Ten New Stompboxes

May 1, 2008

Carl Martin Classic Chorus

Chorus is notorious for washing your sound out quicker than Superman on laundry day. But thanks to a Level control that calls zero position unity gain (there is a God), your chorus is going to be heard with the Classic Chorus ($180 retail/$126 street). The mono Classic Chorus also sports a footswitchable Vibrato mode that can be added to the pedal’s chorus effect, but not turned on independently. A Rate knob controls the Vibrato’s speed, while the Chorus side sports Speed and Depth controls along with the aforementioned Level knob. Two footswitches mean more control but also a bigger footprint—the Classic Chorus ain’t no skinny-minnie. But the more I played it, the less I cared about its size. This thing sounds good. Not only because its milkshake-thick modulation sounds as if it could be spooned out of the speakers, but also because a severe volume boost is available if you need it. It has enough range to push the effect over a loud mix, as well as punish the front end of your amp with enough signal to create a frenzy of overdrive. Or you can dial in a subtle wash, and slam your amp—those are the tones I dug. Kicking on the Vibrato doesn’t really add a ton of sonic zaniness, but rather, it adds a subtle extra layer of rippling modulation. I found myself setting the Chorus side’s Speed control low, then for a faux-Leslie effect, I set the Vibrato’s Rate control high and kicked it in accordingly. The Classic Chorus is no joke. With a ton of rich, high-quality, utterly musical sounds, it may even make a non-
chorus dude a believer.

Kudos Thick analog chorus and a volume boost to die for.
Concerns None.
Contact Carl Martin, (973) 772-3333; carlmartin.com 

Jacques Prisoner Analog Delay

Sporting a modulation function with Rate and Mod controls, the Prisoner Analog Delay ($250 retail, $199 street), also gives you Time, Level, and Repeat controls to wrangle up to 300ms of delay time. Sonically, the Prisoner’s delay reeks of the classic analog mojo: grainy, musical repeats that melt away with sludgy perfection. A great quality whether you’re abusing the Prisoner for a sharp rockabilly slap or an echo-saturated, Gilmour-esque ethereal excursion. Adding the modulation effect to the delay is easy, just turn up the amount of Rate and Depth. Getting the effect dialed in takes a bit of time depending on what you’re looking for, as the range of sounds goes from rather discreet chorus shadings to savagely de-tuned and up-tuned delay repeats. Very strange, warbled vibrato-type effects were easily obtained, as were the obligatory sci-fi bizzarities. Fun for sure, but even though the pedal’s small footprint is great for pedalboard real estate, its tight control surface tended to get frustrating to my fingers after some incessant twiddling. With the power and effect range of its modulation section—as well as the ability to tweak the effect via the control panel rather than internal trimpots—the Prisoner could easily be viewed as a “two-effect” pedal. True, you can’t footswitch between the chorus and delay effects, but the amount of chorus/delay tones are pretty mindblowing—enough, in fact, to warrant recommending the Prisoner to someone in the market for just a chorus pedal.

Kudos An excellent analog delay or chorus with a ton of weird tones to be found.
Concerns None.
Contact Jacques Stompboxes, (011) 33 4 91 57 1001; ts808.com 

Maxon AD9Pro

With 450 milliseconds of delay and stereo outs, the AD9Pro ($375 retail/$300 street) also offers a Dual/Single switch that emulates dual tape heads. The AD9Pro is easy to use, and it spews forth gorgeously rich and warm analog echoes—the kind that seem to perfectly melt away, no matter how many repeats you have, with each subsequent repeat getting fuzzier and more opaque.

The AD9Pro is also very quiet thanks to a companding noise reduction system in its circuit. In Dual mode, with the Delay Time low and the Feedback and Delay Level high, I conjured some funky, metallic shards à la Gang of Four’s Andy Gill, and running the AD9Pro in stereo with my Fender Deluxe Reverb and Reverend Goblin 5-15, these tones were huge and wonderfully bizarre. The Dual mode also helped me realize some lovely ambient textures as well, as I became addicted to layering repeats with a continual barrage of volume swells. The AD9Pro will also yield rockabilly-approved slapback, with the quick repeat being just muddy enough not to be overbearing. Although it’s not cheap, and many will find the price-to-delay-time ratio a bit steep, the AD9Pro is a boon for fans of drippy, analog delay in an easy-to-dial-in package.

