The Pedal File – Some Great Pedals Made by the Little Guys

Hello there!  It’s The Pedal File back for more pedal-packed fun!  ‘Two posts in one month?’, you’re thinking.  I’ve got to try to keep up, you’re a feisty bunch, aren’t you?  The reason I write today is to tell you about some great pedals made by some of the little guys in the pedal biznass.  I want to remind you not to get swept up on the pedal bandwagon, and that there are some truly hidden gems among the ‘lower’ classes of pedal makers.  I’d like to prove that all pedal makers are equal until proven guilty by a court of unhappy customers on a pedal forum.  Or something.

VFE Pedals Tractor Beam

VFE stands for Von Rutter Family Effects, started by mathematician/physicist Peter Rutter as a hobby.  Not the catchiest of names, but he could have named his company Peepee Poopoo Pedals for all I care.  We’re here to talk about pedals and tone, not marketing.  The reason I include this company is because they specialize in giving you as many tones in one box as you can handle (seems like more of a disease than a hobby, but I can relate).   VFE offers pedals with so much tweakability and versatility, one pedal purchase from them is like buying at least 2 or 3 pedals from your favorite Run Of the Mill Co.
The Pedal File - VFE Tractor Beam
On top of that, you can design your own custom pedal with colors, art, knobs, etc. in their Pedal Wizard, and you can actually submit circuit design ideas to them that they might put into production.  One of the coolest things they do though is support any musical artist that uses their pedals.  Got a recording with a VFE pedal on it?  They’ll put it on the site.  The icing on the nipples by far though is when ordering a custom pedal, a percentage of the purchase goes toward an artist that you can choose from their artist program!  I can’t even decide how many extra points they get.  It’s a lot though.

The Tractor Beam is for those of you who want to dial in an absurd range of phaser sounds.  Multiple selectable stages, inverted phasing, the ability to mix phaser and vibe effects together, the option of momentary switching for quick on/off effects, you can even adjust the brightness of your LED for Oprah’s sake!  You know what I think?  I think Peter Rutter is an alien-human hybrid creature created by the U.S. government to distract us with his tantalizing pedals from what’s really going on.  I’m on to you, Mr. Rutter…

Tweakables: Quoted text from the manual.
Speed – “Sets the speed of the phaser. In version 2, we increased the max speed by 50% and doubled the rate of the slowest speed. In order to have a super-wide range that is still easy to dial in, we had pots custom-made specifically for the Tractor Beam.”  No expense spared there.
Center – “Sets the center of the phase sweep. Turn counterclockwise for low-end throb, turn clockwise for watery shimmer, and set at noon for a full-range sweep.”
Feedback – “Sets the feedback, which is perfect for those slow, resonant phase sweeps. Clockwise = negative feedback, counterclockwise = positive feedback, 12:00 = zero feedback.”
Mix – “Blends between the dry, unaffected signal and the wet, phase-modulated signal. Because phasers get their sound by the interaction of the dry signal, the 12:00 position will yield the strongest phasing. Turn counterclockwise for a resonant tone with less pitch modulation. Turn clockwise for pitch modulation with less phase resonance.”
Stages – “Selects the number of phase stages. More stages = wider phase sweep. The 3-stage position is inverted, for reverse phase sweeps.”  Not like where a play is performed, silly.  Stages as in the number of peaks/notches in the phasing signal to give you different phasey tones.
Mode – “Selects the voicing of the phaser. P = synced phase sweep, V = warbling vibe sweep, PV = half phase, half vibe voicing.”
Internal Controls – “The internal LEVEL trimpot sets the output volume. NOTE: The JFET is factory set for maximum phase sweep – DO NOT ADJUST.”
True Soft Bypass – “All VFE Pedals use true bypass relay switching combined with effect-side FET switching. This makes for pure and smooth switching that is rated for a longer lifetime than you.”  Well now I feel inferior, but hey that’d be a cool heirloom to pass down…
DualMode Switching – “DualMode is a unique VFE feature that lets you setup the footswitch for momentary operation (press & hold = on, release = off). To activate, wait 5 seconds and then press tap+tap+hold until LED flashes.”  Maybe you just want to be able to throw some quick phase on only part of a riff, or even toggle the effect on and off – now you can.
LED Brightness – “Just because we can, there’s an internal trimpot to set the LED brightness just the way you like it.”  Not that I ever thought I needed this on a pedal, but I admit there are a few on my board that light up like frickin’ laser beams.
Carling Footswitch – “The part that you step on shouldn’t be made cheap. We use rugged, industrial grade Carling footswitches in all our pedals.”  Agreed, I always feel a little sour when a pedal company uses cheap components.  Nothing better than a pedal that feels like a brick in your hand.

