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Conn MultiVider

I’m not a persnickety man when it comes to the Cabinet; if you’d like to peruse the wares, whichever instrument you wish to plug in is A-OK with me. I offer equal space to bassists and synth players alike. Want to put some phaser on your hi-hats, dear drummer? Let’s do the thing. And friend, if you’d like to bring your horn, I’ve got some stuff for you as well. Special things. Things technically only you can play. And unlike all the other pedals in this vault, this one is made by an actual horn company. This is the Conn MultiVider.

I’m going to be real with you; I love this effect. It’s one of my absolute favorites, both for the charm of the sonic offering and the strange history behind it. I love sound equipment built by companies that had no real business messing with electronic instrumentation. Pearl drums, for example, famously released two whole lines of pedals (three if you count the Vorg stuff), and Vestax released a slew of their own effects. Of course, these two brands have an excuse; they were released within the age of effects in which getting one’s foot in the door was just good business. In this era, effects were widely used by a growing customer base, they were encroaching upon other instruments in the shops, and they were inexpensive.

All the way back in 1967, C.G. Conn wanted in on the decidedly nascent effects scene, and they wanted to do so with a bang. The company partnered with Jordan Electronics of Alhambra, CA to release an octave effect for wind instruments. The resulting circuit is a truly interesting piece of gear history. It needs to be said that Conn went into manufacturing, thereby ending its partnership with Jordan (at least according to all the paperwork) and the result was two different MultiViders. The differences on the surface are minute: the first model is grey and looks like a piece of dictation equipment, offering “bright” and “dark” input modes, a top-mounted Sensitivity control, and a plethora of battery gadgets. By contrast, the much cooler-looking model “914” did away with the frequency selector, opting for a switch called Unison and a power supply input.

Both models contain “Soprano,” “Bass” and “Sub Bass” switches, and corresponding volume for each. The 914’s Unison mode is essentially a dry signal control. The “grey box” model is a little more convoluted about it but the job is effectively identical. However, the way these two models go about these identical tasks in different—yet similar—ways. 

This original “grey box” model contains a duo of ersatz flip-flop circuits, which the unit relies on for its octave down effects. The circuit utilizes some rather intense gain staging to convert the signal to a crude square wave and then use the flip-flops to divide the frequency in half and then in half again. In the later 914 model, much of this circuit is switched to a CD4013 chip, an all-in-one CMOS device. It’s interesting that the first draft of the MultiVider contains what amounts to a discrete imagining of the CD4013, and what it all adds up to is the first-ever octave effect for an electronic instrument. There’s also a wah inductor on the 914, which is connected to the sub-octave circuit somehow; I dare not remove the board due to extreme rocker switch fragility. I love stuff like this.

For as cool as this whole thing sounds, there are some drawbacks, as one might expect with the first pedal of any type. As previously stated, the MultiVider is a horns-only instrument, as is to be used with Conn’s proprietary woodwind pickup. While the “grey box” model serves up a battery option, the 914 is adapter-only, and it’s a doozy—only a 12-volt eighth-inch style phone plug will do. Thankfully there are workarounds for both; if you can solder, the power situation is a cinch and the microphone issue can be circumnavigated by hitting the MultiVider with a hotter input signal. Even then, a large belt clip on the back of the unit dictates its preferred method of implementation. With all that said, synth players are at an automatic advantage with modernizing the MultiVider.

Of course, the MultiVider was an advanced device for its time, and so it was used by artists that had explored brass instruments to their fullest. In particular, the MultiVider was used by Zappa’s band, the Mothers of Invention. It was also used by Miles Davis on 1970’s The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions. Of course there are others, but with a resume like that, stick to your strengths.