The Pedal File – NAMM Picks 2016

Welcome, everyone, to the first pedal post of the rest of your lives!  Today I’d like to (try to) be brief and just talk about a few shiny things that caught my eye from this past week at NAMM.

namm

With each passing NAMM I always hope the Land of Pedals will become more diverse, that cool new things will be made.  I’m sad to say the Land of Pedals got a little bit more gentrified with even more overdrive/distortion/fuzzes that all are transparent yet crunchy (even in milk!), give you lots of clipping options, blah blah blah (how many iterations of the Tube Screamer does one need??) and not a lot of innovation.  Stutter delays seem to be the other hot ticket right now – everybody and their mother’s third cousin twice removed once inserted made one of those.  Like, hellllo?  Don’t get me wrong, they’re cool, but not THAT cool.  Let’s move on to other ideas please!

At any rate, here are the pedals that stood out to me:

WMD Protostar

The Pedal File - WMD Protostar

A rendering of the control layout I found via Analoguezone.com


If you’ve never heard of WMD or their Geiger Counter bit-crushing/sample rate-reducing distortion pedal, I suggest you familiarize yourself now.  I’ll wait.  All I can say is these guys are known for weird stuff that boasts an amazing amount of control over the sounds their devices make.  The Protostar is based on their Super Fatman Envelope Filter and is a literal filtration playground, offering multiple filter modes, a CV patch bay, dry/wet mix, post filter compression, internal LFO, variable envelope control and more.  Check out the little video below for a taste.

Go to www.wmdevices.com for more info

Malekko Combover and Sneak Attack

Malekko has been releasing cool synth style effects lately, which seems appropriate as they have a whole line of modular synth modules.  Although these two pedals were technically revealed at last year’s NAMM, they were at this year’s NAMM and still haven’t been officially released so I consider them fair game.  Plus, they’re way cooler than most of the other ‘new’ stuff.


Sneak Attack
The Pedal File - Malekko Sneak Attack

This is a VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) amplitude based dynamics engine for controlling your volume similar to attack/decay controls on a synth.  You can set attack and decay time with short or long envelopes (up to 6s for both, offering envelopes up to 12 seconds in length).  I like that the envelope can be driven manually (say by your guitar signal or an input trigger), or by an LFO.  (Driving the envelope with the LFO produces unique tremolo effects.)  I assume manual mode will allow for those Slow Gear style volume sweeps, or at least I hope!

Combover

The Pedal File - Malekko Combover

The Combover is a spectral comb filter with a sequencer, sort of reminiscent of the ZVEX Seek Wah (which is basically an envelope filter with a sequencer).  The Combover can also be used as a notch or comb filter, which allows you to hone in on specific frequencies and really carve out your place in the mix.  Or, by running the sequencer you can produce filter-modulated rhythmic grooves that entrance.  Another worthwhile feature is the multi-mode sequencer with settings like Pendulum, Backward, Forward, and Random that can add exciting new movement and filter-modulated sounds to your tone cache.

Check out this video (from last year’s NAMM):

Go to www.malekkoindustry.com for info

Honorable Mentions:

Chase Bliss Tonal Recall
-A full featured delay the likes of which only Chase Bliss could unleash.  Basically an analog delay with digital control over every possible parameter, plus control over parameters you’ve probably never heard of on any pedal (other than one made by Chase Bliss).

Go to www.chaseblissaudio.com for more info

EQD Spatial Delivery
-A voltage-controlled envelope filter for all those auto-wah sounds, plus sample and hold capabilities for tripped out step filter Frank Zappa sounds.

Go to www.earthquakerdevices.com for more info

Hungry Robot The Wash
-An enticing delay made specifically for those looking to add a big ethereal wash of delay/reverb to their signal (Hungry Robot says the sound of this pedal would only otherwise be possible with three or four stacked reverb/delays), but with the ability to keep your guitar on top of the mix so you don’t get muddy.  Mud bad.

Go to www.hungryrobotpedals.com for more info
That’s all for now, thank for reading!  I hope you feel a little bit more with it now that you know the scoop on the hottest new pedals.  No need to thank me, just stick around for more….you guessed it, PEDALS!

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

The Pedal File – Stacking Pedals for the Maximization of Pedal Fun: Synth Sounds

/or thrid

Hi kids.  You like pedals, right?  Right.  You like when your guitar doesn’t sound like a guitar, right?  Right.  At least I do.  And since I seem to be the one writing I guess you just have to be captive and read.  So let’s talk about a few easy ways to achieve the aforementioned idea.  It’s easier than giving candy to a baby, taking the candy from that baby, and then eating the candy in front of said baby.

