived life to the fullest. A time when imagination ran wild and skilled artisans crafted incredible things that were meant to inspire, and were built to last a lifetime. It could be argued that the Maestro Echoplex was one of those things built at a time when quality mattered and inspiration ran high. It inspired countless recordings and became a legendary piece of gear that has been copied again and again. Even to this day, the original units are coveted for their ability to create some of the finest delay tones of the modern era.

When I first heard about this pedal, I was super excited. I’ve owned a few of the other emulations of the EP-3, both in delay form and the isolated preamp circuits. The EP Booster (Xotic Effects), the Echoplex Delay (Jim Dunlop), and even I’ll even consider something loosely based on the EP-3 like the El Capistan (Strymon). I like all of these pedals, but they just don’t seem like they are doing all they can to bring that faithful sound. Not to blame the designers, I know the intention of these pedals was not an all-encompassing EP-3 emulation. And even if they come close, I am sure there is an element that goes further… that “vibe” I was referring to, that feeling where if you’ve used an EP-3 and you closed your eyes as you played the Belle Epoch Deluxe, maybe you’d struggle to detect a difference. The Belle Epoch Deluxe just has all the bells and whistles, and Howard’s attention to detail could not be more in focus for this pedal. This is truly his masterpiece, his Magnum Opus, and it really shines as the finest in EP-3 emulations.

 

 

Features:

 

Sound Design:

  • 6 modes or types of “tape” to choose from
  • Delay times ranging from 80ms to 800ms (exactly like an EP-3) (Sort of, more on that below)
  • Option for trails on or off via internal dip switch
  • Controls for program, depth, record level, echo volume, echo sustain, echo delay, expression control toggle, bypass switch, and a user-tunable latching runaway oscillation switch. (record level, echo volume, and echo sustain are all analog controls)
  • Expression control of delay time, delay playback volume, rotary speed, or filter sweep
  • Tons of self-oscillation and gritty long repeat goodness on tap
  • Painstakingly recreated circuit with vintage-correct components, and even the 22 volt power rail achieved by way of a voltage tripler and shunt regulator
  • All of this in a perfect size, road-worthy enclosure with, my personal favorite, top-mount jacks!

Ins and outs:

  • One 1/4” main input (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” main output (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” Expression Input (top-mounted)
  • 9v DC, center negative power jack drawing 150mA (top-mounted)

Knobs:

The up-front controls on the Belle Epoch Deluxe offer the same functionality of the original EP-3 bringing the familiarity of the experience directly to the user.

  • PROGRAM: Let’s you select one of six mode types (classic/bright, analog/dark, roto-swirl/leslie, resonant filter/wah, DMM chorus, DMM vibrato)
  • DEPTH: Controls the depth of the modulation
  • RECORD LEVEL: (analog) Sets the gain of the input signal hitting the record amplifier. (how hot the virtual “tape” is being hit) On the original EP-3 unit, this was a screwdriver-adjustable setting on the back of the unit. Essentially, it adds dirt or cleans up the repeats
  • ECHO VOLUME: (analog) Full-clockwise gives maximum echo volume, full counter-clockwise reduces the echo volume so that the instrument is the only thing you hear. Anything in between allows you to create the perfect balance between the two
  • ECHO SUSTAIN: (analog) Another word for “repeats.” Allows you to set the desired number of echo sustain. Anything beyond “5” and runaway oscillation will kick in
  • ECHO DELAY: This is your “time” knob. Anywhere from 80ms to 800ms (maybe, more on that below) On the original unit, this was a slider knob on the top of the unit. Fun to slide back and forth. Get that same experience here on the Belle Epoch in one of two ways. The knob is conveniently located in the top right edge of the pedal. This makes it easy for you to access it with your foot, rolling it up and down with ease. The other way would be an expression pedal. Plug it in and go crazy!

A more in-depth look at that PROGRAM knob:

Fairly straightforward “mode” knob, but it get’s pretty deep. Let’s take a look.

PROGRAM:

Here you can select one of six different modes, or as the manual refers to, “six types of tape.” They are really different-sounding delays with additional options for the modulation or filtering characteristics, as well as expression pedal options. Let’s look at each one in depth.

1. CLASSIC:

Description: Classic EP-3 Tape voicing. Slightly bright repeats. This is the main voice of the Belle Epoch Deluxe. You want that Maestro Echoplex in a box? This is the one.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the amount of tape warble. Start at “noon” for classic EP-3 tape characteristics.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

2. ANALOG:

Description: Dark voicing inspired by BBD delays. Darker repeats sit nicely under your dry signal.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the depth of a medium-rate chorus. Set to minimum for no chorus to emulate classic BBD delay units.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

3. LESLIE:

Description: Your repeats will have a nice “roto-swirl” as if running though a Leslie Speaker. (use the expression options to unlock the full capabilities of this feature)
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the depth of the rotary effect.
Expression Pedal: Classic Leslie Speaker controls. Toe-down for fast rotor, toe-up for slow rotor.

4. FILTER:

Description: This mode features a manually sweeping resonant filter. As if your repeats were running through a wah pedal. (use the expression options to unlock the full capabilities of this feature)
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the amount of tape warble. Start at “noon” for classic EP-3 tape characteristics.
Expression Pedal: Controls the sweeping filter. Go from wah-like tone at shorter delay times all the way to sweeping synth filter sounds at longer delay times. (because this is a resonant filter, you may need to turn down SUSTAIN slightly to avoid going into oscillation)

5. DMM CHORUS:

Description: Replicates the “chorus” sound on a classic Deluxe Memory Man.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the chorus depth. Just like the original, it’s capable of extreme settings at max.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

6. DMM VIBRATO:

Description: Replicates the “vibrato” sound on a classic Deluxe Memory Man.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the vibrato depth. Just like the original, it’s capable of extreme settings at max.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

Visit Catalinbread for more info about the Belle Epoch Deluxe.

 

 

Value, quality, and nitpicks:

 

The Belle Epoch Deluxe is simply fantastic. No other way around it. The strongest points are the attention to detail and the massive array of expression options available for the delay explorer. The bread and butter of this pedal is the classic EP-3 tone, captured by the seemingly magical hands of Howard Gee. What takes this pedal to the next level are the expression options, opening up possibilities of incredible sounds that you will struggle to find elsewhere.

Let’s talk about value. The street price on the BED is around $359.00. Right away, some of you are like “No. That’s too expensive.” But think about it… It’s $60 more than an El Capistan. One of the greatest delay pedals ever, yes, but the BED is hand-built with premium analog, through-hole parts. (I hear that it takes 90 minutes just to populate the board on these things.) You’re honestly getting the entire EP-3 experience (plus more) for less than half of the price of an actual EP-3. It’s definitely in the “you get what you pay for” category. Nothing about the entire user experience makes me feel like anything was left to chance on this thing. From the look of it, to the feel of it… from the beautifully-crafted insides, to the thoughtfully-designed outsides, to the incredible-sounding tones… Buying the Belle Epoch Deluxe will not make you feel like you got punched in the gut.

Let me get a few “nitpicks” off my chest. These aren’t my nitpicks… but I read forums from time to time, like when I need to research for a review. There are three concerns from the peanut gallery. Most of the ones who are expressing these concerns fall into one of the following groups: the ones who either just don’t like the concept of the EP-3 (whether the original, or this pedal) and those who are looking to buy the pedal and are out searching for all those reasons and opinions to help make that decision. In other words, neither of those groups are owners of the pedal. Those that actually have the thing, myself included, are far less likely to have the following concerns. I’m covering these issues below, not so much to bring them to light, but, rather, in hopes of debunking them.

Lack of TAP TEMPO switch. Ok. This is probably the most obvious thing to most of you. “A delay pedal that has two switches and one of them isn’t TAP TEMPO??” Get over it. The second switch is for latching self oscillation. “But it could have been momentary oscillation with TAP like all the other pedals!” No. This isn’t that pedal. And, if you haven’t used latching oscillation before… it’s killer. Tap it once and it creates sustaining feedback while your foot is now free to control that Echo Delay (time) knob function via expression pedal. This approach is like grabbing the slider on a real EP-3 and using it to create rising and falling pitched echo oscillations. And besides… it’s not like the original unit had tap tempo. Howard set out to make a faithful recreation. Period. I honor and respect that. Not all pedals are supposed to have all the things all the other pedals have. This pedal is based on a philosophy. You get it, or you don’t. Which brings me to the next point.

Faithful recreation to a fault? Some have argued about making this pedal so true to the original that you lose some of the technological advancements made in the decades since the original EP-3 came to market. Oh, jeez. Come on. There are plenty of delays out there that dive into the EP-3 tone and yet throw out all the quirky limitations of the original. If that’s what you need, then you know what to buy. When I set out in search of that original EP-3 vibe, that feel… I want the faithful reproduction. I want the classic experience of the original. I want the limitations. The same limitations that forced the musicians of the day to create some of the most powerful music ever recorded. The music we love now and sit around and wonder why no one else can pull that off anymore. Maybe you need a few limitations in your life? It makes you get more creative.

So, what kind of limitations am I referring to? Lack of TAP, quirky input gain trim, warble, thinned repeats, crazy oscillation, a delay range of 80ms-800ms. Now, some of you are thinking “But some of that is what makes this pedal cool!” No, all of that is what makes this pedal cool. If you look at a block diagram of the original EP-3 and a block diagram of the Belle Epoch Deluxe, they share the same architecture. There is no reason to be that faithful to the original and then ruin it with a bunch of flair.

Delay time range of 80ms-800ms. Ok, I’ve been waiting to talk about this one. First of all. The goal was to get it just like the original. If you look at the manual for the Belle Epoch Deluxe, you’ll see that it lists the delay times as follows: “80ms-800ms Exactly like an EP-3” Then you read a few things online and you find out that the actual delay range is more like 15ms to 666ms. Then you wonder if you’ve been cheated. Now it’s not like the original, right?? Then you find a video on Instagram where someone has an original EP-3 unit and a Belle Epoch Deluxe sitting side-by-side on a table. Both set to max delay times and they are going back and forth. Not only are you totally unable to tell the difference in tone (!) but the max delay times are exact copies of one another. I don’t understand where this leaves things, officially. The delay times of 80-800 are still on the Catalinbread website. I am satisfied with the fact that the BED is the same as the actual EP-3 and I’ll just leave it at that.

How about a few of my very own nitpicks? If you’ve read any of my other reviews, these nitpicks are always the same… I wasn’t even going to put this in here, since it runs counter to the BED philosophy of a “perfect emulation” that has everything you need, and nothing you don’t, but I’ll say this anyway. MIDI is always nice. In most cases, MIDI is literally the difference between “on my board” and “off my board.” That’s why it’s always worth mentioning, for me. You don’t really take anything away from the experience of the BED by having MIDI. It’s one of those things where it’s there when you need it, and is totally meant to be ignored when you’re not using it. Certainly with all the different sounds you can come up with on this thing, MIDI presets would have been HUGE for guys like me. Stereo ins and outs? Maybe. Many of us like to run a stereo board, but probably not enough of you out there to make it that big of a deal. But that may be something that would keep it off someone’s stereo board. For me, this pedal has been an indispensable tool in the studio. I’ve been working on a couple records kind of in the trip-hop genre. Think about Adrian Utley’s guitar work and how important that EP-3 sound is. It’s just got that cool, lo-fi tape vibe that I was looking for, and the Belle Epoch Deluxe sounds totally authentic. You’ll notice that my personal nitpicks have nothing to do with the experience or the sound. I don’t miss a tap tempo, I don’t care that the pedal has “narrowed specifications” to match the original EP-3. I don’t miss a full second of delay time. I feels good and sounds great. That’s what really matters here.