Kudos Analog delay in all of its warm glory—in stereo too.
Concerns None.
Contact Maxon, dist. by Godlyke, (866) 246-3595; godlyke.com 

MXR M-169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay

The Carbon Copy ($254 retail/$149 street) offers Regen, Mix, and Delay controls, as well as two of the most blindingly bright LEDs—one for on/off status, and the other for a surface-mounted Modulation button that adds warble to the pedal’s repeats—you’re likely to encounter. Inside the Carbon Copy’s immaculate green-sparkle enclosure are two mini pots that control the Modulation’s Width and Speed. Flaunting 600ms of delay time and a mono output, the Carbon Copy excels at yielding soupy, burnished repeats—the raison d’être of analog delay. I was more than satisfied with every sound, from subtle slap to long trails of cascading repeats, as its natural, organic-sounding layers fattened up rhythm and lead lines exquisitely. The Modulation function can be used to really smear the already hazy delays. The internal trimpots are thoughtful, albeit powerful tools for expanding the Carbon Copy’s freaky factor, however, those little suckers are small. I had to tear my toolbox apart in order to find a screwdriver that could fit them. Still, the Carbon Copy is a great sounding, well-constructed analog delay with a bit of a twist owing to its Modulation control. And it’s offered at a price that’s a steal for an analog unit. Well done!

Kudos A small footprint analog delay with happening modulation effects. Affordable.
Concerns None.
Contact MXR, (707) 745-2722; jimdunlop.com 

Red Witch Empress Chorus/Vibrato

Ah yes, chorus—an effect that has been the signature of many great guitarists, and the Achilles’ heel of many more.  Still, there’s no denying the expansive lushness a well-deployed, musical-sounding chorus can give you. The Empress ($380 retail/$300 street), sports a bewitching control set that will cast a spell on even the most hardy of chorusing souls. Aside from Mix and Depth knobs, you get Velocity (speed), a Bright switch, a Chorus/Vibrato switch, and an internal slide control that adds a slight boost when the effect is engaged. The nut of the stereo output-equipped Empress is its Voice control, which glides you between tubular, almost flange-like chorusing to more classic, thickly modulated tones—with barely a nudge of the knob. Make no mistake, this powerful feature offers myriad sounds. High settings of the Voicing control add some hiss, but it’s within the realm of acceptability and the tones are exquisite. The Vibrato effects are as wacky or as subtle as you want, and with the Mix control, I was able to attach freaky waves of modulation to a mostly dry signal for a subliminal, haunting effect. The Empress is a three-dimensional modulation machine, and when you couple its vast array of sounds with absolutely wicked construction—and some cool graphics—you’ve got one of the drippiest sounding chorus/ vibrato pedals ever made.

Kudos Tons of different sounds and textures to be had for the discriminating chorus hound.
Concerns None.
Contact Red Witch, dist. by Dana B. Goods, (805) 644-6621; redwitchanalogpedals.com 

Tech 21 Blonde

Tech 21’s SansAmp Character series features four classic guitar amp emulators and the VT Bass Character pedal. Each pedal sports the same control set—Level, Mid, Low, High, Character, and Drive—as well as fancy silk-screened graphics rendered in the style of the amp the pedal is emulating. Designed to be run in front of an amp, in an amp’s effects loop, or plugged directly into a mixer, these boxes are sneaky powerful. They also sport active EQ for maximum tweakability and enough insane output and gain to possibly warrant a “warning” sticker. The Blonde ($195 retail/$149 street) is Tech 21’s take on classic Fender amps, and as with all of the Character Series pedals, dialing it in really hinges on what you’re plugging into. For example, running it in front of a Fender Deluxe Reverb, I found it took some time to tailor the treble and midrange response as the ranges are incredibly vast. Also, the Character control affects everything from frequency response to attack and gain. So using the Blonde as a traditional stompbox is do-able—in fact, there are some cool tones to be had in this configuration. But the Blonde shines much brighter when you run it into an amp’s effects loop (thus bypassing the amp’s EQ and preamp). In the loop of my Reverend Goblin 5-15, the Blonde’s Fender voicing became way more apparent. I was able to elicit excellent approximations of a funky Champ cranked and on the verge of meltdown, a cleanish Super Reverb, or a tweed Deluxe turned up halfway for some sweet, singing tones. I also ran the Blonde through Tech 21’s Power Engine 1x12 with equally im-pressive results. The Blonde also reacted wonderfully to changes in my guitar’s volume, cleaning up nicely as I backed it off. There is a ton of distortion on tap (tons more than any classic Fender amp), but high settings of the Drive control tended to get a bit silly with too much noisy distortion. I then plugged the Blonde straight into my Mac PowerBook (using a 1/4" to 1/8" adapter) and the Blonde excelled, giving me all of the aforementioned tones, and it really shows off its musical sounding speaker simulation, which is based on a vintage 12" Jensen. The speaker simulation can’t be turned off, which explains why the Blonde is trickier to dial in as a trad distortion box in front of your amp. But it sounds killer in three different configurations, and there aren’t many stompboxes that can say that.

Kudos Powerful controls help shape some classic Fender amp tones.
Concerns Can be tough to dial in when running in front of an amp.
Contact Tech 21, (973) 777-6996; tech21nyc.com.

