I was lent this pedal by the generous Northern Stompboxes. As usual, sound clip and photographs at the bottom of the review. I unfortunately didn’t get a gut shot of this pedal. If I do… More
Continuing on from my previously popular interview series I have one here from Mike at Life Is Unfair Audio Devices:
Pedal Post Blog: Do you have a background in building electronics, or have you taught yourself as you’ve gone on?
Life Is Unfair: I did an electronics GCSE in school and then touched on it very briefly whilst studying a music tech degree in uni but otherwise just self taught from reverse engineering pedals and reading. Although for the past few months I have been picking up a wealth of information whilst working alongside Jake Rothman soldering Colorsound pedals for Macaris in London, hes been helping me start to fill in the gaps in my electronics knowledge whilst I do that so that’s been a great help!
PPB: What was the very first pedal that you made, and can you pinpoint the reason why you made this particular pedal?
LIU: The first pedal I built was an SD1 overdrive clone for my friend Shaun, I’d convinced him to let me build it if he paid for the parts because I wanted to build myself this delay kit but wasn’t confident in doing that as a first build having not soldered for a few years previous. Luckily it all worked first time and is still sees occasional use now I believe! So after that I got myself the delay and was hooked on building pedals and started doing it as much as possible after that.
PPB: Which of all the pedals you have made past/present is your favourite and why, and do you have one on your board?
LIU: I think it would have to be The Dream Left Behind fuzz because its always on my board whether I’m playing bass or guitar. I think its my favourite because it’s so simple that I can’t make it sound bad haha, that and it’s the first pedal I designed so I think it’ll always hold a special place in my heart.
PPB: Which is your favourite pedal (not made by yourself) if you had to choose one and why?
LIU: That’s a toughie! At the moment I think the pedal im having the most fun with would be the POG2, just using the attack feature rather than the octave section to get cello like envelopes or weird stuff moving about underneath layers of other modulation when splitting the signal into two.
PPB: What does the future hold for Life Is Unfair? Are there any future pedals we should get excited by?
LIU: I’ve got a semi-modular tremolo pedal coming soon which I’m really excited about, just need to finish artwork and tweak a few things before that’ll be released properly although I am going to be putting three limited prototype versions up for sale in the next few weeks so keep an eye out for them for a glimpse of what to come. Further down the line there’s going to be more things with 3.5mm jacks as I’m getting really into the eurorack format at the moment and really like some of the modular/semi-mod stuff some people have been putting out recently, the Hungry Robot desktop modular stuff in particular. I’ve also got some ideas for modulation, filters and more fuzz boxes but that won’t be for a little while.
PPB: What was the first pedal that you owned?
LIU: A Boss TU2 followed closely by a Boss GEB7, what a nerd haha
PPB: What was the last pedal that you bought? If it’s been a while, is there anything on the cards?
LIU: I picked up a Boss PS6 recently, I haven’t played around with it too much yet but I’ve found a few cool things I like with it already, I even quite like the weird random vibrato effect it gives when playing in the wrong key, going to have to try and use that somewhere!
PPB: What is your opinion on the Boss Metalzone? Love/Hate?
LIU: They catch a lot of flak for being bad but they’re not the worst thing out there (im looking at you digitech death metal) but its not going to be finding its way on to my board any time soon.
PPB: What would you say has been your biggest improvement since you started building FX?
LIU: I think the biggest difference is going from an absolute mess of spaghetti to as few wires as possible with my more recent builds.
PPB: What would you still like to improve on future builds?
LIU: One thing I’m always trying to push myself to do is improve the quality of my finishing, so recently I’ve moved over to using powder coating instead of spray clear coat which has been fun to learn and looks great but I’m just working on getting that the best I can at the moment and putting together an oven so I can do larger batches of enclosures.
PPB: Which other builders do you admire the most?
LIU: The ones that inspired me to do my own stuff would probably be Devi Ever, Death By Audio and Dwarfcraft. I love each of their approaches to unique pedals with a really solid aesthetic and I’m a big fan of weird fuzz boxes which they all do lots of. Newer companies I’m a big fan of are Adventure Audio and Old Blood Noise Endevours.
PPB: Have you ever had a pedal that you have looked back on and been embarrassed by?
For example, I once owned a Danelectro FAB Metal pedal. (It was awful, I don’t know why I wasted my money, I don’t play metal so don’t know why 14 year old me thought the metal version was the best one to get)
LIU: I can’t think of any pedals that I’ve had like that but I did have a BC Rich Beast bass for a few years when I was in school, not quite sure what was going through my head at the time.
PPB: What is one effect you can’t live without?
