Empress Tape Delay Review

empress-tape-delay-reviewThis is guest post by Scott Martin

Today’s article will be a review of the Empress Tape Delay.

The effects-obsessed 21st century guitarist is living in an extremely beneficial time in history for those afflicted with their condition. Whatever sonic sauce they are looking for, be it overdrive/fuzz/reverb/phaser/etc, somebody somewhere has (most likely efficiently and inexpensively) made a digital pedal or plug-in of what they’re after at the given moment. As a delay junkie, I find myself both astounded and thankful at the plethora of options available to me. Effects companies everywhere have come up with new and inventive ways to turn an audio signal into a cascading, echoing deluge of ones and zeros – and let’s be honest folks, some of those ones and zeros out there sound extremely good. A good digital delay can be depended on to not only get the job done, but also to be relatively small and inexpensive. And yet, despite all this convenience and economy of space and dollars, some guitarists still find themselves attracted to the halcyon days of a much more primeval era in audio technology.

Ah yes…the fascinating and antiquarian world of tape delays. Since the 1950’s, guitarists have been using these rather quirky, mechanically-based machines to create lush soundscapes and shimmering rhythmic melodies filled with repeats that fade brilliantly into the aether. As the magnetic tape in a unit aged and warped over time, the repeats would get grainier, more “washed out” sounding, and in general, develop very interesting modulation characteristics which, depending on the machine, can be easily identified and catalogued by vintage tape delay aficionados much the same way a wine connoisseur can tell you the important and blatantly obvious differences between say, a glass of Shiraz and another of Malbec.

Not every guitarist may posses the capacity (or desire) to tell the sound of a Roland Space Echo from that of a modern day Boss DD-7, but the difference is there, and some are known to spend thousands of dollars assembling collections of these large, unwieldy, and mechanically fragile units in their studios. Unfortunately, bringing them to the gig is, at best, impractical. The effects pedal industry has taken notice of this dilemma, however; and a veritable legion of tape-delay based analog/digital hybrid pedals have since been released in order to feed the need for guitarists everywhere to sculpt their sound with the mojo of these revered and ancient units. Of these, the Empress Tape Delay is a personal favorite of mine and the one which I will be reviewing today.

Empress Tape Delay Review

A little background: in 2008, Empress Effects of Canada released a phenomenal delay pedal known as the Superdelay, which was later released as a “Vintage Modified” edition in collaboration with the folks at Pro Guitar Shop in Portland, Oregon. The Tape Delay section of this unit was so popular that in 2013, Empress released it as a standalone unit. With space for three user presets, tap tempo, and the ability to control several unique delay parameters, the Empress Tape Delay is a monster of a pedal in a relatively small box. Also particularly noteworthy is the Tape Delay’s incredible 103db signal-to-noise ratio, which means that not only does it sound absolutely fantastic, but it is extremely quiet as well.

To begin, the Tape Delay is, without a doubt, one of the most aesthetically pleasing effects pedals I’ve ever seen. Housed in a sleek black enclosure and adorned with gold lettering and silver hardware, it resembles a piece of high-quality outboard gear from the Golden Age of Recording. Four knobs controlling “Mix”, “Ratio/Delay Time”, “Feedback”, and “Output” stand in line on the face of the pedal, while positioned above them are a series of micro-toggles for “Tape Age”, “Delay Time”, “Filter”, and “Modulation”. Both “Bypass” and “Tap Tempo” are controlled by two generously-spaced momentary switches, making it quite easy to tap in the proper tempo when syncing your delay up.

Fairly simple looking on the surface (four knobs, four switches), the Empress can actually be configured to operate in two modes – Tap (which I will refer to as “Standard mode”) and Preset.

Empress Tape Delay Presets

PART I: STANDARD/TAP MODE:

In Standard mode, the Empress provides a very straightforward delay experience – every control functions as labeled and you are easily rewarded with some of the richest sounding delay I have ever heard out of a pedal. I’m talking the kind of delay that you turn on and the engineer asks you “What is THAT?!” To note: even with the delay mixed out of the signal entirely, running into this box just makes your guitar sound BETTER, which reminds me of using an Echoplex EP-3 pre-amp. But if you’re looking for delay (and that’s why we’re here, right?), it really is straightforward. Set your output at “noon” for unity gain, mix to two o’clock for repeats that (for me) sit perfectly, and with the “delay time” switch set to “tap”, tap your tempo in and adjust the “Ratio” knob for the desired rhythmic effect. Keep that Feedback knob below three o’clock or things might get a little hairy (The Empress can swell/self-oscillate and does so beautifully if allowed) and just start playing. Play “Where the Streets Have No Name”, play “Run Like Hell”, play “She Sells Sanctuary” – whatever works for you. It all sounds glorious.

You can spice things up a bit by engaging the top row of toggle switches. While “new” tape sounds clean and bright, switching over to “vintage” adds a little “wow and flutter” to the repeats, along with some darkness and grit. Flip it to “old” and things get even darker and dirtier, somewhat lo-fi in character. An even larger amount of modulation is introduced to the signal, and all of this conspires to give the Empress a feel and sound reminiscent of a vintage unit which has been used and abused (widely translated as “loved” in the topsy-turvy world of Rock n’ Roll).

Tap tempo is the quickest to use, and the dedicated momentary switch will input your tempo as the average of your last four taps. You can then adjust the Ratio knob from 1:1/3:4/1:2/1:3/1:4 (Quarter/Dotted Eighth/Eighth/Triplet/Sixteenth) relative to the speed of your tapped tempo.

