AF’s Weblog

June 28, 2012

Distortion… Clean and Simple

To read the full detailed article see:  Distortion…Clean and Simple

Most outboard effects behave in predictable ways as you move from manufacturer to manufacturer. For example, you can pick up any brand of digital delay, set at the delay time to 125 ms, the feedback to one repeat and the level to 50%, and get essentially the same, expected sound. Quality issues aside, you can also get predictable results from an EQ. This is a good thing, as it helps you set up the sound you hear in your head on different rigs. But guitar distortion pedals are the “black boxes” of the effects world; they are all unique, inscrutable, and adhere to no known standards for parameter definition. You don’t know how the Tone control is voiced, which harmonics are emphasized as the Distortion knob is cranked, or even what effect the Level control has (such as whether it works dynamically with the other controls or just boosts the existing signal to a louder level). Often the manuals are no help either, preferring not to reveal the mystery of what goes on inside their magic boxes.

So the bad news is, it’s virtually impossible to tell what the distortion pedal sounds like without auditioning it personally. There are no shortcuts, like reading reviews or scanning spec sheets. You just gotta drag yourself down to the local emporium and plug in. The good news is, it gives you an excuse to go shopping! And you can evaluate these disparate mystical contraptions—and even compare and contrast them— by using some basic common sense.

What’s in a Name

Fig. 1. Behringer’s Blues Overdrive BO100 and the Boss Super Over Drive SD-1. Both feature similarly named controls. The key to the pedals’ tonal character lies in their names.

If you’re seeking a warm bluesy overdrive, you can pretty much a eliminate anything with the word “metal” in the title. Conversely, if you’re trying to make Slipknot’s James Root look like a tone wimp, don’t limit yourself to mere “overdrive” pedals or effects with the word blue or tube in them. Often the best clue to pedals’ sounds are in their names, even if they feature controls that are similarly named, as shown in Fig. 1. You’ll find it’s tough to get any hard information from ads, because companies try to outdo each other with descriptive superlatives.

Also compounding the confusion is that some companies name their controls in a completely nonscientific way. Witness one company that released a pedal with controls called “Butt” and “Face.” The Ibanez Tube King’s Void control is perhaps not as flip, but it’s equally mystifying. Remember though, as odd as these names might strike you, it doesn’t mean the sound is necessarily worse (or better) than a pedal with more conventional named controls. Again, you can’t determine the quality of a pedal sound by looking at it, but you can get clues to its category.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Bench Test

Fig. 3. Though the DigiTech Death Metal has conventionally named controls—Level, Low, Mid, High—the name (not to mention the color scheme!) tells you its tone will be anything but conventional.

Once you have the prospective pedal set up and under your feet, the first thing you should do is establish the pedal’s unity gain setting. That’s the point that produces the same volume level when the pedal is active as when it’s bypassed. This will let you hear the pedal’s effect without the influence of psychoacoustics—that is, the ear responding differently to the same frequencies at varying loudness levels. Typically, your starting levels will look like those in Fig. 4. Kick the panel on and off a couple of times to hear what the pedal does to your tone in its most neutral state. Then slowly crank the distortion control from leftmost to rightmost position, noting not only the differences but how the unit is calibrated—how drastically the unit changes from low to high. Make sure to play real-world examples: lead lines, rhythm figures, arpeggios, percussive, and sustained passages. Then try touching up the sound with the pedal’s tone control. That’s part of the pedal’s character too—how its E.Q interacts with the distortion.

Using EQ with distortion is an important element in tailoring your sound. Generally, the higher the distortion setting, the more treble you’ll need to add. The reason is that the more distorted your signal, the more compressed it becomes, and compression rolls off high frequencies. But should you use the pedal’s EQ or your amp’s? Or an outboard EQ? And if you use an outboard EQ, should it come before or after the distortion? Only your ear can decide. Just remember this paraphrase from Woody Allen: If it’s not done dirty, it’s not done right. He was talking about guitar tone, right?

To read the full detailed article see:  Distortion…Clean and Simple

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June 25, 2012

The Many Uses for Digital Delay

Filed under: Effect Pedals — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:54 am

To read the full article see:  Digital Delay

The two most important effects in a guitarist’s signal chain are distortion and delay. And if you derive your tone strictly from the amp—whether it’s squeaky clean or buzzsaw nasty—then the digital delay is numero uno.

The Deja Vu, by Seymour Duncan, is an example of a delay pedal that includes modulation control, and can therefore be pressed into service providing effects like flanger and chorus, in addition to conventional delay-based effects. (Click images to enlarge.)

