Montreal Assembly Wrong Side of Uranus
If you’re a regular Cabinet peruser, you’ve joined me as I waxed nostalgic for time periods I’ve never lived in, you’ve noticed me orating some company and component history, and you’ve almost certainly seen me talk about the best effects in their respective classes. And while there are plenty of classes and there is certainly enough love to go around, today I present you with my favorite pedal of all time: the Montreal Assembly Wrong Side of Uranus.
While many of you know Scott Monk and his amazing company for the Count to 5, he’s been in business for much longer than you think, and he’s made more things than most people know about. I first found out about him in 2009 while chasing wares by one of pedal history’s most sought-after builders, Etienne Blythe of Sonic Crayon.
If you were as into pedals as I was in the late-aughts… well, there’s a chance you still may never have heard of Sonic Crayon. However, at one time, Sonic Crayon’s wares were in extreme demand, with resellers ransacking the limited inventory and flipping the pedals for four times the price. His most famous may have been the Hollow Earth. His most unobtainable may have been the Anti-Nautilus. The one I wanted was the Moth.
The Moth was Sonic Crayon’s bitcrusher, and back in 2008 and 2009, that wasn’t an effect you could get just anywhere. However, Sonic Crayon had an old-school way of doing things: When he felt like making a batch, he did. Then he put 10 or so up for sale on his blog, and by word of mouth they’d sell out in minutes. One time, when checking his blog for a potential drop, I saw a new post where he said that if you’re tired of waiting for a Moth, there’s another Canadian guy making bitcrushers and that his were admittedly better. Who am I to argue? Let’s go.
That company was Montreal Assembly. At that time, Scott had only released two pedals, the Uranus and another insane device called Probability of a Fax Machine. When I heard the crude “basement demos,” I was sold. The problem: the sales tactics were exactly the same as Sonic Crayon—made and sold whenever. I never caught one. But my friend did.
My friend had gone off to college and left a present for me. I took a train and met their dad at a station in the suburbs, retrieved the box and opened it right there on the train. The Uranus was inside. When I got home I plugged everything I could into it. I messaged its creator, Scott, on Gmail Chat and geeked out when he answered.
I asked him if it was possible to add a mix circuit to the Uranus and Scott took time out of studying for signal processing exams to draw me up a somewhat complicated add-on schematic. Being somewhat intermediate with prototyping board, I hadn’t done a whole lot of my own stripboard layouts. Be that as it may, I cobbled it together. It worked. Now, I could blend the clean signal in with the bitcrushed one.
Despite being housed in a spray painted computer project box and featuring a barren aesthetic landscape, the Uranus is an impeccably engineered piece of sonic kit. Like most bitcrushers, there are knobs for bit rate and sample rate reduction. The third is volume. However, the bit rate knob is a pushbutton rotary encoder; as you turn it, it displays the bitrate in the seven-segment display. When the pedal is in bypass, the display flashes “bypass,” one letter at a time. Pressing down on the rotary encoder cycles through a slew of modes—ten to be exact—called things like “Dialup,” “Hostile” and more, including an incredible bitcrushed trem called “Blipo'' and a modulated sample rate mode called “Plunger.” It’s total labor-of-love stuff and I am here for it.
Mine is labeled 2010 and is one of a handful known to exist, and the only one with this mix knob. You may have seen one in a promotional photo that Strymon posted of its El Capistan being used in the studio by Godspeed! You Black Emperor, with the Uranus riding sidesaddle. Many, many people have never heard of it, and some of you may have never heard of Montreal Assembly before now. I urge you to change that.
At NAMM 2020, I actually saw Scott walking by our booth and I recognized him from some old demos. I ran down the aisle and tapped him on the shoulder. He looked right at me, then read my name badge, looked back up and said “Heyyy, Kula, how’s that bitcrusher treating you?” What a legend.