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.
It’s tough being a curator of all this business. On one hand, it’s important to recognize the nuance of the history of equipment, but the compulsive side makes one want to collect every variant of every unit. While that’s certainly doable with some of the more readily available units, sometimes there are just too many. For example, the Big Muff was released in hundreds of variants, and only the most rugged collectors would begin such an undertaking. Some pedals such as Boss’s various offerings come in a handful of varietals; a full set of CE-2 graphical and hardware permutations takes little time to collect. For solid-state devices, this is simple hide and seek, but tube-equipped devices take a special touch and an enormous magnifying glass. Today, we’re looking at the WEM Shadow Echo.
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.
If you asked the millions of tourists that (typically) visit the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy what their favorite piece was, it would undoubtedly be Michaelangelo’s David. However, if you asked the curator of the same museum the very same question, their answer may surprise you. Yeah, we have a few mechanized delay machines lying around. There’s the usual suspects; Maestro, Binson, Roland, Klemt. I love all of them. For my money however, when I think of my favorite tape-esque delay circuit, I reach right for the DOD 680, eyes forward.
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 wise man once said, “A serious fuzz-wah shortage is happening in the pedal community.” This was actually said by my dear friend Andy “clean tone” Martin, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. In the same breath, he spoke of companies that used to offer these combo pedals which either stopped making them or are now defunct; companies like Colorsound, Vox, Shin-Ei, and others.
Even though the most obscure effects often become the most collectible, the Cabinet would become a trove of curiosities rather than a real collection without a few stone-cold classics. And a classic doesn’t achieve such a status without a real story. Though you wouldn’t think so, the modest Cry Baby wah has one of the most convoluted histories of all effects, but it starts with the Beatles.
If ever there was a manufacturer that truly struck while the proverbial iron was hot, it was Maestro. To that company’s credit, it developed the aforementioned first commercially-available fuzz unit, octaver, compressor, filter and a few others I may be forgetting. While the fuzz is most certainly a legendary piece, the others fell a bit by the wayside despite having been the progenitor. Once such piece is the PS-1 series Phaser, of which the PS-1A is the most well-known