Friday, May 29, 2015

Devi Ever FX

According to the FAQ, Devi Ever is no longer affiliated with Devi Ever effects, which is... unfortunate, but understandable.  Devi Ever pedals were pretty ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest, and they were a wide range of fairly crazy, loud-to-louder-to-way-over-the-top fuzzes, which (when I tried them in stores) showed the benefit of imagination and the drawback of the kind of fizzy, splatty fuzz that "way over the top" tends to propagate, so I wasn't sure I'd ever put up the money to actually buy one.

I sort of admired their audacity from afar.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Been a while...

It occurs to me that I have been neglecting this page, but I have a really good excuse:

I'm broke.

Have been for a while, actually-- A lot of this page has been about pedals that I have owned for quite some time, but without the finances to buy new pedals, I obviously won't have new pedals to review.  It's fine for me-- my live board for ubik is solid and doesn't need any more stompboxes-- but this bout of poverty does lend itself to a kind of no new pedals philosophy that prevents me writing about them.

It has been a while, sure... but that's why.  The reviews still get plenty of hits and the content still stands, but new pedals are sort of hard for me to come by right now, so...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Alesis SmashUp





Okay... I admit it. I'm probably never really going to review this effect properly. It's functional, and, back in the day, I used it as a bus compressor for things where "functional" is good enough.  My basic complaint about this unit is my standard gripe with all digital emulators: whether they're algorithmically recreating transistor pedals, tube amps, ladder filters, or opto-compressors, they're never quite right.

They're always Elvis impersonators--  They're never Elvis.

Again, this is not to say it's a bad-sounding compressor: its opto and "classic" modes are fine, "pump" is a good compressor-as-effect setting, and "transparent" and "de-ess" are useful tools... but most of these functions are available within any given digital audio workstation.  Given that the SmashUp is over a decade old, its digital emulations of compressors are much, much less advanced than the channel strip bundled in a copy of Cubase, Ableton, or Sonar. 
While something like the BitRMan has its own personality, and would reward running its strange chemistry as outboard gear, the SmashUp is aiming for standards.  If you need an outboard compressor, get the analog unit with the character you like; if you want a digital compressor, use a software version and avoid adding an unnecessary AD/DA conversion to your sounds.  The SmashUp has drifted into obsolescence.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Epiphone Vinnie



Les Paul

I know absolutely nothing about this bass' namesake-- it's a signature model of a bassist I haven't heard for a band my friends assure me I'd hate.  And that's fine: I don't need to like any particular band to love this bass.

Which I do.  I love it.  A lot.  If it had been a 24-fret instrument, this would have been transformed into my ubik.tenor... if only.


I had initially assumed I wouldn't like Gibson-style basses: their necks and string spacing just didn't seem right to me.  Upon playing the Vinnie, I was surprised by how natural it felt: the neck was sleek and comfortable and, while wider than I was used to, avoided that Fender "half a baseball bat" neck that always bugged me.  Right now, this is my absolute favorite bass for two-handed tapping techniques; the neck is great for that.

The Vinnie is punchy and aggressive sounding, running a pair of active EMG pickups with a fairly hot output.  While I wouldn't use it in a jazz combo, it's a dead solid for rock from 1970 and on into punk and metal.  The last time this instrument was on stage with me, it was for a pick-driven punk rock set, and this was absolutely the right bass for the job.


Beyond that, this bass is just gorgeous.  I'm predisposed to archtops to begin with, but the dense, sculpted Les Paul body with the arched flame maple top is stunning.  I'm also a fan of the 2x2 headstocks, so the whole composition of the bass is sort of built to my preferences.

I like stringing it with Black Beauties, because they look great across the dark finish of the body to the maple neck, and with the all-black hardware.  A lot of the time, I'm not picky about a bass' looks, but this one is just so damn pretty...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

DigiTech Main Squeeze




Studio Comps on the Floor

One of DigiTech's digital X-Series stompboxes, the Main Squeeze used studio compression algorithms for a guitar-syle compressor/sustainer, allowing for both the snappy attack of "chicken' pick'n" and the Gilmour-esque "sustain for days." It did a decent job on both counts, but there was something not-quite-right about the whole affair that I could never put my finger on. It is a digital box-- this is using the "intelligent," adaptive compression developed for rack modules-- but it is still a low-cost Digitech pedal, and the buffers, preamps, and AD/DA converters are all of budget stompbox quality.  When turned up, compressors naturally raise the noise floor of any signal, but this was was outrageous: going for that "infinite sustain" sound usually sounded like a windstorm.

Formerly On Pedalboard
Replaced By:
Eventually this pedal was sold simply because it wasn't going to serve me very well as the first pedal on my pedalboard. Both engaged and bypassed, this was definitely not the unit I wanted being the first shaper of my tone. Also, the nature of the digital modeling pedal insisted on a power supply at a time when I was using as few wall-warts as possible (once upon a time, it was a mostly-battery board).  The cons were outweighing the pros, and, even now, I can reliably say I traded up when I got rid of this pedal.