 

 

The pedal is what it is. If you honestly crave that EP-3 tone but don’t see yourself picking up one of the original units anytime soon, this is the pedal you want. If you already own an EP-3 but want something you can actually take on the road, look no further. I am sure you’ll be very satisfied with the characteristics of this pedal. And, not only did they bring us that faithful recreation, they took it a few steps further with the program options. Why just have the original EP-3 tape sound when you can also mix in a few additional tones? I’ve been using the BED in my studio now for the past 6 months. I know it very well at this point, and I feel like it has revealed to me what the true EP-3 experience is. I’ve mentioned a few times in this review that I don’t know what that true “EP-3 feel” is. But, maybe now I do. I just believe in this pedal so much that I am confident that it has just given me the experience from a different direction. It made me say “Ah, now I see why people love the EP-3 so much.” The real thing going on here is Howard’s design and how it directly translates right to the user experience. The expression options open up the other half of the pedal. When you put all that together you’ll be in preamp, tape loop, record head, modulation, and oscillation heaven. This thing is definitely its own beast. I love the beast just the way it is. There is nothing out there quite like it. To play it is to understand. I mean, why do you think the original EP-3 is one of the most emulated delays on earth? Pick up the Belle Epoch Deluxe from Catalinbread and you will know why.

This concludes our review of the Belle Epoch Deluxe from Catalinbread. Thanks for reading!

Dr. No Effects Moon Canyon Review

 

The Moon Canyon is a pinnacle representation of an instrument that evokes inspiration before you even play it. Born of a collaborative vision shared by Dr. No Effects and Sarah Lipstate of Noveller, the Moon Canyon offers sonic scribes an assortment of effects with which to compose surrealistic musical odysseys and weave synesthetic tapestries of sound.

The Moon Canyon’s four foot-switches correspond to four effects options. Drive, Reverb, and Delay are its three onboard effects, and the pedal’s Loop allows users to add external effects to the signal chain. The foot-switch control arrangement provides a simple and effective means to bring effects in and out of auditory perception, opening and closing chapters of sound as you would thumb through pages in a book. The Moon Canyon’s sparse amount of knobs for so many different effects seems to indicate that the pedal places an emphasis on immediacy, letting musicians dial in sounds quickly and use the foot-switches to dramatically alter the soundscape with broad strokes. In stark contrast to the deep menu-diving and endless tweaking possibilities afforded by some pedals, the Moon Canyon is an instant portal to creating music… now.

The Moon Canyon arose on the full moon of May 30th, 2018, with 50 units being released on that day and 50 to be released on successive full moon eves until the limited edition of 350 signed and numbered pedals is completed. The pedal is a monolith, not only in regards to its size or for its manifestation under such auspicious circumstances, but because each pedal is nearly completely constructed by hand (with minor exceptions being the pedal’s circuit components, of course). From the molded and bubble-enclosed moon that adorns the center of each pedal (and lights up different phases of the moon depending on which effect is active) to the complex wiring, through-hole mounting of components, and graphic screen printing (and a myriad other things), each pedal is carefully constructed and then housed within a beautiful “book” box. A heap of other goodies are included as well: a keychain, patch, stickers, and photo cards. The presentation alone eclipses the effort I’ve seen from almost any other pedal release.

Here are some gorgeous photos of the Moon Canyon and a snazzy GIF:

 

 

 

 

Here’s a clip of some of the goodies the Moon Canyon comes with along with some of the first sounds I made when plugging in the pedal:

 


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Sound & Performance:

As implied before the Moon Canyon is very straight-forward in operation. While some pedals overwhelm with options, the Moon Canyon dazzles in aesthetics while providing an easy-to-use interface that helps musicians achieve usable sounds very quickly. The foot-switches are arranged in order of the pedal’s signal flow from right to left, facilitating an intuitive understanding of how its effects will affect your signal path. The simple parameter arrangement for each effect provides the bare essentials to facilitate achieving instant results. I’ll talk about each of the 3 effects in signal flow order and then come back to discuss the Loop. This will help paint a picture of how you might use the pedal.

 

Drive

On the right side of the pedal is the Drive section. At a glance it appears to offer a standard overdrive control layout with Drive, Tone, & Volume knobs; a switch on the side of the pedal gives users a choice of two Tone options.

The Drive circuit is based around a JRC4558D IC, a chip that is notable for its use in the TS-808 Tube Screamer and many other overdrive pedals. In testing multiple opamps for the Moon Canyon’s Drive, Doc & Sarah opted to use the JRC4558D in favor of other chips. The choice of asymmetrical (1n914) diode clipping also helps the circuit achieve a more “direct and aggressive” attack response and helps the Drive achieve a good response throughout the Drive knob’s range. Essentially, this makes the Drive more versatile and helps it excel whether you’re dialing in milder overdrive tones to give your amp more of a push or cranking the Drive to get most of your grit from the pedal itself.

The Tone switch on the side alternates between the dialed-in sound of the Drive circuit and the full-range signal. The normal sound has a cutting bite that creates a guitar tone that’ll punch through a mix. When you flip the switch to add in the low-end (by removing a cap from the opamp), you’ll get a bigger, fuller sound; however, this can mask the mid-range articulation a bit. I like using this setting sometimes when feeding the Drive into other dirt circuits, and it could be worth exploring with other instruments besides guitar. Otherwise, the carefully calibrated normal Drive sound will likely be the defining tone that most guitarists gravitate towards when playing the Moon Canyon.

 

Reverb

The Moon Canyon’s Reverb is a no-nonsense affair. Once you activate the Reverb with its dedicated foot-switch, you just roll up the single center knob to bring in your desired amount of reverb. You just dial it in like you would the reverb on an amp with a single “Reverb” knob.

But while the Reverb seems light on tweakability, that’s not to say that a lot of care didn’t go into creating this sound. It’s evident that Dr. No chose a “less is more” approach and gave users a gorgeous reverb sound that could be easily added to the signal.

The Reverb itself is based on the Accutronics Belton BTDR-2H “long” variation that is capable of producing a long, spacious, hall-like ambience. Attentive ears will also hear a subtle modulation that gently ebbs and flows like the tides beneath a full moon. The overall reverb sound is smooth and playable, and while it can get quite wet, your guitar signal can still be heard in the mix even when the Reverb knob is maxed out.

 

Delay

The Delay section has the most essential controls a delay needs – Repeats, Time, & Mix – no more, no less. The effect is a digital delay based around a PT2399 chip and has been tuned to provide a warmer, lo-fi-ish, analog-like sound. The max delay time is somewhere over 500mS, a range calibrated by Dr. No to ensure that the PT2399 maintains the highest degree of sound quality when the Time is set to the longest duration of delay.

The Delay’s vintage style tonality works particularly well when pushing the Repeats knob into the oscillation range. In the range of between noon to 1 o’clock, you’ll get long delay trails that slowly fade into darkness. But as you push the Repeats up to about 2 o’clock, you’ll find a threshold where the trails start to continue indefinitely and oscillate. You can also set the Repeats (along with Time) to a nice sweet spot to create a bed of echoes that will sit under your playing. A further little push of the knob lets the oscillation increase to overtake your dry signal and push the wall of sound into oblivion. When you’re in the oscillation range, the onset of peak oscillation is also determined by just how far the Repeats knob is set. Dime the knob and the oscillation peaks almost instantly; dial it back to around 3 o’clock and the crescendo of feedback is more gradual.

 

Reverb & Delay Together

Before we move on to the Loop section, it’s worth going into greater detail about the potential of the Moon Canyon’s Delay & Reverb effects. Taken separately each effect fulfills their utilitarian functions. The effects are solid enough to cover a range of general uses; however, combining the two effects reveals some of the pedal’s stronger points.

Guitarists often use delay before reverb, but the Moon Canyon’s Reverb feeds into the Delay. This results in some notably different characteristics. The Delay can be used to extend the Reverb in rhythmic waves, carrying the ambience further than if you simply use the reverb alone. And the Reverb, in how it washes out your dry signal, adds a diffused quality to the Delay. Also, while the Delay is a pretty dry effect, the Reverb with its hint of modulation helps add more character to the Delay sound. All of these things are happening simultaneously and add more textural dimension to the sounds produced. The degrees of variation depend mainly on how you set the Mix & Reverb knobs, the parameters responsible for blending in the Delay & Reverb effects, respectively. While the range of textures available are confined to specific areas of pre-defined parameter ranges, the musicians who feel the gravitational pull toward this spectrum of sound design will likely get a lot out of the distinct inspiration that comes when playing the Moon Canyon. The pedal evokes styles of playing that are more sparse and fleeting, that bloom in cascades of ethereal echoes.

Here’s a clip where I play with some of the different effects in combination with emphasis on the Delay & Reverb:

 


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Loop

The Moon Canyon’s Loop provides a few other interesting possibilities. You can use the Loop Out & Loop In jacks to place other effects between the Drive and Reverb/Delay sections. This is an essential feature as other effects (particularly modulation) are usually placed between overdrive and delay/reverb pedals.

You can also use the 4 jacks on the back side of the pedal to route the Moon Canyon’s Drive and Reverb/Delay into two separate effects loops on an effects switcher. This way you can place the Drive and the Reverb/Delay in any specific order within your switcher’s effects chain and activate them remotely. If you’re not planning on using the Loop, it could be a good idea to patch the Loop Out to the Loop In to prevent muting your signal should you step on the foot-switch by mistake. On the other hand, you could leave the Loop I/O disconnected and use the Loop foot-switch as a “mute” to instantly stop feeding any signal into the Reverb & Delay section. There will be a little signal bleed with this method as the pedal wasn’t intended to be used that way, but it’s a novel aspect that some users might find a use for. And while you’re at it, try routing the Reverb & Delay into the Drive by connecting your cables in this order: Loop In → Out I → In → Loop Out. It’ll produce some raunchy, gritty, shoegazey ambient sounds, and while it’s not how most guitarists would normally route the pedal, it could also be fun to try with a synth or other creative instrument/gear setup.

 

Dual Outputs

The Moon Canyon also has a pair of outputs. For normal use you just use the jack labeled “Out I” on the back of the pedal, but on the side is another jack labeled “Out II”. This lets you split the signal to another destination. If the Moon Canyon is handling all of your Reverb and Delay needs, you could just plug each output directly into two different amps. You could also split the signal to two different effects chains if you’re running a complex setup. It’s not necessary to use both jacks if you’re feeding the Moon Canyon into a stereo pedal as most stereo pedals accept a mono signal; splitting the signal to two amps is what most guitarists will likely use the extra jack for and only then if they’re not using a stereo pedal after the Moon Canyon.

 

Full Moon Magic

So when you put it all together, the Moon Canyon is a creative wonderland of ambience and overdrive that specializes in lo-fi sonic textures. The Reverb/Delay as a combo is what makes the pedal really something special in terms of original sounds, and the Drive is very solid and can hang with many other stand-alone overdrive circuits. The musicians who will most appreciate the Moon Canyon will likely be those who can vibe with not only the sounds of the pedal itself, but the impeccable attention to detail that went into creating every aspect of this art piece in pedal form. And where some might note the pedal’s simplicity in operation as a knock against its versatility, its elegant ease-of-use coupled with the ineffable charm of its aesthetic presentation contribute to what make the Moon Canyon such a special inspiration machine. It offers a rewarding experience that few musicians will be fortunate enough to experience if favored by the full moon.

