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

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My Case of Why Flangers Rule – Specifically, the DOD FX75-B Flanger

The Pedal File - DOD logoOk.  I’ll admit it, I’m not ashamed.  I love flangers (and all modulation effects for that matter).  I get lost in the whooshing, metallic, stuck in a pipe sound that falls somewhere between chorus/phaser/really short delay.  I get hypnotized, mesmerized, and a little aroused by it (maybe not literally, but definitely figuratively).  I just read a Reverb.com interview with Josh from JHS pedals where they mention how flange is always last on everyone’s mind these days.  Reverb.com even references a Facebook survey they conducted where it was voted the most ‘out-of-date’ effect.  I strongly disagree and would like to clarify:  I think people think flangers are lame because they got overused in a lot of lame music.

The Pedal File - DOD FX75-B FlangerThink about all the crappy music out there with fuzz/distortion/etc.  But you don’t hear anyone claiming the Big Muff to be for losers who are living in the past.  This is because enough players have proven that fuzz can be awesome.  Flange has been deemed guilty by association.  However, Josh does prophetically claim the flanger will make a comeback in the next few years as it is showing up more on recent albums, and therefore people will start looking for (re)’new'(ed) sounds.  I’m here to see that happen because, like the title of this article says, flangers rule.

The way the effect was originally developed is interesting.  It was first discovered by the genius guitar/effects/recording pioneer, Les Paul – though he didn’t use tape, but rather employed phase shifting through acetate disks on variable-speed record players.   Later in the 60’s, flange was an issue encountered when recording long takes onto tape.  As the tape would wind around the reel, it would get weighed down.  This would make the reel turn slower by a few milliseconds, which doesn’t seem like much, but the perceived difference in speed would create the harmonic avalanche that we now know as ‘flange’.

Some smart person (allegedly John Lennon/George Martin – The Beatles’ producer) realized it actually sounded pretty cool, so a technique to recreate this phenomenon was developed.  An archaic method of flanging was achieved by recording two identical takes to two separate tape machines.  The machines would be played back simultaneously.  At some point (the point at which one would want some tasty flange) the engineer would put a finger on the edge or ‘flange’ of one of the reels, causing playback of that tape to be slightly delayed.  This pairing of the normal speed tape with the delayed tape is what produced this unique sound.  Pretty neat, huh?

I’ve mentioned before I’m not a big fan of Eddie Van Halen, but there is something about his guitar tone that really fascinates me.  He used a lot of chorus/flange and was all about crispy textures with a multidimensional tone that makes you feel like you’re a small animal being carried away by a large eagle.  But alas, who can stand to listen to Van Halen (or especially Van Hagar) for that long?  (I hate the 80’s.  That’s when the word ‘rad’ became popular – please stop saying rad, hipsters.  Plus, every musician during the decade seemed to develop some kind of musical retardation, except for maybe The Police.)
The Pedal File - DOD FX75-B

Even though I like the sound of that hideous guitar, it’s hard to get past the cheesiness that was inherent in music during the 80’s – like dipping your ears in a big fondue pot of cheeseburgers.   One thing the 80’s had right though was the sound of the flange (chorus is a runner up and another article topic).

I should point out that not all flangers are equal.  Too many don’t have the kind of control you need (I prefer to have control over the delay time), or they don’t offer any good useable tones (most digital flangers).  There are a few companies like MXR that cater to the EVH fans or like Subdecay, whose flangers are more complex than a modular synth (not really, but they’re pretty intense) and cost well over $100.  But I’m here to remind you in this article that you don’t always have to look at brand new or boutique gear.  Some 80’s and 90’s pedals were well-made and can usually be found for less than $100.  A lot of them aren’t true bypass and whatnot, but if you’re open to the idea of modification or if you don’t care, vintage pedals are a great bet!
The Pedal File - DOD FX75-B
I’ve found a true flanging diamond in the rough in the DOD FX75-b stereo flanger.  It sounds so thick, metallic, and robotic.  Like dipping your guitar in electric molasses, this pedal takes your tone to a sticky gooey territory.  It’s easy to dial in a pretty shimmery chorus, but it also does to-the-max jet pack blast-off flange, as well as some vibe-y, rotary type stuff.  I can’t say enough how great this pedal sounds.  I love it so much, I now have two – just in case.  I plan on getting at least one of them modded to be true bypass (they do generate some noise at some settings) and have even thought about rehousing them both into one enclosure.

Tweakables:
Delay – sets the delay time, which controls the degree of phase shifting. Set it shorter for a chorus-y sound or longer for voluptuous flanging.  Like I said, this knob is really useful for different sounds (on chorus pedals too).
Speed – sets the speed at which the delay time changes – low settings are good for a thick chorus or subtle flange or crank it up for vibe-like throbbing, pulsations, etc.  (The width and regen have to be set around noon or higher for the vibe stuff).
Width – sets the range through which the delay time will vary.  I think of it kind of like a depth knob.  Turned all the way down, there is no sweeping time delay.  Turn it up and the time delay gets introduced to the phase shifting at the sweeping speed that is selected by the speed knob.  Lower settings = time delay sweep through a narrower range.  Higher settings = wider range.
Regen(eration) – adjusts the height of the comb filter peaks by controlling feedback through the delay circuitry.  This feeds the effect back onto itself for more phasing/time delay.  This knob is also what takes you from subtle to totally tripped out alien robot space monster sounds.

Even at low and subtle settings, I love what this pedal does to the guitar.  It excites your playing and makes it feel more alive while thickening the tone up a bit.  At more extreme settings, you can really impart a sense of movement and make people feel sea-sick.  The DOD FX75-B makes it hard to tell sometimes if it is actually chorusing or phasing, but that’s what I love.  It puts a mystical, intangible quality into your riffs.  I implore you to stop over-looking flanger pedals and dare you to put one on your board.  I guarantee if you’re a modulation fan, you’ll enjoy it.  If not, send it to me.

DOD is now owned by Harmon/Digitech who has released a few reissue pedals under the DOD name, but if you want in on the great DOD pedals of yore, your best bet is to check out EBay or Reverb.com.

Check out my band’s new single, ‘I Miss You’, for an example of how I used the DOD FX75-B to achieve 80’s tone for modern rockingness.

As always, let me know what you think!  Please leave me a comment below and tell me how right I am.  Or what your favorite flanger pedal is.

That’s all, thanks for reading!

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File