Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress
While pedals can be designed for the love of tone, there is an equal number that were born out of necessity. Effects like overdrive were one such effect. Players of the ‘50s didn’t exactly have to try to overdrive their low-watt combo amps; their manuals said not to turn the volume up past a certain level, lest the amp distorts. Back then, distortion was a problem to get rid of rather than embrace. Essentially, it was an accident; a byproduct of using the product not as intended. And this ended up carrying over to recording studios, where redlining console inputs became commonplace.
Many effects were invented in the studio by recording engineers of yore, and the one we’re talking about this time is the simple flanger. Invented by (who else) Les Paul, who discovered the effect mechanically but not electrically, by superimposing identical audio tracks on record players, it was not easily adapted to the studio until a pair of disputed accounts, both of which involved magnetic tape. Machines were rigged up in order to formulate what came to be known as a comb filter, made by playing overlapping audio signals where one was delayed by a very short amount of time. The name itself came from the part of the tape machine that an engineer would have to press on to delay the signal.
The first stereo use was developed on Jimi’s Bold as Love and became the sound people think of when they think of a flanger effect: that unmistakable swooshy sound. Everyone had to have it. But unfortunately, live implementation was impossible. That opened the door for several companies, but Electro-Harmonix made the most lasting impression with the Electric Mistress.
Despite the fact that Electro-Harmonix released over ten distinct flanger pedals (and one more if you count the Sovtek prototype), the one that resonates the most with players is the “V3” version, the elongated silver-and-black (and sometimes green-and-black) model. Though the V2 version commands higher prices and the V1 is one of the rarest EHX pedals, it took two revisions for the pedal to finally stick, and it required the word “Deluxe” to do so.
Even though the only upgrade to the Deluxe involved the elimination of batteries in lieu of an onboard transformer, the name was enough to attract players in droves. Developed by one David Cockerell of EHX, the Electric Mistress relied on the bucket-brigade device to produce them. This mild mannered chip found its way into nearly all time-based effects. Anything that required the delay of a signal in any way was suddenly brought to life in the ‘70s. In one fell swoop, tape echoes, tape-based double tracking and chorus effects, and to a lesser extent reverb units were rendered obsolete. It was truly a monumental time for effects pedals and the Mistress was caught up in the hoopla.
One other possible reason for Electro-Harmonix’s seizing of the lion’s share of flanger sales was its extended functionality, otherwise known as “Filter Matrix” mode. In many modulation pedals, the delay time is modulated with a circuit called a low-frequency oscillator, also known as an LFO. Flipping the switch to Filter Matrix drastically slows down the LFO to a virtual standstill, allowing players to manipulate the flange position, just like the studio. Funnily enough, MXR’s Flanger offered this same feature, but it required rolling the Width control down to zero. In the end, it was marketing that ended up defining the effect.
Flanger and chorus are so closely related that in a live situation, they are often confused for one another. One of the greatest tonal mysteries of the last couple decades was the chorus sound utilized by Andy Summers on several of the Police’s records. Many were surprised to discover it was actually an Electric Mistress.
The advent of consumer-grade BBD chips allowed manufacturers to take their product lines to new heights by electronically replicating mechanical studio tricks and placing them at the feet of players. Nowadays, the simple act of modulating a delayed signal can be done compactly and digitally, but there’s something about these old BBD devices that just hits the spot.