Iron Ether, Part 2 – The Subterranea

Hello to you knob lickers and switch ticklers!  Ready for the next installment of my thoughts on Iron Ether?  No?  Well I guess I have to call tough shit on this one!  You’ll thank me someday for bestowing such wonderful knowledge upon you.  If you missed Part 1, click here.  Now that you’re up to speed, read on.

The Subterranea

All kidding aside, this is a fantastic synth/octave pedal.  Do you want your guitar to sound like a fat slob of a fuzzy synth?  Buy this pedal!  Seriously.  It compares (minus a few features) to the EHX Microsynth in tone, but excels far better at down-your-leg-dripping warm analog octave tone.  Also it has lots of knobs and switches and I’m into that.  Did I mention each one has a unique finish?  You never know what you’re gonna get, making each pedal it’s own collectible little work of art.  It makes for an attractive and superbly versatile pedal that can let you compete with the asshole synth player in your band who thinks he’s so cool with all his tricked out sounds.

You get a bunch of octaves (three to be specific), waveform switches on two of them, and a low pass filter on the third.  There’s a clean mix knob, which of course leads to a crazy amount of tweakability.  The blending of the octaves with the filter and waveform switches grant awesome power to this pedal to churn out unprecedented synth tones like a Moog – on fuzz, man.  Somehow Taylor Livingston (the man behind Iron Ether) designed this pedal to sound like a lo-fi arcade synth that tracks well everywhere on the neck, with any pickup.  Pleasing video game tones are hiding beneath higher notes on the neck.  You can use the low octave and filter knobs to make your guitar sound like a deep bass.  Playing chords makes it glitch out a bit, but this can get really cool when you bring your clean tone back in.  I found even just playing with one octave voice can provide hours of experimental fun.  It’s like a kingdom of rugged synths at your fingertips and you are their king and stuff.

Tweakables – Quoted text from Iron Ether’s website

  • “Octave: This controls the volume of the main octave voice. This voice is based on classic octave down effects and offers a fat sub sound. Some elements of the original signal’s timbre remain unaffected.”  This is gnarly.  You’ll forget what the hell instrument you’re playing and lose yourself in the deep dark octave-y goodness.  Oh yes.
  • “Filter: This controls the cutoff frequency of a lowpass filter on the output of the Octave signal. This allows for sounds from deep, dub tones up to funky harmonically-rich signals. The filter only effects the “Octave” voice.”  I wish this was controllable with an expression pedal as it would be a sweet ass sweeping filtered wah, but I guess it probably was too hard to fit in the circuit.  It’s okay though, it’s still cool.  You still can make an impressive amount of tones with just the Octave and Filter controls with your good ol’ fingers doing the job.
  • “Octo Synth: This controls the volume of a synth voice tracking at one octave below the input pitch.”  Indeed it does.  A fuzzy glitchy octave sort of like the EQD Bit Commander.
  • “Octo Synth waveform switch: This selects between a saw, narrow pulse, or square wave for the Octo Synth voice.”  This is an awesome feature.  Get harsh nasally quacking fuzz, or a more mellow and rounded character if it’s been a rough day.
  • “Uni Synth: This controls the volume of a synth voice tracking at the same pitch as the input signal.”  Another nice fuzzy octave to add to the mingling of octaves.
  • “Uni Synth waveform switch: This selects between a saw, narrow pulse, or square wave for the Uni Synth voice.”  Once again, shape your attack for what it is you want to kill…or stun if you have feelings.
  • “Clean: This controls the volume of the unaffected signal.”  You know the drill, adds clean tone, versatility, blah blah blah…

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

Please also watch my video demo:

A final thing I found really cool about the Frantabit and Subterranea is that even with just the clean tone dialed in, the guitar tone sounded, well, better.  It reminds me of a tube preamp with nice clarity and top end chime.  You could just use them as a tone enhancer/boost and not use the effects at all.  …But that would mean you are a horrible person and I will hate you for not using these exceptional pedals to their 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.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

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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

Electro-Harmonix: MicroSynth

Hey all you knob lickers!  I’ve written another review just for you (don’t tell anyone because they’ll be jealous).  This one is long (winded) and detailed (much like my other reviews) so I will try to keep side-tracking to a minimum.  The pedal I want to talk about has confusing features that have led many a guitar player to sell or throw aside the glorious contraption that is the Electro Harmonix MicroSynth.  If you don’t know Electro-Harmonix then you should go back to pedal school and learn about Muffs and the six-hundred-thousand other pedals they have made sometime since the late 60’s.  They were one of the first companies to sell and mass market affordable effects for guitar/bass and have always been downright creative and original with their designs.  A testament to EHX’s more unique offerings (I’m thinking of the HOG2, POG2, Flanger Hoax, etc.), the MicroSynth was also one of the first guitar synth pedals and remains to be one of the best as most companies even today dare not tread into such experimental territory.

