Univox Uni-Vibe vs. Fulltone Deja Vibe 2, Love Pedal Vibe, Moollon ReVibe, and T-Rex Viper

One of the most enchanting guitar effects of the late ’60s was the Univox Uni-Vibe. Designed by a Japanese engineer named Fumio Mieda for the Shin-Ei company (one of Univox’s overseas subcontractors), and introduced in 1968, the Uni-Vibe used a pulsating light bulb and four photo-resistors to modulate its four-stage phase shifting circuit up to 720 degrees. Housed in a large sheet-metal enclosure, the Uni-Vibe featured Volume and Intensity controls, a Chorus/Vibrato switch, and a DIN-style jack for connecting to the speed /bypass pedal. The Uni-Vibe’s signature pulsating swirl touched an aural nerve in Jimi Hendrix, as well as a young Englishman named Robin Trower, who slathered the effect on practically everything he played. If you’re unfamiliar with the Uni’s sound, just grab a copy of Trower’s Bridge of Sighs album, and you will be treated to some of the coolest ’Vibe textures ever recorded. Mixed with wah-wah—as on songs like “Too Rolling Stoned” and “Lady Love”—the res

As cool as a vintage Uni-Vibe is, however, it’s a pretty large and impractical piece of hardware to put on a pedalboard. It’s also non-true bypass, prone to breakdowns, and so costly nowadays you’d want to hire a security guard to keep an eye on it. Fortunately, excellent clones of the Uni-Vibe have been around for years, and we’ve previously reviewed the Fulltone Deja Vibe, the Prescription Electronics Vibe Unit, and the Voodoo Lab Micro Vibe.

Nevertheless, new models keep on comin’. For this Fight Club, we selected four Uni-Vibe soundalike pedals we have not previously reviewed—the Fulltone Deja Vibe 2, the Love Pedal Vibe, the Moollon ReVibe, and the T-Rex Viper—and subjected them to a face-to-face test against a vintage Uni-Vibe. We also did some ear calibrating with a similar era (perhaps even earlier) JAX Vibra Chorus—which is like a Uni-Vibe, but with slider controls and the addition of tremolo. Our test guitars included a Fender Stratocaster, a Gibson Les Paul, and a new Hamer Talladega. For amplification, we used a Cornford Carrera, a Line 6 Spider Valve 212, a Savage Rohr 15, and a Mesa/Boogie Blue Angel.

Fulltone DV-2 Deja Vibe 2

Featuring a built-in pedal speed control, and packing a replicated Uni-Vibe circuit that uses four photocells and a pulsating light source, the DV-2 ($325 retail/$292 street; stereo version $395 retail) is unique among Uni-Vibe clones in that it has an internal power transformer. No wall-wart needed—just plug it in using the custom flat-wire detachable AC cord, and you’re good to go. Built for the long haul, the DV-2 features an industrial strength, 16-gauge welded-steel housing and rugged PC board construction with careful lead routing and all of the jacks, pots, and switches chassis-mounted for solidarity. The bypass footswitch—true bypass, that is—is located by your heel, so that you can leave the rocker at your favorite setting, and toggle the effect off and on with your toe. Other functions in-clude Vibrato/Chorus and Modern/Vintage switches, an Intensity knob, a side-mounted control for adjusting the output level, and a status LED that also pulses in time with the speed setting.

With the Modern/Vintage switch in its latter position, the DV-2 copped the warm phasoidal swirl and heartbeat-like pulse of our original Uni-Vibe. The DV-2’s voice is a bit more refined, but the chewy ’Vibe sound is definitely there—as is the vibrato effect, which nails the wavy pitch-shifted modulation of our reference Uni-Vibe. Being able to control the speed via pedal brings the DV-2 even closer to the original, and having the rocker right on the housing is probably something Univox would have eventually done if the Uni-Vibe had remained in production.

In Modern mode, the DV-2 sounded a little brighter and punchier—something humbucker players might prefer—and the only other element that takes it out of the “dead nuts” realm is the DV-2’s faster top speed. There is also a pretty abrupt jump between medium and fast as you push the DV-2’s rocker toward its full forward setting. Our Uni-Vibe’s pedal varied the speed more predictably in the same range.

As a side note, Michael Fuller points out that a big part of what makes old Uni-Vibes sound the way they do is the aging of their 19 electrolytic caps, which can nearly double in capacitance as time takes a toll on the internal gel (ten to 15 years is the typical lifespan, and vintage UniVibes can be thrice older than that!). So the question/dilemma that any Uni-Vibe re-maker faces is how far to go in trying to re-create the sound of an original unit, whose caps have aged to the point that their specs—and hence, the sound they create—differ from when the pedal was new.

Fulltone seems to have addressed this issue via the Modern/Vintage switch, which allows the user to dupe the sonic textures of a vintage unit, or nudge the sound in a direction that may indeed be something closer to what the original delivered when Nixon lived in the White House. As a firm believer in the right to choose, I think the DV-2 rules on this merit alone. Fulltone’s Deja series Vibes have also been the choice of Robin Trower since 1996, and you can hear him playing a Deja Vibe 2 live by visiting fulltone.com.

