issue 27 :: September 2015

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Pedal Reviews

s, I had to turn off my amp’s reverb as the pedal added a nice reverb-like delay to the signal, and increase
I love my guitar amp, but lament its lack of a vibrato channel. I love the vibrato sound Shawn McMillen gets from his 1972 Fender Twin Reverb. When I played bass for Shawn, sometimes at rehearsals he would play clean through the vibrato channel and it was such a beautiful tone. Can I find a pedal that mimics that sound? Another sound important sound to me is the lead guitar on Holly Golightly’s 7-inch “Till I Get."

All reviews were tested against the same equipment, a 1987 Fender Squire Stratocaster with Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups and a 2005 Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amplifier with a Celestron speaker. The amp is usually at the lower Drive level with Gain set to 3 and Reverb at 2 or 3. So here are my explorations into tremolo, vibrato and chorus pedals. These are not even a quarter of all the pedals out there.
MXR Phase 90

What a sound. One knob, Speed, means no mix level and it is full on all the time (when activated). I wasn’t thinking that this could be useful as a Fender Vibrato channel, I was just very curious as how this classic pedal worked. If I adjusted the Speed to my picking tempo, it almost sounded like a wah effect. The huge phaser effect, a periodic filter sweep, needs a Mix knob. It became boring after a short while.
MXR Uni-Vibe

I’ve been playing the MXR Uni-Vibe pedal and I’m enjoying it. 3 knobs, Rate, Level and Depth and 1 button, Vibe. The Level and Depth sort of do the same thing, I haven’t changed either knob once I found the setting I liked, which is both set to about 80%. The pedal is a phaser producing a cheesy very sci-fi warble that is useless to me, but the Vibe button mellows out the sound. At very low Rate, the pedal gives a very nice smoothing and thickening effect to my bright/harsh Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups, I can’t really hear the “vibe” so much as hear a cut in the guitar’s shrillness and a larger overall tone across all three pickups. I need to insert the pedal into the amp’s preamp loop and see how that sounds. This could be a keeper.
TC Electronic Shaker Vibrato

Hated it. I could not find a use for it in my simple set up (Guitar directly into Amp). I’ve never used TC equipment before, but from magazine ads I’ve always thought of them as being well-designed. This pedal has 4 knobs, Speed, Depth, Rise Time and Tone, and a 3 way mini-toggle switch (Vibrato/Toneprint/Latch). I did not read the manual and couldn’t figure out what the difference between Vibrato and Toneprint were, nor the usefulness of the Rise Time knob. At fast speeds, the effect was too scifi space gun effect for me, and at slow speeds, it wasn’t an interesting sound. The effect was too clean, and left what sounded like a bare sine tone added to my signal. The Tone knob seemed to be just a simple RC filter and useless to me. Nothing good to say about this one. After playing through it, turning it off produced the best sounding guitar tone. It has a USB port for some reason. A large flat head screw holds in the battery latch; everyone else seems to use Philips head screws, so have fun dragging around another screwdriver to change batteries.
Earthquaker Hummingbird

Loved it. The pedal is a tremolo device that makes a very choppy stutter of the input signal. It is advertised as making percussive sounds. But, when you dial back the effect mix level, it becomes a subtle flutter that sounds very much like an amp vibrato channel. Very nice. This version, the second?, has a two way toggle switch to select a slow rate or a fast rate, both controlled by a Rate knob. So you have a range of slow rates, and a range of fast rates. I found the most apt fast rate and kept it there. Likewise the Mix Level. There is a Level knob that controls the total output of the device. At high levels it gives a delightful boost to the signal, working perfectly with the gain on my amp. I loved this sound. The only problem for me was I could never get a 0% mix from the effect; no matter how much I turned the Mix knob, I could always hear some of the flutter. I like the boost so much that I’d want to use it all the time, but I’d want to use the boost without the flutter at some times. There is a new version with a three way toggle switch that promises to have a 0% mix. That would be perfect for me.
BOSS Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb Amp