 

Summary:

The Dr. No Effects Moon Canyon is a bold and aesthetically charming multi-effects pedal for musicians who appreciate instruments as art and look beyond simply the measure of their utility for inspiration. Yes, the Moon Canyon packs in a very solid Drive effect, and the Reverb/Delay combo captures a mood that is really something special to behold. But even more than the mere function of the pedal, the Moon Canyon is an object of physical and intangible beauty for musicians who really, really love pedals and appreciate the efforts of builders who go above and beyond to exert their full creative potential when making such talismanic instruments of wonder. Those of you who understand what this pedal is about can likely already hear the musical roads you’ll tread before you even step on the foot-switches. And those who choose to walk the Moon Canyon’s path will be taken on a journey that only this pedal can reveal.

Visit Dr. No Effects for more info about the Moon Canyon.

 

That concludes our Dr. No Effects Moon Canyon review. Thanks for reading.

Review: Spaceman Orion Analog Spring Reverb

 

While this article is arguably a “review” of the Spaceman Orion Analog Spring Reverb pedal, I’m approaching it from a different perspective than a typical pedal review. This article is more of a “showcase” of the Orion pedal. Yes, I’ll be assessing the benefits and features of the pedal as well as critiquing any areas in which its design and functionality could be improved, but I feel that this pedal deserves being approached from a point of view that transcends the goals typically inherent when writing a review. Of the Spaceman pedals released to date, the Orion seems like the builder’s greatest work and is more of a creative statement of artistic expression and the culmination of the builder’s ambition and expertise, and thus it warrants appreciation beyond just the measure of its utility. The Orion is unlike any pedal the world as seen, and that will become more clear as we delve in. So without a space related pun to get things moving…

I first saw the Spaceman Orion when it was unveiled way back at Summer NAMM 2015. It was hands-down the most exciting pedal I saw at the show, and you’ll see the Orion sitting firmly at the top of our Best Pedals of SNAMM ’15 article. In that writeup my hasty introduction to Spaceman mentioned the “master craftsmanship” that the builder is known for although that is something that can’t be fully appreciated simply by exposure to a few descriptive buzz words. I also mentioned how the Orion’s four knob controls exceed the versatility that you’ll typically find in amp-based (or amp-top for that matter) spring reverb units. It’s worth pointing out that at SNAMM I was only able to listen to the Orion through a custom headphone amp that Spaceman brought along to the convention, but the presentation was more than sufficient enough to reveal the Orion as an instrument very deserving of attention.

 

 

When I finally got to spend some time with an actual Orion unit in my studio, I was able to fully appreciate the nuances and intricacies of this remarkable pedal. Facing formidable competition from a host of multi-algorithm digital reverb pedals out there, the Orion still appears at a very respectable placing in our Best Reverb Pedals article. Even though the pedal is currently out of production, the Orion still remains on the top reverb pedals list. Pardon us if the continued exposure contributes to increased second-hand market prices, but the Orion will likely remain on our list until Spaceman decides to release an Orion II… And I really hope they do.

So let’s talk more in-depth about the Orion and why it’s the definitive spring reverb pedal.

Visit Spaceman Effects for more info about the Orion.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

I want to cover three aspects of the Orion reverb that seem to go unnoticed and under-appreciated by people glancing over and discussing this pedal.

 

Deeply Interactive Parameter Control

Perhaps the most favorable aspect of the Orion is how much flexibility it provides through its seemingly simple parameter layout. The pedal’s 4 knobs are neatly arranged across the surface of the pedal and are pretty self explanatory. But what isn’t as apparent without playing the pedal is how interactive and essential each knob is to dialing in the overall sound. This is one of those pedals that can pretty much sound good wherever you set the knobs (as long as the Volume is set high enough to achieve unity gain or add a little boost if you need it); it really just depends on the kind of sound you’re trying to achieve for a given part of a song.

The Blend knob dials in the reverb amount from nearly dry to about 95% wet. Surprisingly, the pedal sounds pretty amazing even when the Blend is maxed out, providing a wide range of wet reverb textures that can suit many needs. The Dwell knob “controls how hard the dual springs are pushed” and essentially drives the signal harder to produce more drip and reverberation. You can adjust the Blend with the Dwell to get the right balance of reverb presence. While the Dwell isn’t exactly a “decay” style knob, how hard the springs are hit can determine how long the reverb sustains. If you’re using lower Dwell settings, you might want to boost the Blend to make sure the lighter reverb is still audible in your mix; if you’re maxing out the Dwell for an ultra drippy spring sound, you might not need as much reverb blended in. In any case a nudge of the Volume will make sure your output volume is consistent in the mix when you activate the pedal.

The Tone knob is extra special and also essential to the Orion’s overall sound. Spring reverb units are typically at least somewhat dark in tonality, and the high-end is often rolled off to attenuate upper frequency noise inherent in the crude, lo-fi process of running a signal into springs and then capturing the spring vibrations. With the Orion’s Tone knob set lower in its range, you’ll be able to achieve the characteristically common frequencies of darker spring reverb units. And if you turn the knob clockwise, you can begin to brighten the tone significantly, boosting the top-end well beyond what is typical of vintage units or the single-knob spring reverb on an amp. If you were to push the Blend and Tone to higher settings, you may experience more pronounced noise (which is due to the nature of spring reverb design and not necessarily a fault of the Orion), but this wider range of parameter control can help dial in some unique sounds that can still find use in song parts and/or in a band setting where added noise would be less noticeable in the mix. The noise is never too distracting for me, but some users who’ve become accustomed to digital reverbs and are less familiar with the drawbacks inherent in actual hardware spring reverb units may need to readjust their expectations to begin appreciating the brighter (and somewhat noisier) tones the Orion offers.

 

Subtle Switching & Spring Suspension

Aside from the superbly interactive parameters, there are a couple interesting aspects of the Orion’s design which emphasize how much attention to detail was paid to ensuring that this pedal would be an ideal spring reverb for general pedalboard use. The foot-switch is of the soft-touch type that triggers a true bypass switching relay. This means that instead of hearing a loud click that causes noisy reverberations when you activate the pedal, you instead get a smooth switching operation that is consistently quiet no matter how hard you stomp on the foot-switch. This is critical for live use when you may activate and bypass the Orion multiple times during a performance.

Another noteworthy design aspect is that Spaceman have managed to suspend the spring reverb tank (with springs!) within the pedal so that stage vibrations don’t transfer to the reverb unit. Booming kick drums and low-frequency bass rumblings are less likely to be heard through your amp in the reverb – which is important if you plan on performing with the Orion.

 

 

These two features may be overlooked but are key aspects that contribute to the Orion’s stageworthiness. A lot of thought went into designing this pedal, and the effort and attention to detail shows. While the premium boutique build quality and collectible scarcity can make Spaceman pedals seem like studio novelties, the Orion has clearly been designed to be a stage ready ‘verb that earns its place on performing guitarists’ pedalboards.

 

Reverb Pan Crashing

So while the carefully suspended reverb module is resistant to external vibrations, you can still get those brash reverb pan crashes by jarring the pedal. Some guitarists may be wary of kicking their pedalboards, but you could always put the Orion in your amp’s effects loop and have a guitar tech by the backline jolt the pedal at key moments in a song performance. Extreme pedal abuse is never recommended, but the Orion seems well enough constructed to be able to withstand some mild force for the sake of performance flair. If anything this is a great trick you could try in the studio to produce some unique reverb sounds, and if you’re feeling extra expressive during the peak of a set, give the Orion a small kick or two.

 

 

Orion vs Full-Size Spring Reverbs

Amps with full-size spring reverb tanks often have just a single “Reverb” knob to dial in the amount of reverb you want. Amp top reverb units may offer some variation of Dwell (decay), Tone, and/or Blend (mix) controls, but they’re bulky, massive units that take up a lot of space. The Orion presents itself as a compelling alternate option as it has a real dual spring reverb tank and 4 parameter controls, yet it’s in the form of a reasonably small pedal which is very compact compared to amp-top reverb units.

It’s important to correct some possible misperceptions and hype-inducing assumptions before we continue. While the Orion does offer excellent spring reverb tones, it shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as attempting to be a superior replacement for your Fender ’63 tube spring reverb unit or the full-size reverb pan in your Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb. Yes, the Orion is a real spring reverb and has plenty of real spring reverb “drip”, but its sounds and character are best measured on their own merits instead of compared for 1:1 sonic accuracy beside vintage reverb units. The Orion uses an Accutronics Blue Reverb spring tank which is much smaller than the massive 16-inch long 2 & 3 spring behemoths associated with “classic” spring reverb tones, and this particular reverb module is part of a machine that aims to share its own voice rather than replicate the sounds of other spring reverb units. Still, considering that the Orion can achieve a respectably long reverb decay that can pass the 4 second threshold and has a wide range of sonic flexibility thanks to its Blend, Tone, and Dwell controls, some users will be able to argue in favor of the Orion offering superior performance in some circumstances. If you want the most accurate sounding spring reverb for classic surf guitar tones, maybe you’ll want to stick with your preferred vintage unit or reissue; if you want a modern spring reverb that produces its own spring reverb sounds and offers greater performance convenience, you may want to seek out an Orion and experience it for yourself.

 

Orion vs Digital Reverb Pedals

It’s really important to understand that since the Orion isn’t meant to be a compact clone of any vintage reverb unit, it isn’t attempting to rehash the sounds that digital reverb pedals try (often in vain) to emulate. Yes, the Orion does have that drippy character that digital reverbs usually have a tough time getting right, and I’m particularly impressed with how the Orion’s response to Dwell knob adjustments changes the feel of the reverb in a more organic and authentic way than I’ve heard from any digital reverb pedal. But there are two key tradeoffs to bring attention to in the Orion vs digital spring reverb debate. Digital reverbs are arguably cleaner and quieter, and multi-algorithm pedals usually give you access to presets which can give you a wider selection of quickly accessible sounds in a live performance situation. The Orion is a 100% analog pedal with real spring characteristics and other elusive qualities that I’ve yet to hear in a digital spring reverb. The analog nature of the Orion also means that, yes, it can be noticeably noisier than the pristine quietness found in a digital spring reverb; however, some guitarists would argue that such sanitized, noise-free spring reverb tones are sterile in comparison to the grittiness of a real spring reverb. I’ve played many of the most notable digital spring reverb pedals available, and I feel that overall, the Orion can hold its own against any digital spring reverb pedal. This owes thanks to the Orion’s authentic analog spring tank, its organic response to your playing dynamics and the nuances of your audio signal, and the wide range of parameter flexibility the Orion provides for affecting the reverb’s sound and response.

 

The Analog Difference

It’s really important to emphasize that the Orion is a unique sounding pedal that offers something beyond what can be achieved with most reverb pedals. When I compared it directly to many of the digital algorithms I’ve become accustomed to hearing, I could hear subtle differences in the way the Orion articulates its reverb sounds. This goes beyond the obvious different “types” of reverb I compared it, too. The differences I’m referring to likely stem from the contrast between the precise mathematical calculations of a digital reverb versus the real-world fluctuations of the Orion’s actual springs interacting in an organic way to create its reverberated ambience. The Orion just seems to have a more interactive quality and a character that I didn’t realize I’ve been missing from many of the digital reverbs that I’ve grown to love.

One of the most surprising aspects of dialing in the Orion is how many pleasing textures you can find hidden within its simple parameter layout. It can’t be overstated how crucial the Blend is. Rather than just set it and forget it, notice how the reverb’s droning quality becomes more apparent as you increase the Blend. Adjusting the Dwell then seems to make the reverb sound more or less intense. And since the pedal never quite gets 100% wet, you can play with a super wet signal that still contains the presence of your dry tone. While you can just dial in your ideal spring reverb sound and leave the knobs stationary, the rewarding interactivity of the knobs can inspire all kinds of unique sounds that may make the Orion even more fun to use during a recording session or in a creative jam.

