Pedal Feature – Iron Ether Pt. 1

Good news, everyone!  A new post about pedals!  It’s been far too long and it looks like you’ve been working out.  Very nice.

Iron Ether logo

At this very moment I want to bring your attention to a rather unique pedal purveyor.  A few months ago I stumbled across, made up my mind I must have, and then acquired The Frantabit and Subterranea made by New Orleans based pedal erector, Iron Ether.  After I watched their demos I was really intrigued by the versatility of those two particular pedals (Subterranea review to follow shortly).  Both were able to achieve a wide range of sounds/tones and I couldn’t resist.  What really excited me was the fact that the Frantabit and Subterrenea make your guitar sound like not a guitar – more like a digital chainsaw in the former case and a fuzzy Moog synth in the latter.  Starting with the Frantabit as part 1, allow me to break it down for you, Morgan Freeman style:

The Frantabit

The Frantabit is essentially a bit crushing, sample-rate reducing, sound degenerating device capable of destroying and transmogrifying your tone in ways you never thought possible.  Bit crushing is caused by the reduction of the resolution or bandwidth of digital audio data.  The resulting quantization noise may produce a “warmer” sound impression, or a harsh one, depending on the amount of reduction.  If you’ve ever listened to techno or played a video game, you should recognize the sound.  It’s like your guitar is teleported to an alien world, but it gets stuck in between teleports and is deconstructed atom by particle, then passed through a series of fine mesh screens until you’re left with just a cloud of dust in some unknown dimension.  No foolin!  With control over the sample rate and bit depth (control over reduction of bandwidth), the Frantabit lends itself to being a highly flexible bit crusher.  On top of that, two separate modes only add to the craziness, with the ability to achieve some kick ass tremolo as well nice ring modulation with plenty of harmonics and chime.  Oh, did I mention that it can get all fuzzed and filtery too?  Like you’re the driver of a sputtery digital motorcycle (digicycle?).  For reals.  This pedal is tremendous for making noise and for adding texture to riffs when used more (or less) subtly.

Tweakablesquoted text is from the manual/Iron Ether’s website

  • “Sample Rate control: This control allows the user to lower the sample rate of the analog-to-digital conversion from 32khz down to <100hz, creating Nyquist aliasing effects – frequencies from the instrument begin to “fold” back downward, creating new harmonics and subharmonics. The frequency response is lowered as sample rate lowers, but instead of simply filtering out higher frequencies, they are mirrored back downward, to create strange harmonies and overtones.”  I don’t really know what that means, do you?  You could go get a degree in electrical engineering, or just take my word for it, the frequencies are weird and wonderful.  Like receiving an outer space transmission on your old tube radio.
  • “Bit Depth control: From a pristine 24 bits down to a massive fuzzed-out 1 bit, the Bit Depth control introduces digital distortion artifacts as the instrument’s amplitude is quantized into progressively fewer volume “bins”. Uniquely, with this type of distortion, the instrument actually becomes cleaner as it gets louder – the opposite of traditional harmonic distortion. Dynamic fuzz tones, digital destruction, and chiptune synths can be dialed in with this control.”  This one is fucked up, but like the previous feature it’s true.  You pick hard and the tone is clean.  You barely strum and your speaker is like a fuzzy whispery ghost.  It seems spooky and counter-intuitive, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.  You definitely get some wild fuzz tones with this knob – fuzz that is chaotic and soaring, which is great for bends and sustained notes.
  • “Mix: Controls the relative volume of the clean and effect signals.”  For those of you about to dismiss this pedal as another toy for noise nerds, please realize this feature makes the Frantabit quite useable in a musical setting.  By adding your clean tone, you can achieve such unique textures that I’m willing to bet no other pedal can give you.  Let it give it to you.
  • “Volume: controls overall volume.”  It can get LOUD.
  • “Degrade/Obliterate switch: This switch controls the behavior of the sample rate reduction.”  I like a switch with choices such as these.  If only I had a remote control with this function to use against those who disobey and annoy me…
    • Degrade mode is true digital sample rate reduction, as described above.”  At some settings the Degrade mode is perhaps the crunchiest, fuzziest, most ominous black cloud bass synth tone ever.  It can also provide you with lots of bit crushed ‘playing Mario Bros while the Nintendo is on fire’ sort of sound.  This thing can literally disintegrate your signal down to one bit.  Like pulling the thread on the sweater of your tone, you can hear it unraveled – naked and screaming like an altar boy in the night.  This mode is also great for producing your gnarly, sputtering, and ripping fuzz tones.
    • Obliterate mode is an emulation of analog aliasing effects – a harsh, harmonically rich “pixellated” sound, much like square wave ring modulation which creates synthy atonal waveforms.”  Obliterate mode is hard to describe.  How do you put things like digital bubbles, digital saws, digital bowling pins, digital pins and needles, static, crackles etc. into words and in a musical context?  Some settings give you really nice warm tremolo (as mentioned above) that can be choppy as well as change speed on each note you play.  Other settings give some nice ring modulated bell like tones and the other scrambled weirdness I feebly attempted to describe above.
    • “Expression Mode rotary switch: this 4-way switch allows the user to assign the expression pedal to any control:
      • S: Sample Rate
      • B: Bit Depth
      • +: Controls both Sample Rate and Bit Depth at the same time
      • M: Mix – clean/effect volume ratio”  This is also really cool and surprising on a pedal of this size considering it’s complexity and amount of knobs.  You have lots of options to tweak with your foot, and I have to say, one of the coolest things about this pedal is playing stuff while the knobs are ‘turning’.

Check out Iron Ether’s website for more info.  Also, the rest of their line of pedals is totally worth your time:  www.ironether.com

A final thing I found really cool about the Frantabit is that even with just the clean tone dialed in, the guitar tone was improved.  It reminds me of a tube preamp with nice clarity and top end chime.  You could just use this as a tone enhancer/boost and not use the effect at all.  …But you would be the most boring person in the world and I will hate you for not using this exceptional pedal to it’s potential!

I hope you found this ungodly creation from Iron Ether as interesting as I do.  As always feel free to leave a comment about your thoughts and to tell me how your day was.  Stick around for a demo video on the Frantabit and my next post – Iron Ether, part 2…

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

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