There comes a time in every gearhead’s life that they have to acquiesce to the idea of having a favorite effect type. Now, I have to say, for me it was almost fuzz. Fuzz is the rigid backbone of the effects industry; the simplest fuzz circuit I can think of uses six parts including the potentiometer. From this simplest building block was built outward into some truly monstrous fuzz circuits; our Giygas is among the most complicated fuzz circuits I can think of. Some builders out there are doing some truly beautiful things with the most meager of parts bills, and some with some truly staggering parts spreads. And it’s everywhere, on almost every classic rock record you can think of. The first fuzz pedal made its debut on a Stones record, and the Big Muff made its recording debut on a Carpenters album, for Pete’s sake. Fuzz is the great unifier, it’s easy to like and it’s easy for it to become anyone’s favorite type of effect. Not mine.
I can’t really explain it, but it’s phaser for me. The first time I heard one was when a friend of mine brought a used one home from a guitar shop. He almost trembled as he plugged it in and told me the story; he had walked into a shop and asked for something that would make his guitar sound “crazy.” They handed him a Russian Small Stone and sent him on his way for 50 bucks. When he played it, his enthusiasm was through the roof. And so was mine; I was hooked.
The phaser wasn’t my first pedal, that was actually a Boss DD-3. But as coolly as that manipulated the tone, it didn’t really change it. In my head, you turn an amp up super loud, you get distortion. In an ideal situation, you don’t need a pedal to do that. But no amount of fretboard trickery is going to make you sound like a phaser. Since then, I’ve made it a mission to try out as many phasers as humanly possible and keep the ones I really jive with. I’ve played just about 99 percent of them, from absolute rarities like the Shannon Phaser and the BEZ Street Sweeper to gigantic hunks of machinery such as the ProphecySound InfinitPhase and Mu-Tron Bi-Phase. The only one that has eluded me is the Schulte Compact Phasing A. I don’t have any of the aforementioned boxes, but I do own a DeArmond Twister.
In the late forties, Harry DeArmond released what is now colloquially referred to as the first effect for electric guitar, the DeArmond Tremolo Control, lovingly shortened to “Trem Trol.” Despite being released in electric guitar’s nascent days, it carved out a niche all its own. Bo Diddley used one and in 1972, passed the knowledge of the effect to one Billy Gibbons and he had to have one; these two are the most well-known users of the effect.
For almost thirty years after, DeArmond made a handful of things, including pickups, guitars and volume pedals. After the company sold to Avnet in 1966, DeArmond effects got their first major makeover, adding wahs (Weeper) and wah-fuzz hybrids (Thunder Bolt). Eventually this line grew to add a distortion (Square Wave) and a pair of phasers, the Tornado and the Twister.
The Tornado was released first and looks to be very similar to the Electro-Harmonix Small Stone that was released at around the same time; both feature a single knob and a toggle switch. On the Small Stone, this is called “color,” but DeArmond called it a choice between “Deep” and “Mellow.” The similarities ended there—what could be called in between Deep and Mellow is essentially the same position as the Small Stone with its Color switch engaged. “Deep” was a whole new dimension in phaser lushness.
Soon, the Twister followed, with a second knob in place of the switch. This new knob was called “Intensity” but the ends of the knob got their names from the Tornado’s switch positions. Regardless, this thing should be considered a classic phaser but MXR and Electro-Harmonix were much better at distribution.
The internals of the Twister are something new; the MXR phasers use FETs (and sometimes optocouplers) to generate their phase shifting, and Electro-Harmonix used OTA chips to do the same. The Twister features a handful of op-amp gates but also a CMOS chip in the LFO and a quad multiplexer configured as four single-pole switches to facilitate the movement. It’s a pretty unusual arrangement but the result is a silky phaser that sits squarely in a pleasing frequency range, never sounding a hair out of place and commanding attention when it’s played.
Perhaps the Twister’s best feature is the way it gobbles up any dirt box placed in front without accentuating any odd frequency spikes. If you’re like me, too often have you run a heavy distortion in front of a lesser phaser and had it enhance some ugly frequencies while attenuating the better ones. The Twister simply does away with this and shakes hands with anything in front; frowning upon interband roughhousing and trading it for pedalboard diplomacy.
Like almost every DeArmond device that’s not a volume or wah pedal, the Twister can be very hard to find. But like—well, every DeArmond device that’s not a volume or wah pedal—the search is absolutely worth it.