The Pedal FileOne method is to think about how a synthesizer synthesizes sounds and treat your effects pedals as if they were ‘modules’.  If you’re familiar with the idea of a modular synthesizer, it’s easy to find equivalent effects (or ‘modules’) that will make up your pedal board.  Essentially when you wire up multiple pedals in a chain, you’re creating a modular system (in that you can stack them in various combinations).

For example, you could employ an envelope filter or something with ADSR controls like the Pigtronix Attack Sustain as your ‘filter module’ and so on.  You only need like 3 or 4 pedals minimum to get down like a clown my friend, and then you’re free to mix, match, shake, and/or stir any combo of ‘modules’ you like.  Granted the control over your signal path is much more limited, but the basic idea is the same.

Another approach is to sort through a slow but steadily growing amount of ‘synth’ pedals on the market – pedals specifically designed to break down your guitar signal and put it back together in the form of synthesizer sounds/textures.

Examples of these would be the Electro-Harmonix Microsynth & HOG2, the Subdecay Octasynth, Earthquaker’s Bit Commander, etc.

The Pedal File - Pittsburgh Modular Patch Box

But for guitarists looking to get their hands into some actual synthesis, look no further than Pittsburgh Modular’s recent foray into guitar effects.  Their floor-sitting Patch Box Enclosure allows any guitarist to pick and choose real deal synth modules (made by Pittsburgh Modular and/or third party modules) to flavor one’s tone tea if you will.  (You will.)  The ability to use the 3.5mm patch cables like a real boy modular synth provides unprecedented flexibility to create new guitar sounds only limited by your creativity.  (Don’t be mad at it if you can’t make it make good sounds.)  This is one of the only ways that I know of to completely break the oppressive chains of a fixed signal path normally found with effects pedals, but you gotta pay over $1000 for it when all is said and done.  Butttt like I said regular pedals are still a bit away from offering this type of flexibility.

My last tip is don’t poo poo even your boring regular old guitar pedals, there are ways to make these work in your synth rig as well (modulation effects come to mind – pretty much any chorus/flange/phaser will enhance your synth sounds).  Most importantly though, experiment and find sounds you like!

I made a video of some of my favorite synth rig pedal combos:

Do you like what you hear?  Do you hate pedals and everything they stand for?  Let me know by leaving a comment!

That’s all for now, thanks for reading!

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

The Pedal File – Fun with a Minimal Pedalboard

Hello and welcome to the Fellowship of the Pedal, commonly referred to as the Pedal File.  Today I want to flip things around and make you question your pedal beliefs.  Let’s put your mind in the sweet new shoes of another perspective:

Minimalism

What I mean by minimalism in this respect is but one definition of the word – a design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect.  In other words and in this context, do more with less pedals.

I know what you’re thinking.  Use less pedals?  Everything I read and all you talk about is pedals, blah blah, pedals to infinity!  I know it sort of sounds like blasphemy, but sometimes cliches are right, and less is more.

Using fewer pedals means swapping out or switching the order of your effects without feeling like you’re using a Moog System 55.  (Sure pedals are awesome, but you know what are not awesome?)  Cables.  Would you care to put your dirt pedal in other places on the board to see how it sounds?  It’s a lot easier with less pedals – less weight to carry, space to take up, less cables, and less time thinking about turning pedals on and off.

The Pedal File - My Current Board

It’s easy to load up.

It can be hard, but take some deep breaths, and think about limiting yourself to just three pedals.  If you want to get hardcore downsize to one pedal.  Although initially dreadful, this thought can be liberating and inspire you to explore sound in an all new way.  Have you ever dared to not use any dirt pedals?  What about substituting another effect for distortion, like chorus?  How about using a pedal for a tone it wasn’t technically intended to produce?

With a little patience and willingness to explore, I’ll bet you’d be surprised by how much you can do with one pedal (and by what one pedal can do to you).  For instance, since delay, reverb, and chorus are all time based effects, you can achieve all three if you have the right delay pedal.  Set the delay time short (preferably less than a slapback, but experiment with longer delay times too!) and keep the repeats low – this will create a chorus or doubling effect (if you have a mix knob, see how things sound when increasing or decreasing the effect).  Begin turning the repeats up and you should make some pseudo percussive reverb sounds. Experimenting with different combinations of short delay times and the other knobs of a delay can yield sounds you can’t quite get with a reverb or chorus pedal (EQD’s Aftermath and Sea Machine are exceptions).

Remember kids, there is nothing wrong with using a pedal in a way for which it was not intended.  Just also remember, your friends and family may not want to hear about all of your experiences using pedals for ways they were not intended.

All this being said though, it doesn’t mean you can’t still be tasteful and use a knob factory’s worth of pedals.