I am looking for the vibrato sound from a Fender amp, so this brand-specific modeler should be the best, right? Wrong. This pedal was horrible, a total disappointment with no redeeming qualities. It looks like it would be great, with 6 knobs, 2 of them a knob within a knob: Level/Gain, Treble, Bass and Vibrato/Reverb, with a confusing way to control the vibrato rate by holding down the foot switch. The main problem was the way the Vibrato/Reverb knob was linked together, so that the maximum of the vibrato was tied to the minimum of the reverb, so if you wanted a lot of vibrato, you had to have a lot of reverb. There was no way to get a lot of vibrato with little or no reverb, and this was a major problem as the reverb on this pedal was horrible. I’ve owned three Fender amps in my life, two of them were cheap models, and this pedal sounded awful in comparison with the worst of those amps. The pedal disgustingly magnified certain normal percussive pick gestures turning them into disturbing and jarring noises. Maybe this is a joke pedal? Do ’65 Deluxe Reverbs usually have broken spring reverbs? The vibrato effect was difficult to hear with so much crappy reverb. I wonder if this pedal I tried is defective. I can’t believe it would be designed so as not to have the reverb go to nothing while the vibrato is being used. The Level and Gain seemed to be nothing special. The reverb was so horrible, I didn’t want to use it enough to explore the pedal too much. It was a joy to unplug this and turn the reverb on my amp back on.
BOSS Tremolo

I used to have the previous version of this pedal, the TR-1?—it was a lighter green—a long time ago. I forget when and why I got it. I think I traded it to John Grzinich for a mixer when he moved to Europe. I remember liking that earlier pedal and I like this pedal very much. It’s simple to understand and functions very intuitively. It cuts a tiny bit of the high end of my sound, which is fine by me with my bright pickups, but the cut is not so noticeable when I switch it off and on. The other two pedals I have enjoyed in this series so far, the Uni-Vibe and the Hummingbird, made a noticeable difference in tone when switching those pedals off and on. It’s a very nice effect, almost exactly what I want for most situations. The pedal I used to own was a stereo pedal, I remember, which was a useful tool for some situations, being able to take a mono input and turning it into a stereo output. The BOSS standard enclosure is near perfect, with a simple finger screw access to the battery. I feel bad about the previous review, as I think BOSS makes generally fine products, and this pedal and the previous version I owned are proof.
Moog MF Trem

Moog synthesizers are obviously among the best, I have fond memories of borrowing a knock-off Realistic micro-Moog 20 years ago, and I’ve wondered at how useful their Moogerfooger pedals were. This pedal is part of a series of smaller, less expensive pedals with fewer features than the Moogerfoogers. I love this tremolo pedal for a few reasons. One, the extremes of the knob settings seem to deliver extreme settings. Setting the Rate and Depth knobs all the way to the right generated what sounded like a ring modulation sound. I can imagine other pedal designers not wanting to include such unmusical outputs. More modest settings produced useful and versatile sounds. The Shape knob was slightly counter intuitive; the mid point produced a triangle wave, and moving the knob to the left cut off more and more of the rising part and turning to the right cut off more and more of the falling part. Keeping it dead center was fine for my purposes, but I can imagine some situations for the other shapes. The Tone control adds subtle adjustments to tone. This was not as transparent of an effect as the BOSS Tremolo. I felt it transported my guitar and amp back to the late 1960s with a gritty, aggressive sound. You think of Led Zeppelin as a huge Les Paul sound, but in 1968, Page usually played through a Telecaster. This pedal amplified my bright sound into that territory.
Electro-Harmonix Good-Vibes

