THE BOSS COMPACT PEDAL LINE reached quite a zenith this year by releasing its 100th, 101st, and 102nd stompboxes. To honor the occasion, GP and Boss partnered on a comprehensive and interactive eBook entitled Guitar Player Celebrates 100 BOSS Compact Pedals (learn how to get a copy at guitarplayer.com or bossus.com). For the first time in history, every single Boss compact pedal released since 1977 is detailed with audio examples, video content, user notes by the GP editors, specs, fun facts, and more. It’s a fantastic resource for pedal freaks of all stripes.
The three new Boss stompboxes that broke the century mark this year were designed with the company’s Multi-Dimensional Processing (MDP)—a technology that purports to “analyze audio signals and apply ‘ideal’ effects to each as you play.” Marketing verbiage aside, there is definitely something very musical to MDP, and the recently released Tera Echo, Adaptive Distortion, and Multi Overtone deploy the science in stimulating ways. Such innovation is a critical and essential “good thing,” because whatever a manufacturer decides to label the doodads that drive its tech, a pedal—to my mind, at least—is rather dull and worthless if it doesn’t inspire you to produce thrilling new sounds and compose music you never would have discovered had you not plugged your guitar into that very box.
Happily, Boss compact pedals 100-102 deliver some new twists on conventional tonecraft. What isn’t new about the trio—and thankfully so—are the line’s time-honored bulletproof casings, dependability, and near world-wide availability of replacements should a pedal somehow meet its maker on the road.
I auditioned all three pedals throughout one live performance, two rehearsals, and two studio sessions. The guitars were an Epiphone Dot Studio, a D’Angelico EX-DC, a Gibson Les Paul, and a Fender Stratocaster—at various times plugged into a Vox AC30, an Orange Tiny Terror and Mesa/ Boogie 1x12, or a Marshall JCM 900.
TE-2 TERA ECHO
The TE-2 ($179 street) isn’t really an echo—it’s more like a filter-modulated delay/reverb. However, because of the Tera Echo’s responsiveness to your performance dynamics, it delivers a more nuanced effect than if you simply chained together an echo, a reverb, a chorus, a phaser, and a flanger. A light touch doesn’t just dampen the effect’s volume and timbre, it transforms the ambience into a subtle wash that floats just below the dry signal. A more forceful attack causes the effect to blossom—which produces a couple of outcomes. My favorite result is that single-note lines suddenly soar like an impassioned David Gilmour solo when you play legato with an aggressive attack. The ambient effect just keeps levitating your notes toward almost “A Day in the Life” style orchestral crescendos. Awesome. I was less enthused by the Martian “yowl-yowl-yowl” trails that occur when you punch a note and pause, but, admittedly, this is still a trippy and musical effect. Bouncing between legato and staccato attacks can produce lines that really tell a story, as the ambiences cinematically morph between subtle, beatific, alien, and sound effect-y. There’s also a bonus for looping fans and sonic explorers—hold down the treadle, and the Freeze feature allows you play over the sustaining ambience of the last notes you hit before stomping on the pedal.
The inspiration factor of the Tera Echo is very high. Subtle control tweaks and performance gestures can open up new sonic territories to explore, making for a lot of creative feedback and improvisational opportunities. It’s also a kick-ass secret weapon for adding interest and impact to solos and riffs.
DA-2 AD APTIVE DISTORTION
While “adaptive distortion” sounds like a sci-fi term, it’s a good description of how the DA-2 ($129 street) follows your playing dynamics and retains note articulation all around the neck—even when playing complex chords through some bloody messy saturation. It’s actually quite remarkable how clear each note speaks. There’s no muddiness or shrillness, nor any other gremlins that compromise note integrity. Part of this is due to that MDP tech, which, in this case, analyzes the input signal and applies compression, EQ filtering, and other safeguards to ensure stout and appropriate processing. For example, when you step on the DA-2, low-end does not fizz out, high notes are not midrange hyped until they poke through your skull, and no notes are “lost” due to inefficient dynamics or aggressive processing. In addition, the Low and High controls are musical and ballsy—a good amount of tone tweakage there for adding a bit more zing or thud to parts.
Where the DA-2 sits on your own “Inspiration Meter” will depend on your love affair with distortion. It’s a brilliantly articulate box that lets you deploy saturation with zero fear of losing any frequency content from notes and chords. It’s also dynamic as hell, and meticulously tracks your touch and guitar-volume manipulations. But the benefit or cost of this super tech is that the distortion sounds “produced”—a dressed-up and pristine buzz that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Steely Dan track. In other words, the DA-2 isn’t likely the best choice for players who adore fizzy unpredictability and vibey filth. However, if you want your live solos to sound like they just busted out of a well-produced album track, the DA-2 is your baby.
MO-2 MULTI OVERTONE
I’m embarrassed by this, but harmony/ modulation pedals tend to lead me into wiggy woggy prog-y silliness. I like layering and texturizing guitar sounds, of course, but I’m not much good at using modulation effects to make the organic and feral rock and punk rock tones that are the foundation of my style. I wasn’t sure, therefore, if I’d emotionally embrace the MO-2 ($159 street). But I’ll be darned if this pedal wasn’t a jaw-dropping surprise. I loved it. However, it wasn’t just the glorious chorusing, harmonizing, and detuning tones that captured my imagination. It was all about the Balance knob—a critical sound-crafting element that GP Associate Editor Matt Blackett discovered as we were bashing around with the MO-2 in the magazine’s sound room.
Savvy manipulation of this control produces truly “summer movie blockbuster” effects by letting you go from organic, direct guitar tones to wideopen, harmonic vistas, and the majesty is especially awesome when a distortion pedal is in the signal path. I was, in a word, transformed. It’s no surprise, then, that the inspiration factor of the MO-2 is off the map. I used a KickDisk (reviewed in the October 2013 GP) to control the Balance knob with my foot, and basked not only in the MO-2’s aptitude to craft unique, ear-catching timbres, but also in its ability to shock listeners by altering a normal guitar sound into something strange and wonderful. Magic!