Perhaps my favorite way I’ve come to use the Orion is in tandem with another reverb. As I’ve said the Orion can easily stand on its own, but rather than argue in favor of using this single analog pedal over a multi-algorithm digital reverb, I’ve discovered that the Orion can enhance other reverbs, particularly when placed before other reverbs in my signal chain. I’m very fond of smooth plate reverbs and using room reverbs for ambience, and by placing the Orion in front of another reverb, you can either create a space for the Orion to sit in (as if playing an amp with spring reverb within a room) or augment the reflections of the second reverb with spring-like qualities and extend these beautiful textures with the decay of the second reverb. Basically, if I’m already playing a digital reverb that I’m enjoying, adding the Orion in front of it seems to often create an even more pleasing ambience. This trick even works well when running the mono Orion into a stereo digital reverb.

I only have two seemingly minor criticisms of the Orion, and neither of my issues involve the sound quality of this pedal in any way. For all the efforts made towards design efficiency, I am somewhat disappointed that the Orion has side-mounted audio and power jacks, a particularly glaring annoyance on wider pedals that take up more precious pedalboard real estate. Sure, that’s been the norm on every Spaceman pedal to date, but while it would have involved cramping together some of the components on the Orion’s pair of beautifully arranged PCBs, I think the extra half inch of space reduced on each side of the pedal would have been well worth the change. A more glaring issue for me personally is that I prefer to avoid pedals with “lazy” relay bypass when using an effects loop switcher. Such pedals default to the bypassed state when powered up. I like when relay bypass pedals either remember the previous bypass state when powered up (“smart” relay bypass) or can be manually set to default to “active” when powered up. For guitarists that don’t use effects switchers this is a non-issue though, but for guitarists who buy premium pedals and control their pedalboard from a fancy central switching hub, I’d like to see this detail taken into consideration in the future.

 

 

Summary:

The Spaceman Orion is simply a beautiful sounding and incredibly well-crafted analog spring reverb with a rewarding palette of ambient textures unlike any you’ll find in a digital reverb pedal. Rather than try to emulate the sound of other vintage units, the Orion treats musicians to its own reverb voices and should be celebrated for its own accomplishments. That’s not to say guitarists who prefer classic spring reverb won’t love the mojo and real spring “drip” of the Orion; many will most certainly love it, but this pedal may likely be best appreciated by approaching it from a fresh perspective. If you’ve grown used to playing only the cold and precise digital reverb pedals that have ruled the market for years, the Orion will open your perception to new articulate and responsive reverb textures.

That concludes our Spaceman Orion Analog Spring Reverb review. Thanks for reading.

Meris Mercury7 Reverb Review

 

The Mercury7 Reverb was the first pedal release from Meris, a Southern California based builder currently comprised of only 3 team members. While at a glance the Mercury7 may seem like a pretty standard reverb, it’s actually more of a conceptual reverb instrument. After all, the sounds of the Mercury7 were inspired by the majestic use of reverb found in Vangelis’ original Bladerunner film soundtrack from 1982, and if you’re familiar with the work, that should give you a hint as to the kinds of sprawling cinematic ambience this pedal can produce.

The Mercury7 Reverb pedal was actually derived from Meris’ Mercury7 Reverb 500 Series module, the world’s first 500 Series based algorithmic DSP reverb. When you consider the Mercury7’s inspirational source and the fact that the Mercury7 was originally designed as a studio tool first, you can further imagine the perspective with which it may be best to approach the pedal. Expanding your perceptions in this way will help you see the Mercury7 Reverb as a portal that can open wormholes to uncharted dimensions of reverberant space.

 

Features:

  • Handcrafted Algorithmic Reverbs
  • Analog Mix & Dry Signal Path
  • High & Low Frequency Damping
  • Extensive Modulation Capability
  • Auto Swell Envelope (variable and foot-switchable)
  • 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
  • Premium analog signal path and 24-bit AD/DA w/32 bit floating point DSP
  • Premium Analog Devices JFET input section
  • Color – translucent coat of deep blue over brushed aluminum
  • 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
  • -115 dB Signal to Noise Ratio (typical)
  • Premium low noise Analog signal path throughout
  • Auto Swell Envelope (variable and foot-switchable)
  • Analog Devices JFET input circuitry
  • Wet/Dry signal mix occurs in the Analog domain
  • Selectable True Bypass (Relay) or Analog Buffered Bypass
  • 150 mA total power consumption
  • Durable transparent blue powder coat over brushed aluminum
  • Current draw: <150mA
  • Dimensions: 4.25″ wide, 4.5″ long, 2″ tall

Visit Meris for more info about the Mercury7 Reverb.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

As is the case with the similarly laid-out Polymoon and Ottobit Jr. pedals, the Mercury7 Reverb has a surface arrangement of six knobs, a pair of buttons, and two foot-switches.

The main knob functions are generally self-explanatory, but some of the knobs function a bit differently from what you’ll find on some reverb pedals. For example, while the Space Decay sets the length of your reverb trails (the “decay”), there’s also a change in the way the reverb dissipates depending on where the knob is set. The knob will seem to expand and contract the reverb as you turn it, and the reverb seems to get “bigger” and more dense as you turn the knob clockwise. This makes it highly interactive with other parameters; as the reverb gets bigger and louder, you may need to attenuate the sound with the Mix knob. Likewise, the Lo Frequency and Hi Frequency knobs can help shape the atmosphere of the reverb. You can brighten the high-end to add more sheen to the reverb or dampen the highs for a boxier sound, and you can remove some low-end content for a thinner reverb sound or increase the size of the virtual room.

The two center knobs, Modulate and Pitch Vector, provide a couple extra surface options for augmenting the sound of the reverb. Modulate adds modulation to the reverb ranging from a light, smooth sway to deeper and more hypnotic movements. (We’ll discuss this a bit more when we get to the Alt functions.) The Pitch Vector knob selects between different pitch intervals that shift the pitch of the reverb. It’s worth noting the knob interplay again; when you add a Pitch Vector selection to your sound, you may wish to experiment with changing other knob values to get the perfect sound. With the -Oct setting, boosting the Lo Frequency can help dial in a booming low-end heavy reverb. With the Slight Pitch Down and Slight Pitch Up options, try using the Modulate knob to make an even more dizzying and vertigo inducing sound. With the 5th and Shimmer options use the Hi Frequency to really accentuate or suppress those glistening upper frequencies. You’ll also notice how higher Space Decay values cause the pitches to regenerate and continue cascading in the direction the pitch is shifting.

 

Alt Functions

Each of the Mercury7’s knobs has an Alt function which is accessed by pushing and holding the Alt button while turning any of the knobs. These functions add deeper levels of customization to the reverb.

The Predelay Alt function behaves slightly different from how I expected it to compared to the many other reverbs I’ve used. The maximum time you can insert before the onset of the reverb is relatively short, but it will let you add a little extra space before the reverb so that your pick attack and transients can breathe. Considering how subtle it is, this may be more of a set-and-forget parameter rather than one that’ll have dramatic effect on the placement of the reverb in a mix; however if you’re using the Mercury7 with other instruments besides guitar, you may find the Predelay useful for tweaking the response of the reverb to work well with different audio source(s). The Density Alt function “sets amount of initial build up of echoes before the reverb tank”. To my ears this seems to smooth out the reverb as you raise the Density. With shorter settings more detail of the reflections will be audible, but at higher settings the reverb seems more diffused. It’s worth exploring how this interacts with the Space Decay. If I’m using longer decay settings, I find myself liking to add more Density, but with shorter decay times, I like to keep it low to create a sparsely reflective response that seems more room-like.

There are a couple different modulation Alt parameters. The Mod Speed option sets the “dominant” speed of the modulation. I mentioned that you can dial in a range of modulation textures with the Modulate knob. As you increase the Mod Speed and raise the Modulate knob’s surface value, you’ll notice that there’s all kinds of gargling modulation happening. It sounds like the Mercury7 is using well more than one LFO to generate the movement, and it can go from subtle to sea-sickening as you increase both of these parameters. And if you add in the Vibrato Depth Alt function, you have yet even more modulation to add to your reverb, this time in the form of more subtle sine wave based pitch modulation. The vibrato has a set speed, perhaps a drawback for those wish for more from the vibrato function. You’ll probably not notice the counter-movement of the set vibrato speed if the Vibrato Depth is set low and if you’re using both of the modulation options at once; things will just get more interesting with all the movement going on.

The Pitch Vector Mix Alt parameter adjusts the mix between the normal reverb sound and the pitch-shifted reverb. It essentially lets you balance out how much of the pitch-shifting is in your wet reverberated signal. It can be tempting to just max it out so that when you activate the Pitch Vector you get a full-on pitch-shifted reverb, but it can be more effective to carefully set the Pitch Vector Mix by ear while the Mix and Space Decay are set to levels at which you generally use them. I personally went through a phase of feeling like I didn’t like the Mercury7’s pitch-shifting effects that much until I realized how critical it is to be mindful of how much Pitch Vector signal is blended into the virtual reverb tank. For me a Pitch Vector Mix setting around 11 o’clock generally works well for getting a nice Shimmer effect that is present without being overly prominent.

The Attack Time Alt parameter sets the onset time for the Swell effect. Let’s talk about that in detail…

 

Swell

The auto swell function has it’s own dedicated foot-switch. When activated the reverb will swell from silence to full volume in response to your playing. It’s good to set the Attack Time Alt parameter to get a response that suits the feel you want to accompany your playing. This function also works really well with the Mix cranked up for a fully wet reverb signal. Generous amounts of Space Decay will also help create a huge cloud of reverb, and you can hold down the Swell foot-switch to max the Space Decay to keep the reverb going while you auto-swell in more of your playing. This adds some extra performance flexibility to the Mercury7.

 

Cathedra & Ultraplate

It’s finally time to talk about the Mercury7’s two reverb modes. While some pedals come loaded with maybe a half-dozen, dozen, or even more reverbs, this pedal has only two. Is that a drawback? Well, if you just want a spring reverb sound, the Mercury7 definitely won’t be your first choice, but the two modes on tap do cover a lot of ground. Let’s discuss.

I’m a big fan of plate reverbs, and I like to try every plate emulation I can get access to. In short, the Mercury7 Reverb’s Ultraplate algorithm is my personal favorite plate reverb for using with a short pre-delay. In fact, the stereo spread of the Ultraplate is so appealing to me that I’ve been using the Ultraplate as my default “always-on” reverb for light to moderate ambience for the past six months. While the sound of the reverb may be more artificial than a room-modeled reverb, it does what I need it to do, and when compared to algorithms from other noteworthy pedals, I keep going back to the Mercury7. Since I literally just leave it on nearly all the time, if I want to use another reverb, I may stack another reverb that has a less impressive stereo sound in front of the Ultraplate. The Mercury7 Reverb creates the space for all the other pedals to sit in.

The Cathedra is arguably the Mercury7’s flagship reverb that really magnifies all of the sound design possibilities on tap. If you want something more restrained, you’ll probably stick with the Ultraplate. But if you want see how far you can travel, the Cathedra will take you beyond the horizon. The Cathedra has way more complexity in its sound and can absolutely dominate the frequency spectrum with its massive presence and extra long reverb decay. It you’re creating music with sparse instrumentation but want to create a mood through evocative use of reverb, you’ll find plenty of expressive nuance in using the Cathedra. The knobs beg to be turned while you feel audio into the pedal, and you’ll probably find it worthwhile to consider using an expression pedal to control multiple parameters at once.

 

 

Get Connected

I already mentioned how impressed I’ve been by how good the Mercury7’s Ultraplate sounds in stereo. (The Cathedra is awesome in stereo, too, by the way.) If you haven’t noticed yet, I can’t stress enough how highly I recommend trying this pedal in stereo. And running the Polymoon & Mercury7 together in stereo is the stuff dreams are made of. The Mercury7 and other Meris pedals also let you select between Line and Instrument level signals. This makes it easier to integrate the Mercury7 in a synthesizer based rig. You can also take full control of the pedal’s adjustable parameters with MIDI, allowing control of the pedal from a MIDI controller or sequencer. Meris recently released their long-awaited MIDI I/O adapter, and for my testing the Chase Bliss Audio Midibox worked perfectly fine.

