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!