Many guitarists think of delay (a.k.a. “DDL,” for “digital delay line”) as the effect that produces an echo sound, and while that’s true, it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of what a delay is capable of. A full-featured digital delay unit, one with precise controls, complex modulation circuitry, and good display read-outs can produce a range sounds—from flanging to chorus to doubling to ambience to slapback, to discrete repeats that can be synched to tempo-dependent rhythmic values. The Seymour Duncan Deja Vu is one example of a delay unit that includes extensive modulation controls, but other pedals, including the Empress Superdelay and Diamond Memory Lane 2 have them as well.

Many smart guitarists employ more than one delay in their chain, assigning them different duties, even if each has identical parameters. A DDL is one effect that works especially well when chained together with itself. Let’s take a look at the many roles in which a digital delay can serve the guitarist.

Basic DDL Operation

Most people know, or can intuit, the way a delay works: it produces an exact copy (a sample, or digital recording, really) of the original signal in real time, and blends the signals together. The normal parameters are Delay Time (how long in milliseconds after the original sound the copied sound plays), Effect Level (the loudness of the repeated signal relative to the original), and Feedback, which is just another way of saying “number of repeats” (which goes from a single repeat to infinite repeats).

All delays feature two outputs, which allows you to route the original, straight signal to a different place from the effected (repeated) signal. You can get the blended signal from one output (the most common usage) so that you can plug into one input on your amp, as most guitarists do. But you can also send your outputs to two different destinations—to different channels on a stereo amp, to separate mixer channels, or even separate amps entirely to produce a true stereo guitar signal.

With longer delay times, you can create drippy-wet sounds to fill out a slow-note solo in ballad or produce the famous “cascade” sound, which includes Van Halen’s “Cathedral,” Nuno Bettencourt’s “Flight of the Wounded Bumble Bee,” and Albert Lee’s “Country Boy” or his solo on Emmylou Harris’s “Luxury Liner.” With super-long delay times (from a few seconds to several seconds), you can turn your delay into a live multitrack recorder, laying down successive looped passages to jam over. Units such as the DigiTech JamMan, Line 6 DL4, and Boss Loop Station series are loop recorders, and are actually several DDLs in one box that allow for overdubbing loops.

With all these different possibilities at your delay’s disposal, let’s take a look at some sample control settings that will get you on your way to producing the many different types of effects available on a DDL.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Most shorter delay-time effects are “set and forget”; you dial it up according to how it sounds in isolation and don’t have to do anything more for the effect to cooperate with the surrounding music. In other words, one setting can apply to fast or slow tempos, 16th notes, or whole notes. But when the delay time gets past the slapback stage into the 200ms+ range, you have to structure the delay time to the particular tempo and rhythmic values you’re playing. That’s when some math is necessary, but where the real fun begins.

To read the full article see:  Digital Delay

March 14, 2011

Red Witch Fuzz God II, Medusa, Pentavocal Trem and Titan Review

Music is universal — even people in New Zealand, who live down under, play music. They even make guitar stompboxes. And of course, that’s what interests us more here at AudioFanzine. Focus on four analog stompboxes…

While sheep proliferate in the wide, green and shimmering plains of New Zealand’s countryside, a small company based on the east coast of the North Island manufactures and sells fully analog guitar effect pedals. Why? Who knows! Perhaps they love guitars, or they hate woolly animals, rugby and netball — a female sport similar to basketball. However that may be, their stompboxes crossed half the earth to land up on my desk. After an appropriate Haka (the Maori ritual dance), I grabbed my knife and opened the cardboard box (which, surprisingly, came the right side up!)

All Beige

Red Witch

Something is sure: New Zealanders make things very good! Inside each small box, you’ll find the product itself and a nice denim bag to protect it against dust and during transport. The weight of the pedal and the rugged metal housing give you an immediate feeling of robustness when holding it in your hand. The unit features high-quality controls, connections and switches. The silkscreen is easily readable even if a bit enigmatic. As hard as you try you won’t find manufacturing faults!

Just like James Cook did when mapping the sheep island back in his time, we will look into every detail of the products we received. We’ll start with the golden Fuzz God effect…

Oh My (Fuzz) God!