 

Ups & Downs

I really want to find some faults with this pedal, but I can’t really find anything that is a deal-breaker. I will say that I’m starting to wish more reverb pedals would include a High Pass Filter to help make space for other low-frequency instruments rather than being able to do it only in post processing. It’s essential to separate elements in an audio mix, and a huge reverb can dominate the audio frequency spectrum. The Lo Frequency can tame the lows pretty well, but I usually like to just cut out all low frequencies below a certain point. Also, I have noticed that I wish the Alt parameters on all Meris pedals were labeled in small font beneath the main parameters. While I don’t spend much time adjusting them once things are set, that’s also the reason why Alt labels would be helpful – to help users remember which parameters are where for the occasion when users do need to make a quick tweak and aren’t sure which Alt parameter hides under what knob. The only other issue I can think of is that you will need a separate device (like the Meris Preset Switch) if you want to save and recall presets. I personally have all the Meris pedals set up with MIDI and find that to be my preferred way of interfacing with and controlling the Mercury7 (and other Meris pedals). The Mercury7 may not be as flashy seeming or “wow-ing” at first, but it sounds amazing and is easily among the great reverb pedals available today. And like I said, the Mercury7 has become the one reverb pedal I can’t turn off.

 

 

The Meris Mercury7 Reverb is a masterpiece of sophisticated reverb sound design, and the versatility of its two interstellar algorithms helps the pedal hold its own against reverb pedals that contain many more. The pedal’s two humble algorithms boast an incredible range of possibility thanks to a wide range of carefully calibrated parameter controls. It’s amazing how the Mercury7 (and other Meris pedals for that matter) can seem very simple to use yet house such a breadth of potential. Rather than be filled to the brim with different types of reverb (with many of them failing to inspire), the Mercury7’s Ultraplate and Cathedra are exceptionally well crafted, and the interactive parameter controls make it possible for these two modes to cover a lot of ground. The Mercury7 alone could inspire the atmosphere of whole albums, and this pedal will no doubt be used to score some cinematic masterpieces to come in the ensuing years.

That concludes our Meris Mercury7 Reverb review. Thanks for reading.

Interview: Alec A. Head of Ghostbound

 

Today we’re interviewing Alec A. Head, guitarist and vocalist of the Brooklyn-based band, Ghostbound. Their new record, All Is Phantom, just came out on June 1st, 2018.

All Is Phantom is grandiose in scale and is an evocative, cinematic listening experience. The opening ambient guitars of “The Gallivanter” and peaceful closure of “Goodbye” bookend a body of work that has many riveting and subdued moments throughout.

We’re going to be talking with Alec about Ghostbound’s debut record and get some insight into his inspiration behind it, the process of bringing it to life, and of course, ask about some of the pedals and effects he used on the record.

 

So Alec, Ghostbound has been compared to The Smiths meets black metal. How do you feel about that description? And what references of comparison would you offer to new listeners before they push play on All Is Phantom?

First and foremost, thank you so much for having me! While it would be hard for me to dispute the description in question, as the influence of The Smiths (and other guitar-driven post-punk/pop) is probably something that is permanently ingrained into my “musical DNA”, as it were, I do feel that the comparison is a trifle too simplistic for what we do. With that said, my own tagline for the project VERY early-on was “Crowded House gone black metal”, so who I am to judge? It almost goes without saying that I have literally no control over how we are perceived, so if there are those who want to make direct comparisons to specific artists, then have at it!

If I were to break it down on my own, I daresay that we (on All is Phantom, in any case) play an atmospheric and “holistic” blend of metal, post-punk, and ambient stylings with nods toward singer/songwriter-style balladry in the vein of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, black metal, and 80s “big music” in the vein of Big Country, The Waterboys, Crowded House, among many, many, innumerable other disparate genres. In truth, everything is permitted in the world of Ghostbound as long as we err on the side of “atmosphere”. The aforementioned is probably why I do not write the promotional material for this band, specifically :-)

 

This record has been a long time coming. When did you first embark on the All Is Phantom journey to start bringing this album to life? And what were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making this vision a reality?

My, oh my! This is the loaded question to end all loaded questions! In essence, I wrote the introduction to what eventually became “The Gallivanter” in Autumn of 2002. Over the following months and years, I wrote the foundations to what would eventually comprise roughly half of the songs that make up All is Phantom (“Wildest of Rivers”, “Earthen Ground”, “Intermezzo”, “It Goes Away”, and “Tidings”, specifically). Of course, life and other ambitions got in the way of my completing the record in any appreciable way during this time. Finally, there was one particular event that transpired in 2012 that caused me to abandon my other artistic endeavors in favor of focusing on music exclusively. This particular event would inform and enrich the lyrical themes that run throughout the record as well as spur me on to complete the aforementioned songs in addition to composing a few entirely new(er) songs altogether.

In 2013, I ended up joining two VERY different bands as a lead guitarist; a former co-worker of mine by the name of Greg Mattern is a singer/songwriter of considerable ability (I contributed the guitar solo to “Crazy” which can be heard here). He played a brand of folk-influenced indie rock with rather unique chord inversions and orchestral arrangements. More importantly, I joined avant blackened doom stalwarts Kosmodemonic as an additional/lead guitarist. Bozz, KD’s frontman, is able to string riffs and ideas together so brilliantly that it inspired and continues to inspire me to no end. So, at one time, I was in two radically different bands fronted by actual SONGWRITERS. Greg’s project eventually fizzled as far as being a fully-fledged band was concerned (though it would also be where I would meet Noah Shaul, my good friend and the only other member of Ghostbound until very recently), and Kosmodemonic is still together (we have a new record that is hopefully going to be released later this year), but this was essential to my own development as a composer, and I would work on the rest of the songs that make up the record accordingly.

To speak of challenges, I daresay that the biggest challenge we have faced thus far is finding the means to release the record. We had to sit on it for quite a bit before finding a suitable label (or, at least, a label with the means and desire to release it). So far, ATMF Records/A Sad Sadness Song is treating us very well and we are privileged to be among so many great, forward-thinking artists in the form of Deadly Carnage and Forgotten Woods, among others!

 

To which bands and albums would you give credit for inspiring such a sprawling, theatrical release?

Of course, there are too many to mention, BUT there a few specific bands and artists that inspired the idea of the “expansiveness” of the music that comprises All is Phantom.

Devin Townsend’s Ocean Machine – Biomech record was a massive inspiration as it pertains to the “size” of the music; essentially, it is a collection of intensely personal songs that was then densely layered with a massive wall of heavy guitar as well as effects-laden, pad-like guitar lines on top of Queen-like, overdubbed vocal arrangements. His recent material has not been as inspiring to me, but Biomech and Terria are both essential to the foundation of All is Phantom.

In The Woods… – Omnio was also a very important record for me. While they had their roots in black metal, the band would eventually evolve into something a little more “special” via sprawling, meandering songs and almost exclusively “cleanly sung” vocals along with ethereal atmospherics without abandoning black metal’s hallmarks of tremolo guitar lines and blast beats.

Agalloch – Pale Folklore. This record came out in the midst of a very fertile period for me. Once I heard this album, I stopped thinking of metal as being merely “heavy”. This was metal that also had a very strong sense of cinematic atmosphere and dynamics on top of a very “visual” quality. It stands as truly “transportive” music. The same idea applies to Ulver’s Bergtatt record. I daresay that this is what caused me to gravitate towards black metal as a genre – the idea that something could have all of the things that one can associate with metal, i.e. aggression, speed, and forward motion, while being simultaneously expansive and evocative.

Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden AND Laughing Stock – I keep going back to this idea of “expansiveness”, and this is not better exemplified than on these two records. Of course, one can argue that Post Rock was born after these records came out (though it would officially be coined in the wake of the release of Bark Psychosis’ masterpiece, Hex). These albums are almost beyond what we have come to know as “western music”, for me. I feel that these records are what happens when rock music reaches enlightenment; I hope to eventually get to a similarly ecstatic place with my own music at some point down the road.

Naturally, there are innumerable other bands and individual albums that inspired the “spirit” of this record (Alcest, Anathema, Wovenhand, to name but a few more), but I do not feel that there is enough bandwidth or space available via the internet itself for me to list them. It also bears mentioning that I am a massive film nerd, and the movies of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Andrei Tarkovsky can also be seen as direct influences on the album.

 

Who are some of the songwriters and guitarists who’ve had an impact on your compositions and guitar playing?

I tend to be a fan of more guitarists who play in a more “textural” way than ones who are known to “play well” – I will take an interesting riff or arpeggiation over a sweep-arpeggiated tappy guitar solo any day of the week.

I, of course, bow at the altar of Johnny Marr; His ability to invert rather simple chord arrangements into deceptively clever riffs is something that will always inspire me. Geordie Walker of Killing Joke is PERHAPS my favorite guitar player ever, mostly due to his sense of economy and completely incredible, individualistic, atmospheric tone. I had this brief period around 2005 where I would try my damnedest to rip off Michael Hedges at every turn, and while I have since abandoned the “touch/tap” technique insofar as my own playing is concerned, his ability as a composer and player continues to influence me greatly – he was able to occupy the biggest amount of space with a single recorded guitar track. Alex Lifeson of Rush fame, Peter Yates and Nod Wright of Fields of the Nephilim, Vini Reilly of The Durutti Column, John McGeoch of Siouxsie and the Banshees fame, Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies of The Chameleons, the list goes on and on!

As far as “soloists” are concerned, David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, and Steve Rothery (Marillion) are all beautifully expressive in their playing. On the more “metal” end of the spectrum, Luc Lemay and Kevin Hufnagel of Gorguts, Christian Bouche of Deathspell Omega, Devin Townsend, Bob Vigna of Immolation, Paul Masvidal of Cynic, Don Anderson of Khôrada/Sculptured/ex-Agalloch, and ESPECIALLY Piggy from Voivod will always be big inspirations for me and my playing.

In terms of songwriters, I daresay Nick Cave, Michael Gira, Kate Bush, David Sylvian, Nick Drake, Mark Eitzel, Jeremy Enigk, Stephen Sondheim, Mark Kozelek, Danny Cavanagh, Kevin Coyne, Scott Walker, Henryk Gorecki, Arvo Part, Mike Scott, Stephane “Neige” Paul, and Neil Finn are but a few of the individuals whose work continually informs and inspires me.

 

You’ve said that Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle) is your single biggest influence as a singer. What are some of his works that have had the most impact on you, lyrically and/or stylistically?

Yet another “can o’ worms” question! Faith No More’s Angel Dust ranks as my favorite record ever. It is arguably the most challenging record ever released by a major label, and I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the meeting between executives expecting another “Epic” occurred. I like to imagine that they all put their heads down on the table or ran away screaming by the time “Malpractice” came on. I have quite the affinity for King for a Day/Fool for a Lifetime, as well. Both records are meant to be experienced on a whole, and yet no two songs sound alike in any way. Also, both records saw Mr. Patton truly coming into his own as a vocalist, whether he was crooning, rapping, growling, or shrieking like a banshee. No one can match his versatility. I have made own attempts to do so, most notably on “Roof and Wall” off of All is Phantom. The jury is still out as to whether or not I was successful.

I would also like to give a quick shout-out to other singers that helped shape my voice in the form of Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave, Scott Walker, Dax Riggs, Alan Averill, Jaz Coleman, Dominic Appleton, and Krister Linder.