Electro Harmonix - The Pedal File

I get really excited about synth pedals.  I don’t know why I get happy to make a guitar sound like it isn’t.  Maybe it’s because ‘normal’ guitar tones bore me as they can be heard everywhere at all times on everything.  The MicroSynth is a gust of fresh air in this respect as it allows me (and you too) to push the boundaries of guitar tone the way I want to.  It combines fuzz, distortion, octave, envelope filter, and swell effects that are controlled with a row of highly sensitive and tweakable sliders.  The aforementioned sliders could break off easily as opposed to knobs (just be gentle with it – good touch only), but they save space and in my opinion make the visual aspect of tweaking this pedal a bit easier.  With these erect little mechanisms between your fingers you get to be the captain of a funky space ship time machine blasting off and into wormholes into alternate realities where you meet the Bizarro you and have to fight to the death because the Bizarro you wants to kill you and take your place back here in this reality!  …Ok, maybe that description is slightly hyperbolic, but seriously you can emulate a smorgasbord of sexy synth tones that will increase your rank amongst all your cool hipster friends.  Enough sillyness, let’s move on to the tweakage, shall we?

Electro-Harmonix lays out the controls pretty logically, but at first glance they can be rather intimidating. I’ve said it before – read your manuals!  You can save yourself from getting rid of a perfectly good pedal (*GASP*  THE HORROR) and also lots of frustration when a pedal doesn’t do what you think it should.  It doesn’t hurt if you are somewhat familiar with the basic controls of a synth either.  Or if you really don’t feel like reading even more information, just watch the video by Prymaxe Vintage.

Tweakables:
Quoted text is from the EHX MicroSynth Manual

The MicroSynth is split into”…four voices: GUITAR, OCTAVE, SUB OCTAVE AND SQUARE WAVE that are completely independent and fully mixable. The MicroSynth can modify these signals with envelope control for a variety of “bowed” or “blown” sounds.  In addition, a sophisticated swept filter control allows highly variable frequency adjustments to be applied to the overall output signal.”  In other words, you can pretty much never run out of crazy sounds to make, but that’s not even the tip of a giraffe looking up at the sun while jumping on a pogo stick on top of a big old iceberg.

PREAMP GAIN ADJUSTMENT – “The preamp gain in the MicroSynth has been set at the factory for use with a guitar equipped with single-coil pickups. If you will be using another instrument with higher or lower output, it may be necessary to readjust this setting.”  I remember messing with this, I think I turned it down a little to compensate for the humbuckers on my tele.  It did make a difference in the overall sound of the pedal and should be taken into consideration if you’re not playing single coils.

TRIGGER – “Determines the input volume at which the filter circuits will ‘turn on.’ It does not affect any other circuitry.  If the TRIGGER is set too high, the filter may ‘stutter’ due to multiple triggering. This is especially true if full chords are played.  It is best to set the TRIGGER at exactly the sensitivity needed for your playing.”  Mine tracks best when I keep the trigger set lower, somewhere between 1 and 5.  This is probably the most important setting to figure out to make this pedal behave the way you want and it’s hard to get a feel for because it responds to your pick attack.  Set it too low and it won’t sweep the filter.  Too high and you get glitchy sputtery filter-y madness…which can be cool, but only when you want it there.  Because the trigger is so important and relies on pick attack to get the amount of effect you want, I suggest putting this pedal first in your chain.  If you have a compressor try putting the MicroSynth after it, but pay attention to how this affects the tone and always do what sounds best to you.

VOICE MIXING section – “GUITAR, SUB-OCTAVE (one octave below), OCTAVE (one octave above), SQUARE WAVE. Each voice is completely independent and can be mixed with the others in any degree.”  This is where the tone crafting comes in…turn up just the guitar voice to add nice harmonic richness to your signal.  Turn up the other voices for dirty synth fun time.  Even without sweeping the filter, you can never run out of tonal combinations.

GUITAR – “Controls the output volume of the input signal through the filter.”  Set the start/stop frequencies together for fixed wah tone or apart for envelope filter sweeps.  Take the guitar voice away and you’ll forget what instrument you play.  You also might forget you are not a robot.  (..Rrrrreeemmmemmmmmberrr…)

SUB OCTAVE – “Controls the output volume of the Sub-Octave. The Sub-Octave effect only tracks single notes.”  This is a fat and deep sub octave, perfect for Moog-y style bass parts.  With the guitar voice mixed in you can still play chords and get them to track better.  Adding distortion can make things awful gritty.