Check out another fine article on the topic by Caroline Guitar Company’s Philippe Herndon and another by Sam Hill of Tone Report.

Now go out there and get em!

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

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: A Cool Pedal for Consumption – Keeley’s Absolute Wurst Random Harmony Generator

Hello, pedal heads!  I’ve been busy lately and I’ve got to say, I missed you more this time than any other time we’ve been apart.  Every time I got a text, I thought it was you…  Let’s not do that again!  Let me make it up to you.  Your pal, The Pedal File, is here once again to check in and provide you with knowledge about a new pedal that I think is pretty damn cool.  There, feel better?

Since I started this here blog, it’s been only getting harder to keep up with all the new pedals and pedal companies and all the crazy new gear related things that are perpetually coming out like a hipster in college.  That’s why I like to sacrifice my time for YOU to save YOU the trouble of sifting through all the clones and designs that have been done before to bring attention to only the coolest, tweakiest, most versatile pedals around.  I could be playing with pedals right now, but I want you to be on the forefront of pedal knowledge so I’ll keep typing.

 

The Pedal File - Keeley Pedals

Robert Keeley is one of the pioneers of the boutique pedal game (along with his mod offerings), but only recently has he been making bigger waves for his original designs.  Most of his pedals seem rather straight forward – boosts, fuzzes, a delay here or there, some compressors (although the Compressor Pro is quite an impressive piece of work), etc.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with his line of pedals.  Up til now, they’ve just been pretty standard and not that weird.

You even get two finish options.

 

The Absolute Wurst is the pedal I want to talk about today.  It goes way way beyond the aforementioned items of the mundane and was, perhaps, plucked from the board of a guitar player in a parallel universe where down is 6 and up is purple.  Catch my drift?  The short demo video teaser from Keeley (below) doesn’t really begin to showcase all the features, but judging from the descriptions it seems to me like the Absolute Wurst is going to be absolute tits.  I admire the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude that Keeley exudes with this pedal.  Like he’s all, ‘Yea, what?  It’s not another compressor or fuzz or whatever.  What’s up, son?  I do what I want!’  Kudos, Mr. Keeley.  You have been awarded an extra point.

 

What really shrink wraps my baloney is the description of the pedal – a random harmony generator (like a Rainbow Machine?) with pitch up and down capabilities; a ‘broken-sounding’ pedal for ‘Experimentalists, Mathematical Atonal Nerds, and Noise-Scape Artists’.  Robert Keeley, did you make this pedal just for me??  I’m still waiting for it to come in the mail…  I also note that Keeley makes reference to the Gonkulator in the description, which if you’re not familiar was yet another ahead-of-its-time DOD pedal that combined distortion with ring modulation into absolute weird tones that everybody was scared to use when it came out.  This caused the pedal to have a short life, only to be sought after now for it’s weirdness in this more enlightened golden age of pedals we live in.  How much overlap does the Absolute Wurst have with the Gonkulator?  Some?  Not much?  A lot?  I don’t know!  Geez, sometimes you can be pushy….but I’m sorry.  Let’s not fight.

Tweakables – taken from Keeley’s wesbite

MODES
Random – Insane Random Harmony Generator – Pretty much unüsable.  Enjoy! ;-)  (I’d use it)
Pitch up – Cräzy Harmony Up.  Air Guitarist on Acid (aka “Chorus”)
Pitch down – The Drünken Bäss Pläyer.  Low synth sounds and other strange weirdness.  Unexpected throbs (that’s what I get when I’m in a room filled with pedals, and it also happens to be the name of the band that the Pope started with some of his top Cardinals to ‘back up’ their favorite altar boys ).

CONTROLS
Upper Left (knob) – Blend your original signal, dry to all the way wet.  All the way SELFIE or PANORAMIC for you FB or IG peeps.
Upper Right (knob) – Speed (in Random Mode)  — Pitch Range for Up and Down Modes.
Lower Left (knob)– Proximity – How close, or the Proximity to original note that the “harmony” is.
Lower Right (knob)– Gain – as in PutOut.  (Otherwise known as your mother)

Bypass – It’s either On or… Off.
Battery Free – Shoe Gazing turns it on and stuff – Power Drain 60mA or greater.
Keeley Engineered – Days of experience and thoughtful design in the foolish and absurd.  (And I thought I was the only one…)
3D Glasses – Not Required, but they do make the pedal sound better.

Perhaps I will get my hands on this guy someday and do a more in depth hands on review/demo.  Until then, check www.keeleypedals.com for more info.

What do you think about The Absolute Wurst?  Is there another pedal you really really want to hear me go on and on and on about?  Leave me a comment, or if you have something to hide, hit me up on my Contact page!

Thanks for reading.

Love,
Nick
The Pedal File