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Review: MXR Uni-Vibe

The MXR Uni-Vibe is, as far as I know, the third generation of the legendary rotary effect. The original, made by Shin-ei and immortalized by Jimi Hendrix on “Machine Gun” and David Gilmour on “Breathe”, was a big honking unit, typewriter-sized and with a separate expression pedal to control the speed. The later Dunlop reissue was in a boutique-style chassis with regular stompbox controls and two footswitches: on/off and chorus/vibrato (“chorus” mixes the clean signal in with the effected signal, “vibrato” is effect only). This third generation packs all of that into a standard MXR mini enclosure with three knobs, an on/off footswitch and a small VIBE pushbutton. It is pedalboard-friendly and built to the usual MXR standards, i.e. like a Sherman tank.

In a sense, I’m a little bit bummed that I bought this only after getting the TC Shaker and the MXR Phase 90 and Micro Flanger. It is not really a phaser, not really a vibrato and not really a chorus (and definitely not a flanger), but a little of everything. The most important thing is that it totally nails the classic Uni-Vibe tone. Maybe not waveform for waveform, but close enough that I can put a Stratocaster through my Blackstar and pretend I’m Jimi or Dave for a moment and wear a huge smile on my face. It might be a bit of an exaggeration to claim that it will replace anything on my pedalboard, but it is a very nice addition to my arsenal, especially for late-60s/early-70s covers or a general psychedelic vibe. (Nothing can make me give up my Phase 90!)

I am not particularly bothered by the fact that you have to reach down to set the speed, or switch between the two effects manually. As I’ve already mentioned, I have several coloration pedals, so if a song really needs two different effects, I could probably make do with the flanger or the vibrato. If anything, the vibrato setting is a tad subtle, it needs some speed to really make itself heard. And the level control doesn’t work the way a level control usually does on a pedal of this kind: it raises the general output of the pedal. Handy if you’re looking for a bit of boost to your Fender sound, but use with care if you want to balance clean and effected sound.

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Posted by on 4 November, 2014 in gear, review

 

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Editorial: The Pedalboard

In other news: my Pedaltrain 2 has arrived, along with my new Dunlop DVP-1 volume pedal. So, the pieces of my pedalboard are lying around. All that remains is to put it all together into a configuration. Other than the Pedaltrain and the power supply, the components are, in no particular order:

  • Korg DT-10 tuner
  • TC Electronic Spark Booster
  • MXR Phase 90 (block logo)
  • Dunlop Crybaby wah (limited edition white painted)
  • Dunlop DVP-1 volume pedal
  • TC Electronic Shaker Vibrato
  • MXR Carbon Copy analog delay

The vibrato and delay will go into the effects loop of the amp, the other five before the input. Cable cornucopia! The tuner will likely be connected to the tuner out of the volume pedal, unless I prefer the sound of its buffered input. More than that, I haven’t really figured out exactly in which order to put the pedals. The one thing I know is that I want to keep the phaser before the amp input, because I’ve yet to hear a phaser that sounds good after distortion. (Edit 16 March: accidentally wrote BEFORE distortion. Oops!) The vibrato does sound pretty cool before distortion, but the delay sure as hell doesn’t. Keep the regeneration and mix above 9 o’clock and it immediately turns to mush.

One thing that strikes me is that this pedalboard is not that different from what Hendrix would have used. That is entirely intentional. Listen back to those albums from 1967 and onwards, how the great players experimented with tones. Other than the really saturated modern metal tone, all the basic rock tones were already discovered before 1972. Before flangers, before choruses. In those days, there were Leslies, wahs and phasers, which are effects that simply feel more organic to me. Believe me, I have an incredible itch for a proper fuzz and a Uni-Vibe!

 
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Posted by on 15 March, 2014 in editorial, gear

 

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Review: Mad Professor Ruby Red Booster

I have been shopping for a boost pedal for quite some time, and found the TC Electronic Spark Booster to be a worthy candidate. But if there is anything that experience has taught me, it’s not to zero in on any particular brand, but to check out as many options as you can and pick the best one. Therefore, I set up an A/B test with the Spark Booster, the new MXR Micro Amp+, two boutique pedals whose names I cannot even recall (just about the impression that they made, by the way) and last but not least the subject of this review: the Mad Professor Ruby Red Booster.