Should you wish to get more hands on with the timing of your repeats, set the delay time to “fast” or “slow” and spin the Ratio knob clockwise/counterclockwise until they land as you wish.

The “Filter” toggle (inactive in center position) will give you a hi-pass filter on the left, attenuating frequencies below a certain threshold, essentially acting as a “bass cut” for your delayed tone. To the right, you are given the polar opposite of an equally effective low-pass filter, cutting highs and making for a darker sounding delay. Utilizing either of these can really help tailor where the Empress’ syrupy-sweet repeats will sit in a mix.

Lastly, on the far right you are given a “Modulation” option. This adds a somewhat chorus-y character to each repeat, and you have a choice between “little” or “lots”. It can, of course, be disengaged with the switch centered, just as the previous “Filter” toggle.

Now, you might think at first that both “filter” and “modulation” are redundant options, given that Tape Age tends to add a little of each of these anyway – but the switchable quality of both these parameters means that you can have a clean, bright, new tape with your choice of modulation level and frequency response, without the graininess or grit of “Old” or “Vintage”. There’s a lot of possibilities. Take your time and enjoy learning them.

empress-tape-delay-review

PART II: PRESET MODE/ADVANCED CONFIGURATION

If that was all there was to it, this would already be a well-regarded pedal and one worth writing home (or a review) about. However, the folks at Empress did not stop at “Standard” mode, but also gave us “Preset Mode”, accessible through the “Advanced Configuration”, a somewhat roundabout yet very clever mechanical routine. Seeing as we don’t all require (or desire) LCD screens on our pedals, this is a great feature and no more difficult to set up than mastering the cheat code to “Contra”.

The Tape Delay ships with Presets disabled (there is room for the pedal to store three of them) and with write-protection (i.e. locked presets) off. In order to utilize the full potential of this pedal, you can enter the so-called “Advanced Configuration” mode and set the Empress up for dual operation.

Entering Advanced Configuration requires unplugging the power from your pedal, then plugging it back in while holding down the “Tap” and “Bypass” switches at the same time. You’ll know you’ve done this correctly if the LED on the Bypass switch blinks twice. From this point, you can use the toggle switches to set presets, bypass type, “blips” and preset write-protection. The Tape Age toggle controls the number of presets that can be stored (left; none, center; two, right; three), and true bypass vs buffered bypass is controlled via the Delay Time toggle. Buffered bypass allows for delay “tails” to spill over into your dry signal once you disengage the pedal, allowing for a less jarring transition and a more natural feel to the end of a delayed guitar line. The Filter toggle controls “Blips”, a function which alters way the pedal reacts to the changing of delay times on the fly, allowing for some crazy tape-head inspired sounds as the Ratio/Delay Time knob is turned.

On the far right, the Modulation switch gives you the option of write-protecting your presets. What this means is that once you exit “Advanced Configuration” and begin to create/use presets, they will always revert to their saved form each time they are called up. If you hit a knob or switch accidentally during a performance or feel the need to adjust things in order to “tweak” on the fly, the loaded preset will temporarily change to reflect those values, but they will be safe and sound in their original form for the next time you need them. Conversely, if you feel the need to adjust or edit them permanently, you will need to re-enter Advanced Configuration and disengage write protection in order to accomplish this. I found this to be the only reason I found myself returning to Advanced Configuration, as there have been times where I’ve needed to change my presets rather often.

Once you’ve enabled presets and adjusted parameters in the Advanced Configuration mode to your liking, you can exit by holding down the Tap and Bypass switches, returning the pedal to its normal operating mode. From this point forward, setting the delay time to “Tap” will have the pedal in Standard/Tap operating mode, while setting it to “slow/fast” will put us into preset mode. Once in Preset Mode, your three presets are accessed and controlled by the Tap footswitch (effectively rendering it useless). Hitting the Tap footswitch will cycle through your three presets, each sporting a different color LED – Red, Blue, and Amber.

The one thing about the delay that I could not figure out from reading the manual was how to actually create and edit a preset. I understood how to enter and exit Advanced Configuration, but I had no idea how to actually save or create a preset once I was back in Preset Mode. As it turns out, it was extremely simple, but it took me quite a few frustrating minutes to stumble upon the answer.

In order to create/save presets, once you enter preset mode and load up a preset (say, #1) all you need to do is begin to adjust your knobs and toggle switches. If write protection is off, the pedal will reflect these changes and you can tweak to your heart’s content. The only negative here is lack of that Tap switch – if you are looking to sync up a delay tempo in a preset, you are going to have to do it the old-fashioned way with the delay time knob and slow/fast toggle. This can take some time to get absolutely perfect, as I found out. Once you have created your desired delay tone, hit the Tap Tempo footswitch to cycle to the next preset, automatically saving the one you just completed. Continue this pattern until you have all your presets where you want them, and then enter Advanced Configuration mode once more, flip the modulation toggle to write-protect, exit, and you are all set. Now, switch between “Tap” and “slow/fast” on the Delay Time toggle in order to alternate between Standard and Preset Mode (with your three presets on hand). I realize this all sounds a great deal more complicated on paper than it actually is in practice – it maybe takes twenty or thirty minutes to learn (and memorize) the ins and outs of the pedal.

So, that’s pretty much a wrap. The Empress Tape Delay. Easily one of the best vintage tape-delay inspired pedals out there on the market right now – and one that packs in a whole ton of features along with an incredible auditory experience for a very reasonable price. The Empress may feel a little quirky to some users, especially accessing Presets and Advanced Configuration, but the sound of it is such a winner that once you learn to adjust settings to your liking, this is a delay that may well never leave your pedalboard – it hasn’t left mine (currently, it’s being used in Preset Mode for live performances with Storm of the Century). As stated from the outset, you can plug this pedal in and get amazing and usable delay sounds straightaway, but the true soul of this pedal is not as a simple plug-and-play device. Learn to use it as it was designed and you will be rewarded with a versatile delay, second to none and full of that vintage tape delay mojo that we all know and love. Well-engineered and filled with lush, hi-fidelity sound, the Empress Tape Delay is most certainly one for the ages.

