Z. Vex Seek-Trem And Jonny Octave

Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than seeing a new Z. Vex pedal come through the GP offices. For ten years, the mad scientist from Minnesota known as Zachary Vex has been designing some of the nuttiest, most original, and wholly useful effects pedals around, and these new boxes are no exception. They both sport wacky, hand-painted graphics, true-bypass switching, 9-volt battery power, and clean interior construction.

The Seek-Trem ($385 retail/$295 street) is an eight-stage, sequencer-controlled tremolo designed to deliver traditional trem textures and a whole lot more. You quickly get the picture from the control layout: eight Sequencer Volume knobs, a 4/8/6 Step Selector mini-toggle (sets the circuit to cycle between four, six, or eight stages), and a Speed control that adjusts the rate at which the sequencing occurs. Combined, they allow the Seek-Trem to do things that no other tremolo pedal can, including faux echo effects, pulsating herky-jerky rhythms, slowly arcing volume swells, and intense on/off stutter. The Bypass switch automatically returns you to step 1 in the sequence whenever you activate it, and an internal trimpot allows you to set the maximum output volume of the tremolo—up to the point of creating internal distortion. And it sounds killer! Dare I say, even better than some distortion pedals. I found myself becoming completely entranced by the Seek-Trem, which inspired a boatload of new ideas with every change in setting. That, my friends, is the mark of a great effect!

When Jonny Octave ($420 retail/$320 street), isn’t a cigarette-smokin’ street tough, he’s busy creating sonic carnage by allowing guitarists to toggle between one and two octaves above pitch. The unit features two external Volume controls, Bypass and Octave 1 and 2 footswitches, as well as four internal trimpots that let you fine tune lil’ Jonny’s Drive and Gain settings for each octave section.

Placed between a Telecaster and a Vox AC30, it was immediately clear that this juvenile delinquent has some seriously friggin’ sick tones under his red hat. With all of the trimpots in their stock positions, I engaged the Octave 1 setting and was greeted with a clean, pointed, and piercing octave that ably aped any and all of my Band of Gypsys desires. I also conjured some nutty ring-modulation by bending more than one string at a time or playing more complex intervals than the perfect 4th or root/5th grips.

Kicking in Octave 2 doesn’t drive the neighbor’s dog crazy as you might think. Rather, the effect just gets thicker as double-stops on the low strings belch with corpulence and lead lines take on a robotic, synth-like timbre. When you go inside and start cranking the Gain and Drive trimmers, wicked distortion enters the picture and the true depravity of Jonny Octave’s sonic crime spree is revealed. Think more Belew and less Jimi, and you get the idea.

As with other octave pedals, Jonny Octave’s performance is affected by certain notes, intervals, and pickup settings. Z. Vex actually recommends using your neck position pickup and playing more around the 12th fret. And though these pointers certainly helped, I felt that Jonny was more forgiving than other pedals of its type as I could get satisfyingly sick tones everywhere on the neck. Bottom line, these

Z. Vex boxes aren’t cheap, but if you’re a trem nut, or a sucker for the tonal chicanery that only an octave pedal can deliver, they are champions in their class.