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

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