View the Empress Tape Delay on Amazon.

The Best Boost Pedals on the Market

Best Boost Pedal

This is a guest post by Stephen Rose. 

There are times during your playing when you need a little boost. Whether it is to accentuate a solo, cut through the mix, or just add a little heat to your playing. There are a number of great boost pedals on the market and I have selected a few that will give your tone a little something extra.

The following pedals range from well-known brands to boutique ones that you may not be as familiar with. I made sure to consider features for each and include pedals with a variety of price points to cater to every level of player.

best boost pedal - boss feedbacker boosterBoss Feedbacker/Booster –This is another fantastic pedal from the Boss lineup. This pedal features the ability to have controlled feedback just by keeping your foot depressed on the pedal for as long as you want the feedback. The pedal features a “Character” knob that allows the player to set the level of boost to either a standard volume boost or some considerable feedback that would make Jimi jealous. The street price for this pedal is $79.00. View this pedal on Amazon.

best boost pedal - Catalinbread Super Chili PicosoCatalinbread Super Chili Picoso – This is the pedal that put Catalinbread on the map and they have continued to impress ever since. The Super Chili Picoso is a clean boost pedal that allows the player to set the volume level so if you have one guitar that is a low output and a high output there won’t be a volume discrepancy when switching between. This transparent pedal adds up to 35db of boost and should be a considered addition to your pedal board. The street price for this pedal is 109.99. View this pedal on Amazon.

best boost pedal - Earthquaker Devices ArrowsEarthquaker Devices Arrows – This pedal gives your sound that little something extra and improves upon the tonal palette that you have already created. It enhances the clarity of your tone and also removes any muddiness that may occur with some overdriven tones. This one like the Catalinbread, is a single knob button pedal that is easy to use and well-built. The street price for this pedal is $95.00. View this pedal on Amazon.

 

best boost pedal - Keeley Katana Boost Mini

Keeley Katana Boost Mini – Keeley is known for making great pedals and this one can be added to that list. The Katana Boost doesn’t alter or change your tone at all; it just makes it louder. The versatility of this pedal allows it to be placed anywhere in the signal change depending on what signal you are trying to boost. Because of it’s size, this pedal won’t take up a lot of room on your board and it is also has a single knob operation. The street price for this pedal is $119.00. View this pedal on Amazon.

best-boost-pedal---MXR-Micro-Amp-Clean-Boost-Mini-MXR Micro Amp Clean Boost Mini – Who doesn’t have a MXR pedal on their board already? This pedal is simple, reliable, and doesn’t try to do too much. It will add boost to a clean tone or overdriven amp and can work well with guitars of differing volume like the Super Chili Picoso. There’s a reason why MXR products have been the go to brand for many players during the past few decades. The street price for this pedal is $79.99. View this pedal on Amazon.

best boost pedal - TC Electronic Spark Mini BoosterTC Electronic Spark Mini Booster – Here is another well constructed mini pedal that won’t take up a lot of real estate on your board but will have a big impact. The Spark Mini Booster features a 20db boost and “Prime Time” switching that allows the player the option to have it be always on or just to boost a certain aspect of a song. The street price for this pedal is $79.00. View this pedal on Amazon.

best-boost-pedal---Way-Huge-Angry-TrollWay Huge Angry Troll – Breaking from the trend of single knob pedals, this two knob booster offers up to 50db of clean gain which is the most out of any pedal on this list. The Angry Troll features an “Anger” knob with five fists of fury that gradually increase in size to indicate the type of overdrive. I have a feeling this is a pedal that you will like when it is angry. The street price for this pedal is $119.00. View this pedal on Amazon.

It’s important when looking for pedals of any kind to find ones that won’t negatively affect your overall tone. The best boost pedal is one that is transparent and helps enhance the guitar tone you already have.

Analog Man CompROSSor Review

analog man compressorThis is a guest post by Sean Murray

Today’s review will be on the Analog Man CompROSSor, which is similar to the Ross Compressor. But first, let’s look at some of the basic features:

JACKS: Right side is input – left side is output. Battery power becomes cut off when input cord is removed, unless you are plugged into the adaptor jack. This is how I use it.

SUSTAIN KNOB: Turning up the SUSTAIN knob will set your sustain and compression. Starting in 2003, Analog Man began using a reverse log potentiometer for the sustain knob just like the Ross and MXR Dynacomp pedals. Better control rains supreme with this little feature.

LEVEL KNOB: This is your volume control.

ATTACK KNOB: The typical/standard setting is to set it at 12:00. There is a notch when you turn up or back to guide you into this position. It is identical to the ROSS and Dynocomp pedals. Turning down (counter clockwise) will kill your attack more (faster attack time) so that there is not as much peak at the beginning of the notes. Or, by turning it up (clockwise) you will get even more attack than a standard ROSS. This gives a nice percussive sound without losing sustain when you are holding a note. Rule of thumb would be to turn this up if you are using humbuckers like I do, to prevent unnecessary squashing of the humbucker pickup sound. Conversely, turn it down to get softer attack.