asduigh984qaubgaiuh49…Sorry, I drooled all over my keyboard and my fingers were slipping.

Check out www.vfepedals.com for more info, but heed my warning: there are lots of pedals and lots of info – you might spend a long time on there.  Also check out the video demos by various people who are not me, and please also note that the demo is for the original version that was called the Enterprise.


Alexander Pedals F.13 Flanger

I’ve talked about Alexander Pedals in a previous post, but I just discovered this soon-to-be-released, soon-to-be a wonder of the pedal world: the F.13 Flanger.  As I predicted, flangers are coming back y’all, and this is one you should take a hard look at.  When I saw that the makers of the Radical Delay have a flanger coming out, it was difficult to contain my excitement, so I went down to my pedal dungeon to blow off some steam.  I feel a little better now…

The Pedal File - Alexander Pedals F.13 FlangerAlexander are another company that doesn’t want to insult your intelligence with copies and clones of everything else.  Matthew Farrow is doing his own thing, which enables you to do your own thing in return.  It’s sort of beautiful really.  The F.13 takes the company a step further in that direction.  This flanger has features that I have yet to hear of in another flanger, like step flangering (think step filter) and dynamic flangering(ydingdong) (think envelope filter/auto wah effects in the way your attack/signal triggers the effect).  Alexander have already forged a path with their small line of effects in their short existence, and I have to say I’m really excited for them to release more.

Unfortunately there isn’t even a demo video to hear how it sounds (perhaps soon I can fill the void), but I’m confident it will sound awesome.  Read on for knobbage.

Tweakables:
Rate – “Controls the rate of the low-frequency oscillator (LFO) for the flanger, from glacial to space invaders.  Controls the input sensitivity in Dynamic mode.”
Depth –  “Controls the maximum LFO sweep.  In Step mode, the depth control chooses downward steps, upward + downward steps, upward steps, or random steps.  In Dynamic mode, this controls whether the flanger sweeps down (less than noon) or up (greater than noon) based on the input signal.”  I really want to hear this thing!
Mix – “Controls the blend between the dry and flanged signal.  Equal mix is at 12 o’clock.  Hint:  Pitch vibrato is available with low Regen settings and fully wet mix.”  Very cool, normally flangers don’t have a mix control, but they should because sometimes you want just a little.
Regen –  “Adjusts the amount of flanged signal fed back into the modulation.  Zero feedback is at noon, clockwise increases the positive feedback for a standard flanger sound.  Twist this knob counter-clockwise for negative feedback and a unique “inside out” flange.”  I’d sure like to turn this thing inside-out…

Mode Toggle:
Step -“The flanger LFO is forced to “step” to eight different values for transforming robot sounds.  Sweeps either up, up + down, down, or random.  The random mode is similar to a synthesizer “sample and hold” effect but with flange instead of filter.”  Umm, I am seriously interested.  Damn you, Alexander, and your temptations.
Sweep –  “Traditional flanging is found here.  The LFO for the F.13 is actually a “hypertriangular” waveform, so that the flanger spends more time in the interesting portions of the sweep.  Hint:  Set the Rate control at zero for “filter matrix” style manual flanging.  The Depth knob controls the flange position.”  I might need a new keyboard, more drool commencing.
Dynamic –  “This one is kind of unusual, even for us!  The flanger delay time is set by the volume of the input signal.  The Rate knob adjusts the sensitivity, to allow for different pickups or effects before the F.13.  The Depth knob controls which direction the flanger will sweep when it hears the input signal.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”   I won’t.

