Because only a handful of brands were making guitar effects in the mid ‘90s, if you wanted something truly unique, you had to expand your palette beyond traditional effects. For most, that meant expanding into the ever-budding tabletop effects scene. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably weren’t one of those people, so it may come as a surprise that there was a whole scene of effects that were meant to sit atop a table with many other effects and activated with pushbuttons and the like. I’ve written about the Alesis Bitrman in this very column, and that’s precisely the kind of thing I’m talking about. But Alesis went on to manufacture a great deal of products, while other manufacturers of this equipment stuck to their guns. This is the Sherman Filterbank.
Of course we all know about Boss pedals, but before Boss emerged as a titan of the effects industry, its parent company Roland made a handful of pedals under its own name. The first entry of this entire column was one such amazing unit, the AP-7 Jet Phaser. Others of note include the Double Beat Fuzz Wah, the Bee Baa and a surprisingly amazing flanger. While Roland didn’t really get a foothold in the effects market, they were busy getting it done in another way with a multi-sequeled line of echo units. Though many models were produced, it’s almost universally acknowledged that one sits alone at the top. This is the Roland RE-201 Space Echo.
So much has been made of MXR within the pages of this column, but for this one, I simply must make an exception. Though MXR has made a ton of killer gear in their pre- and post-Dunlop eras, there is something to be said for an old specimen of the effect that put them on the map and scored the first major victory in what I call “the color wars.” This is . . . no, not the Phase 90. This is the MXR Script Phase 100.
Malekko moved to Portland shortly after the release of its flagship echoes and went on to release many devices, including its E616, likely the most famous of the bunch. But there’s just something about this Fantastic Planet-reminiscent unit that I just can’t find in many other pedals, even 15 years after the fact. And I’ve played more than my fair share. It’s just that good.
Of course, as anyone who was around in the ‘70s and ‘80s knows, the framework for new technology starts in a large package and gradually gets whittled down in price and form factor. Our pedal today began its life as a much larger rack delay and found its way into a very familiar enclosure. This is the Boss DD-2.
Only those truly in the know back then even knew about oil can or magnetic drum delays. Of course now we are all informed, we even sell a handful of them. Among those alternate delay technologies, the two most well-known are the Tel-Ray and the Echorec. There are some excellent reproductions of those two units made (wink wink), and for many, that’s fine. But we are sound seekers! We must seek out the esoterica of the esoteric! Today, we’re talking about the Arbiter Soundimension.
Like the pedal it’s based upon, even the relatively unknown D&S was released in no less than six variants across several different enclosures and lines. My D&S is the rarest of the truly vintage varieties, being built for just one year, 1978. Though Maxon tried selling the D&S as a rebranded “II” model, it was the same circuit but with the square-button FET-based switching scheme that the Ibanez “808” series boasted
Have you ever played a pedal that stuck with you forever, even though you knew in your heart it was totally weird, and nobody famous ever used it? For me, yeah, tons of them. But if I had to pick one that best fit these criteria, this one would be it. This is the Systech Overdrive. Before we dive in, let’s talk a little about where it was made.
When a pedal’s endorsee list contains players like Bootsy Collins, Chris Wolstenholme and Paul Turner of Jamiroquai, you pretty much know what to expect: throbbing, guttural filter sweeps with a funk chaser. And yeah, you get that. But you get a pretty bang-on stab at a host of synth patches, including fifths, warbling pads and much more. It’s not without its limitations, though.
Part of curating this whole shebang is appreciating the heavy hitters, sure, but as you delve into the nuts and bolts, you tend to appreciate not only great sounds but uniqueness as well. And since this is my stuff and I am very much that nuts-and-bolts delver, the distinctiveness appeals greatly to me. I’ve been building pedals for almost 20 years, and I’ve seen and read it all. I’ve tweaked the same circuits as everyone else and so when something unique comes down the pipe, I have no choice but to take notice. And when that unique circuit has a place in modern rock tonal history, that’s something I want in my Cabinet. That pedal is the MXR Distortion II.
There was a time not so long ago in effects history, one where shimmer reverbs dominated the market. Any big-name digital number cruncher had a shimmer pedal. In case you’re not familiar with shimmer, it’s a reverb effect in which it sounds like the “particles” of sound generated from reverberation are pitch-shifted with successive octaves. The result is a twinkling, lush sound that could only be described as shimmer. But to us pedal geeks, shimmer was something we’d heard before. Line 6 Echo Park? No, further. Digitech Space Station? Further. I’m talking about the Boss PS-3, the first shimmer pedal that I believe ever existed.
Sometimes in the vast history of effects, it can be hard to remember every brand. And while it’s important to pay tribute to the folks that helped shape popular music, it’s equally important to acknowledge those small builders that were just as important as the big boys but reached a much smaller audience. This is the Distortion Plus from a Polish brand, KOD.