Tech 21 British

The British ($195 retail/$145 street) aims to deliver classic Marshall tones from the JTM45 Bluesbreaker to late ’60s plexis to ’70s metalface amps and later models like the JCM800.  The British’s speaker simulation is based on the classic Celestion Greenback, and like the Blonde, the pedal reacts quite differently depending on how you’re using it. In front of a Fender Deluxe Reverb, this Brit took some taming—mostly in the treble frequencies, as they could get very spiky. Running in an effects loop or plugging into a P.A., the British easily conjured many the classic tones it promises. Thanks to the Character control, you are afforded the softer, midrange-laden plexi tone, as well as the harder-edged JCM800-type sounds. Like the Blonde, there is enough distortion to choke a horse, so discretion is advised. But the pedal cleans up wonderfully when you lighten your picking attack, and it does deliver some classic U.K. amp tones. Cheers.

Kudos Classic Marshall flavors in an analog stompbox.
Concerns Can be tough to dial in when running in front of an amp.
Contact Tech 21, (973) 777-6996; tech21nyc.com 

Tech 21 California

The California ($195 retail/$149 street) is Tech 21’s tribute to Mesa/Boogie, and like the other Character pedals, it takes you through a veritable sonic family tree of the company’s amplifiers. As you turn up the Character control, you visit a clean-toned Mark I, a revved up Mark II, as well as Mesa’s latter-day legend, the Dual Rectifier. Anyone who has played a Boogie knows that knob twiddling is part of the journey, and to that end, the California took a bit of finessing to get what I wanted out of it. The clean tones are muscular and clear, and the speaker simulation—based on a high-wattage 12" Electro-Voice—keeps things from sounding too gnarly when running direct. I dug the flutey Sanatana-type lead tones, as the Mid control allowed me to dial in even more squawk with my Telecaster. The California does an admirable job in copping the dense crunch of the Rectifier amplifiers, and these tones even cleaned up a bit as I backed off my guitar’s volume. Tech 21 did a good job of cramming over 30 years of distinctive tones in a little box.

Kudos Thick clean tones and singing lead sounds rife with Boogie’s classic midrange character.
Concerns None.
Contact Tech 21, (973)-777-6996; tech21nyc.com 

Tech 21 Liverpool

Tapping into the hallowed Vox AC30 mojo ain’t easy. The extended, slicing treble response mixed with a rich midrange chime is a tone to behold for sure. That’s why I was a bit surprised that the Liverpool ($195 retail/$145 street) was the easiest of the four Character boxes to dial in. As a D.I. or in the effects loop of an amp, I conjured up clean tones that flaunted much of the AC30’s trademark jangle. As you turn the Character control up the tones slowly morph from early clean-toned George Harrison to Brian May’s over-the-top sustain. The medium crunch tones are also lovely, with just a touch of harmonic hair surrounding the notes (again, watch the Drive control, as high settings will get out of control quick), and I was also impressed with the myriad funky, lo-fi textures I was able to pull out of the Liverpool, making it a supremely musical and versatile tool.

Kudos Imparts some of that AC30 magic in an analog box, and more.
Concerns None.
Contact Tech 21,(973) 777-6996; tech21nyc.com;

THD Quintet

Sporting a five-position Curve switch and an Intensity control, the Quintet ($179 retail/$129 street) is designed to work in conjunction with your guitar’s pickups to deliver varying timbres. The Quintet is as passive as passive gets. There is no battery, and even though the pedal has labeled input and output jacks, it doesn’t matter which one you plug into. Just make sure the Quintet is the first pedal in your signal chain because its mojo lies in its interaction with your guitar’s pickups. The Quintet will not work properly, if at all, if it is placed after another pedal. Nor will it work with active pickups, piezos, or wireless units. (The Quintet is also available as a tone pot replacement that drops directly and discreetly into your guitar.)

With my Telecaster running through a Reverend Goblin 5-15, I began clicking through the Quintet’s tones. Setting One is the darkest, as it takes a rear position single-coil and fattens it up to an almost humbucker-like butteryness. For Strat players who are scared of honking on their rear pickup this is a godsend, as it’s almost like changing pickups. With humbuckers, I found this position to be useable, but a tad wooly. Setting Four accentuates frequencies around 300Hz, and provides a substantial cut around 800Hz and a slight treble reduction above 4.5kHz. THD likens this tone to the in-between setting on a dual P-90 equipped guitar, and that’s a very fair description. I found it usable with all of my guitars, as it fattened up single-coils without sacrificing any of their inherent airiness, as well as giving humbuckers some added beef—albeit lean beef. Pretty neat. As you keep clicking, the tones get progressively skinnier, adding some Filter ’Tron-like characteristics, as well as some good old-fashioned brightening. The Intensity control simply mixes your guitar’s straight signal with the Quintet’s, affording even more tonal flexibility.

The Quintet is subtle, and as simple as it seems, you can actually find yourself fiddling with it for hours—at least I did. The shades it imparts make it a studio tool par excellence, as you can change the character of your guitar in a very natural and organic way. In fact, I would dial up a setting on the Quintet, and adjust my amp’s EQ accordingly to get just the right fit. That, my friends, is tone shaping in the truest sense of the word.

Kudos  An unassuming, yet powerful-as-hell tone tweaker.
Concerns  None.
Contact  THD, (206) 781-5500; thdelectronics.com 

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