LIU: I’ve got a CE2 clone I built a few years ago that is rarely turned off when I’m playing guitar at the moment, so it would probably have to be that, I just love the little bit of movement it adds to my clean signal.
PPB: Why the name “Life Is Unfair”, is it not a little bit depressing? There must be a story behind it?
LIU: There’s no real story behind it, just my cartoonish nihilistic sense of humour and a cheeky they might be giants reference.
If you haven’t already I would seriously recommend checking out their website:
Quality handmade effects with a twist.
This week I am reviewing the Tate FX BMB Overdrive.
Stuart Tate from Tate FX Kindly sent me this pedal to try out. I have not been paid for this review, and the opinions held within are my own. Pictures and soundclip at the bottom.
What is the BMB? It is an overdrive, it is a RAT style overdrive. This doesn’t mean all that much to me as I haven’t tried a genuine RAT pedal. But since spending some time with the BMB I really want to find an original RAT and I can understand why people rave about them. The BMB is a good usable overdrive that can be nicely cleaned up with the volume pot.
I would say that the BMB is best used for a classic rock sound. It is at home playing power chords and AC/DC licks. It works well as a base sound to drive a fuzz or be used along side a boost when you need an extra push.
Tate FX haven’t tried to re invent the wheel here, but have created a solid effects pedal that can be used for a lot of applications. I don’t have any gripes with the pedal. It is articulate, cleans up nicely when needed and doesn’t get too heavy for single notes.
The pedal could probably be housed in a smaller enclosure if space on your board is at a premium, I’m sure it would fit in the enclosure that Tate FX uses for the Raise The Dead Fuzz. Upon opening the pedal it is immediately obvious that these are top quality components and the pots feel like they could take some abuse. The wiring is tidy and the use of standoffs for the board is a nice touch that you don’t always see.
This level of quality is to be expected at this price point I think. As they are considerably more expensive than the mass made overdrives that you can buy, but each individual component costs more, especially when making pedals in tens rather than thousands and I think that the BMB sits solidly within its price bracket.
The only thing that I have an issue with at the moment is the branding. Unlike the Raise The Dead (also by Tate FX) it doesn’t have a solid theme. BMB used to stand for “Brexit Means Brexit) but Tate FX wanted to distance themselves from politically themed pedals. Personally I think that this is a good decision as if there are two topics that divide opinions more than any other it is religion and politics. Neither of which have a place within branding for guitar pedals. You will always upset somebody if you try and brand something with a political message and it will always be a harder sell. But in the meantime the branding has been changed to BMB which now as far as I can tell doesn’t really stand for anything and doesn’t have a succinct theme.
The controls on the BMB are fairly simple, Volume, Tone and Gain and they do exactly what you would expect them to. A distortion pedal like this doesn’t really require a full EQ and the two knobs on this provide enough control to be able to get a variety of sounds out of it from a lightly overdriven rhythm sound to full on broken amp borderline fuzz, handy for having the pedal set to something like the latter and rolling back the volume so that you can kick in the gain when you need a push.
- Reliable, quality classic sounding overdrive
- Good variety of tones can be had from it
- Not ground breaking but a classic none the less
- Not going to break the bank (for a lot of people) at £125
- Could be enclosed in something smaller, or make use of the size of enclosure by having a second gain stage or a fuzz on a second foot switch, would potentially have to be landscape rather than portrait
- Branding – It needs some awesome graphics/branding to bring it inline with the other Tate FX pedals. It looks like it almost doesnt belong with them/ is a prototype
This pedal was sent to me to try by the very generous Stuart Tate of TateFX. It is a single knob fuzz pedal in a smart enclosure. Scroll down for pictures and a sound clip.
Initial thoughts on the pedal were that the metallic orange paint is gorgeous. The theme of the pedal is quite fitting. It is loud enough to raise the dead.
I originally put the RTD on my board before the fuzz I usually use, the Fredrics Green Russian a russian muff clone. The raise the dead didn’t impress me in this position, it was quieter than I expected. This was my own fault, not that of the pedal. Once I put it first in the chain it sang. It was remarkably load and very clear for a fuzz. I am not usually a fan of single knob pedals as they don’t offer much control, I prefer to have a decent EQ section on a pedal. The Raise The Dead however cleans up to something more akin to an distortion when using the guitars volume knob.
You can confidently use the RTD as both distortion and fuzz and with a seperate EQ pedal you can sculpt your tone easily to create a very different sound. If you set the RTDs volume fairly loud, around 2 or 3 o’clock and roll back the volume on your guitar to 4 or 5, this should give you a nice overdriven classic rock sound that when needing an extra push just requires you to turn up the guitar volume for a loud but clear crunchy fuzz.