Kudos Righteously pulsing modulation. Built-in rocker-style Speed control. Independent bypass switch is much cooler than the rocker-incorporated bypass of a vintage ’Vibe. Rugged as a tank.
Concerns Consumes a sizeable chunk of pedalboard real estate.
Contact Fulltone, (310) 204-0155; fulltone.com

Love Pedal Vibe

The smallest and least expensive pedal of the group, the hand-wired Vibe ($189 direct) does not copy the photocell circuit of the original, but rather uses analog IC circuitry to mimic the wobbly phasing that made the Uni-Vibe so unique. The Vibe features only a large Speed knob for control of the rate, but inside the black sheet metal enclosure is an Intensity trimpot that you can tweak to vary the depth of the effect. The idea is to set it and forget it. The 9-volt battery is held in place with squishy rubber material, and that same padding is used to keep the densely packed PC board from contacting the case. You can move the board around a bit, which means that the wires and rubber padding are the only things keeping it in place. [At press time, Love Pedal announced a new and improved version of the Vibe will feature a smoother and more rugged on/off switch, and a PC board that’s solidly attached to the chassis. The circuitry will remain the same, and so will the sound, and the updated pedal will street for $149.]

The micro footprint of the Vibe makes it a good choice for an already crowded pedalboard, or for those occasions when you just need to slip a few pedals into your carry-on luggage for a quick jaunt by air. Weighing less than eight ounces, the Vibe would also be the thing to pack if you’re angling to be the first to play “Machine Gun” on Everest.

Despite its different circuit, the Vibe does a good job of grokking essential elements of Uni-Vibe sound, offering the requisite watery phasing, range of speeds—from slow crawl to a jaunty flutter—and about the same level of output (there’s no boost). The Vibe couldn’t match the oldie’s distinctly heartbeat-like pulse, however, instead producing a more straight up and down throb that’s different in feel (and you do feel a Uni-Vibe). Also, unlike a real Uni, there’s no capacity to switch to vibrato, but that’s not something most Uni-Vibers care about anyway. The internal trimmer is set at the factory to pretty much the optimal position. If you turn it counter-clockwise from its middle setting it quickly softens the effect, while moving it the other direction diminishes the sense of rotation, and the phasing effect becomes more static.

Kudos Ultra compact. Super simple. Battery powered. Gets you in the Uni-Vibe’s sonic ballpark with minimal fuss.
Concerns Lacks the distinctive pulse of a real Uni-Vibe.
Contact Love Pedal, (248) 766-8660; lovepedal.com

Moollon ReVibe

One of the latest ’Vibe clones to hit the market, the ReVibe ($359 retail/$309 street) features a faithful reproduction of the original circuit, including the reflecting mirror cover, light bulb, photocell array, and vintage-spec transistors. The polished, die-cast aluminum enclosure sports an engraved motif in the top, and it has the authentic lineup of controls: Volume, Intensity, Speed, and a Chorus/Vibrato switch. An LED also blinks in time with the rate when the effect is active. The extensive circuitry is neatly laid out on a black glass-epoxy board, which is solidly mounted to the housing, and features gold-plated solder points. The ReVibe can only be juiced by an external 9-volt power supply, which is not included.

In a side-by-side comparison, the ReVibe accurately replicated the liquidy swirl of the vintage box, while also copping enough of its heartbeat pulse to make you feel like you’re playing through the real thing. The large Speed knob is conveniently located for easy turning with your foot, and the range of speeds it provides is virtually identical to that of our vintage Uni-Vibe. The ReVibe’s slightly more hi-fi response allows you to hear more pristine detail in the effect, as well as cut though on a loud stage. Noise is generally not an issue with Uni-Vibes, and true to form, the ReVibe also has minimal background hiss. You may subscribe to the notion that friends don’t let friends use Uni-Vibe vibrato, but the ReVibe delivers a good representation of the oldie’s sea-sicky pitch modulation, and it’s good to have onboard for the sake of authenticity.

Kudos Excellent Uni-Vibe sound. Nicely made.
Concerns Engraved control labels are hard to read in dim light.
Contact Moollon, (822) 351-4201; moollon.com

T-Rex Viper

The Danish-made Viper ($499 retail/$369 street) is based on the original Uni-Vibe circuit, but uses a higher operating voltage to give the effect more punch. The aluminum enclosure features a stylish snakeskin finish, and has Depth, Level, and Speed controls, as well as a Mode switch for selecting Chorus or Vibrato. There is also a trimpot on the underside of the unit for adjusting the phase and intensity of the effect. An interesting feature is how the LED not only pulses in sync with the speed setting, but also dims or brightens in response to the setting of the Intensity trimmer. Trick! The Viper is powered solely by an included 12-volt adapter. Inside the pedal we find a covered photocell/light source array and related circuitry, which is configured on a solidly mounted PC board. The construction and wiring are very clean.

The Viper makes good on its promise of delivering a more aggressive Uni-Vibe type sound. Its pulsing modulation is on par with that of the real Uni-Vibe, and it sounds noticeably brighter than the vintage unit, delivering a swishy top-end bite that is different than the wallowing midrange munch of a Uni-Vibe. Is this a good thing? For some players, perhaps. But if you are already using a bright-sounding rig—for example, a Strat though a Twin Reverb—you may find yourself needing to tame the highs somewhere along the line to get the thick textures you desire. The Viper boosts the signal when you crank up its Level control, which is great, but turning up the Depth control doesn’t slather on the effect quite as dramatically as one might expect—even with the Intensity trimmer all the way up, I still found myself itching to hear a little more ’Vibe sound.

We also had the luxury of having the Viper here long enough to send it out with our freelance editor Jimmy Leslie for a series of gigs. Here are a few of his comments: “I found the Viper’s driving retro/modern ’Vibe sound very cool for making certain song sections stand out, and with the Depth turned all nearly all the way down, it’s also great for thickening up chordal passages. A real Uni-Vibe sounds more organic and creamy—and also produces more effect—but the Viper has its own sound that’s vibey, edgy, and hip.”

Kudos A Uni-Vibe with attitude! Great build quality and finish.
Concerns Could be too bright sounding for some tastes.
Contact T. Rex Engineering, (805) 644-6621; t-rex-engineering.com