Red Witch Fuzz God II

The stompbox offers basic connections (one in, one out) as well as four controls, two switches and two footswitches. On the left, the volume control determines the output volume, but not only that: through the last 20% of its rotation it adds a treble booster so that the tone becomes more aggressive. The Fuzz setting allows you to control the distortion amount from a gentle fuzz to steamroller sound. To activate the Fuzz God’s Wrath you’ll have to press the footswitch on the bottom right (the one with the lightnings). This will result in a even more chaotic sound that will make your guitar scream (the other footswitch controls the true bypass). Note that the Wrath control interacts with the Fuzz and Sputter settings. With higher values, you get a very long sustain and interesting low-frequency harmonics. The Sputter setting allows you to shred the sound or smooth it. Just try to find out the setting you like most. Considering that the controls interact, you’ll have to proceed by trial and error! Finally, the small switches above the controls allow you to double the gain amount (!) and to activate a high-frequency boost. A LED indicates that the effect is on. The pedal can be powered with a 9V battery or a Boss-type external PSU.

All in all, we like the sound of this fuzz pedal. Its settings allow you to get a very wide sound palette, ranging from smooth and creamy to aggressive and rough. Some controls affect the bias directly and thus generate crackles when you turn them — don’t panic, it’s totally normal! Moreover, you can open the housing to set the general bias of the transistors to get an even smoother sound. We love the lightning mode that allows you to create really interesting sounds via the Wrath control — somewhere between a huge feedback and a theremin, thanks to an oscillator. Noisy guitar players will love it! The Sputter control works a bit like a rough gate that breaks up the guitar sound. Awesome! Only the high-frequency boost switch didn’t quite convince us because we couldn’t really hear any difference…

Kiwi Medusa

 

Red Witch Medusa

The last stompbox we reviewed is called Medusa and combines two different effects in one stompbox. After five long years of absence —in spite of its huge success among guitar players— the Medusa is back to allow guitar players to activate a tremolo and a chorus effect simultaneously or separately. In fact, only very few people could get the first Medusa launched in 2004 — there were only 74 units ever manufactured. But it doesn’t matter now because the guys at Red Witch decided to take the circuit diagram out and launch a new version… which is even better!

The pedal provides no less than six controls to set the chorus and tremolo. Note that both effects are perfectly in sync when they are activated simultaneously. The pedal is equipped with an input, an expression pedal connector and a stereo out with two 1/4″ jacks. The sound samples are mono because we had only one amp for the review. Note that the stereo mode works only when the chorus effect is activated, i.e. the tremolo always stays mono. In stereo mode, the effect signal is delivered through the first output while the dry signal comes out the second output. In other words, the chorus effect is not really stereo and its name is inappropriate. On the other hand, this mode allows you to make interesting things if you own other stompboxes.

Red Witch Medusa

On the left hand side, you’ll find a Blend control to adjust the balance between chorus and dry sound. The Guise three-way rotary selector allows you to choose between the Tremolo, Chorus and Tremolo/Chorus modes. The Bathos knob adjusts the depth of the chorus effect. On the right hand side, you get an Iridescence control to get a subtle and clean chorus effect or a muddy lo-fi sound. Everything in between is also possible… The Magnitude control adjusts the depth of the tremolo effect while the Velocity knob determines the speed of both effects (tremolo and chorus for readers who don’t follow me). Finally, note that the stompbox can be powered with a 9V battery or an external PSU, and that you can access a clean booster on the inside of the stompbox. Nice!

The chorus effect seduced us with a rather wide sound range, courtesy of the Iridescence control. The fact that this effect can be coupled and synced to the tremolo is really interesting. We created the sound samples in a way that you can check the impact of the different settings on the sound: you’ll notice that the Iridescence setting can add some hum with extreme settings and that the Magnitude control makes the overall volume decrease quite a lot. As a consequence, we miss a volume control like the one on the Pentavocal tremolo…

Now let’s take a look at some of the other stompboxes…

Conclusion

With prices ranging from about $250 (Fuzz God II and Pentavocal Trem) to about $400 (Medusa and Titan), these stompboxes are definitely high-grade products providing a perfect construction and a high-quality sound. They are made for analog sound fans who want more than what they usually get. The Titan allows you to get very interesting results in spite of its limitations. The Medusa is an original and very good sounding product, even if it’s not perfect. The Fuzz God II is our favorite model because it is not so expensive but still provides interesting possibilities. The Pentavocal Trem is also a very interesting tremolo effect pedal, whose different voicings and Bottom control make it very original.

To read the full detailed review of all 4 stompboxes with sound samples see:  Red Witch Stompboxes

May 12, 2010

SolidGoldFX Stompbox Review

If you are interested in guitar stompboxes, you must choose between two different worlds: you’ve got the mass-produced effect pedals that use more or less average-quality components for cost savings reasons, and you have boutique stompboxes produced in small quantities, using selected components, and hand-crafted by guitar FX enthusiasts. SolidGoldFX stompboxes – assembled by a tech guru from Quebec named Greg Djerrahian – fall in the second category.