BIAS TRIM POT: This pot is located on the left/central area of the board. It does not affect the sound except when set incorrectly. Set it to the halfway point, basically horizontal and it should work fine. You can set it more exact by turning the CompROSSor Sustain Knob up all the way. Plug in a guitar and amp. Do not play the guitar but hear the sound of the string noise being amplified fully.

I have tried other brand named compressors, but none of these really provide the rich thickness of tone, distorted, clean or otherwise, that is dealt in spades with this beast. If your desire is something along the line of a fat, warm, smoothed out tone with bottomless depth then this is the pedal you want. CompROSSor also features jaw dropping sustain and unmatched smoothing out of notes. I swear it made me a better player. How?, the fact that I feel more relaxed at the response/sound and tone I am getting, whether or not I am jumping on a note or gently sweeping across a chord. It is best used in front of any distortion or overdrive in your chain. Like all other pedals made by Analog Man, top notch care and quality go into each and every one. Hand selected transistors and a NOS CA3080E chip. Remember, when using ANY compressor, it will go full gain when you have stopped playing or are playing quietly. This is truer when your Sustain knob is cranked. Be sure to turn the pedal off so you do not broadcast noise from the pickups.

In closing, this is a wonderful effect to enhance your tone/thickness/sound. This type of quality does not exist in even brand named pedals. The availability and the price are unmatched. Mike over at Analog Man is a great resource for questions you may have when considering any of his pedals for purchase. Extremely knowledgeable and knows how to treat potentially new and repeat customers. I have been both.

Get the Analog Man 3 knob CompROSSor for your pedal chain and I promise you won’t be disappointed!

TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive Review

tc-electronic-mojo-mojo-overdrive-reviewThe world of overdrive pedals can be a little overwhelming to say the least. All this talk about tube saturation this, dual stage that, it’s hard to know where to start when picking an overdrive pedal. Which is why the TCElectronic MojoMojo Overdrive is such a refreshing take on a classic effect. All in all the MojoMojo is a true overdrive pedal in that it accurately replicates the sound of an overdriven amplifier and nothing more. Other overdrive pedals tend to add heavy distortion and color the sound thereby altering the overall tone of your setup. Not so with the MojoMojo. It offers a very straightforward effect while maintaining the tonal characteristics of your guitar and amplifier. That partnered with a compact design, intuitive interface and reasonable price and you have a great pedal to help achieve a thick, silky smooth overdrive.

The MojoMojo boasts a simple yet deep set of controls complete with:

Drive – Adjust the amount of overdrive in your signal
Bass – Adjusts the low frequency signal
Treble – Adjusts the high frequency signal
Level – Adjusts the volume of your overdrive effect
Voice Selector – Toggle between up position (true guitar signal) and down position (reduces low eq of your signal)

To summarize, this pedal is designed for players who are looking for the most straightforward gritty overdrive. It cannot reach heavily distorted or metal tones on it’s own. But if you’re looking for anything between an overdriven country twang like Brad Paisley and a heavy crunch like ACDC this pedal will be more than sufficient. Not to mention, the pedal can approach Marshall territory when partnered with an already overdriven amp. The most common application would be for solos: just click on your MojoMojo when it time to rip and then click off when it’s back to rhythm. Furthermore, a lot of the charm of this overdrive lies what it doesn’t do. In true TC Electronic fashion the pedal is true bypass so when not engaged there is no change to your signal. When it is engaged, one can easily set the level of the pedal to match their amplifier thereby allowing them beef up their signal without adding tons of volume. And, as stated before, the pedal accurately creates the sound of great tube amp overdriven instead of just adding a ton of gain. This can be very useful for dynamic players. Just like a real tube amplifier the drive starts to clean up when you roll down the volume of your guitar or pick lightly. Overall the MojoMojo is one of the more tasteful overdrives on the market. If you’re looking for a pedal that won’t destroy your guitar tone and instead that perfect amount of Mojo this pedal is definitely for you.

View the TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive on Amazon

Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra Review

Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra ReviewThis is a guest post by guitarist Stephen Rose

Tony Iommi took his Jaydee Custom guitar, plugged it into a Laney Supergroup, stepped on a Dallas Rangemaster, and the sound that inspired so many was created. Catalinbread has simplified this process and developed the Sabbra Cadabra pedal. This pedal, handmade in Portland, Oregon takes all of those essential Iommi tones and houses them in this exceptional stomp box. The ominous woman painted on the front of the pedal is the first thing I noticed and was reminded of the woman on the cover of the first Black Sabbath album. There are four knobs on this pedal: Presence, Gain, Range, and Vol. 4 (a nod to the 1972 album of the same name). Catalinbread used a JFET Supergroup pre-amp to dial in the Iommi sound and with the use of the Gain knob, the amount of gain can be dialed in to preference. Catalinbread used its own Naga Viper circuit for the treble booster with the Range knob. The Naga Viper accurately replicates the famous Dallas Rangemaster and when the knob is cranked, some sweet fuzz tones come out. This feature only adds to the versatility of the Sabbra Cadabra.

I used a Gibson Les Paul into a Fender Princeton to demo this pedal. The Sabbra Cadabra responds very well when adjusting the guitar’s volume knob and makes it possible to get a variety of overdriven to all out high gain tones. I noticed with my initial run through of this pedal that there was a considerable amount of treble and high end. When doing some research on the origin of the Iommi tone, I discovered that he preferred to have his Laney Supergroup amps with the bass rolled down and all other knobs cranked. This pedal perfectly achieves that sort of set up. I had to adjust the treble output on my amp to set a more even tone setting when using the pedal. I set all of the knobs to noon and found that to be a good place to get Iommi-esque sounds, but not Iommi exclusive sounds. I downtuned my guitar to drop D and C to see how it handled playing some Sabbath riffs and it stacks up very well to the recordings. I was surprised with how well Catalinbread was able to achieve these tones. This pedal is great for those trying to dial in those exact Black Sabbath sounds from the 1970s, but is not limited to a pedal that emulates Tony Iommi’s Laney amps. This is a great pedal for those looking for a crisp overdriven tone that will definitely cut through the mix.

