During the late Sixties and early Seventies, it seems like everything related to music was literally huge: amp stacks, stack heel platform shoes, rock star mustaches and hairstyles, crotch padding and, especially, effect pedals. Stomp boxes were the size of shoe boxes, and the average pedal board was so big that it took two roadies to haul one from the back of a Chevy van to the stage of the Cow Palace or Winter land. Of course, that all changed later in the decade as microchips replaced the transistors and cherry bomb-sized components in primitive effect circuits, and soon after, the size of the average pedal shrunk significantly.
Fender’s latest Classic Series pedal reissues bring back in their full glory four of the company’s big-honkin’ stomp boxes from the Golden Era of effects: the sensibly named Volume, Volume-Tone, Fuzz-Wah and Read more
Rocktron has to be one of the most underrated effects pedal manufactures in the industry, with some of the most competitive prices you’ll find in today’s bad economical strains. Today we are going to look at three essential effects every guitar player should have in their arsenal: an easy-to-use talkbox, a versatile wah pedal with a built in MOAN, and the sweet vintage tri-wah pedal. Read more
Wah-wah—it didn’t take long for every guitarist, producer, and soundtrack composer to realize that they needed that sound. The early days of way production, however, were fraught with inconsistent components and a fundamental misunderstanding of the rigors a pedal would go through in the rock and funk worlds. Wahs were hard to get and varied wildly from pedal to pedal, all of which caused the effects to fall out of favor with players and drove many manufacturers out of business. Read more
The hidden artillery of professional touring musicians, the Budwah Budda Wah has long been regarded as one of the finest wah-wah pedals available. Now Budda has updated and improved the Budwah with major enhancements, taking the same tried and true sound to an even higher level of quality and durability at the same great price. Read more
Wah pedals have been around since the 1960’s and have become one of the must-have effects in just about every guitarist’s arsenal. Vox was the company to first introduce wahs to the guitar market and remains a favorite brand to the present day for those seeking to release their inner “Voodoo Chile.” Their newest offering, the V845 Wah Read more
Joe Santriani contributed numerous ideas that were unheard of in existing wah pedals, endowing the Big Bad Wah with an unparalleled range of sounds from vintage to modern, as well as those that are totally original. Read more
KH95 Dunlop Wah
Developed in close collaboration with the metal guitar icon himself, Kirk Hammett of Metallica. Now you can produce the same killer wah tone as Kirk with the new Kirk Hammett Signature Wah KH95. Read more
When the word got out that we are reviewing Electro-Harmonix’s reissue of their Micro Synthesizer, reactions were decidedly mixed. Some exclaimed, “It’s about time they reissued it!” Others muttered quietly, “Yeah, I had one once, but I couldn’t tell if it was working right.” Love or confusion, indeed.
Perhaps some clarity will emerge by first clearing up the “synthesizer” misnomer. Unlike other guitar synthesizers, the Micro Synth is really a pedalboard’s worth of stomp boxes rolled into one, allowing your guitar (or whatever else you plug into it) to emulate the phat tones of vintage Seventies synth. Imagine feeding your guitar to three fuzzboxes, an automatic volume pedal and an automatic wah, and you’ll begin to get the picture.
The Micro Synthesizer is housed in a sheet-metal enclosure measuring 8 x 6 x 2 inches. A trim pot on the back of the pedal sets the unit’s sensitivity to either single-coil or humbucker pickups, but all the important controls are in the form of sliders on the unit’s face. The controls are in two groups, voice and filter sweep, with a couple of sliders to control the note attack, and entry of the filter characteristics.
In brief, the voice section consists of three forms of distortion and a clean tone. The suboctave voice adds a tone one octave below the guitar’s pitch, sounding very much like the Boss Octave pedal. The guitar voice is a dry signal, somewhat colored by the Micro Synth’s preamp circuit, and the only voice that will tolerate chords without generating wickedly erratic distortion. The octave voice could go head to head with Roger Mayer’s Octavia pedal, and the square wave voice is a fuzz box tone of Sixties vintage, full of crackle and fizz. These four voices are processed in parallel, allowing you to mix their various idiosyncrasies as you please. Is that octave tone a little too bright? Mix a little suboctave in. Is the guitar voice in need of just a touch of background static? Tweak that square wave to taste.
Whatever odd little swarm of buzzes you raise in the voice portion can be shaped with the attack delay control. This functions like an automatic volume swell, sensing your pick attack and dropping the output accordingly. This allows you to emulate everything from subtle bowed effects to those backwards tape solos so overdone for about six months during 1969.
The filter sweep section consists of four controls: resonance, start frequency, stop frequency and rate. Think of the start and stop frequencies as vowel emulators and the resonance control as an added boost. The rate control determines the velocity at which the filter sweeps from the start frequency to the stop frequency. Lower settings create percussive quacks and grunts while higher settings summon vocalesque “awwww” and “mewhhh” sounds.
Pretty exciting stuff in theory, but the Micro Synth is a box of quirks. To name just a few:
1) Technique is critical. Pick too soft and notes disappear; too hard and they blat like a foghorn.
2) As noted above, you can only play single-note lines on most settings. Two or more notes will either screech or disappear.
3) Tracking is uneven. What works on the lower strings won’t work higher up, and vice versa.
4) The background noise and leakage between voices is very high. Add this together, and you might question the sanity of anyone who owns a Micro Synth.
And yet, the variety of distortions (including deliberately overdriving the preamp) would please any connoisseur of Edge City tone. The filtering would sit well in a hip-hop or techno mix, and the background noise is just the kind of thing Beck would pump up in a scratch break. And for a couple hundred bucks for a used one, it’s cheaper than the equivalent collection of individual stomp boxes.
The End Line
One wishes that Electro-Harmonix would have upgraded the Micro Synth to current technical and construction standards. As it is, you’ll either love it for its quirky low-tech peculiarities or avoid it for, uh, its quirky low-tech peculiarities.
So there you are, sitting in from of your digital recorder, trying to work out an overdub. Problem is, you keep going back to the same stock phrases. The same thing happens at practice when, while running through your band’s newest song, you suddenly realize you’re falling back on all your old, familiar tricks.
We all fall into creative ruts once in a while, and while opinions on the cause may vary, everyone seems to agree that nothing breaks you out of a funk like a cool new toy. And while that ’68 Strat in the store window could certainly get you excited again, the right effect could actually improve or expand your playing style, and it wouldn’t cost you nearly as much. Read more
Way back when electric guitars were still new fangled a few country players found they could add accents and expression to their music by twisting the guitar’s tone control while they played. Although subtle and somewhat tricky to negotiate, this maneuver produced a shift between muted bass and bright treble, adding color and movement to the notes.
The wah-wah pedal is based on a simple concept but its effect is far more dramatic. Using a powerful filter to sweep through a broad frequency spectrum, the wah pedal boosts and exaggerates specific tones. Creating sounds that range from thick, flubbery bass to scratchy, stinging treble. The further forward the pedal is pushed the higher the boosted frequencies, resulting in expressive, and vowel like tones.
Although Ampeg was experimenting with a wah pedal as early as 1961, Vox was the first to create a commercially viable product. In the mid-sixties, Brad Plunkett, an engineer at Thomas Organ, was working on a circuit to replace the traditional three position tone switch with a less expensive potentiometer.
On the advice of a fellow engineer, Plunkett based his design on the circuitry of an oscillator. Plugging in guitar to test his new device his ears were greeted with the extreme almost vocal sound of the world’s first wah-wah. Read more