I probably shouldn’t open an article about guitar pedals this way, but tone be damned: silence is perhaps the most important tool in music. When I was in High School I had a choir teacher who would steel the more talkative singers’ resolve every concert by reminding us of her favorite metaphor: that each song was a painting framed in silence, made worthwhile by both its merit as a song and its appearance where there was once nothing. This assertion carried over into my guitar and band career, evolving into a scholarly appreciation for silence (and relative silence) in songwriting as well.
I don’t think anything illustrates the veracity of this assertion as much as a pause after a powerful phrase soiled by a persistent, unmusical hum. In a live situation this is tolerable to some but absolutely maddening to me, so purchasing a noise gate early on was an absolute must. While they are not the flashiest or most entertaining pedals by any stretch, you’ll be satisfied you held off on that crazy delay and opted for a gate if noise is an issue in your guitar rig.
Myriad builders have thrown their hat in the gating ring, each new challenger trumping its competition in size, functionality, and/or overall approach in some way. In 2015 TC Electronic released their take on a Gate in pedal form, the ominously named Sentry Noise Gate. As is the trend, it surpasses the silent underfoot tools on the current market and stands out as perhaps the best gating option this side of your pedalboard.
- Three Customizable knobs
- State-of-the-art Multi-band Noise Gate
- Hard-Gate mode for instant noise removal
- TonePrint Enabled
- Send/Return Loop
- True Bypass
- Compact design
- High quality components
- Road-ready construction
Sound & Performance:
The Sentry shares its shape and size with the other compact TonePrint enabled pedals in TC Electronic’s library, sporting a sparkly granite finish on its aluminum enclosure. The face panel has a soft-touch footswitch and a voice switch to toggle between a traditional gate to remove hum indiscriminately, a hiss gate for taming high-frequency nonsense, and a user-generated TonePrint, which can be tweaked via the USB port on the top panel to be as sensitive or unforgiving as you please. The LED on the faceplate turns from green to red when the gate is closed for a truly responsive indication of whether your signal is being imperceptibly eaten alive or allowed to flourish. Three customizable knobs are factory-set to control the Threshold, Damping and Decay of the gate, but can be programmed to control any of the 30 parameters in the Sentry’s arsenal. There is also a set of loop in/outputs, for gating high-gain pedals without eating the sound of cleaner delays, reverbs, etc. Alternatively, you can use the loop to sidechain a different instrument to great creative effect.
After spending some quality time with the Sentry, I can readily say that you’ll be hard pressed to find a Gate closer to studio quality in a pedal format. TC Electronic really pulled out all the stops to approximate a studio gate. The Sentry is based on TC’s MD3 multi-band dynamic processing technology, which, perhaps most importantly, allows you to gate segments of the frequency spectrum as opposed to relying on the buckshot method of gating based on a broadband. This is something completely unique to the Sentry as far as pedals go, and has allowed me tighter control over my tone than any of my past gating solutions. Obvious problems like the hum of single coils are quickly dispatched with ease; in my case without ever needing to touch the TonePrint Editor software. However, particularly gross power-based hums or high-gain rigs will require use of TC’s TonePrint Editor to perfectly fine-tune the Sentry’s response to your audio signal.
While the three controls on the faceplate give quick access to a standard parameter set found on most Noise Gates, the TonePrint Editor contains 3 sets of EQ band controls for Threshold, Attack, Ratio, Damping, Hold, Release, and Knee, which makes narrowing down where in the frequency spectrum you’re hearing hum and how the gate handles that hum easier and more intuitive than any other Gate pedal. That said, I’d love to see a more parametric approach as opposed to the 3-band methodology; such vagaries as Low, Mid and High seem dated, and oftentimes required more work to get a clean Gated tone than I thought was necessary. While the 3-band approach is a step in the right direction, a hypothetical (and potentially unsupported by the current hardware) firmware update could see the Sentry utilized as both a parametric Gate and a well-lit path into many wallets. Imagine finding the exact frequency of that terrible hum, setting the threshold just low enough that it doesn’t cut into that frequency in your actual playing, then using a Q parameter to clean up anything you missed. The Sentry is already more than halfway there. Still, creating a custom user TonePrint with assigned knob parameters and response ranges gives you a level of noise gate control you won’t find in any other pedal.
The TC Electronic Sentry Noise Gate has earned my recognition as the most intuitive gating solution in its price range. The gassier guitarists out there may not feel obliged to entertain the thought of a non-effect pedal taking up space on their ‘boards, but I would quell that reservation by pointing to the Sentry’s status as the current King of the Silent Hill. Coupled with out-of-the-box functionality and TC’s already familiar-to-most TonePrint Editor software, the plethora of parameters in the Sentry are easily tweaked to yield studio-ready silence where you need it and seamless re-entry where you don’t. The Sentry stands out as an essential addition to every rig, made only more alluring by its speculative potential to grow if TC Electronic decides to release future firmware updates.
That concludes our review of the TC Electronic Sentry Noise Gate. Thanks for reading!