The Sabbra Cadabra from Catalinbread is a magnificent representation of the types of tones that Tony Iommi conjures when creating those memorable riffs of doom. The Sabbra Cadabra is well worth checking out if you are looking for a classic Laney tone that has the ability to bring out our inner Sabbath. Catalinbread offers a wide variety of pedals for overdrive, modulation, delay, and boost. This is the second Catalinbread pedal that I have reviewed and this, like the Dirty Little Secret, is well made, detail specific, and sonically reliable.

TC Electronic Ditto Looper Review

TC Electronic Ditto Looper ReviewThis is a guest post by Tom Kay

Over the last few years I’ve been impressed time and time again by a company that are constantly releasing products that are changing the game when it comes to guitar pedals. That company is TC Electronics.

I have tried many TC pedals and currently use a couple in my own rig. One of the pedals that I just had to get was the Ditto Looper. Over the years I’ve tried and owned a few loop pedals but I’ve never really liked them. To me they’ve always been too complicated. Too many buttons, switches, lights and what seemed to me, pointless features. In terms of my own rig I like to keep things pretty simple, I haven’t got the time or patience to be tap dancing with pedals especially with pedals like loopers that can make or break your performance. Because of this I’ve tended to stay clear of them, until now.

In my opinion the TC Electronics Ditto Looper is the one looper to rule them all. It’s small in size which is great for players who have smaller pedalboards and the good news for players with bigger pedalboards is that this thing is that small that it creates room for even more pedals. In this regard everyone is a winner. But its small size doesn’t mean that its durability is thrown out of the window. This pedal is solid as a rock and you probably could throw it out of a window and it’d be ok however I still wouldn’t advise it. The Ditto Looper features just one volume control to change the volume of your loops. For me this is what makes it stand out from the sea of other loop pedals on the market. It’s simplicity in its finest form.

When it comes to using the pedal everything stays simple. Click the pedal on once and it will start recording whatever you are playing indicated by a red L.E.D light. Click the pedal again and it will play back what you have played. From that point onwards you can click it again and loop over the top of what is playing back. You can do that as much as you want up to 5 minutes. Double clicking the pedal will pause the looping and it works the same to start playback again. Most other loop pedals have caused me a real headache when trying to delete the loops I had recorded but the ‘Ditto Looper’ again is super simple. Just hold down the button and everything will disappear and create a fresh canvas for you to start throwing your melodies over it all over again.

This pedal can be tons of fun and I’ve spent hours with mine. It can also work as a great tool for writing songs on your own and figuring out parts to songs. I can’t praise this pedal enough. If you are in the market for a loop pedal, look no further.

View the TC Electronics Ditto Looper on Amazon

AnalogMan KING of TONE v4 Review

analogman king of tone reviewThis is a guest post by Sean Murray

I have been playing guitar since the early/mid 80’s and like you, I have had my fair share of pedals/effects, bells and whistles etc etc. None match the flexibility, power, reliability and versatility of AnalogMan’s KING of TONE v4. Please allow me to explain what I mean, and perhaps you’ll find yourself reaching out to get your own like I have.

FLEXIBILITY: This pedal is essentially two pedals in one. It features two channels, each with its own drive, volume and tone control. Each channel has three different modes, described in the power section below. The modes are set up by a 4 position DIP switch located inside the pedal, allowing the musician to play anything from the bright clean tones of funk, to the grittiness of bar room rock and roll, or the distortion needed for heavy rock. In short, this provides freedom to alter sound/tone – literally right at their feet.

POWER: When using the “normal overdrive mode (OD mode),” you will find all the tone in the world with slightly less drive than a tube screamer. “Clean mode” packs an awesome punch, and for me, fills in a nice thick rich sound you would look for when playing lead. Analog Man will tell you this channel can be twice as loud as your OD channel, but I think it can be louder. “Distortion mode” will push more drive than OD. The sound may be slightly more compressed, but will be louder than your typical tube screamer.

RELIABILITY: I’ve owned the King of Tone version 4 for approximately 3 years. Since then, I have played endless amounts of shows, been in and out of studios, and have loaned it out multiple times. Not once has there been an issue with the reliability. This pedal is extremely durable and well built. It is not a product in mass production and snapped together in haste. The folks over at Analog Man are dedicated to top quality and care into every aspect of building a high performance pedal.

analogman-king-of-tone-v4-controls

VERSITILITY: These specifics lie within the KING of TONE v4 only.

  • The mode toggle switch is a three position toggle switch that sits on top of the pedal and allows you to go between OD/Clean/Distortion
  • Four Jack Option
  • High Gain Option

As you can see between the amount of room allowed on the volume/drive and tone knobs, the DIP switch settings and the above mentioned options – there is NO other conclusion that this pedal is one of the most versatile pedal in the world.

Each pedal made comes with an easy set of instructions to guide you into the sound/tone you are seeking

Honestly, I cannot say enough about how much I have gotten out of this gem of a pedal. As a musician, you will always look for new ways to stay inspired. This will help keep that insatiable urge at bay while you are learning and enjoying what the KING of TONE v4 offers.