I don’y usually have my board set up with the guitar volume in mind, I usually I set it to full and forget about it. I have a boost going into an overdrive into a fuzz, so if needing the push that I got with the RTD I would use my boost. I am going to rethink this now after trying this pedal and move things around, especially my fuzz. I think I will benefit from this being front of my chain.
I have learnt at least if nothing else that I should continue to experiment with my board.
Now back to the Raise The Dead. The enclosure paint is beautiful. The pedal comes in a nice cloth back in a solid box and with a few extras like plectrums. Its a lovely package and you can really tell that the manufacturer has put a lot of thought into the whole thing. The metallic orange is lovely and the graphics really tie it all together. It uses a standard centre negative power connection so it shouldn’t be a problem to power it and with top mounted jacks it should be very easy to incorporate into most boards.
The internals look to be top notch and the whole package is reflected in the price tag. You get a very well made, nicely painted stomp box here, using expensive components. It may put some people off with it being a single knob pedal, but don’t let it until you’ve tried it. I was very impressed with it. This isn’t the first version of this pedal and I know that the previous versions didn’t have the paint and had a cheaper sticker for the graphics. It does justify the price increase as Stuart has made something that competes with the more expensive manufacturers here.
The important question, would I buy it? At the moment no, but not because it isn’t excellent. The reason I wouldn’t buy it is because I am very happy with the fuzz that is on my board. If I was starting out fresh, or didn’t currently have a fuzz I was happy with then this along with a few others I have tried would be in contention for a spot.
- Verastile fuzz
- Love the colour
- Fantastic package
- Made using quality components, constructed to a high standard
- Could possibly fit all components into a smaller enclosure for those where space is an issue
- Price, it isn’t as much of a whim purchase at over £100 but you do get what you pay for, I don’t imagine the finish and components are cheap
This review is of a pedal that I purchased myself with my own money, it wasn’t lent to me by anyone. This should be a good indication that I really liked this pedal, enough at least to buy it. As always I am honest in my opinions; if I don’t like something I will say so.
The sound clip is at the bottom of the review.
I really like the Specular. It is exactly what I wanted out of a reverb pedal. I genuinely believe that if could design and make a reverb perfectly to my needs, that it would be very close to this.
The Specular is primarily a hall reverb with other algorithms layered over this. Hall reverb tends to be the style that I use most of all, so the Specular has started out in the right place. The algorithms are very interesting, some more than others.
I have the feeling that this review is mainly going to consist of a few hundered words telling you how much I like this pedal. That is the shortened version of it.
The Specular has 8 presets that can easily be altered and selected on the fly. There are four knobs that alter different parameters and two soft touch foot switches to select the presets, save the presets and switch between the two banks of modes.
There is a selector switch to pick between the three modes on each bank (M, S, E for Modulated, Shimmer and Echo) on the first bank which is indicated by the LED. The two banks layer over the standard reverb to create some amazing atmospheric sounds. The modes are as follows:
Modulated, Shimmer, Echo, Tremble, Voices, and Infinity
I’m not sure if I can describe all of them fully. Shimmer is the one that I really wanted the Specular for. It can be so subtle and is perfect to thicken a sound. Equally it can be so full blown that it is like have a choir present in your bedroom. Tremble lends a subtle tremolo effect to the reverb and echo adds a delay, which when used with a delay makes a fantastic doubling effect.
I don’t know if you can tell but I really like the Specular 2. It has been really well designed. GFI packed an awful lot of features into a very small package. Its no larger in size than a Boss single foot switch pedal side ways on. It might be a little narrower. From the outset you may be thinking that there aren’t a lot of sounds to get out of it compared to something like the RV-6 but you would be wrong. Granted I have both on my board, and the RV-6 does technically have more algorithms, some that are very similar, but don’t sound quite as good as the Specular. The RV-6 has some reverbs that the Specular is unable to create; room, spring and plate at least. Which is why I have kept it since purchasing the Specular 2.
The algorithms housed within the Specular are much better than any other reverbs I’ve tried, and I am even placing it above the Neunaber Immerse, which was previously my favourite reverb pedal.
It is worth noting that the Specular has stereo ins and outs which I unfortunately haven’t had chance to use yet, I would imagine that it sounds even better in stereo. It is powered by a standard 9v adaptor needing 100mA. It also boasts a true analogue signal path for all those wanting true analogue sound.
Price wise the Specular can be a tad expensive. I believe it retailed for around £300 and second hand can be had for half of that. At full retail it is worth every penny, second hand it is a relative bargain. The Version 3 is £220 in the UK, with a few tweaks and a slightly different look to it, if you want to buy new get the V3. Or if £300 is affordable for you, the Tempus is a reverb and delay that looks absolutely fantastic. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on GFI Systems as if the Specular V2 is anything to go by they are going to be creating some fantastic pedals.
