Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: ZVEX Super Hard-On

This is the ZVEX Super Hard-On, a combination overdrive/distortion pedal from legendary pedal builder Zachary Vex of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I got this pedal in a trade for a Guyatone TO-2, and I'm happy with the deal, especially since this is one of the earlier versions of the pedal hand-built and hand-painted by Zachary himself.

The sound of this pedal is very versatile, ranging from a very slight boost to a raunchy, balls-out distortion that few pedals can achieve on their own.

With the knob turned down (between 0 and 30%), this pedal resembles a clean boost not unlike an MXR Micro-Amp. Like the Micro-Amp, the Super Hard-On retains the shape of your original signal very effectively, pretty much boosting all frequencies evenly. In front of a tube amp, the effect is similar to a Tube Screamer with the "drive" knob turned down and the "level" knob around 5, resulting in a rich, bluesy tone without too much colouring.

As you turn the lone knob on the Super Hard-On up a little (resulting in the signature "crackle" that the pedal itself will tell you is OK) you start to experience the "Super" overdriven sound that makes this pedal extra special. The only thing I can compare the sound to is 3 or 4 tube screamers plugged into each other, with the drive circuits feeding each other to create a layered and convoluted distorted signal that is a little hard to take, but really satisfying if you are looking for a Hendrix-like tone without resorting to a Ringer or Octaver as a companion to your OD/Distortion.

My major complaint about this pedal is also related to its name: the pedal is so-called because it is super hard on your amp, apparently too hard for my vintage Gibson Gibsonette amplifier, which stopped working a few weeks after I started using this pedal. This is because the output voltage of the pedal is extremely high, causing sensitive circuitry to suffer when it is pummeled by the growling signal coming out of the pedal when the knob is turned up. ZVEX recommends avoiding this issue by keeping the knob turned down a little, but where's the fun in that?

The Verdict: This pedal does what it does with style and flair. As far as OD/Distortion pedals go, this one is great at retaining the integrity of your guitar's tone. However, if you have the means and the space on your pedal board, you are probably better off using a clean boost alongside a distortion pedal, as this will give you more control over the individual characteristics of each.

Price Range:
$150-$250 (some pedals are custom painted, and fetch more $, as do some earlier versions)

-Looks awesome!
-True Bypass switch
-Solid construction
-Good signal retention

Lows:-Killed my amp :(
-Sideways construction makes an awkward fit on pedal boards
-No external power jack
-Crackle on the knob (it's OK, but not so nice)

Rating: 5.5/10

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thank You!

I would like to thank those of you who follow my blog, and make my efforts worthwhile!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: Ibanez UE300 Multi-Effects Unit

This is the Ibanez UE300, a multi-effects unit. Produced in the 1980s, this is one of Ibanez' first effects units combining more than one pedal into a single, self-powered unit. The pedals are essentially a TS9 Tube Screamer*, a CS9 Stereo Chorus, and a CP9 Compressor/Limiter.

Since the Tube Screamer itself is undoubtedly the most famous, most popular, and arguably most useful pedal in the world, this unit deserves special consideration simply because this notable effect appears in its circuit. From a player's perspective, this is an opportunity to own a vintage Tube Screamer at a fraction of the cost of buying a standalone one. As a collector, this pedal seems like a solid investment for the very same reason; as older TS808s and TS9s increase in price (they already fetch upwards of $800 and $500, respectively), the UE300s will certainly rise in price as well. Since the CP9 and CS9 are nearer to the bottom of the range of values in 9-series pedals, their inclusion in this unit is unlikely to have as significant an effect on the value of the UE300.

What makes the UE300 unique from a modern perspective is the fact that it is made up of fully analog circuitry. Most of us associate muli-effects units with digital modeling, and a wide range of inferior-sounding effects, most of which sound terrible, and process the original signal into oblivion. The UE300, however, is like having the original analog pedals (the total cost of which is well beyond the average price for a UE300), plus the convenience of a single, self-contained and self-powered unit. Moreover, the sound of these pedals in incomparable to anything else; each of these pedals on their own is considered among the best at what they do. Another great feature of the UE300 is the Bypass switch, which allows you to leave the pedals on, but bypass the effect circuit altogether. On a conventional pedal board, this would require another pedal, and a great deal of extra wiring.

There are, however, disadvantages to this fantastic unit. For instance, if you happen to like one, but not the others, you are stuck with a very large and inconvenient unit, and this is probably a deal-breaker in all cases except the Tube Screamer (an original CS9 or CP9 on its own rarely exceeds $100). Another drawback is noise; the UE300 generates some signal noise on its own – more, in fact, than if you were to connect the three individual pedals together on a conventional pedal board. The irony of this is that the one distinct advantages of a combination effect ought to be the lack of need for connecting cables and individual power supplies. On one hand, the UE300 is convenient because it has its own power supply, and requires only two cords to attach to an amp; on the other, it limits the range of selectable effects, and produces undesirable noise.