 

Best Phaser Pedals

Today’s article will talk about the best phaser pedals on the market. There is nothing quite like a good phaser that makes your guitar sound like it is bouncing off the walls, sweeping from left to right, entrancing you with a hypnotic movement that words cannot quite describe. Used by many guitar greats such as Eddie Van Halen and Brian May, phase pedals have been around since the ’60s. Today, you can find bands such as Tame Impala using phasers to achieve their psychedelic sound. So lets get to, here are our choices of the best phasers out there.

Moog MF103 Moogerfooger 12 Stage Phaser reviewMoog MF103 Moogerfooger 12 Stage Phaser

The MF103 by Moog is an all-analog phaser that has that authentic vintage phase sound. In fact it is not even specifically for guitar and can be used with many different instruments. The controls on the MF103 are Sweep frequency, Resonance, LFO Rate and LFO Amount. The result really gives you a full, lush “whooshing” sound. The great thing about the MF103 is that it can do leslie/univibe tones very very well, so it is sort of a 2-in-1 pedal. View the Moog MF103 Moogerfooger 12 Stage Phaser on Amazon.

Red Witch Deluxe Moon Phaser

Red-Witch-Deluxe-Moon-Phaser-reviewThe Duluxe Moon Phaser by Red Witch is an excellent choice, especially since it is also all-analog. It gives a nice and warm sound that is very lush. The coolest part about the Moon Phaser is that you can also use it as a tremolo pedal.. so it is another great 2-in-1! It even has a setting called tremophase which combines the tremolo and phaser together to get some wildly mind-bending tones. The controls on the Moon Phaser are velocity, trajectory, and cosmology which is a selector between types of phase and tremolo. You can even use this pedal in stereo with it’s additional output. Definitely a great phaser pedal that does more than a typical phase. View the Red Witch Deluxe Moon Phaser on Amazon.

Diamond Phase Pedal

diamond-phase-reviewThe Diamond Phase pedal is a very transparent  phase, but can also do a heavy ’70s phase as well with it’s stage selector. With a Regen control, you can get some cool feedback sounds in the phase. One of the coolest parts of the Diamond Phase is that there is an input for an expression pedal, so you can control the speed with your foot. This really makes the pedal versatile as you can get some crazy sounds on the fly without having to change the settings with your fingers. Other controls on the Diamond Phase are volume, which allows you to make it match your bypass volume or even give it a boost if you like, and a control for depth which allows you to dial the intensity of the phase. There is also a switch to select a ‘vibe’ mode which changes it to more of a vibrato pedal. Very cool!

Best Budget Phaser Pedals:

 MXR Script Phase 90 – great vintage-sounding phaser!

MXR Eddie Van Halen Phase 90 – good choice if you’re after Eddie’s phase tone.
Malekko Omicron Phase – No frills, all-analog pedal!

TC Electronics NR-1 Nova Reverb Review

This is an extensive guest review by Mike Batke 

Description OverviewTC-Electronics-NR-1-Nova-Reverb-Review

The TC Electronics NR-1 Nova Reverb consists of five banks, or reverb types: room, spring, hall, plate, and specials. Each of these is further broken down into varying room sizes or types further adjustable using the various dials, which I’ll describe further below.

Connections are simple. There is a single 12V power connector (there are no accommodations for a battery on the NR-1). Instrument inputs can either be mono (L), or stereo using normal shielded 1/4-inch guitar (TR) cables. The outputs can be used mono (L), or stereo, however, they come with a ‘monosense’ feature which allow them to either be used with unbalanced 1/4-inch (TR), or balanced (TRS) cables allowing for greater flexibility in recording, or live applications.

Some technical specifications include a 20Hz to 20KHz dynamic range, a 24 bit processor featuring 128x oversampling and less than -90dB of total harmonic distortion. The latency of the pedal is 1.65 ms. It’s best to refer to the manual for anything more specific.

For those of you not really keen on technical specs, the NR-1 is hush quiet and doesn’t have any annoying lag when you play through it, making it great for home or studio recording applications.

Although the Nova Reverb is ready to use out of the box, there are a couple of unique features of the Nova Reverb consisting of (1) being able to calibrate the input level to avoid clipping the device into digital distortion (not a good sound, nor good for any signal chain, nor live sound application after the device), and (2) the ability to modify whether the device fades out or mutes after switching it off into bypass mode.  Again, the manual provides more specific information.

tc-electronics-nr1-nova-reverb-controlsControls

There are 12 controls on the NR-1: Five knobs: Decay, Pre-Delay, Color, and Dynamix, two switches: Manual and Preset, and five selector buttons for each of the different reverb types.

Decay
The Decay knob adjust how long the reverb ‘hangs’ before it falls off into oblivion. It can lead to some interesting multiple echoes, but, in turning it up in a live setting, you can also be fed a healthy dose of feedback. Luckily, the feedback isn’t instantaneous in most cases. Use this knob with discretion, especially at higher volumes.

Pre-Delay
The Pre-Delay, from my experience,  is like the start of the reverb tail. Do you want it to start as soon as you hit the note or do you want a bit of a ‘lag’ in your reverb to allow the notes of the guitar to have some definition? Diming the knob will give you nearly a slap-back reverb separation between hitting the note and hearing the reverb.

Color
From what I’ve experienced with the pedal the Color knob adjusts the mid-range cut or boost of the signal your adding reverb to. With a clean guitar, the effect is subtle. However, when you add a boost or some distortion to the signal chain, how you’ve dialed in the Color becomes very obvious. If you cut the signal too much, you lose definition, and if you boost the signal too much it becomes shrill and harsh to listen to. Think Goldilocks and the three bears with this knob.