- Fantastic Reverb
- Small form factor
- 8 Presets
- Stereo I/O
- Soft press buttons
- The finish is some sort of sticker. I bought second hand and it had some marks.
- This has been remedied looking at the Tempus, as that is painted.
- Can be a bit confusing, reading through the instruction manual is a must.
I visited London this week with my lovely other half for her birthday. Whilst there we did many sight seeing things, visited the Natural History Museum (well worth a visit) and took in a show (The Lion King, again well worth it). But for the gear side of my brain Denmark Street was a must.
I dragged a reluctant other half to every shop on the street. There was so much on offer. A bit of everything for every budget. Up to, including and probably beyond an original early 60’s (I believe) Gibson Les Paul Goldtop for £30k or so. There were also more sensible offerings around the *I could buy a car for this amount* £6k- £8k mark, and I couldn’t lie to the missus because she was with me (damn now she knows how much all of this stuff costs!).
What really caught my eye was an off white vintage looking telecaster. It had a maple board and was around the £900 mark, so not completely unreasonable.
What will interest the readers of this blog most however is the number of effects pedals I saw. There were cases upon cases. A lot of fairly normal mass market things from companies such as Boss and EHX. But also unsurprisingly a lot of boutique UK made effects that I have reviewed on here from Fredrics, Hudson, Thorpy FX, plus quite a few brands that I can’t remember the name of.
There was an original Big Muff in one shop. And also if you have £1850 burning a hole in your pocket a genuine silver Klon Centaur.
There was also a healthy number of budget friendly effects from Mooer and the like if the usually more expensive hand made effects were out of reach.
I had a bit of good fortune in finding a small repair shop in the basement of one store who sold me a replacement knob for my Stratocaster and some buttons for the strap locks I have. So that I can swap the strap from one guitar to the other without having to purchase an entire set of the locks which I only need half of. The guitar tech also kindly turned some large wood screws down so that I can replace the smaller screws in the guitar and they would have more thread, hopefully meaning that the lock button won’t ever come loose.
I saw an unusually large amount of tone benders, most of which I presume are original.
One pedal that really caught my eye but annoyingly didn’t get a picture of was a killswitch that had a Morse code button on it. I’ve since found that it is a Telegraph Stutter, from the American company Coppersound effects pedals. Maybe now I should have bought one. Have a look at them here, this is from the shop on Denmark Street that had them.
To cut a long post short. If you are ever in London and have some time to kill. Denmark Street is to a guitar/effects nut what a toy shop is to a child. It is most definitely worth a visit. Although it may leave you looking at remortgaging your house. Please don’t blame me for any crazy spending that may occur as a result of your visit.
This fuzz makes some big big claims, does it live up to them?
Sound sample at the bottom of the post.
This fuzz was loaned to me by the very kind Steve Torrie.
The bold claims that the name of this fuzz make I would say are mostly true. It is the filthiest grimiest fuzz I’ve ever used. It is utterly fantastic.
I don’t know if there are any gods (a discussion for another day) and if there are do they play guitar? Let’s assume yes to both of these questions. If they did, and they wanted a filthy fuzz, then I believe they may find their fuzz in this little box.
It looks fantastic, I adore the graphics. They are screen printed and the quality here is excellent.
There are four clipping modes utilised by the knob on the left, and although I am not sure what they are actually doing, I do know that I prefer the middle two. There is a noticeable difference in the fuzzs saturation when switching between the different modes. I can only assume it clips the bass, as furthest left has less treble and furthest right has the most. Whatever it does, it is fantastic.
The other knobs on the Valhalla are labeled slightly differently to what you would expect in a fuzz, but this shouldn’t hinder you turning them until you find something you like. The included hi/lo pot gives you a fair bit of flexibility when you don’t quite want the screaming highs and it helps dial in a grungy grumbling bark.
You may be able to tell that I really like this fuzz. It is the first pedal I’ve used from Sleeping Dog FX, and it sure does impress. The internals are neat and it all looks like a lot of care and attention has gone into the layout. I will say that it has a larger footprint than some pedals and I’m sure the same components could be squeezed into a smaller enclosure. If they were this would make it even better.
The only other thing I noticed worth mentioning is that this isn’t something that you can really boost. I usually have my fuzz after a boost, to give a push if I want it. You can’t really do that with the Valhalla as it’s already loud and in your face. Hitting it with my usual boost did nothing, but I do suppose turning the Golden Eagle up would affect the Valhalla. This is more of an individual thing, not everyone will want to make a fuzz even louder than it is.