*There are some reviews, including one by Guitar World Magazine, that indicate that the circuit in the Tube Screamer section of this unit is actually closer to a TS808 than a TS9. The one I have contains the same 4-digit serial # Japan Radio Corp. JRC4558D op-amp found in many TS808s, but this chip can also be found in early versions of the TS9. In any case, there are so many factors affecting the sound of a Tube Screamer that this alone is not enough evidence to conclude which pedal this one most resembles. I would argue that this is in fact a unique Tube Screamer, since it is only found in these multi-effects units, and should be considered independently of the others. Regardless, it is easier to acquire a UE300 than an original TS808 or an original TS9, especially one with the “holy grail” JRC4558D chip inside.

The Verdict: If you can find one of these in good condition for a reasonable price, buy it! It will prove to be a good investment, and (if you haven't already) you will get to experience the joy of playing with a real vintage Tube Screamer. You will also become the envy of your gearhead friends.

Price Range:

-Has an original Tube Screamer!
-Great, warm sound
-Analog circuitry
-Bypass pedal

-Limited effects
-Somewhat noisy
-Requires a grounded A/C outlet

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Boss DM-1 Delay Machine

This is the Boss DM-1 Delay Machine! The very first Boss Delay pedal, the DM-1 came on the market in the 1970s, and is still considered by some to be the best sounding analog delay pedal out there. The DM-1 is the predecessor to the famous DM-2 Delay, another staple among analog enthusiasts.

What can I say? This pedal lives up to the hype. Like most pedals of this vintage, the analog circuitry is a touch noisy, but a little noise is OK, and there are many post-production tools that can eliminate it after the fact.

I have tried many analog Delay pedals, including the MXR Analog Delay, Boss DM-2, and Ibanez AD9 (this is the one I use now), and the DM-1 sounds at least as good as any other. Capable of producing a range of effects, from simple slap-back delay to full-blown repeating delay (max. 300ms), the Delay Machine does exactly what you want it to.

However, there are some things that stand in between the Delay Machine and everyday use. First of all, they are super-rare and super-expensive; this makes getting one a lot more difficult than some (maybe all) delays. Secondly, the pedal is HUGE, about 6"x10", and has a built-in grounded power cable resembling the one on a refrigerator. Finally, the pedal is a little touchy because of its age; the pots require regular cleaning, and I can't help but worry that it might just give up the ghost one day. Because of these issues, I would recommend the DM-1 for studio use before I would use it live.

The sound: Warm, warm, warm. The DM-1 uses the Reticon R5101chip at the heart of its circuit, and this (now discontinued) CCD processes the signal into 'bins' to simulate analog conversion, and allow the circuit to be manipulated to produce the delay effect. The DM-2 and the famous "green" MXR Analog Delay also use this processor, with a similar effect.

Verdict: AWESOME! If you have one, congrats! And if you don't - allow me to recommend the Ibanez AD9 or the Boss DM-2, both of which have similar features, a similar sound, and are a lot easier to get.

Price Range:
$400-600 depending on condition/modifications

-Great warm analog sound
-Simple controls
-Very solid construction

-A little noisy
-Limited delay time
-Too big for a pedal board

Rating: 7/10

Monday, December 12, 2011

More reviews to come!

Hey, Everyone!

Check out the Pedal Reviews I've written this month:

Ibanez WH10 Wah-Wah Pedal
Ibanez AF9 Auto Filter
Ibanez CS9 Stereo Chorus
Ibanez SM9 Super Metal

Look for more equipment reviews coming soon, including pedals by Boss, MXR, ZVEX, and more from Ibanez!


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Comparison: Vintage vs. Reissue CS9 Stereo Chorus

The original Ibanez CS9 Stereo Chorus was first made in the 1980s as part of the Ibanez 9 series of pedals, which included the SM9 Super Metal, and the famous TS9 Tube Screamer. (For a review of the original CS9, Click Here)

I spent a great deal of time comparing these pedals, on their own and in conjunction with other pedals. Here is what I noticed:

-The original pedal has a much warmer sound and a purer reproduction of the original signal blended in with the chorus effect.

-With the original, it is possible to dial down the chorus depth to an almost unnoticeable level; with the reissue, you can always tell when the pedal is on.