Dynamix
The Dynamix knob hails back to the early days of t.c. electronic as it first appeared on the TC 2290 Digital Delay. Basically, Dynamix works like a ‘ducker’ pedal, or an instantaneous fader to lower the volume reverb effect volume. It has three ‘settings’: At the noon position, it does nothing allowing the signal to pass normally. If you cut the signal, it will change the reverb to sound stronger initially, then cut out quickly, ‘ducking’ out the reverb tail, leaving you with a dry guitar sound as a tail — depending how far you turn the knob counter-clockwise. Going the other direction past noon, the knob will duck the initial reverb sound, giving you more dry guitar, then ‘fade-in’ quickly the reverb after the initial guitar ‘attack.’ You may think it’s the same as the Pre-Delay, but it’s not, because it doesn’t ever ‘chop’ the reverb sound — it just drops it out.

Dynamix very noticeable and effective if you play hard-core metal of any type. You can set the Dynamix at full cut, play with a massively huge thickened-with-reverb distortion sound with very little to no reverb decay, depending on the reverb room size you’ve chosen. This gives your muted notes punch and definition when playing rhythm parts.

Manual Switch
Very simply, this brings the NR-1 out of  bypass mode, or Preset mode and into the manual mode which is WYSIWYG: Wherever the knobs are set, is what you will hear out of the device.  When the light is on, Manual mode is engaged, when it’s off you’re either in bypass or Preset mode – whichever you decide.

Preset Switch
The Preset switch is a multi-function switch. When on (indicated by a lit LED), you come out of either bypass mode or Manual mode. When you press Preset the LEDs will correspond to the preset you programmed into the NR-1. However, the knobs will not move to show you their settings. You can change the settings while in Preset, but they will not be stored. To store any Preset setting you must press the Preset switch down for a minimum of one second. Do note: If you change any parameters while you’re in Preset mode, ONLY the edits will get stored if you store them, NOT all the PREVIOUS settings as well as the NEW edits.  This becomes very important if you’re recording. Be sure to switch to the Manual mode and store Presets from there if you want all the pedal settings stored as you’ve adjusted them.

Selector Buttons
If you press the selector button, it will take you to a certain bank of reverb types, and if you press it again, it will scroll through the specific room types until you find the one you like.

Sounds 

In the past, my biggest complaint about digital reverbs has been that they tend to sound ‘electronic’ (poor oversampling rates), or cold, or biting (where the reverb is a bit over the top).

The NR-1 Nova Reverb, with the exception of one setting, is anything but electronic-, cold- or biting-sounding. In fact, it sounds natural, transparent and warm.

Here’s a chart of the sounds you get:

RoomSpringHallPlateSpecials
SmallPlainSmallTinStomp
MediumClassicMediumSilverAmbience
LargeVintageChurchGoldModulated
TiledClassic
Concert

Instead of talking about all the different reverb types, I’d like to focus on a few reverb types for this review. Having said that, I’m focusing on a few specific ones because the rest are standard fare and will deliver outstanding sound quality in each case – or, at least, so MY ears tell me.

I’ll start with the Tiled Room setting, which emulates the sound of playing in a tiled bathroom. This room is bright, not brittle, and has a tight reverb sound, bordering on a slap-back echo sort of feel. Tonally, this slap-back effect is pronounced when using your bridge pickup, and is surprisingly natural sounding.

With the Spring reverbs, I’m particularly fond of the Vintage reverb. Compared to the other two, it doesn’t have any overbearing resonant high frequencies (ringing sound).  It sounds more like an old reverb tank with some springs that have aged into a mellow, warmer lower-mid frequency tone.  The other two Spring types, Plain, and Classic sound brighter. I compare them to playing with a pick or your fingernails where the Vintage Spring sounds more like playing with your fingertips – less ‘attackish.’

Of the Hall types, my favorite is the Church hall. It has the most ‘fluid’ sound of the halls, especially for a larger hall. This is especially evident if you bend strings a lot. It’s as though you can feel and see the sine wave move through the air.  It especially sounds fantastical with a wah pedal.

My favorite Plate sound is the Silver plate. To my ears it gives a guitar a natural fullness. It’s subtle to the point of being transparent once you’ve played for a few minutes. Then you turn it off and miss having it.

With the Specials, the Ambience setting does an excellent job at creating some air and breadth to a guitar sound. There’s not a lot added to take notice of the reverb per se, but there’s enough reverb there to knock back the completely dry sound of the guitar.

In relation to the Specials bank and to a comment I made earlier about one setting being electronic-sounding. That setting is the Stomp setting – emulating  a stomp-box reverb sound. For me, the setting SOUNDS like a lesser-quality reverb. It’s noticeable. Yet, given that, it does do well to cut through a live mix when you need to have that ‘space’ for a guitar part. It’s a bit mid-range heavy but that’s the sonic palette range meant for a guitar, anyway. For soloists, it could well be the setting they use and need most out of the Nova Reverb.

General Thoughts and Conclusions

I’ve owned a few reverb pedals in my day. And I have a couple of amps with reverb tanks. And I do often play just using my amplifier’s reverb. However, if I want, or need, something different I tend to hook up the Nova Reverb to get the results I want. It’s easy to dial in settings and set up a preset, if I need more than one.

As with many pedals, the Nova Reverb does have some drawbacks. The first being that there is only one Preset storage space available. This  can be creatively limiting if you’re playing a live gig and tend to use reverb for solos, emotional or atmospheric effect. Basically, all you’d get live is a dry bypassed signal; a Manual signal, and one Preset stored signal. If that works for you. It’s a fantastic pedal to use live – quiet and transparent.

The other drawback is the 12V power supply, as it limits some people’s pedalboard possibilities as it won’t run on a 9V power supply.