The Valhalla came very close to knocking the green russian off of my board. It is a very similar flavour of fuzz but with even more of a growl and more of a spluttery poppy top end. It really is a good fuzz. It’s got me wondering what else Sleeping Dog FX produces, hopefully their other stompboxes don’t disappoint.
The only thing stopping me at the moment is the lack of funds, I’ve spent the remaining money I’d put to one side for pedals in the reverb that will feature in the next few weeks (and trust me when I say that it is worth depleting the pedal fund for)
And I don’t need another fuzz. As I previously mentioned I have used Fredric Effects Golden Eagle to drive the Green Russian to great effect and am more than happy with this. If I ever wanted to downsize my board and have 1 fuzz and no boost, I would certainly be looking at Sleeping Dog FX. Fingers crossed you may hear more from them in the future.
I very nearly forgot to mention another unusual thing about the Valhalla. It sometimes has a swirling modulated side to the effect, I’m not sure I managed to capture it on the sound clip as I could figure out how to control it. It did sound amazing when it would do that, usually when letting an open note or chord ring out, when the effect is trailing off. I’m not sure if this is something that has been designed into the circuitry or if it is a happy little accident, either way it is excellent.
In Conclusion –
- High quality components and construction
- Screen print looks amazing
- The fuzz will blow your socks off!
- £100 new (for the screen printed version) so wont break the bank
- A fairly large footprint (think the same size as an original EHX Big Muff π)
- Limited supply as it’s a boutique hand built effect, they aren’t chruned out in the hundreds (depends on your point of view, could be a pro or con)
- Can’t be boosted (this could be a pro or con depending on your opinion)
- A bit of a hum, especially with this and the broadcast on together, this is to be expected as it’s a dirty angry fuzz
If you want to hear the sound clip, it’s at the bottom of the review.
Now that I’ve retired the Zoom MS70-CDR from my board i’ve had to replace the most used effects with other stompboxes. Last week I reviewed the reverb pedal that I got to replace the MS70-CDR and this week it’s the turn of the tremolo pedal. Reverb and tremolo were the two most used effects in the CDR for me.
So why did I choose the TR-2? Price mainly. It was quite inexpensive second-hand at around £40. It also has a few other good selling points. Firstly its a standard Boss pedal, small enough for most boards, standard 9V centre negative power requirements and all housed in a dependable metal body. I also quite like the green and gold together.
Its one standout feature however is that you can tweak the wave form of the tremolo from a washy triangular to a stuttery sharp square wave. This is my favourite thing about it. Not every tremolo has this. And there are plenty of in between settings that sound ace.
It doesn’t have loads of features other than this, but part of the charm of it is that it is just exactly what you would need in a tremolo. It doesn’t need bells and whistles to get the job done. Rate and depth are quite self-explanatory. Rate is how fast the tremolo affects the signal, or how fast the stutter part of the effect is. The depth is pretty much the amount of effect present, the more depth the more of the effect.
There isn’t all that much to say about the TR-2. When I first got it I wasn’t hugely impressed but the longer ive had it the more ive been impressed in its elegant simplicity and the ability to add a wash to a soundscape or an aggressive choppyness to a fuzzy riff. It has a nice amount of wobble and a vintage kind of look and sound to it. I’m more than happy with it now I’ve spent a little time with it. If a simple tremolo is what you want, then the TR-2 is worth a look.
- Small, solid metal enclosure
- Classic looks and sounds
- Wave selector
- May not be as feature packed as other tremolos
- No presets – But what do you expect, its a simple no frills pedal
I’m hoping in the future that I can get hold of some other Tremolos and have a bit of a shoot out, watch this space.
Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the sound clips of the RV-6
This review is of a pedal that I actually own. This has become a rarity as my board is nearing completion (for now). I’ve wanted a stand alone reverb pedal for a while. I had on my board (I still own it) the Zoom MS70-CDR and whilst this is an outstanding pedal for the price, the reverbs left a little to be desired, and the shimmer is terrible. I’ve kept it to use with my synth as I’ve seen some interesting videos online of people using the Korg Volca Keys and the 70-CDR together to great effect.
There are a lot of reverb pedals to choose from. I didn’t really have a budget as such and came very close to purchasing the Boss RV-500 thinking that this would be enough reverb to last me a lifetime. I did in the end rein it in a little as for the same price as the RV-500 I could finish my board, with a reverb, volume, tremolo and Digitech Drop. The aforementioned are what I have decided I would like to finish my board. I don’t think it will ever be fully finished, it constantly evolves.