SolidGoldFX

Before creating his own effect pedals, Greg made a name for himself customizing serial models from other brands to improve their sound quality. For example, he turned the awful Metal Zone into a highly musical high-gain pedal, which certainly cannot be considered a minor achievement.

Being a vintage stompbox collector, he decided to create the SolidGoldFX product range based on his own old-school collection and with the goal of offering modern-vintage sounds. His products have a vintage soul but feature a modern approach regarding dynamic response, sound clarity and respect of the instrument’s personality.

We’ll try to give you a good overview of the SolidGoldFX product range in this review. On today’s agenda, you’ll find two overdrive/distortion pedals (High Octane and Super Drive), two fuzz effects (Formula 69 and Formula 76) and a couple of boosters (Nitro and Rock Machine).

But before plugging in the guitar, let’s take the products out of their golden boxes and compare them.

Finish and Assembly

SolidGoldFXSolidGoldFX stompboxes come in rugged metal housings that recall MXR products in size and look, be it the compact (most of the pedals) or king-size models (Formula 76). Unfortunately, like MXR products, you’ll need a screwdriver to replace the batteries or use them with an external power supply, when this feature is provided, of course.

Each pedal has a silkscreen with a different color on the front panel and the typeface evokes the pedal’s spirit. For example, the Formula 69, which is a typical 60’s fuzz, uses psychedelic letters, while the Formula 76, which is more into the 70’s, recalls the disco years. The silkscreen is very clear, which we really appreciate, considering that most boutique manufacturers hand paint the name of the controls on the housing. In this case, the silkscreen looks professional and it is easily readable, except for the Super Drive whose jam-packed design makes reading the control functions a bit difficult.

Every pedal comes with adhesive plastic pads and it is up to the user to decide if he wants to use them or not. That’s a nice detail if you have a pedalboard and want to fix Velcro strips on the bottom.

Each pedal is provided with a spec sheet that includes an explanation of the concept behind it, a description of all its controls and the pedal’s assembly in detail.

That’s how we discovered that all SolidGoldFX have true bypass and use high-quality components: Neutrik I/O connectors, specially selected potentiometers (you’ll feel it as soon as you turn them) and gold-plated PCBs (does it have anything to do with the brand’s name?). The on/off status is indicated by one or several large, white and very (very) bright LEDs.

Enough chatter, it’s time to see if the stompboxes’ features are on the same level as their look.

Now let’s take a closer look at each stompbox…

Conclusion

All six stompboxes we tested have unquestionable positive features. I strongly recommend you to test them if you are looking for vintage-sounding products with higher versatility than the original models. The icing on the cake is that all stompboxes can be combined together to create more complex sound colors. For example, the Super Drive is transfigured by the Rock Machine, and I even achieved a Kyuss-like sound mixing these two pedals with the Formula 69!

Regardless of whether you are a blues, rock or stoner fan, give these made-in-Montreal stompboxes a chance. Bloody good tone guaranteed!

Advantages:

  • High-class assembly
  • Respect of the guitar’s own sound
  • Superb sound quality
  • Can be combined with each other

Drawbacks:

  • Controls’ layout on the Super Drive and Formula 76
  • Silk-screen on the Super Drive a bit unclear
  • Rock Machine requires special power-on precautions

To read the full detailed review see:  SolidGoldFX Stompbox Review

March 9, 2010

Suhr Effects Pedals – Kokoboost – Shiba Drive -Riot

To see more great guitar gear videos visit us here at our video vault!

February 23, 2010

[NAMM 2010] Tech21 VT Bass Deluxe Pedal

Watch this and other videos/news from NAMM 2010 here.

July 10, 2009

TC Electronic Nova Repeater Pedal

TC Electronics presents to us their new Nova Repeater pedal.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

June 8, 2009

TC Electronic NDR-1 Nova Drive Pedal

TC Electronic presents their new NDR-1 Nova Drive.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

April 21, 2009

Video Demo: Source Audio Hothand & Soundblox Pedals

Source Audio presents their Hothand & Soundblox motion-controlled effects that use micro-machined motion sensors to translate movement and position into control signals for use in guitar effects.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

April 7, 2009

Musikmesse: TC Electronic Nova Pedals

TC Electronic presents their Nova Repeater and Nova Drive pedals.

tc-electronics-pedals

For more Musikmesse videos and news visit Audiofanzine Musikmesse

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