A final drawback, for some, could be the price of the pedal compared to others on the market. It’s nearly twice the price of the majority of the pedals on the market. However, the quality of tones and build is outstanding, and the pedal will give you many years of service if the TC2290 Digital Delay can speak to the build quality.

Overall, the pedal outperforms any pedal I’ve had before it. It’s a high-quality, quiet pedal that does give you a plethora of reverb rooms to play with. There’s something here for nearly everyone to help find tones with in the bedroom, studio, or stage. The t.c. electronic Nova Reverb allows you to create digital rooms as small as a bedroom or as large as a bat cave, the settings are up to you. Noting a couple of limitations, I’d recommend the Nova Reverb to anyone looking for an outstanding reverb pedal.

View the Nova Reverb on Amazon.

Majik Box Rocket Fuel Review

This is a guest post by James Abel

majik box rocket fuelThe Majik Box Rocket Fuel is the signature overdrive/boost of none other than Les Paul-toting, Marshall-blasting and all round hard rock juggernaut, Doug Aldrich. The idea behind the handwired little box of magic, was to produce a boost/overdrive that would replace the rack unit the Whitesnake axeslinger had been using for years. With the help of the American company’s wizards Dave Simpsons and Rob Nishida, that’s exactly what they achieved.

The pedal itself contains two separate circuits that are actually independent, with the overdrive coming first in the signal chain. The top of the flame coated box sports volume, tone and gain controls for the overdrive section, while a single knob controls the boost circuit. Furthermore, a three way mini toggle switch sits between the two bright LEDs, and changes the response provided by the bottom end of the overdrive section. In terms of build quality the stompbox boasts a sturdy construction with a brushed black steel back and sides. Surprisingly, the pedal feels a lot lighter than one would assume, as well as being smaller than it’s portraits let on to. Under the hood, a pristine hand-wired job significantly softens the blow of the $290 price tag, while both battery access and a rather sturdy looking 9 volt power supply input add to the functionality of the pedal.

When first engaging the overdrive side of the Rocket Fuel, and pushing it through an amp’s clean channel, a nice Tubescreamer-like sing is acquired. The drive knob threatens to offer some heat, while the tone and level knobs do what’s expected of them. Moving the ‘bass shift’ through the modes adds a dash of versatility. Starting with the bass shift in the middle position, or number 1, the pedal provides a classic overdrive like sound by providing some cut to the bottom end and a raunchy kick to the mid and treble ranges.  Pushing the bass shift to the left or ‘ setting two’ demonstrates one of the things that set this overdrive apart from others. The bottom end returns giving a strong chunky thud to the signal, though it retains its articulation and avoids any tendencies of the bottom end getting squashed. This is the mode that Doug uses with his Marshalls, and although we’ve not even got onto the dirty sounds yet, it’s clear to see why. The bass shift 2 gives a good, well-balanced tone through most amplifiers while set clean. Flicking the switch to the right, yes you’re getting it; number 3 sees an increased amount of bottom end added to your original signal. This function is hugely beneficial when thickening up single coils or a thin sounding amplifier. One thing that is also hugely apparent about the overdrive side of the Rocket Fuel, is that a real gusty lower mid range kick is injected into the tone, that really helps to add some weight to the sound.

Moving onto the overdrive being used on an already dirty amp, this stomper enters it’s natural habitat. The idea behind the Rocket Fuel is that it pushes an already dirty amp into the wide singing lead tone that Aldrich is recognized for, and it certainly does that to a tee. Engaging the overdrive sees a massive increase in gain, with plenty to go around. A significant volume boost is also noted, as well as bump to the lower midrange, providing all the girth, width and push you could ever want. Much like when running through a clean amp, the tone remains articulate with rich harmonic content. Unlike the clean tone however, the overdrive side of the pedal seems to inject, well, rocket fuel into your tone. Leads soar and really sing, while the response of your dirty sound seems to improve. Winding back your guitar’s volume knob causes the pedal to ease off like it’s not even on, a handy quality if you’re looking to set up a separate rhythm and lead tone via the guitars controls. In terms of the bass-switch the results are generally the same as clean channel, with the exception of bass-shift three, which can tend to get a tad less articulate on the bottom end when using humbuckers.

In terms of the boost side of things, a single knob to control things may seem a little scarce, but that certainly isn’t the case. Twisting the knob towards 12 o’clock causes a hearty increase in both volume and gain as the boost really starts to drive the input of the amplifier. Everything seems to become looser, more fluid and more enhanced with the boost engaged. The tone is significantly fattened and a great deal of projection is added. When used with the overdrive section, the amount of sustain and sing on offer is quite honestly ridiculous and is more than enough to satisfy probably every player’s lead tone needs. The boost function easily bears the weight of half the price tag, as this reviewer struggles to think of any on the market that are significantly better. Another impressive detail of the Rocket Fuel is that it allows both the amplifier and guitar to breath, thus leaving their characters in tact. Furthermore, the fact that this stompbox pushes the valves of an amp to achieve it’s distorted tones, causes there to be a lack of the fizzy or artificial sounds that are spat out by many current distortion or overdrive pedals.

For those looking for a hot, liquid, lead tone in a box, Majik Box’s Filthy Lucre or MXR’S Custom Badass distortions are the pedals to take a look at. However, for those looking for an excellent way to push their already heated amps into a hot rhythm sound or a way to summon screaming leads tones from their cabinets at the stomp of a switch, the Rocket Fuel is a superb choice. A versatile, hand-wired gem of a stompbox, the Rocket Fuel may just be the tonal injection you’ve been looking for.