 

I appreciate All Is Phantom when experienced as a whole as there are some recurring moods and a cohesiveness to the overall sound, but many of the songs can certainly stand on their own. Was the record intentionally written to be experienced as a singular event, or did you focus on the songs individually and just let them take form as a record?

I wholly appreciate you saying that! Thank you! In short, the record was written in an effort to be experienced in one sitting. I am of the generation where a record must have a beginning, middle, and an end. I want there to be a certain sense of “journey” to the music with branching paths and/or hidden doorways, to put it somewhat pretentiously.

 

Which song on All Is Phantom is your favorite and why?

Without question, my favorite song on the record is “Night Time Drowning”, mostly because it was one of the more recent songs written for the record. Additionally, it is the song where I wear my influences furthest out on my sleeve. One does not have to listen too deeply to realize that it is a homage to some of my favorite post-punk/goth/death rock recordings of yesteryear. I feel that it exhibits a certain tribute without being too retro or pastiche, and I also like that there is a genuine sense of looming menace/dramatic tension that runs throughout the song.

 

Any favorite moments on the record?

At around the 4:23 point of “Night Time Drowning”, there is a certain clean guitar part that comes in – it is mixed rather low and sits right underneath all the grandiosity and layered guitar tracks. I feel that it “breaks the song open” in the best way possible. Incidentally, it was something that occurred at the last possible minute and was not really “composed” beforehand.

In “Tidings”, I am rather big on the “bridge” sections that occur at around the 2:40 and 4:57 points. I feel that the clean/center-guitar parts and acoustic guitars are mixed rather well, and that combined with the overdubbed harmony choirs makes for a rather “lush” atmosphere.

I am also quite fond of the clean guitar tone I was able to achieve for “It Goes Away”.

Lastly, when I first heard the heavy guitars come in through the studio monitors while listening back to “The Gallivanter” after recording the main guitar tracks, I realized that this record was shaping up to be exactly how I envisioned it after so many years.

 

Can you tell us about the guitars and amps used on the record?

Happily! For this record, I utilized two different tunings. The majority of the songs are in E Standard/A 440, and a few of them are in D Standard (“Keep My Dreams Inside”, “Roof and Wall”, and “Goodbye”, respectively). For the songs in E standard, I utilized my custom-built Heritage H555. It is, in essence, an ES-335-style, semi-hollow guitar as it was built by a number of the original Gibson builders out of the original Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It boasts a set Mahogany neck into a Maple center block with curly Maple back, top, and sides, not to mention an ebony fretboard. At the time of the recording, I had a Seymour Duncan Custom Custom in the bridge position, and a Duncan ’59 in the neck position. For 99.99% of the clean tones, you hear the Duncan ’59, specifically, though the Custom Custom is used for the clean tones on “It Goes Away”. It bears mentioning that for a number of the rhythm tracks on “Tidings” and “Wildest of Rivers”, I also made use of an ESP E-II Eclipse that I had gutted of its active electronics in favor of a Bare Knuckle Rebel Yell in the bridge position and a Cold Sweat in the neck. I have since sold the ESP E-II, and I have also replaced the pickups in the Heritage with a set of Bare Knuckle Mules. I believe I was using a set of Rotosound 11-48 strings.

For the songs in D standard, I used my custom-built Monson Nomad, which was built by a wonderfully talented, Washington-based luthier by the name of Brent Monson (www.monsonguitars.com). This instrument is a unique beast in and of itself. It weighs in at around 12 pounds, and it also boasts a Mahogany neck-through construction at 25″, PRS-like scale with a Sapele body/”wings”. It has a Claro Walnut top that was salvaged from a 160-year-old dead tree, and an ebony fretboard. Surprisingly, its attack is somewhat “strat-like” in terms of the “snap and sizzle” thereof, but it sounds like no other guitar I have ever owned or played. At the time of recording, it had a set of Bare Knuckle Rebel Yells in both the bridge and neck positions, and a set of DR drop-tune strings in 11-54 gauge, but at present it has a Bare Knuckle Abraxas set resting comfortably in its woodsy contours, and I could not be happier with how it sounds. In point of fact, I love this guitar so much that I have since “retired” the Heritage from live use, and I have set the Monson up in E standard for any and all live performances going forward. I have since procured a Dunable Yeti for the D-standard material.

The smattering of acoustic guitar you hear was done via my Larrivee D-05 in standard tuning along with a set of John Pearse Phosphor Bronze 12-53 strings.

Amp-wise, all of the dirty/distorted tunes you hear were achieved via my trusty Orange Rockerverb MKII head through the studio’s own Bogner 4/12 cabinet, though for “Tidings” and “Wildest of Rivers”, I had split the signal between the Rockerverb and the crunch channel of the studio’s Bogner Ecstacy. 98% of the clean tones on the album were achieved through the studio’s old VHT (pre-Fryette) Deliverance, though I do recall that the clean tones on “Earthen Ground” were actually done via the clean channel of the Rockerverb itself.

 

Let’s talk about specific effects used to create sounds on the record. What reverb did you use in the opening guitars of The Gallivanter?

For the introduction to “The Gallivanter”, I used my Strymon blueSky set to maximum shimmer. There was no other pedal used for that part as I can recall.

 

At the end of The Wildest of Rivers there’s a cool droning ambience as the song fades out. How did you create that sound?

I believe that was achieved via the aforesaid Strymon blueSky with the mix set to its highest setting combined with the my Strymon El Capistan via the clean channel of the Orange Rockerverb.

 

I hear some modulation and delay on the opening guitar in Earthen Ground. What did you use there?

You heard right! If I am remembering correctly, it was the “Saltwater” preset of my Strymon TimeLine along with the studio’s ancient Ibanez CS-9 chorus pedal that was apparently once owned by Simon Gallup of The Cure (our engineer, the great Jesse Cannon, had worked on The Cure’s 2003 self-titled effort and Robert Smith had given it to him as a gift).

 

There’s some chorus on the intro guitars of (I Will) Keep My Dreams Inside; what’s your go-to chorus pedal?

The aforementioned Ibanez CS-9 was what I used on all of the clean guitars on which there is a chorus effect. I absolutely LOVE the tone that I captured on the record and, of course, the idea that the pedal may have once been owned and used by a member of one of my favorite bands ever gave it a little extra “mojo”. However, I then acquired one for myself only to have the thing break on me twice. I have since procured a BOSS CE-2W, and I daresay that it is the finest chorus pedal I have ever heard or used.

 

When the break hits in Tidings around 3:12, what are you using for the dirt on that single note riff? Was that just your amp? And did any dirt pedals make it on that or any other parts of the record?

That is a very good question for which there is not one ounce of mystery! That was entirely the Orange Rockerverb and no, there were absolutely no dirt pedals used on the record. I am a strong proponent of amp distortion, though I did recently purchase an Earthquaker Devices Dunes pedal, and I am using it as my “always on” overdrive for live use. I love it, so far.

 

Are there any other noteworthy effects that were used on the record?

Not as such! Essentially the only pedals used were a holy Strymon trifecta variation in the form of the blueSky, TimeLine, and El Capistan along with the old Ibanez CS-9 chorus.

 

What’s currently on your gear wish-list? Are there any interesting new pedals you’re looking at that might become part of the Ghostbound sound?

I wish I can say there were not! As an unabashed gear-head, I am always pining for new pieces of gear in every form! Of late, I tend to gravitate towards pedals that can only be described as “a little weird” as those are the pedals that truly inspire me to create. I am currently enamored with my MWFX Judder, and although I have yet to figure out a way to use it in our current set, knowing that it is on my pedalboard warms the ol’ cockles of my heart. I am currently hungering after the Meris Polymoon. I got to experience it first-hand at the Brooklyn Stompbox Exhibit, and I was surprised at how intuitive it was in terms of the hidden functions, et cetera. Also, it goes without saying that it sounds absolutely inspiring. I would be able to achieve the ultimate in ethereal soundscapes with the Polymoon along with their Mercury7 reverb. I never thought I would find a company that could top Strymon in this arena, but it looks like Meris is definitely it. It also bears mentioning that both of the fellows who run the company were incredibly nice and informative.

I also recently caught a YouTube clip of the Dwarfcraft Ghost Fax phaser pedal, and my jaw dropped to the floor. I have sold every phaser I have ever owned, but this one is looking to do something a little bit different. Additionally, the Red Panda Tensor pedal looks amazing; I have no real idea what it is supposed to do, but I know that I need it in my life.

Lastly, the Earthquaker Devices Transmisser is something that I have had my eye on for quite a bit. Virtually anything with which I can create an unearthly, synth-like soundscape is something I will want on my pedalboard forthwith!

 

What are your plans now? Any touring plans or other projects in the works?

At present, we are aiming to play live as much as possible. Noah and I made the effort to expand the line-up through numerous abortive attempts to play with potential additional guitarists and drummers, and we finally solidified the line-up earlier this year. We have the great Talha Alvie in our ranks. He also plays guitar and is the primary songwriter behind Karachi-based progressive rock band The DA Method. In addition, we are joined on drums by Jimmy Duke, who has years upon years of experience in innumerable Brooklyn-based hardcore/punk outfits. We recently played our FIRST SHOW as a live unit, and we are aiming to play our official album-release show in early August.

We are also in talks with a few visual artists in an effort to make a musical video for one or a number of tracks, though nothing has been set in stone as of yet.

Of course, we would love to go on tour, but we all have day jobs, careers, and/or families. We hope to do so soon, but the circumstances would have to be right.

Lastly, we are going to be commencing work on the follow-up to All is Phantom. Here is hoping that it will not take as long from inception to completion!

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share before we go?

I would just like to take the time to say “thank you”, Gabe, for your attention and support. It is greatly humbling to know that there are those who are interested in our work. I would also like to thank any potential fan that may be lurking around the proverbial corner. Feel free to give us a listen at www.ghostbound.bandcamp.com, and/or give us a visit at www.facebook.com/ghostboundthrone.

 

Alec, thanks again for joining us. We wish you the best!

Strymon blueSky Review

 

Strymon is known for their dedication to maximizing the sound quality of common effects as seen in pedals such as the Riverside, Deco, DIG, and El Capitan. Housed in angular aluminum enclosures with bright anodized colors and descriptive names (that often pay homage to the builder’s home state of California), each pedal embodies the vibe of a contemporary sculpture. Strymon is well revered in the ambient and praise communities thanks to their expansive reverbs and delays as seen in the BigSky and TimeLine, respectively. Comprised of 12 reverb machines and vast control knobs, the BigSky is a great toolbox for those seeking a customizable ethereal tone. Preceding the BigSky, Strymon made a more compact stompbox to challenge classic reverb tones: the blueSky.

The Strymon blueSky is a moldable stereo reverberator powered by a dedicated high processing DSP. Housed in a vibrant baby blue aluminum chassis, the blueSky embodies the daydreaming quality of looking into a clear blue sky. The blueSky contains 3 Reverb Types that can be defined with 3 Modes, and the pedal has deep tone control by the way of Low Damp and High Damp knobs. The middle-oriented Pre-Delay knob sets the initial offset of the reverb, and the Mix and Decay knobs are conveniently placed at the top and enlarged for easy access to setting reverb mix and decay length. All of these settings are able to be changed in real time and saved into a preset on the Favorite foot-switch. I tend to have my Favorite set to the furthest extreme of my set in order to provide a quick stomp into spacey contrast.

 

Visit Strymon for more info about the blueSky.

 

Reverb Types

Strymon has considered a wide range of playing styles by choosing Plate, Room, and Spring as the 3 main reverb types.