For a lot less than the RV-500 I still had around 4 or 5 quality reverbs to choose from. The Digitech Polara, the Boss RV-6, the Neunaber Immerse and the TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2. There are many more for around the same price or less, but these are the four that I was deciding between as they all have a good shimmer setting as well as quality room, hall plate etc. I came very close to getting a Polara, very close indeed as the room and hall settings on the demos I’ve heard sound fantastic, I’ve also been very impressed with the Digitech Obscura, the delay pedal from the same line as the Polara, so I would imagine that the Polara is also good quality. I found an RV-6 on Facebook marketplace for a good price however and thought that as with a lot of these things, if I don’t like it all that much I should be able to sell it on at not much of a loss and try a different reverb. I may even in the future try to find a Polara, so that I can compare the two.
Now on to the pedal in question, the RV-6 does not disappoint. It is built like a house brick. I’m quite sure it will stand up to many years use. It is quite ordinary in most ways, there’s a 9v centre negative socket up top and a large square foot switch on the bottom and somewhere around the middle there are a few knobs for you to tweak. There are a lot of modes on the RV-6, most of which are fantastic. There are a couple such as the Delay+ that I don’t think I’ll ever use as I have a delay pedal that I’m very happy with. The shimmer is fantastic, perfect for ambient playing. But the real standout for me is the room setting, it is perfectly subtle enough. It is pretty much exactly what I had in mind when I looked for a reverb.
All of the settings are very good, but as previously stated some won’t get much use, modular, is interesting, I’m not sure what I would use it for, but it is quite a deep rich reverb with a swirling hint of something else. The hall setting is also fantastic, it has tons of space, as you would imagine from a hall. Plate and spring are not modes that I have ever found myself using all that much, and if ever I have turned them down considerably so that there is only a hint of reverb. That being said, if spring and plate are what you crave within the remits of reverb the RV-6 does not disappoint.
All in all I am very happy with the RV-6, it is an always on kind of pedal, and I do miss it when It gets turned off. It doesn’t have to tweakabilty or the presets of something like the RV-500 but it is a third of the price. It blows the MS70-CDR out of the water on the reverb front. Don’t get me wrong, the CDR is fantastic value for money, but the algorithms within it for the reverbs aren’t a patch on Boss’s. I’m a little annoyed I didn’t take the plunge when I first looked at reverb pedals and ended up with the Zoom, luckily I can justify keeping it for other uses. I am now happy with the reverb I have and can’t see me swapping the RV-6 in the forseeable future. Unless of course an RV-500 falls into my lap.
I’m still interested in comparing the Polara to this, so I may have a review in the future where I do just that, or either of the other two reverbs that I mentioned earlier on.
- More than enough reverb for most people in a small enclosure
- Standard power requirements, a 9v Battery or centre negative adaptor
- Built like a tank, as are most if not all Boss pedals
- Fantastic reverb algorithms with long decay times
- A leave on kind of affair
- Not as many parameters to change as some of its rivals, or more expensive options (but these are more expensive, so generally the more you pay the more customisation you get)
- Doesn’t look particularly amazing (if that kind of thing bothers you)
- No tone print feature as with the H.O.F 2, so what you have in the box is what you get, you do at least get plenty of modes
- No presets or scrolling through, it’s an on off kind of thing, if you needed to change reverbs throughout a set for different songs, you would either have to manually change the knobs in between songs, get enough RV-6 pedals to cover each reverb sound you want, or buy something like the RV-500. I don’t particularly find this a problem, I find a sound I like and keep it on. Reverb for me is more a subtle addition to the sound rather than a main event, if you play live, chances are that you may not need any as you will have the natural reverb from the room you’re in
You may be sitting reading the title of this review, looking at the URL of my blog thinking “This aint a pedal”. And you would be correct in thinking that. This was my birthday present to myself. I have a broad fascination with making music, and it doesn’t solely stop at guitar effects. This little box of wonder is a similar size to the larger double foot switch boss pedals albeit a little shallower.
Synths have fascinated me for quite a while now, but i’ve always brushed it off as another instrument I won’t have time to learn how to play. This mainly stems from my obsession with Bladerunner and in particular Vangelis’s soundtrack which heavily features moody synth tones. It also surprised me to learn that some of my favourite songs and film sound tracks contain a lot of synthesizers.
The Korg Volca Keys is a very small polyphonic analogue synthesizer. I can’t particularly describe the technical aspects of it in any detail as I don’t understand most of what it does. I enjoy turning knobs and dials until I get a sound that I like, which is very easy with something like the Volca Keys. I found that this was a very cheap easy way to start down the route of synthesis. I can easily expand my collection and sound making hardware. I can also, use effects pedals with the Volca. The Zoom MS-70CDR has been replaced now by two pedals that I will be reviewing in the coming weeks, but I have decided not to sell it as it is the perfect thing to use with the Volca. The packaging that the Volca came is nice, almost utilitarian, as is the Volca unit itself. There are no brash graphics, everything on it has a function, and Korg have managed to fit a lot of functionality into a very small form factor. As I have previously said, this is plenty of Synthesis for someone new to this, and with the ease of expansion, it is an instrument that can grow with the player.