-The reissue has a noisier switch; it might be the difference in output impedance, but the sound of the reissue pedal coming on is definitely more noticeable

 -The output impedance, residual noise level, delay time, and speed frequency are all slightly different on the reissue pedal. Also, many of the components are not manufactured in the same facilities as the originals, and many consider these parts to be inferior to the equivalent Japanese-made parts of the 1980s.
Brass Tacks:
-Price: Both pedals can be had for under $100, though the original ones are generally a little bit less expensive than the reissues (if you don't care about condition).

-While neither of these pedals are collector's items, the original pedal seems to be the better investment, since it sounds better and has better components.

Review: Ibanez AF9 Auto Filter

This is the Ibanez AF9 Auto Filter Pedal. Made by Maxon in Japan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this pedal is essentially a compact version of the Musitronics (Mu-Tron) III Envelope Filter.

Unlike the Mu-Tron, however, the Ibanez AF9 uses a battery or a standard 9v adapter instead of a proprietary power supply (useful if you're using a pedal board or daisy-chain adapter). The controls are the same (Level, Peak, Filter, Drive and Range) as the Mu-Tron, but with a slightly different configuration.

The biggest advantage the AF9 has over the Mu-Tron is the price: where a Mu-Tron will cost you $700-$800, an original AF9 goes for around $100-$150 (which is less than the Maxon reissue as well).

If you're a collector, though, consider the Musitronics; since the AF9 was reissued, prices for the original version have decreased.

What does it do? The AF9 is an automatic envelope filter. This means that, like a wah-wah pedal, the circuit varies the shape of the "Q" or equalization curve of the signal. This causes a wah-like effect, but unlike a wah, you don't control the sweep yourself. The settings on the pedal determine the depth, peak, and direction of the control sweep, and the level to which the pedal is sensitive to pick attack.

The sensitivity control allows you to play with the pedal on, and minimize its effect by reducing the volume of the guitar, or picking more softly, then exaggerating it by increasing pick attack and volume. The direction setting allows you to have your signal "wah" up or "wow" down with each note. The drive level gives a little boost to your signal as it passes through the filter circuit (this works especially well when paired with another distortion/overdrive, much like the depth setting on the WH10 wah-wah pedal).

Aside from its obvious uses as a source of "quack" for funk, reggae, jazz, or anytime you just need a funky, skanky backing rhythm, the pedal performs well as a mid- and treble booster as well. If you use a TS9 or similar overdrive, and run it into the AF9 at a high gain level, you get a great, fully open sound not unlike leaving your wah in the "sweet spot". After fiddling with the dials a bit, I found I was able to keep my guitar in that "sweet spot" no matter where on the neck I was playing. This doesn't work well for chords, but it has great potential for lead playing.

Price Range:$100-$150

Highs:-Great at what it does
-Solid construction
-Compact case

Lows:-Doesn't do much else
-A bit noisy (esp. with too many other pedals)

Rating: 7/10

Ibanez 10 Series Pedals

Left to right: MT10 Mostortion, DS10 Distortion Charger, TS10 Tube Screamer, DL10 Digital Delay, TC10 Twin-Cam Chorus, CP10 Compressor/Sustainer

Tube Screamers New and Old

Left to right: 1981 TS9, 2008 TS9 Reissue, 1987 TS10, 1995 TS5

Friday, November 25, 2011

Review: Ibanez CS9 Stereo Chorus

This is the Ibanez CS9 Stereo Chorus. For the price, it is probably the best bang for your buck out there. Don't get me wrong, there are better sounding choruses out there, but all things considered, this one takes the cake.

I have had two of these, and one of the subsequent "power series" CSL Stereo Chorus pedals, and they all sounded great, but this one is my favourite. It was made in 1981, but as far as I can tell, there's not too much difference between any of the ones from the original 9 series.
WARNING: The contemporary reissue of this pedal is NOT THE SAME!!!
                *Click Here for a comparison of these two pedals*

Recently, I started using a vintage Boss CE-2 pedal for chorus, but eventually switched back to the CS9. The Boss pedal sounded great with a clean sound, but not so great when distortion or overdrive was added to the signal. I tried adding gain before and after the pedal, but the only way I could get it to sound good loud was to turn the amp up. The CS9, on the other hand, sounds great clean and with distortion.

-Solid construction
-Warm analog sound
-Stereo outputs

-A little noisy
-Limited controls

Possible Modifications:

-True bypass wouldn't be a bad mod, although if you have a few 9-series pedals in your path, the buffers tend to work well together.

Rating: 7/10

Review: Ibanez SM9 Super Metal

This is the Ibanez SM9 Super Metal pedal. Made in the 1980s, this pedal can really capture the sound of 80s rock. But the best part is, it does so much more!

