Zoom 5050 Choir
There have been a few times in the past couple months where something has been nagging at me. There are many different pedals that are incredible in one way or another and shining examples of their type. I have been slightly, vaguely remiss about mentioning some of these pedals for fear of prices skyrocketing. After all, some things are in a museum because they’re valuable. Some things are valuable because they’re in a museum. This particular piece is the Zoom 5050 Choir.
Tracking this down was very difficult. It was some eight years ago and I was obsessed with ‘80s chorus. Someone traded one into the shop at which I worked, it was sold to someone else that same day before I could play it. I had never seen another one before. There were three videos of it on YouTube, all of them terrible. For some reason, I had to have it. Although there are pedals of every type on eBay and various other resale sites, the Choir eluded even them.
A friend had recently been on a trip to visit family in Texas, and this friend went to pawn shops in every city he visited; a real pedal guy. In conversation, I told him about my search. He recalled seeing a Choir in one of the pawn shops he visited, but he couldn’t remember which one. Of the four pawn shops in the city, it was the last one I called. They had just sold it two days prior.
Of course, the resolution of the story isn’t nearly as exciting as the buildup; I saw one on eBay a couple months later and bought it. It was the first one I had seen in over a year.
The ‘80s was the decade of chorus pedals; Ever since Boss released the CE-2, blue became the “color” of chorus, and if your company wasn’t releasing one, your stuff wasn’t moving. Even the most obscure companies had a relatively standard “rate and depth” chorus unit, and the analog BBD chips in them were cheap as chips. Several permutations of chorus sprung forth from the ‘80s, from the standard faux doubling to “three-dimensional processors.” Chorus was everywhere, it was very tough to avoid; if you were alive back then and cognizant of guitar equipment, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Imagine then, how shocked I was to discover that the Zoom Choir was actually released in 1993. Well, “shocked” might be a bit too strong a word. On one hand, I was surprised that Zoom, a company that started in 1990 with a self-styled “Advanced Effect Processor” hadn’t pulled it together just a handful of years prior in the height of the effects craze. On the other hand, it's somewhat late arrival to the scene explains why it wasn’t more of a hit.
I didn’t make a mistake on this one. With four global knobs controlling seven different modes, there’s a lot to like about the Choir. Apart from requisite Depth and rate (they call it Time) controls, there’s also a wet-dry blend and an incredibly musical EQ. Instead of “EQ,” it’s more like a treble cut in reverse---not a boost, mind you---and as you know, treble and chorus play extremely well together. And while Depth and Time do what you’d expect in most modes, in more ambiguous modes such as Dimension and Aura, they perform completely different functions.
Some modes on the Choir such as the aforementioned add in detuning and reverb effects, sometimes in concert. For example, Dimension combines chorus and detuning, while Aura combines detuning and reverb. In the final mode, Delay, Depth and Time replace delay time and feedback controls on a pristine digital delay with over a second of delay time.
Several other features await more intrepid explorers, such as true stereo outputs and an extremely crude preset recall system that involves holding buttons down while plugging cables in, then twisting knobs and hitting more things. It’s all relatively convoluted and ultimately rarely utilized but it was a nice thought to add such functionality.
Even with that said, the pedal is not without its uniqueness; you can power the unit with six AA batteries if you wish, and opening the unit yields a vast undertaking of engineering and assembly. Three separate circuit boards are inside, peppered with a healthy mix of SMD and through-hole parts. If Zoom didn’t manage to release the Choir in chorus’s prime, it stands to reason that Zoom may have begun working on it in the ‘80s only to launch in 1993.
There was a time when I worked on assembling a pedalboard with what I believed to be the best of each effect type present, money permitting of course. The Choir was my pick for chorus, cemented when I actually received it. Maybe I’m overestimating the reach here but I don’t think it’s insane for these to experience a slight uptick in value the more people write about them. Go ahead, bid them up. I got mine.