One of my original problems with synthesisers is that I imagined them all to be huge, keyboards that take up an entire desk. In the last decade or so there have been many smaller synthesisers hit the market, many including small keyboards. The Korgs only downside is that it doesn’t have a conventional keyboard it has small touch keys. What it does have on its side however is midi out meaning I can easily plug-in a midi keyboard and get to making music with a full size keyboard, and when I want to pack it away the Korg takes up next to no room, and the Midi keyboard can be as big or as small as I have room for, currently a 49 key Alesis midi keyboard which is plenty big enough.
If you are reading this already thinking about purchasing the Korg Volca keys, don’t put it off, you won’t regret it. If this is anything to go by, I would imagine that the rest of the Korg Volca range is fantastic, I may find out for myself in the future but for now one fun sized box of wonders is enough.
- Tons of fun to be had
- Cheap (relatively speaking)
- Highly portable, can be battery powered
- Wont be as feature packed as some of its more expensive larger rivals
- Doesn’t have an arpeggiator (but what do you expect for its size and price)
I’ve tried to branch out a little with the ol blog thing i’ve been doing and have interviewed a pedal builder. This interview is with Alex Millar from Zander Circuitry. I met him briefly at the North East Guitar show, and have tried a few of his pedals out, mostly thanks to Marc at Northern Stompboxes. I’ve been very impressed with the pedals from Zander that I’ve tried, but have not yet purchased one as I have plenty of drive pedals and my reverb and delay are sorted. I would say that my favourite pedals that Zander produces are the Tape Deck and the Exosphere and maybe one day I will get one. The latest revisions of the Zander line have made vast improvements to the usability and updated graphics. I would highly recommend having a go if you get the chance, or at least have a listen to his demos.
Below is the interview I conducted virtually:
Did you have a background in building electronics, or have you taught yourself as you’ve gone on?
Nope, short of knowing how to wire a wall plug I had zero electronics knowledge prior to building guitar pedals. Over time I just learnt bits and pieces through either trial & error or by looking stuff up as and when I needed to make a circuit do a certain thing.
What was the very first pedal that you made, and can you pinpoint the reason why you made this particular pedal?
I’d built a few DIY kits (I can’t recall what they were), but the first pedals a built and sold were simple true bypass loopers with a momentary feedback function, you’d basically just loop your entire pedalboard through the send/return and when you pressed the momentary footswitch it would feed the signal back in on itself, which, depending on what pedals were on, would create these mad oscillations/siren sounds, I just did it for a bit of fun.
Which of all the pedals you have made past/present is your favourite and why, and do you have one on your board?
Probably the tape deck, just because I love noisy, lo-fi delays. The tape deck goes to almost 3 seconds of delay time & I don’t usually use delays rhythmically, it can also get some really horrible broken modulation sounds. So just letting it sit & wobble around in the background of a clean sound is why I love it so much. Its definitely on the board.
Which is your favourite pedal (not made by yourself) if you had to choose one and why?
Ooh that’s a tough one, and my answer would probably change every other week, but for me it would have to be a toss up between two, and I’ll put in the caveat that I’ve never owned either of these, this is purely on the demos I’ve seen. The first would be the DOD rubberneck delay, its just an awesome sounding analog delay with a bunch of cool added features, most notably the effects loop for the wet signal, in the launch video they put a flanger in there and its just an awesome sound. The second would be the Hexe Melusine, which I guess you’d call a vinyl record simulator/vibrato, its basically a vibrato that you can add in a load of white noise/crackle to, not a million miles away from the ZVEX Instant Lo-fi Junky. I’ve been really into a lot of the guitar sounds in lo-fi hip hop lately and that pedal is basically that sound in a box.
What does the future hold for Zander Circuitry? Are there any future plans you can let us in on?
We’ve got loads of exciting stuff in the pipeline, I sometimes find it difficult to focus on one idea because I’m constantly getting new ones. I’ve been working with a lot more digital stuff lately, there’s just a lot of R&D that goes into that sort of stuff (compared to a fuzz for example) but I’m hoping to have something out late this year or early 2019.
What was the first pedal that you owned?
Haha, I was maybe 13-14 when I bought this, it was a Behringer Ultra Metal. I’m not even a huge metal fan but at the time I just saw it in the local music store and it seemed like the perfect answer to making my Stagg Strat copy & 15w Marshall practice amp ‘sound like Nirvana’. So I’d just dime everything and slam it into the front end whilst jumping around in my bedroom, it was a lot of fun.