Plate

With a high mix and shorter decay, Plate offers a long trail of sound reminiscent of a vintage rack effect. This sounds great when paired with a simple overdrive or basic phaser, adding a layer of depth to your sound. Plate is the clarity found in the blueSky. On the Modulate mode Plate sounds similar to a heavy chorus effect with clear high frequencies peaking out. Crank the Decay all the way up to hear a crisp, spacey sound.

Room

For the ambient lovers, and creators of lush walls of sound, Room reverb is your go-to setting. Room should be renamed to Room(s), as this reverb captures a large scale of room size options for reverbs. Almost behaving as a simple delay, the idea of enlarging the “room” you are playing in is a result of changing the Pre-Delay and Decay. Room can sound like a basic echo that quickly turns into a repetitive daze of sound bouncing off large walls. When Modulated, your signal diffuses and pools together for hazy long tones. Room sounds great on everything from single line riffs to large open chords. Turn up the Pre-Delay with the Mix at 100% for an ambient sound that swells and echoes almost infinitely.

Spring

Spring is a great option for those who want a more classic sounding reverb. Keep the mix low and you’ll get a hint of soft reverberations similar to hitting a bell with a mallet. Adding a slight tremolo to the tail of your input, Spring is effective on rhythmic chords and leads. I particularly love using Spring paired with Mod on surf rock styled riffs to get an old school beach bum vibe.

Shimmer

While I’ve covered the sounds of the 3 Reverb Types in Norm mode with a few mentions of the Mod option, the Shimmer mode creates the most unique quality of the blueSky sound. Shimmer can completely transform your signal into an organ, spaceship, or a beautiful growing pad that sounds like it would hail from a secret fairy garden. Shimmer on Plate is the organ playing in a sunken cathedral. This combination offers long expansive bell tones that swell upwards and surround your signal. Using Low Damp and High Damp allows you to pick apart these tones to perfectly embellish your existing sound. Shimmer on Room seems to focus on lower harmonic sounds, providing an interesting pitch difference when switching between settings. These frequencies act more like feedback, combining and washing together to create a great shoegaze wall of sound. With Pre-Delay all the way up, this Shimmer combo gives you a delayed attack that is more like a fade in. Shimmer on Spring adds more character to the bouncing, unpredictable nature found in an acoustic spring reverb. Even with Decay and Mix all the way up, the Shimmer still extends and recoils with the Spring sound, adding a metallic quality to the tail end of your signal.

Aside from the surface knob options, there’s also a -3dB Boost/Cut feature which can be achieved by pressing and holding the 2 foot-swtiches and turning the Mix knob. This is a handy feature for matching the signal level to your other pedals or adding a little boost or cut if needed.

Following the theme of other dual foot-switch Strymon pedals, the 3 reverb Types and Modes are only accessible via a small vertical switch. Changing the reverb types and settings quickly is rather difficult in a live performance. When the blueSky is mounted on a pedalboard, I’ve found it to be possible only when performing without shoes or bending down to switch between settings. This issue is solved by saving your preferred settings onto the Favorite foot-switch, but of course this limits you to only 1 preset and 1 live bank. This can be a draw back for those wanting more preset options, but the great sound quality of the available reverbs still makes the Strymon blueSky a worthy consideration.

 

 

The Strymon blueSky is a compact stereo reverberator that offers tone shaping possibilities through 3 reverb types, 3 mode variations including an excellent Shimmer, and multiple control knobs. With many reverb options it is easy to get lost when trying to find the perfect one. The blueSky contains a simple mix of classic reverbs that are able to be expanded into beautiful ambient designs that preserve the clarity of your tone. Reverb is one of my favorite effects and something I researched intensely before dedicating my rig to one pedal. Purchased years ago, my blueSky continues to provide a wide range of subtle echoes and atmospheric pads that always fit well in a live set.

That concludes our Strymon blueSky review. Thanks for reading.

EarthQuaker Devices Pyramids Review

 

Have you ever wanted to join a cult but the worry of being judged by your peers has stopped you? Did you try to join one late at night in a McDonald’s parking lot only to be left with a handful of fries, a party hat, and never ending emptiness? I felt the same until I found EarthQuaker Devices. Harboring spirits and secrets in each pedal, EarthQuaker Devices has rapidly turned into the boutique pedal brand of choice for those who want to add an obscure, wild element to their rig. Known for their unique yet familiar pedals like the Rainbow Machine, Data Corrupter, and Avalanche Run that reimagined “standard” effects, EQD has gone even more specific and challenged the traditional flanger with the newest addition to their family tree: Pyramids.

 

 

Visit EarthQuaker Devices for more info about the Pyramids.

 

The Soul Servants Abide

Pyramids is a stereo flanger that you can mix, tweak, and morph from a smooth jet plane into something sounding like a contemporary art song played on a broken banjo.

With a first glance at this teal and purple box, right away your eyes are drawn to the 2 sets of rotary knobs offering the options of 5 Presets and 8 Modes. Unlike its pedal siblings, Pyramids not only offers the choice to construct and save sounds, but also a mix knob to level those effects with your input signal. All of these 8 Modes can be tweaked to your desire with dedicated knobs like Manual to control the delay time of your modulation, Rate to change the speed of your LFO, Width to control the range of the LFO sweep, and Mix for dry and wet control.

When you first plug into Pyramids it’s tempting to stay lost in a subtle wash from Classic Mode. With all dials turned to 12 o’clock, Pyramids gives you just a taste of what it must have felt like to be an 80’s rock star onstage with fans blowing in your long beautiful hair. Classic mode is all about that hallowed ageless tone everyone seems to be talking about these days. I like to mess with the rate and feedback to create a warping bubble that you could almost compare to a ring modulation. Classic sounds great on large open chords allowing you to hear the ebb and flow of your modulated signal in the background.

With a quick turn of the Mode knob, you’re now on Through-Zero. This preset is where you can get some whooshing jet sounds or cancel out your signal for momentary pauses. My favorite is having the Modify and Rate turned to 0 at normal speed to create a pause similar to turning the attack knobs up on your synth of choice. Roll up the feedback, slide between notes, and you get an almost reversed signal with that nice tasty layer of flange on top. Pair Pyramids with a hearty reverb pedal such as a Strymon blueSky to get some beautiful ambient chords.

With the Mix and Rate all the way up, both Barber Pole Up and Barber Pole Down sound like a Chorus mixed with the shakiness of a sawtooth wave. These modes let you control the tone of your modulated sound using the Modify knob acting as high and low pass filter. It’s interesting to hear the tonal differences between Barber Pole Up and Barber Pole Down by switching between the modes back and forth. Playing leads on these modes creates a unique warble sound that is easy to control with the Tap/Trigger foot-switch.

Like most people, I think lasers are pretty cool. Trigger Up and Trigger Down Mode are basically your excuse to point a guitar to your loved ones and show off your true musicianship with the power of “pew” “pew” “pew”. It’s a great party trick. Everyone will love you. These two modes control how your signal reacts to you picking or “triggering” a note. Trigger up lets you sound like a Kraftwerk intro by providing a high pitched rising sweep with every pick. Pick a note, then right after hit the Tap/Trigger foot-switch to get an immediate re-trigger of that rising sweep. Trigger Down is all of this, with more of a traditional sounding “pew” “pew” in which the sweep descends.

Step Mode is a huge game changer that removes Pyramids from the ranks of any basic flanger. This Mode sounds like an arpeggio constantly rising and falling. Modify controls the amount of glide between the notes, while Width controls the pitch respectively. The fun thing with Step Mode is that it can create an infinite set of steps looping forever with the Feedback turned all the way up. This means that even after the sustain of the guitar tone dies on a note you picked, the “sequence” of steps is still audible. Step Mode is very effective on synths and digital instruments, in which you are able to hold down a note without any decay.

Random is the final adventure through the elusive Pyramids, adding a chaotic mix of random steps in a fashion that is slightly more tamable than the Magic setting on EQDs Rainbow Machine pedal. Like the Step Mode, you can control the glide of these steps using the Modify knob. Having a slow/low Rate creates a beautiful Lo-Fi sounding shimmer that can suddenly drop into a lush sound of goodness. Use Random Mode on long open chords to get the full effect of sinking into a bowl of chocolate.

With so many Modes and Presets, the user is presented with a minor annoyance of having the switch between sounds manually using the assigned rotary knobs. For some this could seem cumbersome having to bend down onstage to switch between presets. This is something to think about but also something I think that is able to be helped by assigning your presets in order of your set. Of course it is ideal to have a foot-switch to shift between numerous presets in a loop, but with the rotary design on the Pyramids it is helpful to have that click of security between each sound so you can know exactly which one you’re on.

 

 

The EarthQuaker Devices Pyramids is a versatile stereo flanger that offers musicians unconventional sonic possibilities through 8 modes, 5 user presets, and multiple control knobs. As a guitarist, synth player, and producer, I’ve always appreciated those in the guitar world who aim to do something out of the ordinary. It’s easy to sum up the Pyramids as just a solid flanger, but it’s even easier to point out unusual amount of control the user has over such a simple effect. From washed chords to randomly generated leads, Pyramids is a multi-purpose tool that has a place in any rig.

That concludes our EarthQuaker Devices Pyramids review. Thanks for reading.

SolidGoldFX Electroman MKII Review

 

Maybe I’m getting older. Maybe I’ve tried too many pedals over the years. My expectations are both high and low. High in the way that I feel like I really need a pedal to do something different. Not even cool or great, but just DIFFERENT. Low in the way that this rarely ever happens. I have just come to expect so many pedals to just be “another one of those….” But from the moment I first sat down with the SolidGoldFX Electroman MKII, I knew it was very different. This came as a surprise to me. With eyes and ears open, I proceeded to dive deeper into this beautiful delay of mystery!

My first sighting of this pedal was in Andy’s demo. Right away I was in awe of the sound of the repeats and how they seemed to be wild, yet he had complete control over them. The hold function was so musical and just made sense to me. Right away, and without even really thinking about it, I assumed this was an analog delay. It wasn’t until after I had received it and was using it for about an hour that I got into the paperwork and discovered that it’s all digital! But that’s fine with me, especially when you take into consideration the quality of the sound and features of this pedal.

During that first hour of use, a few things really got my attention. First of all, the modulation. It’s really good. Maybe the best modulation circuit I have ever heard. The circuit design gets its unique qualities from having close ties to the SolidGoldFX Stutter-Lite Tremolo circuit. I spoke with the friendly sonic scientists at SolidGoldFX in hopes of getting the scoop on what makes this modulation circuit so magical. This is what I found out…

The Modulation element of the Electoman MKII is centered on a discrete transistor based circuit that is designed to provide a consistently imperfect waveform. This already sounds fabulous, as anything that has a nice natural, organic feel to it appeals to me. Many times, when using modulation or other LFO controlled effect, the thing that stands out to me as being so unappealing is the sense that it’s just a looping sound, repeating and never altering in any way. This modulation circuit is the kind you can turn up and actually use because it does not give you the sense of a looped sound at all. The intensity of the LFO in the circuit is also impacted by the speed setting of the Modulation circuit and will change depending on the speed selected. Another super unique part of the design is that the mod circuit itself is affecting the second delay chip in the Electroman MKII by creating a rippling lag in the second delay chip’s time. It is as if someone were feeding a delay into another delay and then micro-adjusting the timing of the second delay in real time. This is why the mod circuit has such a beautifully smeared quality to it. This is, literally, music to my ears.