“Ruby” is a combination of a clean booster, overdrive and treble booster. There is a whopping 40 dB of boost in this unit. That is a lot! It can easily drive just about any amp into crunch. On the clean channel of the Blackstar, it produced some serious grit and compression (not to mention a big, big smile), and when switching to the crunch channel, keeping the gain control at about 9 o’clock for my signature rock sound, the booster kicked the overtones and sustain into the stratosphere. Even bigger smile! It has an amazing warmth and attitude, which is perhaps hardly surprising given its all-analog nature.

What I didn’t particularly like was the treble booster. It doesn’t provide a proper treble boost as I’m used to hearing it, instead producing a notched sound not dissimilar to a wah pedal that’s been pressed down a bit. It is a cool tone if you don’t have a wah pedal and want some form of coloration effect for the odd part here and there. It is not what I would want for every solo, let alone in an always-on pedal. Use with care!

The final verdict is quite likely a surprising conclusion: the Ruby Red Booster was the best pure booster pedal, but I wound up buying the TC Electronic Spark Booster instead. The analog Ruby trounced the digital Spark on sound, but not by much, definitely not enough to compensate for the greater general flexibility of the Spark. Another factor that was never far from my mind when weighing the options was the price. I have yet to find a boutique pedal that has been worth the premium, and the Ruby Red Booster is no exception. Maybe if I abused my pedals on stage every week I would spring for the more expensive option, but at this stage, I have to concede that for once, good enough actually is good enough.

 
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Posted by on 24 February, 2014 in gear, review

 

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Review: MXR “Carbon Copy” analog delay

The MXR Carbon Copy is an analog delay pedal with up to 600 milliseconds of delay time and a selectable modulation feature. The pedal comes in MXR’s usual small form-factor, World War III-ready chassis, has three dials, a button and the obvious footswitch. There is no tap tempo feature whatsoever, but if you open up the back of the thing, there are two screws for adjusting the depth and width of the modulation.

It is not often that I try a pedal and just go, “wow”. But I did this time. This pedal just shines when you use it the way I’m forced to: before an amplifier, before distortion. (Well, I do have an effects loop, but that’s another story for another time). The TC Electronic Flashback sounded very nice, but I could never get it to balance clean and distorted sounds; I would have needed two of them. The Carbon Copy just nails the sound I want out of a delay pedal. It sounds warm and organic and just fantastic. It is also remarkably fun just to play around with! Set the regen parameter to maximum and it self-oscillates and you can go all Yngwie Malmsteen with the delay time knob. The modulation feature is a little hot right out of the box, but I am personally not planning to use it any time soon, so I don’t worry about it. As I said previously, it can be adjusted with a minimum of fuss.

One of the nicest things with the Carbon Copy is that MXR have been rather generous with the delay time. Traditionally, analog delays have had fairly short delay times, the classic Boss analog unit has 300 ms and some recent copies don’t fare much better. Double that, like with this pedal, and you get true flexibility: everything from slapback to Gilmour-like soundscapes.

One thing that might discourage the casual user is the price tag. It is a lot of money. And you don’t get the bells and whistles: no looping feature, no tap tempo, no 6 seconds of delay time. But you do get a damn well-sounding delay pedal that just works no matter how you use it. I personally prefer the slightly dirtier, warmer sound of analog to the pristine, clean digital stuff, and would rather pony up the extra cash for something that can live on my pedalboard long-term instead of being sold off within the year. Yes, and I just bought one.

 
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Posted by on 24 August, 2013 in gear, review

 

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Review: TC Electronic “Shaker” vibrato pedal

The TC Electronic Shaker is a vibrato pedal in TC’s celebrated Toneprint range. The first time I had the Toneprint function explained to me, I had to laugh. If you don’t know what it is, here’s a quick rundown: First, you download the TC Toneprint app to your smartphone. Then you use the speaker on the smartphone to upload settings to the pedal through the pickups on your guitar. But what you upload is not just a set of fixed settings. The Toneprint redefines what the controls on the pedal actually do. It won’t make a chorus pedal out of a delay pedal, but you can get one pedal to perform two different functions, provided you want to bend down towards your pedalboard in the middle of a gig and flick the little toggle switch on the pedal. And, of course, whipping out your phone mid-gig to change settings might be a cool thing for those who are into that sort of thing.

A bit about the background: I love phaser, but I have been looking for a cool modulation effect to complement it, and the natural thing has always been chorus first and flanger second. But then I plugged into one of those TC Electronic demo pedalboards and decided to give the Shaker a spin. Man, did I love it! I have nothing against chorus or flanger. Fact is, I might add one or the other later. But vibrato just felt more natural, more classic, less obvious. I immediately dialed in a cool mid-70s Camel tone, and further exploration of the settings led to a warbly Beatlesque Leslie-type sound. At once, I put the pedal on my wish list and today I finally got around to buying it.