What was the last pedal that you bought? If it’s been a while, is there anything on the cards?
With the exception of a tuner & a looper, I don’t actually own any other pedals (apart from my own), I find that I usually only get the time to play when I’m testing out builds or demonstrating at a show etc so I haven’ really had the need for anything else. At one point I did have a full board of Raygun FX pedals, they make some great stuff and are only down the road from us, their dual soda drive is still one of my favourite overdrive/distortion pedals.
What is your opinion on the Boss Metalzone? Love/Hate?
It’s honestly become a bit of a tiresome meme. Like anything, it has its uses in certain applications, you can hear it all over Biffy Clyro’s debut album, and it sounds absolutely awesome on those songs.
What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back to when you just started Zander Circuitry?
Stop trying to run before you can walk, everything took off really quickly when I started putting a name to my work & in hindsight I should have slowed down and worked things out a little better, but its easy to say that looking back, at the time I was just doing what I could with the tools I had.
What would you say has been your biggest improvement since you started building FX?
Offboard wiring, euuurrghh I hated it so much, the very very early builds were all built on vero board, including the tape deck, which has six potentiometers, so it all got a bit messy on the insides, moving everything over to PCB was a huge help in cleaning up the guts.
What would you like to improve on future builds?
I’m currently looking at the way all of the boards connect to the jacks/switches, to try and find ways to make things even more consistent across all of them. The aim is to reduce the offboard wiring even more, which will speed up the time it takes to make a pedal. Efficiency is a massively important thing for me.
What have been the high/low points since starting Zander Circuitry?
A low point was last year (mid 2017) when I had to basically stop/slow down everything for 6 weeks due to having surgery on my knee, I snapped my cruciate ligament and both meniscus cartilage which put me in a locked leg brace for a month and a half. It was just frustrating more than anything else, I could still function to a degree, but even simple tasks became a lot harder (using the drill press for example).
A real high point for us was being featured on That Pedal Show, it was something I had joked about months before on facebook with a couple of people, because the idea of it seemed so ridiculous to me, and I didn’t even know we were going to be featured on there until one Friday I was tagged in a post after they’d just put the video up.
Which other builders do you admire the most?
Steve at Raygun FX was definitely one of the main inspirations for me starting ZC, I’d been buying his pedals for a while and because they’re only down the road I’d usually just go and pick my orders up in person. Prior to knowing Steve, guitar pedals were, in my head anyway, products produced only by huge corporations with massive factories overseas. But seeing a guy in a workshop, doing everything by hand and making some of the best sounding fuzzes I’d ever heard got me into making some stuff for myself, which then kind of snowballed into making stuff and selling it on facebook groups, and so on…
I guess another would have to be Joel at Chase Bliss Audio, I’ve never owned any of their stuff, nor have I met him. But the boundaries they’ve broken as a company, and the work he did prior to CB at ZVEX is astounding.
Have you ever had a pedal that you have looked back on and been embarrassed by?
For example, I once owned a Danelectro FAB Metal pedal. (It was awful, I don’t know why I wasted my money, I don’t play metal so don’t know why 14 year old me thought the metal version was the best one to get)
There seems to be a trend of everyone buying ridiculous metal distortions as teenagers! Excluding the previously mentioned Behringer Ultra Metal. The other one that springs to mind that I had around the same time was the Behringer Auto-wah, and I’ll make it clear now that I have nothing against Behringer products, but I have absolutely no idea why I bought that pedal. I’m not sure if it was meant to work dynamically with how you played (like an envelope filter) because it seemed to work similar to how a chorus/phaser would work, with a set rate and depth, but with a ‘wah’ sound. Safe to say I didn’t have it for very long.
What is one effect you can’t live without?
Reverb, I could forgo all the gain in the world for a good clean sound with a ton of reverb. I’ve been really enjoying cranking the controls on our Exosphere into a crystal clean amp and just getting lost for an hour or two. It’s the sound that makes me start to write my own stuff and not just emulate existing riffs.
Can you send us a picture of your board/rig?
I don’t really have a fully-fledged set up at the moment as I’m current waiting on a new cab to arrive, I usually just play through the demo board I take to shows which consists of all of our pedals + a tuner, looper and an ABY box. My current guitars are a Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar & a Fidelity Guitars Double Standard, which is built to my specs with these amazing Mojo Pickups goldfoils & a Mastery vibrato.
My current amp is a YellowRock CA35, it’s a tube preamp with a solid state power amp and is honestly the best sounding amp I’ve ever owned, it takes pedals incredibly well, its got that fender-ish clean sound but without being sterile and fizzy when you throw a drive/fuzz in the front. I absolutely love it.