What the Super Metal is, in essence, is two Tube Screamers cascaded into each other. The circuitry uses the same JRC4558D op-amp chips popularized by the 9 and 10 series tube screamers, and found in earlier Ibanez distortion/overdrive pedals such as the OD808 Overdrive and TS808 Tube Screamer.

Many players looking to get crunchy overdrive from a tube amp use two Tube Screamers running into each other. This pedal saves you the trouble.

As an added bonus, you get a 3-band equalizer circuit built in as well, which really helps to shape your distorted tones. Also, like a TS, you get the ability to clean up your sound by rolling off the volume knob on your guitar.

I bought this pedal on Ebay after hearing the sound on an Ibanez DUE300 Multi-effects Unit, and immediately fell in love. The sound is creamy, and makes all your overtones and natural harmonics sing. Furthermore, I noticed that, even with single coil pickups, I got sustain for days! The Attack, Edge, and Punch knobs really make it easy to dial in the perfect shape for your signal.

My favourite thing about the SM9, though, is how it can make a tube amp sound solid-state. This may seem strange, since most people are concerned about making solid-state amps sound more like their valve-driven cousins. I love tube amps - they almost always sound better to me than transistors, but when you're playing Metal or Hard Rock, sometimes you NEED a solid-state amp just to get the right attack, response, and undecaying sustain to make it sound right. The SM9 does just that; it punches up the tubes' response to picking and hammer-ons, and tightens up everything else. (I'm not sure if Eddie used one in the 80s, but he must've had something like it...)

Price Range:

-Rock solid construction
-Fantastic sound
-Great range of tones
-Cheaper than equivalent boutique pedals
-Beautiful color!

-Very noisy with "level" knob cranked
-Minor tone drain when off

Rating: 9/10

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Ibanez WH10 Wah-Wah Pedal

This is the Ibanez WH10 Wah-Wah Pedal (Green/Grey Version, produced from 1987 until 1992).

Although this is a rare and fairly expensive pedal, it is certainly one of the best. I used to have a Dunlop GCB95 Crybaby that had a great tone, but someone stole it at a gig, and I could never find another one with that same "it factor". This pedal solved all of my wah problems.

Features unique to the WH10:
-Bass/Guitar switch
-Effect knob (+6db to +20db boost)
-Dry output
-Tone, tone, tone!

Although these are unique and very handy features, they are not the best thing about this wah. The first thing I noticed when I plugged it in, and the reason this pedal will always be on my board, is that the buffered bypass makes everything sound better, even when the pedal is off! There is a great demand these days for true bypass pedals, but what many people fail to realize is that a good buffer is better than no buffer, especially if you are running a number of pedals into each other.

The other thing that makes this particular pedal so special is that it sounds FANTASTIC! As you probably know, this pedal was made famous by John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Supposedly, he has so many of them that he has actually driven the price up substantially in recent years, all by himself! However, the pedal itself needs no celebrity endorsement; the sound sells itself.

The Bad: Unfortunately, the WH10 is made of plastic (if you see one, and it's not made of plastic, it's not original, but a reissue (Ibanez WH10V2). Though I've not tried one myself, I am told that the reissue (like most) is shit and not worth buying when you should be able to get the real deal for less than twice the price. Like all fragile things, just don't step on it too hard, and it will last a long time. Mine has been in constant use since I got it in 2009 (and God knows how long before that), and it works like a charm.

If you need a wah that sounds great and works with a variety of sounds, this is the one for you!

Price Range:
$175-275 (Green/Grey Version)
$300-500 (Black/Purple Version)

-Best sounding wah pedal ever
-(see above)

-Plastic casing
-Board-mounted components inside pedal

Rating: 10/10

My favourite things...

On my pedal board:

1. Ibanez WH10 Wah-Wah pedal (1980s)
2. Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer (1981)
3. Ibanez SM9 Super Metal (1983)
4. Ibanez CS9 Stereo Chorus (1981)
5. Boss RC-2 Loop Station (2005)
6. Ibanez AD9 Analog Delay (1984)
7. MXR Micro Amp (1977)

Of all these pedals, my favourites are the SM9 Super Metal and the WH10 Wah-Wah.

Equipment reviews to follow...

Given my experience with pedals and guitars (I've owned over 75 guitars and 100 effects), I've decided to review the pedals I've owned one at a time, and hopefully the internet at large will find this information useful! Stay tuned for new reviews!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

1970s MXR Flanger

1970s MXR Micro Amp

1980s Ibanez AD9 Analog Delay

1980s Ibanez UE300 Multi-Effects Unit

1980s Ibanez WH10 Wah-Wah

1970s Yamaha FG-180

Ibanez AF9 Auto Filter

Custom Hand-Built Analog Delay