You can indeed get chorusy-type sounds out of this pedal so long as you keep the rate fairly slow and the intensity low. I’ve also seen that you can download a Toneprint that gets even closer to chorus. However, be advised that vibrato is a fairly rhythmic kind of effect, and adjust and play accordingly.

One of the coolest little features with this pedal is the latch mode that is selected via the three-way toggle. In latch mode, the effect is only on so long as you keep the footswitch down. Here is where the “rise time” control comes into play. In “vibrato” mode, this control apparently does nothing. In latch mode, it controls the amount of time that passes before the effect kicks in. So you could conceivably also use the pedal as an ersatz vibrato bar. Pretty nice if you’re like me and block off the Stratocaster whammy bar but still want that shimmer from time to time.

Oh, and it’s orange!

 
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Posted by on 24 August, 2013 in gear, review

 

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Review: MXR Phase 90

I love phasing! It is such a classic-sounding effect, at the same time more subtle but yet more dramatic than chorus or flanger. I don’t normally get compliments on my sound, but when I bought my first phaser, I did. My drummer called it the “prog pedal” and even certain pedal-phobic people I sometimes play with gushed over it. However, I somehow managed to break a Boss pedal, which set in motion two processes at once: its replacement and, more vitally, its replacement by anything other than a Boss.

Therefore, I arranged a minor phaser shootout with the three pedals that the store happened to have on hand at the moment. I tried the Ibanez AP7, the Boss PH-3 (just to give it a fair chance) and finally the MXR Phase 90. Just to avoid any misunderstandings, this is the new, non-signature Phase 90, not the EVH model or the ’74 reissue.

The results hit me squarely between the eyes. The instant I switched on the ’90, I knew I had a winner. The Boss sounded all right, but it felt like I never could dial in the sound I had in my head. It was exactly the same way with the Ibanez – also a perfectly flexible and well-sounding phaser pedal. I would recommend any of these to anyone. It’ s just that the Phase 90 sounds better than both, and does so without the fuss. I belatedly realized that I was after the MXR sound all along, I had simply been struggling to make the Boss and the Ibanez sound like the ’90. This could be a self-confirming bias, since the recordings that sold me on the phaser effect were indeed made with… the Phase 90.

The MXR Phase 90 is about as simple as pedals come. It has one knob, Rate, and a switch that turns the effect on and off. It does not have to be more complicated than this so long as the effect is properly voiced from the get-go. It works just as well spicing up a clean sound as it does putting a bit of a swirl on a crunch sound, even when placed before the gain section. You get usable sounds throughout the entire rate range, even though I tend to leave it set to about 9 o’clock and don’t bother with the rubber sleeve that you can put on the knob to enable tweaking with your foot.

I especially like the sturdy construction and the small form factor. I’ll be damned if I’m going to kill two phasers in a row! About the only negative thing is that I now have developed a bit of an addiction to small pedals in general and MXR products in particular!

 
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Posted by on 22 April, 2013 in gear, review

 

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Review: Mesa/Boogie “Throttle Box” distortion pedal

All I did was to to wear my Dream Theater shirt while visiting one of the local music stores. The guy immediately said, you gotta check this pedal out, it’s John Petrucci in a box!

I opened the box, and there was no teeny-tiny JP inside. That kinda would have creeped me out. Instead, you could say that it is more of a Dual Rectifier squeezed into a rather small and nimble, yet sturdy distortion pedal. It has four knobs and a toggle switch. Three of the knobs are your standard garden-variety controls that every dist pedal comes with: level, dist and tone. The fourth is a midrange sweep control that scoops out everything between the rumbling bass and cutting treble for a really threatening sound. Or leaves it in for a more snarling, aggressive rock tone. The little toggle switch selects low or high gain, it basically takes the pedal from standard to insane.

So, how good is it? Judging by my most recent Boogie experience, I’d say: really good. This pedal delivers an obscene amount of distortion! It also completely takes over the signal chain – there is not much left of the actual amp tone. I was able to plug a Les Paul into a small Fender combo and without much fiddling nail a solid Petrucci lead tone. I’m not necessarily a Boogie freak, but if I were into that sound, I would definitely take this pedal into serious consideration before shelling out the massive amounts of cash a Mark or a Recto commands.

 
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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in gear, review

 

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