So much has been made of MXR within the pages of this column, but for this one, I simply must make an exception. Though MXR has made a ton of killer gear in their pre- and post-Dunlop eras, there is something to be said for an old specimen of the effect that put them on the map and scored the first major victory in what I call “the color wars.” This is . . . no, not the Phase 90. This is the MXR Script Phase 100.
Malekko moved to Portland shortly after the release of its flagship echoes and went on to release many devices, including its E616, likely the most famous of the bunch. But there’s just something about this Fantastic Planet-reminiscent unit that I just can’t find in many other pedals, even 15 years after the fact. And I’ve played more than my fair share. It’s just that good.
Of course, as anyone who was around in the ‘70s and ‘80s knows, the framework for new technology starts in a large package and gradually gets whittled down in price and form factor. Our pedal today began its life as a much larger rack delay and found its way into a very familiar enclosure. This is the Boss DD-2.
Only those truly in the know back then even knew about oil can or magnetic drum delays. Of course now we are all informed, we even sell a handful of them. Among those alternate delay technologies, the two most well-known are the Tel-Ray and the Echorec. There are some excellent reproductions of those two units made (wink wink), and for many, that’s fine. But we are sound seekers! We must seek out the esoterica of the esoteric! Today, we’re talking about the Arbiter Soundimension.
Like the pedal it’s based upon, even the relatively unknown D&S was released in no less than six variants across several different enclosures and lines. My D&S is the rarest of the truly vintage varieties, being built for just one year, 1978. Though Maxon tried selling the D&S as a rebranded “II” model, it was the same circuit but with the square-button FET-based switching scheme that the Ibanez “808” series boasted
Have you ever played a pedal that stuck with you forever, even though you knew in your heart it was totally weird, and nobody famous ever used it? For me, yeah, tons of them. But if I had to pick one that best fit these criteria, this one would be it. This is the Systech Overdrive. Before we dive in, let’s talk a little about where it was made.
When a pedal’s endorsee list contains players like Bootsy Collins, Chris Wolstenholme and Paul Turner of Jamiroquai, you pretty much know what to expect: throbbing, guttural filter sweeps with a funk chaser. And yeah, you get that. But you get a pretty bang-on stab at a host of synth patches, including fifths, warbling pads and much more. It’s not without its limitations, though.
Part of curating this whole shebang is appreciating the heavy hitters, sure, but as you delve into the nuts and bolts, you tend to appreciate not only great sounds but uniqueness as well. And since this is my stuff and I am very much that nuts-and-bolts delver, the distinctiveness appeals greatly to me. I’ve been building pedals for almost 20 years, and I’ve seen and read it all. I’ve tweaked the same circuits as everyone else and so when something unique comes down the pipe, I have no choice but to take notice. And when that unique circuit has a place in modern rock tonal history, that’s something I want in my Cabinet. That pedal is the MXR Distortion II.
There was a time not so long ago in effects history, one where shimmer reverbs dominated the market. Any big-name digital number cruncher had a shimmer pedal. In case you’re not familiar with shimmer, it’s a reverb effect in which it sounds like the “particles” of sound generated from reverberation are pitch-shifted with successive octaves. The result is a twinkling, lush sound that could only be described as shimmer. But to us pedal geeks, shimmer was something we’d heard before. Line 6 Echo Park? No, further. Digitech Space Station? Further. I’m talking about the Boss PS-3, the first shimmer pedal that I believe ever existed.
Sometimes in the vast history of effects, it can be hard to remember every brand. And while it’s important to pay tribute to the folks that helped shape popular music, it’s equally important to acknowledge those small builders that were just as important as the big boys but reached a much smaller audience. This is the Distortion Plus from a Polish brand, KOD.
It’s tough being a curator of all this business. On one hand, it’s important to recognize the nuance of the history of equipment, but the compulsive side makes one want to collect every variant of every unit. While that’s certainly doable with some of the more readily available units, sometimes there are just too many. For example, the Big Muff was released in hundreds of variants, and only the most rugged collectors would begin such an undertaking. Some pedals such as Boss’s various offerings come in a handful of varietals; a full set of CE-2 graphical and hardware permutations takes little time to collect. For solid-state devices, this is simple hide and seek, but tube-equipped devices take a special touch and an enormous magnifying glass. Today, we’re looking at the WEM Shadow Echo.
If you’re a regular Cabinet peruser, you’ve joined me as I waxed nostalgic for time periods I’ve never lived in, you’ve noticed me orating some company and component history, and you’ve almost certainly seen me talk about the best effects in their respective classes. And while there are plenty of classes and there is certainly enough love to go around, today I present you with my favorite pedal of all time: the Montreal Assembly Wrong Side of Uranus.