One of the few pedals I do own is the Electro-Harmonix ring modulator, and I’ve been looking forward to testing some of Electro-Harmonix’s takes on tremolo pedals. First off, the Good-Vibes pedal has been the only pedal tested so far that has added a significant amount of noise to the signal. Even with the guitar volume set to 0, there is a loud hiss. Maybe unnoticeable at high gain/volume, at anything other than that, this pedal is unusable. The pedal has two modes, Vibrato and Chorus, neither of which sounds like other pedal’s vibrato or chorus. Both settings have a watery shimmering sound, more pronounced in the Chorus setting. The Chorus especially has a noticeable and annoying percussive sound at the top of its wave shape. The effect itself was useable and gave a somewhat intrusive brightness to the effect. We are give three controls, Volume, Depth and Speed. The Volume control was perplexing as it seemed to be just a passive reduction in the master output, no boosting to signal as in the MXR Uni-Vide and Hummingbird pedals. I don’t see the need for such a passive volume control on this kind of pedal. A Shape control would have been much more useful, especially if it could reduce the percussive notch in the signal. Overall, this pedal was disappointing and not usable for clean or quiet playing. Also, there is no battery operation for this pedal, you must use a 9 volt power plug.
Electro-Harmonix Wiggler

This pedal is a monster. 12 volts from an AC adapter power two tube amps that insanely boost this pedal’s signal. Fuck! You could use this as a monster fuzz box if you max the Output and dial back the Intensity. I cannot stress how loud this pedal is. It felt like it tripled the output from the guitar. If I played in a noise rock band, this would be the only pedal I would need. There was an insane feedback between, I assume, the pedal’s tubes and the tubes of my amp that shook the amp and living room. I can’t explain this interaction, which persisted even after I moved the pedal off of the amp top and onto the floor. When I turned off the Drive channel on the amp, this feedback effect disappeared, leaving behind an annoying deep hum and hissy after effects. Like many of Electro-Harmonix’s effects, it is designed to provide usable, musical sounds, and here we are given a Tremolo setting and a Vibrato setting, the latter with 4 different settings called LOOZ, HAMM, ACEY, and WURL. These adjusted the EQ in various ways. I did not explore this pedal too much, as I was forced to play through the clean channel of my amp due to the feedback problems, so it could not become part of my daily sound. This was a disappointment.
Electro-Harmonix Stereo Pulsar

Like the two previous EH pedals, this one is noticeably hissy, even when the guitar volume is shut off. Which is a shame, because it is the pedal with the nicest coloring to my guitar sound, very close to the sweet sound of the ’72 Fender Twin Reverb vibrato channel. The coloring cut a lot of the high end of my guitar. At large Speed or Depth settings, it turns into extreme modulation like the Moog MF Trem.
Marshall VibraTrem

When Jonathan Horne heard of my sorrow of not having a Vibrato channel on my Fender amp, he insisted I take his Marshall Vibratrem pedal. That is the kind of mensch he is; he’s not only a wonderfully diverse and accomplished guitarist, but generous and kind to his friends. This simple pedal has a lot to offer, stereo outputs for one. Easy to understand controls (or rather, controls that behave as I would expect), Speed, Depth, Shape and two operating settings, VIB and TREM. Like the Good-Vibes pedal, the two settings are closely related, with one of them being more pronounced, giving a more “watery” effect. Both settings give the guitar a 1980s polished sound, like the cheap chorus pedal I used from 1990 to 1993. The Vibratrem sounds much better than that pedal, but there is a hint of that sound, so while this pedal is very nice, I don’t want that sound, even a bit of it, on a daily basis.
EarthQuaker Grand Orbiter

This pedal has two modes, Phaser and Vibrato, although I think they should be labeled Flanger and Phaser. This makes a very modern set of phaser sounds, with knobs to control Resonance, Rate, Depth and Sweep, with a three way toggle switch to control rate regimes. The middle setting kills the LFO so the pedal acts as a “fixed resonant filter.” You’ll want to read the manual for this one. When playing through it, I felt like I was playing parts from 1980s’ Jerry Garcia or Presence-era Jimmy Page. It was a fun pedal, the most musical of all the Phaser/Flanger pedals I have tried. Again, this was a pedal that made audible effect noises when the guitar volume was turned off. I think I enjoyed this pedal using it as a complex EQ filter without the LFO.
Pigtronix Quantum Time Modulator