And to think flangers couldn’t get any cooler, the F.13 is in my opinion the most enticing to date.  I’m impressed by Matthew Farrow’s creativity when it comes to pedal design.  It’s apparent that this guy has some experience with what he’s doing, and that each new pedal he makes will most likely be a pleasant surprise for pedal enthusiasts, thus proving that the pursuit of rockin tones will continue on.  There’s a perk to giving this company your money too – they’ll put a portion of it toward cancer charity in honor of Mr. Farrow’s brother.  Hey and unlike the Red Cross, I bet they actually donate it too!

Alexander only has a small line of other effects so far, but you should check them out.  Now.  Go on, get! www.alexanderpedals.com

So that’s all for now, kiddies.  I hope this will hold you over until next time, but until then feel free to shoot me a comment and tell me what you think, or get at me through my Contact page if you’re a little Anonymous Andy.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

The Pedal File: Catalinbread’s Montavillian Ambient Echo

Good day, pedal filers!  It’s official, your favorite source of wacky pedal news can now be found at ThePedalFile.com!  That’s right, I guess I’m here to stay for a little while.  That’s good news for you and bad news for all the pedals I’ve yet to encounter.  May this be their warning…  Anyway, I’d love to tell you what else is new around the luxurious offices at The Pedal File HQ (hint: it’s a pedal) – the Montavillian Ambient Echo by Catalinbread Mechanisms of Music of Portland, OR.  My dedicated staff slaves and I love the creamy space feelings this unit provides, like being engulfed in a UFO tractor beam (what you’ve never felt that?).

Catalinbread has a full line of effects worth looking into, but delay is where they stand up and out, fully erect.  I posted before about their Echorec pedal, which is an impressive recreation of the Binson Echorec, as well their Zero Point flanger and Anchtithon fuzz/tremolo/mushroom pedal.  They also offer the Belle Epoch, their take on remaking the sound of the Maestro Echoplex EP-3.  As you can see, Catalinbread love their classic delays as much as Americans love rehashed music and cinema.  It comes as no surprise then that Catalinbread would be able to engineer a useful delay pedal with features that straddle the line between old school and modern, analog and digital.  (I’m going to coin a new term here – Digilog….  Trademark.)

Your first time with the Montavillian you will become enchanted, paralyzed, unable to escape the comforting trails of delay even though you recognize your own mortality could be at risk because, you know, if you don’t take a break from playing with pedals and at least eat something you may not make it more than a few days.  I barely was able to break myself away and survive.  Always remember, just because your pedals are machines, that does not make you one (Do pedals dream of electric sheep?).

I’m not here to blow smoke or talk in hyperbole (mmmaybe a little, but mostly just in ridiculous and absurd metaphors).  I bought this pedal, and I really love it because of its unique, versatile, and superb aural qualities.   (As you may know, that’s pretty much my checklist for an effects pedal.)

The Montavillian Echo uses the PT2399 chip (used more commonly in lo-fi delays like the Recovery Effects Cutting Room Floor, Caroline Kilobyte, Wampler Tape Echo and many others), but in Catalinbread’s words, “…rather than slavishly following the datasheet, we threw it out and ventured out on our own, using our ears to guide us, and what we achieved is a fantastic sounding delay.”  Indeed they have.  All I can say is their ears must be like freaking sherpas if they led them to such a majestic mountain of delayness.  Maybe I just don’t know shit about designing pedals and pairing components, but I’m surprised that a chip with such a lo-fi reputation could produce a delay so beautiful, so warm, so inviting.

