Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble
We’ve got a lot of stuff in here. Yeah, we’ve done Boss. And yeah, there’s a reason why they occupy so much Cabinet real estate. The company created the “first” of a variety of effects, and was certainly the first to offer many types in compact boxes. However, one such pedal is a stone-cold all-time classic despite never being offered in Boss’s trademark compact enclosure. That pedal is the CE-1 Chorus Ensemble.
Released one year after parent company Roland’s flagship Jazz Chorus amplifiers, Boss did what was once considered the unthinkable. Following the rapid and perhaps unexpected success of the aforementioned amp series, Roland wasted no time with ripping a circuit straight from them and putting them in a floor unit. In fact, this circuit ended up being the first pedal to bear the Boss name, and what a first it was.
Back when the CE-1 was conceptualized, the idea of mains-powered pedals was pretty commonplace. Mu-Tron effects used them, and so did MXR on some of its more ambitious models. Onboard and oftentimes custom-wound transformers ensured that voltages would be stepped down at precisely the right increments in order to preserve tonal integrity and headroom.
Of course, most pedals of the time also ran on nine-volt batteries, establishing a standard that continues today. But before these standards were established, the idea of grandiose effects thrived under the usage of mains power. Such a boundless canvas allowed companies like Boss to rip entire hunks of circuitry straight from larger silicon conglomerates and put them right at a player’s feet. These days, very few manufacturers offer such exacting circuitry, and the few that do charge exorbitant prices.
The CE-1 is one particularly exceptional example of this practice, because it expands on the original circuit, with the added bonus that you can play it through an actual tube amplifier. It also adds an extra functionality that the Jazz Chorus just couldn’t match. The Jazz Chorus gives players both Chorus and Vibrato modes, and to that end, serves up three knobs, of which Speed and Depth are two. The third knob is actually a rotary switch that chooses either mode. While the JC-120 offers a footswitch input to toggle the effect on and off, the CE-1 does one better and converts the rotary switch into a stompable button, meaning you don’t have to do the Angus Young duckwalk back to your amp mid-set to change modes. Nobody wants to do this.
Roland’s Jazz Chorus—and thusly the CE-1—couldn’t have come at a better time for end-users or commerce. Californian semiconductor company Reticon developed the first bucket-brigade device (BBD) and distributed them through the usual suspects, including Radio Shack under the store’s in-house Archer brand. The only problem—again for end-users and commerce—was that each one cost a crazy amount of 1970s dollars. Even at wholesale prices, Reticon’s SAD series of BBD chips made effects a bit on the expensive side.
Shortly after in Japan, Matsushita released the genesis of the Japanese BBD boom that ended up sinking Reticon and all pedals that relied on it. The first chip off the Matsushita line was the MN3002 and found its way into the CE-1 tout de suite. With the combination of the relatively inexpensive BBD and the full-strength brawn of the circuit itself, the CE-1 made a splash in the effects world and primed the pump for Boss’s compact series to take the effects world by storm.
The most unsung piece of the CE-1 puzzle is the onboard preamp that preps the signal for its impending modulation. While many effects and amplifiers (especially of this era) features “high” and “low” inputs, they usually correspond to a brute force approach that swaps out resistors in the signal path. However, the CE-1 preamp section starts with an op-amp preamp circuit that sweetens the signal, and switching over to high mode inserts a transistorized gain stage between the input and the op-amp section. This adds a velvety gloss to the signal before it ever sniffs the BBD chip, catapulting your tone into heights unreached by lesser devices.
It’s not often that almost 50 years later, no effect of a given type has surpassed the first one ever created, but such is the case with the CE-1. Its combination of unsurpassed tonal brilliance, component count and wacky power requirements has cemented its place in the effects hall of fame, leaving even the most modern refinements squarely in the rear-view mirror.