Fender Classics Pedals

January 28, 2008

The four Classics pedals (all of which come with groovy black-velvet carrying bags) were evaluated using standard Planet Waves cables, a Marshall Vintage Modern half-stack, a Cornford Carrera, a Vox AC15, a PRS SE Paul Allender Model, a Guild X-160, a Fender Strat and a Tele, and a Gibson Les Paul Standard. For more critical listening, I also recorded the tones into Pro Tools LE using a M-Audio FireWire 1814 interface and a Shure SM57 positioned directly on the speaker cone of the test amp.

Fuzz-Wah

The Fuzz Wah’s ($199 retail/street N/A) wah offers a delightfully vocal-esque frequency range. It doesn’t get as harsh as the classic Mick Ronson wail, or as fat as some modern units, but its sweet midrange still serves up all manner of cry and yowl. Kick in the fuzz—with the Effects Order switch set to Fuzz-Wah—and full-tilt pedal punches get you pretty darn close to Ronson’s bestial treble. The fuzz effect is more like an overdrive, as it produces a surprisingly natural and aggressive amp sound, as opposed to a psychedelic buzzsaw. The ability to control the fuzz level by rotating the pedal left and right is genius, as you can easily direct the intensity of rhythm licks and solos in real time as the spirit strikes you. My fave trick is cocking the pedal full left (minimal fuzz) to increase the articulation of fast lines, and then bring the pedal full right (maximum fuzz) to add sustain and “lift” to bends and pull-offs. There’s also a handy Fuzz Volume control for boosting, cutting, or equalizing the level of the fuzz with your unaffected amp signal. Both the wah and the fuzz sound great separately and together, which saves some floor space and foot dancing for those players (like me) who are always adding some wah spice to their lines. Powered by a 9-volt battery or optional DC adaptor, the Fuzz-Wah is right-on retro.

Phaser

Almost twice as big as Boss or MXR phasers, the cast-iron-cased Phaser ($159 retail/street N/A) offers true-bypass switching and Frequency (determines whether preset bass or treble frequencies are most affected by the processor) and Intensity knobs. Wherever you set these controls, however, the phasing is pretty spiky and aggressive. This is definitely a phaser that likes to be in your face. The wonderfully toothy phasing on ELO’s “Strange Magic” comes to mind, and you can also evoke the funky swirls heard on Starsky and Hutch, The Rockford Files, and tons of other ’70s television scores. You’ll have little or no luck crafting the creamy pulsations of Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love,” but you can adjust the foot-controlled Rate pad (which illuminates a trippy light show in time to the rate) to dial in slow and dreamy modulations that animate arpeggios, or fast flutters that add rhythmic accents to chord progressions. The Phaser doesn’t pretend to multitask—and it’s certainly not an option for the timid—but its edgy frequency spectrum makes it easy to create sounds that really grab a listener’s attention. Like the Fuzz-Wah, the Phaser is powered by a 9-volt battery or an optional DC adaptor.

Volume

As simple as the Tin Man, and as tough and sophisticated as Connery-era James Bond, the shiny Volume pedal ($99 retail/street N/A) does the job it’s meant to do—and I state this somewhat bland assessment with a big salute. The taut, beefy pedal seems to push back ever-so-slightly against your foot, which makes performing even and sensual volume swells a breeze. There’s also complete silence when the pedal is all the way back. These may seem like trifles—or major “duhs”—but anyone who has used a volume pedal that lets wisps of signals eek out, or who has stepped on a wobbly or inconsistent treadle will agree that the Fender pedal’s militaristic attention to duty is a godsend.

Volume-Tone

The Volume-Tone ($119 retail/street N/A) adds a tone circuit to the excellent Volume pedal, and you may ask yourself, “Why?” After using the V-T for a while, however, I found that it solved some bitty problems quite elegantly. For example, if I didn’t have a chance to tweak my distortion pedal or amp knobs during a small club’s “non-soundcheck,” and my tone was way too bright during the first song, I could slide the V-T’s treadle to the left and diminish the sting without taking my fingers off the strings. Likewise, if my solo tone was too muddy—I could move the treadle to the right for more highs. Brilliant! My other discovery was using a simultaneous combination of a volume swell and a bass-to-treble sweep. The signal level slowly increases, and then it gets brighter when it’s at full volume—which is like having two different crescendos per part. How slick is that? This pedal rules. Period.

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