I stepped away from my cabinet this week and took a peek into my other cabinet: the closet in my music room. In it are the pedals I’ve been playing forever, and ones that find their way back onto the board when I’m feeling froggy. I don’t really play the vintage stuff all too often; power requirements and willy-nilly jack placement often override the tones of most of that gear. I play these. Often. And one of these is my dear old Electro-Harmonix POG.
As we know, we are living in the “golden age” of pedals. There are more companies than ever before, the margin for error is razor thin and DSP has become more prevalent in fields beyond guitar effects, letting more average joes transition right into coding. Despite all that, it’s easy to forget that there was a time—not even that long ago!—that some effects categories we think of as commonplace were in their relative infancy.
For example, octave pedals generally consisted of one of two things: a gnarly rectified octave up that usually accompanies a fuzz and is dependent on a handful of bizarre variables, or a muddy, albeit endearing, monotone octave down that sounds like a bass guitar. And if you tried to play chords on either one, you were met with an unfathomable morass of battling frequencies and indecipherable microtonal nonsense. The ability to overcome these deficiencies is colloquially referred to as “tracking.”
And this went on for decades. Decades! If you’re a regular reader, you’ll recall the Conn Multi Vider that was released all the way back in the ‘60s, which was a combination of the aforementioned effect types. Several category-1 octave-up fuzzes were produced along with a smattering of category-2 octave-down units. None of these tracked exceptionally well. Some featured a few tricks to improve the tracking, but playing a chord usually sent a pedal from either category into fits. And admittedly, category-2 pedals tracked even worse than the other type. Digital had to save analog this time.
It started in 1989 with the DigiTech Whammy (WH-1). While it was revolutionary and all that jazz, the tracking wasn’t all the way there (though it was very good) and you were confined to whichever interval was selected. However, the seeds were planted; players desired a pedal that did clean octaving and could handle multiple simultaneous notes; chords, or more technically, “polyphony.” Though DigiTech went through five whole iterations of the Whammy before they got it right, Electro-Harmonix stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park much earlier. The Polyphonic Octave Generator, or POG, was the result.
I was working in a local music shop when the POG came out, and everyone—including me—had to have one. It was an ambitious product; in typical EHX fashion, the big guns came out first, and a more diminutive version second. As for the huge, folded sheet metal version, there were some features that even eclipse those of modern units. That’s called charm, baby.
At its core, the POG is capable of three voices: one octave down, one octave up, and two octaves up, set to any volume level you like. However, EHX also gives you separate sliders for detuned octaves-up, both one and two. Cranking both detuned and normal sliders yielded some powerful, unwieldy tones. The pedals produced in this late “sheet metal” era of EHX took absolutely no prisoners; I’ll have another piece on another in this series but for now, let’s just say that Mike Matthews and company left nothing to the imagination. You get enough control to make the device downright unusable, meaning the controls left nobody unsatisfied from all walks of musicianship. And sliding both two-octave sliders to their limits won’t do much for you, but every dog within a mile is going to love it.
To tame some of this inherent brightness when four octave-up voices are activated, EHX cleverly implemented a low-pass filter with three modes to curb some of the harsh peaks. And if your annoying clean tone was getting in the way, you could dial that out with a single flick of the wrist and be awash in octaving bliss.
All of this brings me back to my time spent in that music shop; as the POG was such a unique, forceful and ultimately functional octaver, everyone had to have one. And so did the throngs of guitar cognoscenti—Jack White, John Mayer, the Edge, Josh Homme and a great deal of other artists used the POG to great effect. Of course, EHX soon released the Micro POG, the HOG, the Nano POG, the Soul POG, the POG2, the HOG2 and even snuck some polyphony into the Ring Thing shortly thereafter, but hey, that’s digital, baby.