Review: Ernie Ball Ambient Delay & Expression Overdrive

Well, you can’t accuse Ernie Ball of debuting their new effects pedals with a “subtle” launch.
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Well, you can’t accuse Ernie Ball of debuting their new effects pedals with a “subtle” launch. This is like red-carpet wow, or revealing a new Tesla or iPhone. First off, the extraordinary packaging alludes to something important and wonderful, because the pedals are displayed in what can only be called a trophy case. Then, there’s the striking industrial design of the pedals themselves—the metallic bronze sheen of the Ambient Delay, and the dazzling gold of the Expression Overdrive. I mean, you’d kind of want these gorgeous things even if you had no idea of what they actually did. Finally, you have to love that the designers did something unique by adding an expression function to a single, self-contained pedal.

As lovely as these pedals look, there’s also a bit of the beast in them. They are hefty, they have solid knobs and treadles, and they’re built tough to endure abuse. I got all Rambo on each one—kicking them across a concrete rehearsal-room floor, dropping them from chest height onto the sidewalk, “misplacing” them in a drummer’s hardware case (and rolling it around to shake things up), and smashing into them with my amp’s road case—and they didn’t break or even look beat up (well, maybe a scratch or two). The only downside is that they have relatively large footprints, so your pedalboard real estate may take a hit if you decide to add both of them to your effects armory (and you should definitely consider it).

Ambient Delay

I love crafting spooky soundscapes with delays, and the Ambient Delay ($199 street) provides a cool option for animating textures. Basically, you have a delay with 50ms to one second of delay time paired with a plate reverb with a preset “room size” and decay, but there’s a lot of power in that combo—especially as you can defeat the reverb, or the delay, or use them both in tandem. One of my favorite studio techniques is to position a large reverb just under a source sound, and while the Ambient Delay doesn’t have a wet/dry mix to get really ghostly with a full-wet ’verb, the pedal still lets me sneak in the ambience at the level I desire. This also works brilliantly for combining the delay and reverb, bringing in the effect subtly so that the delay is heard softly, and then pushing down the pedal all the way so that the reverb washes over everything in a huge tsunami of vibe. There are tons of tricks in this box, and while some players will dig it solely for adding sparkle to solos, it’s really magic if you’re into producing cinematic underscores and gentle explosions of awesome weirdness.

Expression Overdrive

If you like simply stepping on a box to get some gristle, you might think adding an expression pedal to an overdrive is overkill. But consider two things about the Expression Overdrive ($199 street). First, your dry signal is always a bit in the mix, so your overdrive tone retains articulation, weight, and, perhaps more importantly, the tone of your guitar. Second, having the ability to make delicate or rowdy adjustments to the roar—and on the fly, as you work through a song—is something you’re probably going to love as soon as you try it. I did. I had a blast morphing clean rhythms into gritty riffs while maintaining some spank, adding a flourish of dirty sustain on the final note of a solo, using the Boost knob to have a volume pedal-controlled-overdrive in one box, being able to back down the gain if the vocalist gives me a dirty look mid song, and more. The overdrive sound is organic and natural, and it pairs well with clean or saturated amp tones. Let your imagination run wild!