The true Jesus fart (that’s what I call miracles) behind the great tone of this pedal is that this delay does not use companding to process your signal.  Companding is a combination of the words compress(ing) and expand(ing).  Basically, this means that in most analog/BBD-emulating delay pedals, your input signal is compressed, processed, then expanded back to input strength to the output.  Instead of the delay trails getting dirtier as they go, the Montavillian maintains clarity on the delay trails creating an almost reverby, pad-like effect.  (This is my favorite delay to get a realistic spacey synth tone when paired with fuzz and/or octave pedals like the EQD Bit Commander or Iron Ether Subterranea.)  It doesn’t take an engineering degree to understand that the less your signal is processed, the better and more pure your tone should be.  No companding = no strangling then smoothing out of your signal.  Your signal slides in there unimpeded like Bill Cosby at cocktail hour.

Tweakables: Quoted text from the manual

REPEATS“feeds signal from the output of the delay line to the input. This control allows for a single repeat all the way to self oscillation.”  It doesn’t take a lot to make this thing freak out.  In a good way.  Like the equivalent of a bunch of hippies flailing around not being able to control the urge to let their hands chase each other at a Phish concert.  (Okay bad example because nobody likes watching hippies chase their hands at jam festivals…Okay well, I do, for a good laugh.)
MIX“this knob is traditional in the way it mixes into your dry path the amount of echo you want. What is not traditional is the amount of boost it permits you to add… So many echo pedals out there can barely tune the repeat to unity with the gain. This is not at all the case with the Montavillian Echo! You can make your repeats much louder than the dry signal. This comes in really handy for short repeats for a dramatic doubling effect as well as self oscillation freakouts.”  You can impress your friends with these slick delay tricks that can’t be pulled off with everyday delay pedals.  The result can be pretty strange since the repeats are louder than your pick attack; it almost sounds like reverse delay.  Seriously I don’t know of another delay that can do this, but please correct me if I’m wrong.  An extra point shall be awarded for this feature on the official Pedal File Pedestal.
TIME“this knob allows for a wide range of delay times, ranging from around 60ms all the way up to over 600ms max time.”  I prefer 1000ms of delay time, but I realized with this pedal that 600ms is plenty for most delay effects.  I have not really found it to be limiting.
CUT “this knob is a really neato control that I haven’t seen before on an echo. It’s function is to sweep from about 400Hz to about 1500Hz, lowpass filter… When the knee sweeps to the high side it gives a nice little bump in the mids right before the subtle fall off. Tuning this knob allows you to sweep from old school BBD dark filtering to a clear repeat. It gives you the power to adjust your echoes so that they sit in the mix perfectly against your dry signal. This control also functions to EQ the tonality of self-oscillations.”  All of the knobs on this pedal are quite sensitive with a large range of tweakability.  The cut knob is probably the most important as this is how you go from brighter repeats to dark and warm analog style wash.  Herein lies the secret to getting versatile delay tones out of just one pedal.  No matter where you set it, the repeats trail off getting darker as they go, like a low pass filter city going to sleep.  Don’t be fooled, even the brighter settings retain a certain warmness and wrap your ears in a big fur blanket that drags you down by the fire to make sweet love.

There is something soothing about the Montavillian’s tones, more so than any delay I’ve played, like listening to ocean waves, Air (the band), or the cries for help of innocent pedals.  If delay ain’t your thing, but you want an interesting ‘boost’, you can use it like an old school analog delay preamp that can add a perceived boost and a bit of pleasing harmonics to your signal.  It instantly adds more balls to dirt pedals and is perfect for getting all psychedelic up in there.  Whether you drop more acid than Wayne Coyne or you play for Jesus in your worship band, you will love this pedal (and Jesus will too).

The Montavillian is a pedal that you plug into and you can’t make it sound bad, unless you play blues rock.  Or hair metal.  Don’t do that out of the privacy of your own home.  Otherwise you’ll be fine.

Check out www.catalinbread.com for more info

That’s all for now.  Leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts, and thanks for reading!

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File