By Jake Behr –
The guitar effects industry is and always has been an eye-filling landscape pockmarked with never-ending, cavernous rabbit holes. Some of us who traverse this plane seeking a sound all our own find ourselves unproductively wrapped up in ancillary selling points, designating ever-changing value and brokering favor based on how high the latest offering sets the bar. I’m particularly guilty of ignoring some truly great pedals in favor of sleek, artfully adorned pieces of hype that I ended up dissatisfied with just as often as I was pleased. The mercurial nature of the consumer-level pedal nerd is not a universally bad thing for the craft of effects-building or for music itself as we often crave and demand new combinations of effects and new ways to use them. While the industry is happy to oblige this demand, an intuitive return to the basics of what makes a core effect great is seldom met with less than a sigh of refreshed relief and familiar nods in acknowledgement of “Yes, I know exactly how I’m going to use that!”
The updated classic has been the crux of many a great company in this, the golden age of guitar effects. For example, MOOG (counterintuitively pronounced “mōg”) has stood conspicuously tall as an innovator in the music industry since the company’s inception in the 1950’s and has lead the charge into modern music without rest, frequently releasing products that build on previous works and change what we think is possible in any piece of music hardware.
For guitarists, the Moogerfooger line of effects pedals, first released in 1998, have become a boutique pedal lover’s wet-dream, offering flexibility and unreal tone, albeit in a massive package. MOOG later released the Minifooger line in 2013 to great critical acclaim, packing simplified interpretations of their legendary Moogerfoogers in enclosures designed to fit comfortably on a pedalboard. The Minifooger line included Delay, Drive, Boost, Ring Mod, and Tremolo and in 2015 was bolstered by Chorus and Flange units and an art update. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Minifooger 03 MF Trem, an intuitive and diverse tremolo that lives up to the MOOG family name.
- 100% Analog Circuitry built around a balanced modulator and Sub-Audio VCO (voltage controlled oscillator)
- Harmonically eclectic range spanning into bass and synthesizer voices
- True Bypass
- Four Knobs for Shape, Tone, Depth and Speed
- Expression input control for Speed (+5VDC)
- Compact and lightweight
MOOG is the sort of company that can get away with giving their product a name that is literally a number and the function of the product, as opposed to a whacky nickname. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sh*t out of whacky pedal names (I browse Reverb listings in the morning for a laugh) but when you’re flexing the bicep of a company name like MOOG, people will trust anything that comes after it. Luckily for us, MOOG is also the sort of company that is not just known for their innovative and high-quality music products, they practically invented the innovative and high-quality music product.
Skin deep, the Trem is an unapologetic exercise in utilitarian design, bearing an angular black and silver countenance that would make Sol LeWitt smirk in appreciation. As if weaponized, the Trem possesses a bolted-on faceplate with its function and place of origin printed on. Unsurprisingly the cast aluminum enclosure is tightly constructed and appropriately lightweight, making it perfect for travel. Knobs for Tone, Speed, Depth, and Shape are in their logical, upward-facing configurations; the Trem’s mono I/O, 9V power in, and expression pedal input are all top-mounted to save room, effectively making the total footprint (provided you are using elbowed 1/4” cables) a respectable 3”x7”. The importance of size in this case is nothing to sneeze at, considering the tone inside these negligible borders is anything but negligible.
SOUND & PERFORMANCE:
Let’s talk knobs. With a dedicated pot crossfading the Shape of the modulation from smooth rise/sharp fall to sharp rise/smooth fall, you can dial in a subtle optical tremolo vibe or go ham and knock chunks out of your signal at will. The Tone knob is a low-pass filter affecting only the Wet signal, holding dominion over the entire harmonic spectrum of the signal. This determines how lively the Trem’s reaction is when presented with the harmonic content and dynamics of your playing. Speed is pretty obvious, while Depth is actually a Wet/Dry control. The MF Trem relies on phase cancellation and addition, so as you crank the Depth, more frequencies will be added and cancelled by the Tremolo effect. The Depth and Speed play off of one another in intuitive ways with the Depth slowly doubling the tempo of the modulation the further into full-wet territory you go. To get the most out of the Trem, an expression pedal or control voltage is an absolute must. The expression opens up a much wider range of speeds, pushing the effect into the Ring-mod realm of modulation. Changing the speed in real-time yields beautifully disorienting rotary feels; it was also really fun to dial in a quarter-to-triplet modulation with the output control on my expression pedal and change the tempo in real time.
MOOG includes a printed list of suggested knob positions when they ship the MF Trem, so I’ll run through those as well with my feedback on each.
The “RAY GUN” configuration has our Shape and Tone knobs maxed, the Depth at noon and Speed set at about 2 o’clock. The sharp rise/smooth fall waveform feels pointy, adding a succinct urgency to the tone. With an expression pedal, this configuration is less of a tremolo and more of a low-frequency ring mod, adding an oscillating metallic chime to your playing even with the treadle heeled. Sweeping up and down through the frequency spectrum after a fuzz is a particularly nice way to add some thickness to your dynamics.
This configuration is similar to the RAY GUN in that the Tone and Speed are set to five and three respectively, but it calls for the Depth to be brought to nine and the Shape brought back to three. The smoother decay of the waveform rounds out the edges of the Tremolo while still retaining the abruptness of the cancellation. I also noticed while setting up this configuration that the shape knob slowed down the tempo of the modulation the closer you are to the center of the pot. This might be a function of the waveform being lengthened from one end as you dial the Shape knob back for a smoother, er… shape.
Next I dialed the shape even further back, to noon. This is where the waveform becomes smooth from its attack to its release. This flavoring, with the knobs nearing the center, is an example of one of the more mild tones the Trem is capable of. If you’ve got a whammy bar and a spring reverb, you’ve got a whole effects loop here.
Crank the shape hard left for a smooth attack and abrupt cutoff, like quick little swells overtaking your tone. Paired with an expression you can get some pretty dope Leslie vibes at higher speeds that cool off into the reverse feel for which MOOG nicknamed the configuration. I really enjoyed putting this after a full wet reverb to get a sound like building momentum while falling down a mile-long exhaust shaft.
MOOG boasts that the Minifooger line’s extended range capabilities make them a perfect addition to bass and synth utilities, as well. At band practice I had the chance to plug a MOOG Sub Phatty synth into the Trem, and unlike many other guitar effects on the market that would fizzle out when confronted with the vastness of a synth’s voice, the Trem’s function remained fundamentally the same, even pushed into extremely low octaves. With such an extensive range of instruments readily affected by it, I’d say the MF Trem is perfectly suited for its $139 price point.
The MOOG Minifooger MF Trem yields nearly every feel in the tremolo family, even extending into the realm of limited phase and ring-modulation. The way the knobs interact to generate vastly varied tones, even when parameter changes are slight, is a degree of building artistry that reflects MOOG’s synthesizer history in a simply articulated way. Its flexibility makes it the perfect addition to any pedalboard and may even have the analog-leaning studio engineer ready to invest. The market today is soaked in tremolos with similar features, so to give the MF Trem a perfect score I would have liked to see some sort of tap-tempo feature. Failing that, if you’ve been seeking a decked-out, versatile, small-enough-for-your-baby-‘board pound of flux, you’ve found it.
That concludes our review of the MOOG Minifooger MF Trem. Thanks for reading!