The ensuing years will determine whether I’m chock full o’ reptile dung, but I’m jazzed about these pedals because I believe they’ll seduce non-players into picking up a guitar, as well as excite current players to rev up their bliss. I mean, the ability for any schmoe to “steal” the sonic signatures of Clapton and Hendrix—or, as the line develops, just about any transcendent guitarist with a signature sound—is huge. And it’s no lie. Production Modeling goes back to the original master tapes to emulate every element of the
studio signal chain—from the amp, to the mics and mic positions, to the outboard gear, tape coloration, and ambient signature of the studio or live environment—so the process is capable of rendering absolutely dead-on simulations of an artist’s tones. Furthermore, the process isn’t complete until the artist—and/or the artist’s producer or engineer—critiques, fine tunes, and approves the final sounds.
Both pedals are road-tour tough. I let them rattle around in my car’s truck for two weeks, drop-kicked them off a stage, and rolled a road case over them, and they just shrugged off the abuse. The Crossroads is the more conventional stompbox of the duo, offering four parameter control knobs (Level, Cntrl 1, Cntrl 2, Model), dual outputs (Amp/Mixer, and the outs can also be used to run two amps in stereo for the rotary-speaker effect of the “Badge” model and the wide imaging of the acoustic “Layla” model), a simple on/off treadle, and a choice of battery or AC power (via included adapter). The Jimi Hendrix Experience is a little more complicated.
First off, the JHE can only be powered by its included AC (not DC) power supply—which means it’s a savvy move to purchase a spare or two if you’re touring, as the local Radio Shack may not carry one. Second, the wah-like treadle multitasks as a heel/toe switch (for switching Modes between solo tone 1 and 2, intro tone, rotary amount, tape flange amount, Uni-Vibe speed, and wah) and an expression pedal. (Purchasing the optional FS3X footswitch is recommended for hands-free Model and Mode selections when onstage.) The JHE’s heel/toe maneuvers should only be attempted while standing, as proper leverage will help avoid embarrassing program-change miscues. Lastly, concentric knobs are used to adjust Gain/Level, High/Low (EQ), and Reverb (reverb and delay levels)/Control (midrange EQ, rotary speed for “Little Wing,” and Univibe depth for “Star Spangled Banner/Machine Gun”).
Because the entire signal chain is modeled, the accuracy of each pedal’s models is best when recording direct or going direct into a P.A system—plugging into an amp obviously colors the sound. Both pedals also deliver funky “Welcome to the ’70s” timbres—meaning an exacting portrayal of the era’s hisses, buzzes, gleeps, and hums that may be disconcerting to those who treasure pristine, well-scrubbed audio signals. Stuff was noisy back then. Deal with it.
One acoustic model is included with each pedal. The JHE’s “All Along the Watchtower” model does a fine job transforming an electric into a pretty sweet acoustic-guitar simulation, while the Crossroads’ “Layla” model (from Clapton’s MTV Unplugged performance) was convincing, but too bright for my taste.
Not surprisingly, the illusion of each model is maximized when using a Stratocaster. It also helps to know something about Hendrix’s control manipulations and techniques. But even a newbie wielding a humbucker-equipped guitar will get enough of the classic vibe to be smiling ear-to-ear. (Note: I tested each pedal using a plethora of amps and guitars, and through various studio preamps, and the different tonal results only added to my enjoyment.)
The true genius of the JHE may be that it even works for me—a player who digs Hendrix, but who doesn’t know a single Hendrix riff, and who has absolutely no desire to sound like the man. What guys like me get are extremely cool, classic sounds (Vox Clyde McCoy wah, tape flanging, Uni-Vibe, EMT plate, Octavia, Fuzz Face, Marshall Super Lead, Fender Bassman) dialed in by one of the best recording engineers in rockdom, and a fair amount of parameter control to screw everything up and make it my own. I was almost as excited over messing with the JHE as I was when I first heard Hendrix changing the world from a transistor radio in 1967. In both cases, the possibilities seemed endless.
As with the JHE, there’s not a lot of debate to be had over the Crossroad’s sounds. Clapton and his guitar tech, Lee Dickson, approved everything you hear. The only head-scratchers are the inclusion of the disappointing “Layla” Unplugged tone, and the decidedly non-classic-Clapton “Reptile” model. I would have loved to have Slowhand’s earth-shattering “Beano” tone from 1966’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, but it ain’t here.
The Crossroads is a brilliant pedal, but it’s a tad more buttoned-down than the JHE, and, as a result, I wasn’t inspired to explore its variations as much. I was extremely happy riffing around with the “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Crossroads,” “Badge,” and (electric) “Layla” models. The other models were magnificently rendered, but they didn’t excite me.
For me, the two pedals kind of break down like this: It takes a Clapton freak to truly adore the Crossroads pedal. But literally anyone who craves the magic, the power, and the beatific soaring quality of the guitar will bow to the majesty of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
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