The Main Squeeze wasn't terrible, but there's better comps out there. I replaced this with Jacques compressor, which is smaller, analog (and battery powered), sounds better, and had a great buffer in the bypass.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Catalinbread Echorec




4-Head Echo

Based on the Binson Echorec, a not-exactly-tape, 4-playback-head echo machine, the Catalinbread Echorec is built for that specific style of multi-tap echo.  As I flipped through the Program select and found a pulse I recognized from Pink Floyd, I had a eureka moment: "That's the David Gilmour rhythmic echo."

Before that, I'd forgotten that Floyd was the Echorec's standard-bearer.  When I heard this pedal, it clicked.

Aside from Swell (the feedback control) and delay time, the Catalinbread comes with an active tone control and a Program selector knob that controls which tape heads are active.  Program 1 is a straight, single tap, like on any normal delay pedal, and additional heads are added in a variety of configurations throughout the 12 positions of the rotary knob, with Program 12 being all four heads active. The Echorec manual comes with a chart that breaks down the 12 programs and which heads each activates... I recommend keeping that chart around, at least until you have your preferences memorized.  You can discern which, and how many, heads are firing by listening, but switching settings in the middle of a live show will necessitate knowing which Programs you're using for which song in advance.  So: keep that manual.

There are internal trimmers to control the modulation (simulating the magnetic decay and warble of the original Binson unit-- it can be rolled all the way back if you don't like the modulation, or turned up from the fairly subtle default) gain (originally set to unity, but able to boost and drive the signal), and a true bypass/buffered switch.

I recommend running this pedal in true bypass if you like really present echoes, because, while Catalinbread is rightfully proud of their buffer, the Mix control remains active even when the pedal is bypassed.  Since the Echorec goes from 100% dry to 100% wet, this won't affect you if you keep the Mix knob at noon or lower, but the more prominent the echoes get from there, the quieter your dry signal becomes... even in bypass.  This seems like a bit of a design flaw to me, since setting the pedal 100% wet means you get no instrument signal even when the pedal is bypassed, but it is quickly resolved by switching the pedal from Buffer to True Bypass.  It does remove the option for trails, though.

Making Choices

Though I was very excited for the release of the Echorec, and I do like the character of the echoes (I've never used the Binson and can't really compare the Catalinbread to the original unit... but it does sound good), I prefer the wet/dry blend of the Catalinbread Montavillian, which keeps the dry signal at unity and allows the echoes to be as quieter or (most importantly) louder than the unity dry signal.

This is certainly no knock against Catalinbread-- their new echo pedal just isn't going to replace the Catalinbread echo already on my board-- but for the songs I'm playing and songs we've already written, the Echorec just didn't make sense: I'd need more present echoes, so I had to run it true bypass and didn't benefit from the trails, and a lot of our songs rely on my straight-time echoes, so I wasn't setting the Echorec to make use of the multi-head rhythmic delays.

I think I would be more interested in a "deluxe" version of the Echorec, sort of like their big-box version of the Semaphore. I'm certain the Echorec v2 will fix the Buffer/Mix knob issue, but a larger box would give a little more room for visual feedback and control: like four toggle switches (one for each playback head) instead of a 12-position Program knob that necessitates the use of a chart (and, since it's not a detented knob-- it doesn't click into place-- there is a tiny "dead spot" between each of the 12 programs as you turn the knob)... or maybe four small LEDs to indicate which heads were active.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

L.R. Baggs Para-Acoustic D.I.





It's always harder to put in the money for a piece of gear like this than it is to buy a fun and sound-transforming effect, but I threw in for a quality preamp and DI, with a nice EQ and all the trimmings. After all the years of use I've gotten out if it, this was one of my wisest investments.

The sound quality of this box is fantastic-- intended for acoustic guitars or not, it is a bassist's best friend, with fine retention of the low frequencies and a flexible equalizer that can shape bass tone exceptionally well. Being an active unit, it offers both input gain and output volume, allowing for some well thought out gainstaging, and can be used for some lighter breakup, if needed. The DI can be powered by 48v phantom power off a mixing desk, as well as by 9v batteries.

While I use this in the studio, live acoustic players will  get a lot of use out of the feedback notch option (selected by pitches, allowing you to dial out whatever tone you're feeding back).  Similarly, the effects loop (set up like an effects insert on a mixing board, with a single TRS jack) is great for running effects without interfering with your DI or the XLR connection to the sound system.  XLR and 1/4" outs are provided and can run simultaneously for driving an amp as well as feeding a mixing desk, and a phase invert switch is on tap in case you're getting phase cancellation.

Most everyone needs a DI, especially in the age of computer home recording. This one sounds better than most, and is incredibly flexible for both live and studio work.

L.R. Baggs

L.R. Baggs is primarily concerned with acoustic guitars and other non-electric instruments, which isn't one of my main concerns, but most people putting together a well-equipped studio will find some useful tools in the L.R. Baggs catalog.  Their focus is on pickups, preamps, and DIs, but their company leans toward higher-end (though not egregiously expensive) pieces than the club-standard DIs or... well... that one acoustic guitar pickup everyone has (not naming names, but you know, that one).