OCTAVE – “Controls the output volume of the Octave. The Octave only tracks single notes. This voice contains a small amount of harmonic distortion for added richness of tone.”  While most fuzzy octave up pedals give you just the standard octavia effect, this one grants you access to way more than that.  Poly filter sweeps, voice box synth, and laser gun sounds are at your fingertips.

SQUARE WAVE – “Controls the output volume of the Square wave.  Intensity of this voice is also determined by instrument attack or volume.  In all other respects it operates in a similar fashion to a standard distortion device.”  This goes from clean to monster fuzz, but with an overall analog synth filter-y quality to it.  It sounds even awesomer if you stack it with another distortion or fuzz.  Or both.  Set the stop frequency low, crank this up along with the sub octave and trigger and say hello to the ‘blown’ (as in a blown speaker) sound they talk about.

ATTACK DELAY – “Determines the time required for the voice signals to reach full volume. Higher-numbered settings can completely remove the initial attack of the instrument. Different delay times contribute greatly to the characteristic sounds of various instruments. It is recommended that you synchronize your playing to the speed setting of the ATTACK DELAY.”  I love this function.  Like the Boss SG-1Homer 3D, you can achieve those cool volume sweeps to sound like a bowed instrument or by selecting a faster rate a syncopated funky monophonic synth.   It’s surprising how much atmosphere you can create with this function.  I like to turn the attack delay, the resonance, and rate to maximum and set the filter to sweep either up or down.  Add a delay pedal and you’re instantly swept into that 3D world Homer found that one time behind the bookcase on that episode of The Simpsons.  You’ll be, like, running around on circuit boards inside of some giant computer.  In space.

FILTER SWEEP section –

RESONANCE – “Affects the degree of sharpness, or “Q” of the filter. Higher settings will produce a more emphasized filter sound and also add a slight boost to the signal.”  What the hell is Q you say?  It’s kind of like a resonance knob on a phaser (The MicroSynth happens to be a 2-pole resonance filter – the less ‘poles’, the brighter the sound, hence the signal boost).  This control is also important for those Moog sounds.  Add a little for a subtle harmonic boost (mids/treble) to your tone, or a lot to commence your trip on a synth space ship.  That sounds like a line to a funk song.

START FREQUENCY – “Determines the frequency at which the filter sweep begins.”  Start high or low to sweep up or down, the power is in your hands!

STOP FREQUENCY – “Determines the frequency at which the filter sweep ends. This is also the “resting frequency” of the filter, and if START and STOP controls are set at the same level no sweep will occur, though the filter will provide emphasis of that particular frequency band. In addition to lead synthesizer sounds, START and STOP controls can be used to simulate attack, decay, and harmonic content of acoustic instruments.”   As great as the envelope sounds I like to keep the filter fixed like this a lot of the time.  You can create dinosauric-ly massive tones this way with the different voices.  On the other hand by using more subtle sweeps, you can bring a new level of expression to your playing.

RATE – “Determines the speed at which the filter sweeps from START FREQUENCY to STOP FREQUENCY. It is recommended that RATE be synchronized with your playing speed.”  You can simulate a fight scene in Star Wars by setting the rate fast or create long and beautiful filter sweeps like you’re being pulled in by a space ship tractor beam.

The amount of tweakability and the range of control on this pedal really astounds me.  What I love is that it makes for limitless possibility for a guitar player (they have a bass version too, which a lot of guitar players use to take advantage of the lower and beefier register.  This one is still pretty beefy).  My only complaint is the high price tag.  The pedal doesn’t feel as rugged and heavy as I’d like for the cost.  And yet despite this the MicroSynth has been around for a long time, but doesn’t get the respect I think it deserves.  If you’re looking for a pedal that is completely different from anything out there with tones to infinity (not just wild ones – there’s amazing rock tones in there too), look no further.  If you play guitar but secretly wish you played synth (synth players shouldn’t get to have all the fun right?), if you like to experiment, or if you’re just bored with life on Earth and you want to escape the dreary confines of your shabby town and ride your guitar like a witch’s broom to a magical far away land in the sky, then you should probably buy this pedal.

What do you think of the MicroSynth?  Is it too much?  Not impressed?  Am I a liar?  Do I smell?  Leave me a comment!  For more info check out www.ehx.com

Thanks for reading!

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File