Let’s think about this Quantum Time Modulator. From the Uncertainty Principle, we know that Energy and Time are related in a similar way as Position and Momentum. What is a suitable energy to consider? Let’s start with one electron at rest, about 0.5 MeV. The electrons in the pedal’s circuits will be moving with some speed related to the voltage they experience and thus have higher energies, but we’ll start with one electron at rest. From [delta]E * [delta]T ≥ h, with h taking the value of 6.58 x10^-16 eV*s, we calculate that the uncertainty of time for this energy to be about 1.3x10^-21 seconds. Are you telling me this pedal modulates each electron on the order of less than 0.0000000000000000000013 seconds? What?! That doesn’t seem useful. Or measurable. Or noticeable. Maybe this isn’t a Quantum pedal at all. Maybe the people at this company don’t know what the word Quantum means, but heard it used on Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are worst TV shows to watch, I guess. I remember doing muon measurements in college where we would delay the signal from one detector by a couple of nanoseconds (0.000000001 seconds). We had a box with toggle switches to add base two additions of one nanosecond. Switch one was one nanosecond, switch two was two nanoseconds, switch three was four nanoseconds, so if you wanted a delay of nine nanoseconds, you'd have to flip switches one and four (2 to the 0th power plus 2 to the 8th power). Oh, those were the days. My point is, the QTM pedal was OK. The Sensitivity and Source knobs were confusing to use. Increasing Source quickly made the signal detuning into laser gun territory, and I could never figure out what Sensitivity was meant for. Maybe I'm not a Sensitive person. At lower Source settings, it sounded similar to the Stereo Pulsar reviewed above.
EarthQuaker Sea Machine (V1)

Yikes! Out of all the pedals I have ever played, this pedal has the brightest LED rate indicator I have ever seen. And by seen, I mean squinted at. It is so bright, that I couldn’t see any of the knobs, much less the writing by the knobs. I had to put a Heavy guitar pick over the LED to see the controls. There needs to be braille letters embossed by each knob. All six of them. We are given Animation, Dimension and Depth knobs to control a “short digital delay line,” and then Rate, Intensity and Shape knobs to control the LFO chorus effect. When playing with the delay settingsing the effect made it sound like a slap back echo. This was fun to play around with, but, I knew from the beginning a chorus pedal wasn't what I wanted. Like most of these pedals, really every one except the Shaker Vibrato, there are some nice settings here that make me think of particular songs. I managed to get something similar to George Harrison's huge warble he used on “I Dig a Pony,” that sounded great on single notes, but garbled chords too much for me.
So my results: there are many pedals I didn't get a chance to try, the GFS Liquid Tremolo and the AmpTweaker SwirlPool come to mind, but the ol' Boss Tremolo pedal came closest to what I wanted for an everyday, all-purpose pedal.
Keeley Dynatrem

Of course, after I finished the article, I find the best sounding pedal so far. The regular setting of the Keeley Dynatrem has a nearly perfect sounding tremolo sound for what I want in my daily sound. No complaints. As the Shape knob increases, it also dials up an annoying and unnecessary reverb sound. I couldn't figure why reverb would be wanted in conjunction with this setting; I kept it turned to the left with no added reverb. The dyna in the Dynatrem are the two Delta-R and Delta-D settings which I did not use much. In one setting, the rate of the tremolo changes with one's picking, faster picking, more rate. The other setting changed the depth of the tremolo in response to the loudness of the signal fed into it. I didn't explore these setting too much, I found them to be very subtle, and perhaps more useful in an electronic setting than guitar playing. But the regular setting was near perfect for a late '60s, early '70s amp tremolo sound.
Keeley Vibe-O-Verb

I liked the Keeley Dynatrem so much, I decided to try the Vibe-O-Verb pedal, and it is a completely different sound, and very different from the MXR Uni-Vibe. The Vibe-O-Verb adds an warbly reverb after effect to one's sound, leaving the input signal alone. It would have been great if there were two output jacks, one pass through and one just the effect, or if the Blend knob dialed between the two instead of just adding the effect sound to the signal. This sounded very weird until I started slowly playing Spaceman 3-like 2 note chords through it, then it became fun. The Harmonic/Vibrato/Phaser settings really didn't match up to what I thought of those terms. I mostly kept the pedal in the Harmonic setting with the Decay and Blend turned all the way up.
Reviews by Josh Ronsen.
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