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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November 4, 2011

TC Electronic TonePrint Series Review

TC Electronic just started production of a series of seven “simple” stompboxes! It’s a sacrilege if you know a bit about this company, which specializes in rack and programmable stompboxes, but it’s also good news considering the success of the Nova series. This new range provides all the elements of a standard pedalboard: distortion, overdrive, chorus, flanger, reverb, delay, and even vibrato.

Four of them feature a strange function: the TC TonePrint, which allows you to expand the possibilities of each stompbox via the Internet. This feature will certainly make TC a fav among young wolfs with a pair of jeans looking for adventure instead of pureness. Today we will review five of these seven new TC stompboxes.

The Analogs: Dark Matter Distortion and Mojo Mojo Overdrive

TC Electronic TonePrint Series

The Mojo Mojo Overdrive and Dark Matter Distortion stompboxes are the only analog devices in the series. Unlike all others, they don’t provide too many connectivity options: mono in + out. Although TC is mainly known for space and modulation effects, both stompboxes are distortion pedals. Considering the huge offer available within this market segment, it’s not very likely that these stompboxes will leave their mark in the history of distortion… However, you can appreciate the effort put in the conception of the housing: it’s really easy to access the battery compartment using only one screw (you can turn with your pick) that holds the protection plate. The slightly recessed connectors allow you to save space on your pedalboard and seems to be conceived to avoid “tap dancers” having a strong and imprecise kick from damaging their gear…

 

Dark Matter Distortion

TC Electronic TonePrint Series

In spite of its gloomy name, black finish and Star Wars-like logo, the Dark Matter is a pretty versatile distortion for rock/hard blues players rather than for metal heads. The controls are Volume, Drive, Bass, Treble, and a mini-switch to toggle between two low-frequency responses. To be honest, I couldn’t notice any (obvious) difference… The Dark Matter can produce a rather high amount of gain and its crunch setting is also satisfying. You get a rich, well-defined, sharp, all-round sound reminding the Boss DS-1, but a little bit more hollow and with more precision thanks to both the Bass and Treble settings instead of a single tone control. I tried out the unit at home on a clean channel, and also live as a drive booster on a crunch channel. In both cases I liked the Dark Matter very much!

Now let’s take a closer look at all the other pedals…

Don’t Know Which One?

To conclude… Because of the similarities between the Corona and the Shaker, the latter can be considered a bit useless. Both distortion pedals sound good but won’t replace any of my favorite distortion pedals. Maybe they ought to have a bit more personality… It’s clear that TC is no distortion specialist, and targeting a wide range of musicians with two “neutral” stompboxes was the best decision, instead of trying to compete with ZVEX launching a 9-pot fuzz effect pedal. But it’s up to you… and I bet you won’t have a problem. On the other hand, the Corona and the Flaskback are must haves: great working tools and well thought out. The Toneprint function is almost like a toy. If you’re looking for a chorus and a versatile delay, go for them! $169 for the Flashback, $129 for all others.

 

Technical notes:

The examples were recorded using a JCM900 combo and a Two Notes VB-101 cabinet simulator. I used a Marshall 4×12″ cabinet simulation for the right channel and a very present “self-made” speaker simulation for the left channel. I also used a Celmo Sardine Can compressor for some clean sounds. The distortion in the Corona, Shaker and Flashback examples are from TC’s distortion pedals.

Advantages:

  • Toneprints
  • Battery compartment access
  • The Corona and the Flashback

Drawbacks:

  • TC should develop a small software program to allow the user to create his own Toneprints
  • The switch on both distortion stompboxes has a questionable effect
  • The battery life is extremely short for all digital stompboxes

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see: TonePrint Series Review

August 22, 2011

The Top 10 Effects Pedal Targets

Filed under: Effect Pedals — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:27 am

A lot of guitar multieffects have a footpedal that can be assigned to various parameters. Volume and wa are no-brainer pedal assignments, but there are a whole lot of other parameters that are well-suited to pedal control. Doing so can add real-time expressiveness to your playing, and variety to your sound.

Some multieffects make this process easy: They have patches pre-programmed to work with their pedals. But sometimes the choices are fairly ordinary and besides, the manufacturer’s idea of what you want to do may not be the same as what youwant to do. So, it pays to spend a little time digging into the manual so you can figure out how to assign the pedal to any parameter you want.

 

DigiTech’s GNX4 is one of many multieffects that has a built-in footpedal so you can add real-time expressiveness to your playing.

 

Certain parameters are a natural for foot control; here are ten that can make a big difference to your sound.

 

  • Distortion drive. This one’s great with guitar. Most of the time, to go from a rhythm to lead setting you step on a switch, and there’s an instant change. Controlling distortion drive with a pedal lets you go from a dirty rhythm sound to an intense lead sound over a period of time. For example, suppose you’re playing eighth-note chords for two measures before going into a lead. Increasing distortion drive over those two measures builds up the intensity, and slamming the pedal full down gives a crunchy, overdriven lead.

 

  • Chorus speed. If you don’t like the periodic whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of chorus effects, assign the pedal so that it controls chorus speed. Moving the pedal slowly and over not too wide a range creates subtle speed variations that impart a more randomized chorus effect. This avoids having the chorus speed clash with the tempo.

Some other effects…

  • Increasing the output of anything (e.g., input gain, preamp, etc.) before the compressor. This allows you to control your instrument’s dynamic range; pulling back on the pedal gives a less compressed (wide dynamic range) signal, while pushing down compresses the signal. This restricts the dynamic range and gives a higher average signal level, which makes the sound “jump out.” Also note that when you push down on the pedal, the dynamics will change so that softer playing will come up in volume. This can make a guitar seem more sensitive, as well as increase sustain and make the distortion sound smoother.

And there you have the top ten tips. There are plenty of other options just waiting to be discovered – so put your pedal to the metal, and realize more of the potential in your favorite multieffects.

To read the full detailed article see:  The Top 10 Effects Pedal Targets

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!

March 1, 2010

[NAMM 2010] Danelectro Cool Cat Series Effect Pedals

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

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.

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