The Weird, the Wonderful, and the Unique
Sometimes, with the bevy of new gear we look at over here at the Distortion Ltd offices, it’s easy to take it for granted. Not just the fact that we get to write about our favorite gear and music for a living, but the fact that arguably more creativity and innovation is being applied to this industry than ever. Gone are the days of boutique snobbery. There is, quite truly, something for every type of player.
So today, we want to take a glimpse at the weird, the wonderful, and the unique. The kind of pedals we didn’t know we needed in our lives, but we’re glad someone made it and it’s available for us to purchase. The kind of stuff that makes you go “For us? You shouldn’t have!”
ELECTRO HARMONIX TRIANGLE BIG MUFF PI REISSUE
This one made our hairs stand on end when we heard about it. We were ready to write sonnets and arias when Electro-Harmonix re-issued the classic Russian Big Muff last year, giving us the same classic sound in a tight, affordable package. Our good friends at EHX have decided to go one step further, providing a re-issue of the classic ‘69 Triangle Big Muff, the one that started it all. Arguably nothing beats the original, as the Triangle Muff has a balanced fuzz tone so rich and creamy it’s considered the holy grail of pedal enthusiasts. Rather than spending time pouring over the age of transistors in vintage models though, EHX just decided to give it straight to us, and the tone is as good as we’d hoped. It’s very telling that in EHX’s own demo video on their YouTube page, the solo they use to demo the Triangle Muff is the one from Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. They know why we’re here, and we’re quite grateful for it.
ERNIE BALL EXPRESSION SERIES
Expression pedals are the ultimate play-things of a dedicated guitarist. There’s nothing more fun than dialing in just the sound you like on the fly, adding either just the right amount or just for the sake of experimenting. Expression pedal usage greatly spiked in the ‘90s thanks to rack units and the commercial release of affordable digital modelers, but there’s nothing like an old-fashioned analog experience, so any opportunities there were slim for the longest time. Times have changed though, and not only have pedal-builders included expression outputs in their newer models, but Ernie Ball finally went the extra mile with the Expression series.
There’s the Expression Overdrive, which has typical overdrive controls (volume, tone, and gain) but allows you the ability to dial in exactly how much you want. The Expression Ambient Delay ups the ante by including lush plate reverb on top of a smooth analog delay (the pedal itself acts as the level control) with a tap tempo input to boot. For our money though, the real star is the Expression Tremolo. Decked out in a sharp purple chassis, the Expression Tremolo is the vibrato pedal we’ve always wanted for an affordable price. On top of including the reverb like the Ambient Delay pedal, it also includes individual abilities to control either the depth or rate speed (or both!) and five different waveforms, from square to sine to classic Univibe sounds.
We’re such a sucker for killswitches on guitars it’s not even funny. There’s something ridiculously fun and cool-sounding about the staccato sound generated by rapid-fire cutting off the volume, maybe even throwing in some hammer-ons to really make things interesting. Ever since we heard Tom Morello bust it out on the first Rage Against The Machine album, we’ve been in love. But lord, is it a hassle to recreate. If you don’t happen to have a guitar that has two pickups, two volume pots, and a DPT switch, you’re in for an uphill battle. Electronics companies have made it easier by providing either DPT’s or push-button killswitches you can wire into your guitar, but then you have to up-end the existing wiring, not to mention there’s no easy solution for custom models.
Coppersound finally just came along and said, “Hey, why don’t we just make this a pedal?” and bless them for it. Not to mention, they gave it a truly unique chassis! The Coppersound telegraph cuts the fat by fitting in normally with your pedal signal chain and all it requires you to do is lightly tap your foot on the lever. They even included a switch that reverses the polarity, meaning that it’s possible to get a signal only when your foot is on the pedal. Coppersound even went the extra mile by keeping it at an affordable $80 new and provides it in a bunch of colors on their website. Giving us a cool effect at an affordable price with a variety of options? Who could ask for more?
EARTHQUAKER DEVICES RAINBOW MACHINE POLYPHONIC-SHIFTER
Try saying that name three times fast, eh? The mad geniuses at Earthquaker Devices are arguably in a category all their own. A good score of their current pedal docket could probably take up the entire list. A problem though, is that sometimes Earthquaker is too esoteric for their own good, making you look at certain pedals and wonder “The heck am I going to do with this?”
To that end, our pick on this list is representative of not just practical application, but good old-fashioned noise rock fun. The Rainbow Machine not only features polyphonic pitch-shifting controls (one primary, one secondary), but also lets you determine how loyal the tracking of the original signal is. Couple that with a “Magic” DPT that lets you add little stabs of regeneration at your leisure, and you have a pedal made for sublime shoegaze sounds. The pedal can provide simple modulation or slapback, or it can provide surreal spinning soundscapes with no end in sight. And like the previous entries, the Rainbow Machine also allows for expression pedal input to control the pitch and a dry output to maintain the original, unaffected signal. For once, the uncertainty of the sound becomes part of the fun, as you truly don’t know where the Rainbow Machine is going to take you.
DARKGLASS ALPHA OMEGA BASS PREAMP/OD
We’re suckers for bass preamps, as they’re cheap way to get great tone while also providing direct input for recording or live shows (even working a bit for guitar). The only problem is that the majority of them are a bit too clean, giving us a bit of drive, yes, but nothing too saturated. Darkglass has solved that with the Alpha Omega bass preamp. Designed in collaboration with Karnivool bassist John Stockman, the Alpha Omega offers an insane amount of high-gain tone customization along with a diverse array of I/O options. Aside from the typical tone and gain controls, you have “Bite” and “Growl” controls to add in extra high/low end, the “Blend” determines how of the original signal goes through the effect, and the “Mod” knob determines how raw or how tight the sound gets. More than all that though, it gives us the monstrous, natural distortion other bass preamps don’t provide. Not saying we need it all the time, but it’s nice to have nonetheless.
Written by SP Burke