Boss SL-20 Slicer

PULSING OMINOUSLY like the crystal on the palm of a Logan’s Run character about to meet the wrong end of a Sandman’s blaster, the ever-flashing LED ring that surrounds the Tempo knob on the Boss SL-20 Slicer ($299 retail/$219 street) catches your eye the instant you activate this futuristic pedal. Flashing red on beat one and green on the other three beats of the measure, this steady blinking suggests that tempo will play a huge role in the pedal’s sound, and that is indeed the case. The Slicer, like some combination of a Benihana chef and schizoid breakbeat badass Squarepusher, masterfully chops your signal up into mesmerizing patterns that are perfectly in time with the groove.

Set the Direct Level knob low, the Effect Level knob high, and even if you merely hit the low-E string and let it ring, your sound rat-a-tat-tats out of the speakers in powerful combinations of sixteenth-note pulses and silences that are locked in the pocket. It’s as if a techno DJ got hold of your track and gave it the full pulsating trance treatment. This new double-wide from Boss offers five Banks of ten patches each, and though the Attack and Duty knobs help you customize the general percussivity and duration of a patch’s pulses, each slice pattern is entirely fixed. Luckily, there’s a lot of rhythmic variation between them. Some patterns even have a triplet feel, and Banks 4 and 5 apply various harmonization treatments to individual sliced bits. Set the tempo high, and the harmonization and slice effects combine to transform ordinary single-note lines into faux-Buckethead psycho shred textures. Or, set the tempo slow, play a chord while gradually lowering the string tension with your whammy bar, and hypnotizing, warped-record timbres à la Bill Frisell fill the air.

The Slicer’s biggest talent, of course, is its ability to act as a textural groove generator. While its MIDI In jack lets the pedal latch onto any MIDI clock information your drum machine, keyboard, or laptop can broadcast, setting the tempo on the Slicer is as easy as twisting the Tempo knob to the desired setting. Or, better yet, simply step on the Tap pedal twice in rhythm with the song at hand. Now, hit the Start/Stop pedal, and the selected pattern will start cycling at tempo. I enjoyed using the Slicer in Momentary mode, which lets you launch Slicer textures in short bursts in the middle of a solo or rhythm part. In this scenario, like the trigger on a ray gun, the Start/Stop pedal fires off the Slicer’s sonic ammo only when it’s pressed. (Tip: A wonderfully three-dimensional sound is achieved when the Slicer is run in one of its six Stereo modes, which accomplish everything from psychedelic panning treatments to ricocheting ping-pong effects.)

Because you can’t create custom Slicer patterns, your challenge is to find clever ways to use the pedal that never border on the gimmicky. You don’t want anyone who’s tried the pedal for 30 seconds in Guitar Center listening to you and going, “He’s just using that one Slicer pattern.” So get inspired. Utilize the Slicer’s onboard recorder to augment your playing with cool loops generated on the fly. Run the Slicer into other cool pedals. And ask yourself, “How might Radiohead, Oz Noy, That 1 Guy, or even the Beatles pull magic out of this gizmo?” Whatever you do, let this timbral Cuisinart feed your insatiable appetite for deconstruction, and remember: No riff is too precious to put on the chopping block.