Another really cool thing about the modulation is that it seems to change a lot when you dial in the COLOR knob. On the darker side, the modulation seems to be tamed a bit and gets murky along with everything else. That’s to be expected and is what I like to refer to as “mud-ulation.” Then, around noon on the COLOR, the modulation really comes into its own, having a very musical and distinct characteristic. When the color knob is full clockwise (the bright side) the characteristics of the modulation seem to change to a high pass filter of some kind. This ever-changing behavior of the modulation circuit really adds to the realism of the voicing of this pedal. From an analog kind of sound with warm repeats and murky modulation, to a tape sound with HPF on the repeats, to a digital sound when you dial back the depth of the modulation. The pedal makes no outward claim to be these three voicings. Nowhere on the pedal does it say “analog,” or “tape,” or “digital.” Just the knob that reads “COLOR” along with the “FLUTTER” giving subtle hints at the analog and tape sounds that await with just a few turns of these knobs.

Diving deeper I discover that there is actually an effects loop on this pedal that allows you to add any kind of effect to just the wet signal. This is just the coolest idea. I also like that they have it assigned to one simple stereo jack that you can access with a stereo TRS insert cable. Yeah, hardly any of us have one of those laying around, but they’re very easy to come by or make, and when you’re up and running you’ll find that it’s much easier to pull the one cable in and out when wanting to remove the pedal from the loop. As soon as I realized this was a thing, I threw just about everything into that loop I could get my hands on. I was surprised how well the loop handed just about every single thing I sent through it. More on that below…

 

 

Features:

Sound Design:

  • A brand new, very unique and extremely musical modulation circuit
  • Two cascaded digital delay lines using a pair of PT2399 chips
  • Delay times up to 1,000ms
  • Option for tails on or off with a convenient surface toggle switch
  • Controls for Level, Repeat, Color, Flutter, Time, Mode, Warp, Speed, and Tails
  • Tons of Self-oscillation and gritty long repeat goodness on tap
  • An effects loop that allows you to add any kind of effect to the repeats
  • A customizable Warp foot switch
  • Two modes of delay using only the first chip, or adding the second at half-time

Ins and outs:

  • One 1/4” main input (mono jack, right side mounted)
  • One 1/4” main output (mono jack, left side mouinted)
  • One 1/4” fx loop insert (stereo jack, left side mounted)
  • 9v DC, center negative power jack drawing 40mA (top-mounted)

Knobs/Toggles:

  • LEVEL
  • REPEAT
  • COLOR
  • FLUTTER
  • TIME
  • MODE (two-position toggle)
  • WARP (three-position toggle)
  • SPEED (three-position toggle)
  • TAILS (two-position toggle)

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

The controls of the Electroman MKII are fairly straightforward, but there are some interesting things to be found as many of these knobs, and the toggles interact with one another based on how you set them up.

LEVEL: Sets the wet signal from nothing to highly involved. I also noticed that when using the effects loop, level was SUPER important when dialing in dirt pedals that are in the loop. My guess is that the level control is somewhere between the loop and the delay line. When I had it up it seemed to really hit the repeats hard and went into a really cool oscillation even with the repeats only half way. When I dialed the level back a lot, it seemed to keep things more tame.

REPEAT: From a single slap-back repeat to completely overtaking your signal. The “WARP” toggle effects the behavior of the REPEAT knob even when you’re not using the warp switch. I also found the COLOR knob to be very stimulating on the repeats. The brighter you go with it, the more oscillation you get in return.

COLOR: Takes your delay from digital to “analog/tape” voicing. Some will have the opinion that the bright side of this doesn’t get super bright like some of the digital delays out there. The PT2399 delay chip isn’t really meant for full-on digital brightness. It’s always been known for more of an analog/tape kind of sound. Of course, many factors can determine this such as front end driver (if applicable), filtering (if applicable), how the PT2399 is configured, mix/summing amplifier, bypass configuration, etc. Even the guitar/amp you’re using will affect this in some ways. I would say this pedal has repeats that are definitely leaning towards the analog/tape sounds, up to, maybe, a middle of the road tone for digital delays.

FLUTTER: Controls the modulation depth, full CCW shuts off the modulation circuit. Now, here is where some of the other magic comes in. This has to be one of the best modulation circuits I have ever heard. There is also some interaction with the COLOR knob here. I can’t confirm, but I swear the modulation is adding a high pass filter on the repeats when the COLOR knob is full CW giving a very tape-like sound to the repeats. Further control of the modulation is achieved by setting the three-position SPEED toggle.

TIME: Sets your delay time from 70ms to one full second (1,000ms) of delay. Tweaking this knob with your toe gives all the warpy oscillation that you would come to expect from your favorite analog delay.

MODE: Changes between standard delay and a second mode that sends the delay signal into the second chip for half-time repeats. Great for that washy, shoegaze sound. This is a fairly common technique used in a few delay pedals. If you’re familiar with the Tonal Recall, it has the toggle for short, long, and both. This would be like long and both.

WARP: This option is kind of wonderful. Have you ever hit the “hold” function on a delay pedal and, even though it sounded cool, you really wish you could change the behavior of that switch? Well, this does exactly that. Three modes let you decide how you want it to act. Center position (my favorite) gives a subtle behavior, just dipping into oscillation and then smoothly coming out. Right position is “imminent lift-off,” as described by the manual. Full oscillation insanity ensues. Left position is somewhere between those two extremes.

SPEED: Offers three different speed settings for the modulation circuit. Slow in the center position (my favorite), fast to the right, and medium to the left.

TAILS: The Electroman MKII is buffered bypass. This switch lets you decide how you’d like the pedal to behave when bypassed. Trails are choked when the switch is to the left, and trailing when switched to the right. The pedal remains in buffered bypass whether tails is engaged or not. This helps to stabilize the design of the pedal.

Visit SolidGoldFX for more info about the Electroman MKII.

 

 

What’s new in the MkII?

Both versions of the pedal share some of the strong points of the MKII such as the effects loop and the warp foot switch. The MKII brings so many new features to the table; it’s almost like an entirely new pedal. The original knobs were very straight forward delay pedal offerings: LEVEL, REPEAT, TONE, and TIME. The MKII brings modulation to the table and adds a fifth knob with the FLUTTER control. The impressive bank of four toggles offering a combined 10 positions takes the functionality of the Electroman MKII into outer space! Options for Mode, Warp, Speed, and Tails really give you full control over this pedal. An increase in delay time from 600ms to 1,000ms rounds out the list of improvements. It’s hard to believe that all of these extra features come at an increased cost of only $25 over the original Electroman.

A delay pedal with an effects loop can change your world.

Yep. This pedal has and effects loop that allows you to input an effect or series of effects into the wet signal. That’s right, just like how the pedal adds a modulation to the delay trails, you can add in any kind of effect to the repeats. Want your delay trails to have a flanger on them? How about a ring modulator? No problem. Just plug it in and go for it!

I decided to have a little science project yesterday. I sat down with a box full of pedals and just tried each one in the loop. My first choice, Ayahuasca (a really nasty fuzz pedal), gave the repeats a low-fi, thin and gritty feel. I was surprised how much the dirt pedal really affected the repeats and the oscillation. I had my repeats set at about 3:00 and the dirt easily sent the repeats into a really nice, sustained oscillation. Dialing back the REPEAT, and to some extent even reducing the LEVEL knobs really did the job of keeping the oscillation right where you wanted it. Also, dialing back the OUTPUT on the Ayhuasca really helped to keep things under control. Next, I reached for an old 1980’s Peavey Chorus. It had a nice, subtle effect on the repeats. I even tried a few things that seemed rather unorthodox. An Empress compressor with the ratio set to 10:1 and a strong mix really made for a unique sound that almost changed the delay into a completely different pedal. Next was an Ibanez Analog Delay. Getting the TIME knobs of the two pedals to sync up made for some great rhythmic repeats and easier oscillations. A surprisingly great pedal in the loop was my Gravitas tremolo. It was just right and sounded like it belonged there. My favorite of all of the pedals I tried was the f.13 Flanger from Alexander Pedals. It just sounded incredible in the repeats. Using the mix knob on the f.13 allowed me to get it just right. Then I had a random idea. What if I could insert the Plus Pedal into the loop of the Electroman MKII and the f.13 Flanger in the loop of the Plus pedal? Took me a few tries to get it right, but I got it so that the Electroman MKII was doing its thing normally, repeats and all. Stepping on the Plus Pedal momentarily blended the f.13 Flanger smoothly into and out of the repeats. It was like magic… like gives you goosebumps magic. I’ve included a diagram on how to set all that up. Hopefully you will also find some amazing things to do with that loop!

 

 

Value, quality, and nitpicks

As I stated above, the Electroman MKII delay holds its own as a unique, feature-rich delay pedal. When you look at the asking price of $225, I think it’s an incredible value for all that you get. In fact, it’s only $25 more than the original Electroman! The price-point places it right in there with the current price for a new Deluxe Memory Man. I feel it’s a toss up between those two. Each has a few things better than the other, but overall, they’re kind of similar pedals, and I’d actually give a favor towards the Electroman MKII. For one thing, the build quality. This pedal, like all of the SolidGoldFX line of pedals, are hand-made. One look inside this thing, and I really understood the quality of workmanship. Everything has a nice, high-end feel to it. The knobs, toggles, and switches all give a sense of quality and attention to detail. I should also point out the aesthetic of the pedal is just spot on. The color of the enclosure is just gorgeous. Has that look of a 1970’s gold sparkle speedboat with a beautiful, thick layer of clear coat. The bold “ELECTROMAN” logo on the face of the pedal is also just right. My only slight nitpick of the aesthetic is that the labeling on the knobs is a little hard to read in the low lighting of my musical séance room. My other nitpicks are a little less forgiving. Let me first say, that the MORE I love a pedal… the MORE I seem to nitpick it. Feeling indifferent about an effect pedal doesn’t make me wish or hope for much of anything from it. It’s when I love a pedal that I tend to get all like “WHY???” My biggest nitpick of this pedal is the lack of a tap tempo. Especially on a delay pedal that has two foot switches. There must be a reason that the hold/warp switch doesn’t double as a tap tempo on this pedal. Hopefully, that reason isn’t that is was just deemed unimportant. That would REALLY complete this pedal for me. I mean it all depends on how you use the stuff. Lots of very fine effects, most of them vintage, do not have a tap tempo feature. However, these days, it’s really kind of expected. MIDI implementation, and even an expression pedal option, would also have been very nice. That small group of musicians that actually use MIDI is growing very rapidly. Most of us ignored MIDI until pedalboard controllers started getting very popular. Now a pedal that doesn’t store and recall presets just kinda makes you go “huh?” My final nitpick is a personal one. Some of us prefer side jacks and some of us prefer top-mount jacks. I’ve found, for the most part, side jack people are just the ones that don’t really care where they are. Top-mount jack people are mostly “top-mount or GTFO.” I understand why some compact pedals have side-mounted jacks, and I am ok with that. Then there are pedals that are in these wide enclosures and you open them up to find that the jacks cold have been mounted up top. It just kind of seems like a missed opportunity to me. That’s all. If you’re a top-mount jack fan, you understand what I’m saying. Still, all in all, the Electroman MKII is a great choice when weighing value, quality, and my wish list.

 

 

The SolidGoldFX Electroman MKII has a decidedly unique sound, insuring a firm spot in the overcrowded world of delay pedals. This one comes down to two things: uniqueness and versatility. The Electroman MKII simply sounds different than other delays out there. Hard to do and hard to believe, but they did it! An impressive list of features and a vast amount of versatility bring this pedal to your board. Whether you’re looking for the sounds of analog, tape, or digital, the Electroman MKII has you covered. Even if you get bored and want to change the sound of the pedal completely, you have the effects loops at your disposal for an unlimited potential to create any delay sound you can imagine! If you’re looking for a delay that is surprisingly easy to use, has multiple voicing capabilities, and a feature-set and sound design that sets it apart from the crowd, look no further than the Electroman MKII from SolidGoldFX!

This concludes our review of the Electroman MKII Delay from SolidGoldFX. Thanks for reading!