Tone Tools ::: Using Pedals as a Preamp

Hello Gearheads! Today I'd like speak about the use of gain pedals as a Preamp or Preamplifier, which can be a very helpful tool when using particular pedals in a system. Often, in this modern age of ultra quiet stages, guitarists are required to bring the same incredible tones that usually come with cranking an amplifier to get that sweet pushed and distorted or overdriven tone. It's a difficult paradox to exist in and it's the main reason the guitar effect pedal market is completely saturated with boost, overdrive, distortion and fuzz boxes --- we MUST get those huge and killer tones sometimes at a whisper. Enter the use of pedals as a Preamp.

One of the most common uses of a pedal as Preamp is to simulate an amplifier that's already overdriving, or close to the edge --- the all holy Edge Of Breakup, cue all the "Ooo's & Ahh's". Anyone familiar with the vernacular of the electric guitar has probably died trying to achieve the perfect Edge Of Breakup or "EOB" tones. These are tones that are not quite overdriven, not quite clean, but somewhere in the middle of this beautiful mess called rock guitar. Quite simply, it's hard to attain these "EOB" tones in a modern environment where quiet is the new loud and everything is getting smaller.

Another situation where it's helpful to have a Preamp for your system is if you run a clean amp with a lot of headroom. I often fall into this category where I'm using a 120 watt Blankenship Twinplex amplifier --- it's got a ton of clean headroom, and never distorts or overdrives on it's own. It's simply a loud, clean beast of an amplifier. Using a pedal as a Preamp can make other pedals sound and feel better when the amplifier itself is quite clean. This model is especially noticeable with fuzz pedals.

Finding the perfect pedal to act as a Preamp is simple in nature but does require a bit of time, testing and patience. I'm featuring three specific pedals that work really well for me and others for this purpose, but by all means, you can get the end result with different pedals. It's just about finding what pedals work best with each other. This is not necessarily the ideology of "stacking", where you combine two pedals for more gain and compression. It's actually about thinking of the pedal as a tone enhancer after all your other pedals. With this in mind, it helps to have pedals that are open in tonal nature, offer a varying amount of gain and EQ, and ultimately don't contain too much compression. This is where the trial, error and success come into play. I've been lucky to have great tonal guru's in my life and one of them is my friend David Phillips of LA Sound Design. David is constantly searching for the best in the world of guitar and system building and I've certainly learned incredible amounts of knowledge from him --- including this concept itself. Now, on to the pedals! All three pedals featured here are incredible on their own merit, but for the purpose of this Tone Tools post, I'm showcasing the Preamp potential of each pedal.

The Shin's Music Dumbloid ODS is an incredible overdrive pedal that offers a very open and uncompressed Preamp capability. It's essentially a simulation of a Howard Dumble modified Marshall amplifier. It acts and feels like an amplifier, which makes the Dumbloid ODS a fantastic choice for this purpose. The EQ controls allow for more or less mid-range and ultimately more or less presence. Hitting the Dumbloid ODS with another overdrive, distortion, boost or fuzz will give you a wide and fat tone, with a great amount of mid-range content... a lot like what you'd get from a really good Marshall. This is 70's rock and then some. Fuzz pedals sound very good through the Dumbloid ODS as do midgain overdrive pedals.

The Vemuram Jan Ray is admittedly reminiscent of a cranked and juicy Fender amplifier pushed into singing sustain. It's a fat and bold tone that works really well as a Preamp. With less edge or presence than the Dumbloid, the Jan Ray adds a beautiful warm character that is more mellow in nature, and still cuts through the mix. Fuzz and boost pedals sound great with the Jan Ray as it takes some of the piercing high end that can be present in those circuits, and just adds this wonderful warm and fat overdriven tone. For anyone looking to get the violin like sustain of Eric Johnson, combining a Fuzz Face into the Jan Ray will absolutely take you there and more.

The Xact Tone Effects Fuzzy Tube Driver, or now called Iridium Fuzz, is another really great voiced pedal that truly acts like an amplifier for your pedalboard. The Iridium Fuzz is based off a modified version of the Craig Anderton's Tube Sound Fuzz and the Way Huge Red Llama. While all those circuits are relative to each other they are definitely different in feel and tone. The Iridium Fuzz is a warm yet clear voice that works perfectly for the purpose of Preamping other pedals in a system. It's tonally somewhere in the middle of both the Dumbloid and the Jan Ray, offering a more neutral tonal bed to work with. I hear it as a slightly more dry tone, just adding that perfect amount of tonal and gain change to make your other pedals sound killer in any environment. The Iridium doesn't impart it's own tone as much as the others do and while all these pedals allow your other pedals and guitar to retain it's true voice, the Iridium might just be a little closer.

Here is a really informative video from David Phillips of LA Sound Design explaining this process with both the Vemuram Jan Ray and the XTS Iridium Fuzz on how to use a Berkos Third Stone Fuzz with a clean amplifier.

Here is another example of how to use the Vemuram Jan Ray with Fuzzes and Octavio type pedals from the incredible Doyle Bramhall II.

Lastly, here is a video from David Phillips demoing one of his recent pedalboard builds. The video clip primarily showcases the Dumbloid ODS. You can really hear how the other gain pedals sound with the Dumbloid acting as a Preamp.

Tone Tools ::: Wah Ideology

Hey friends, today's Gearheads post is part of my "Tools Series" and in particular about the Wah- Wah and the way in which I use it.

The - was originally created by Del Casher, a guitarist and consultant for the Thomas Organ Company. As Del worked on the project, he discovered that when he moved the tone control from left to right on the amplifier, it created a "wah" sound similar to a harmonica player cupping his hands around the microphone and harmonica. This was the new sound that Del had been looking for. It enabled him to express a better bluesy feeling on the electric guitar. - Wikipedia. It was clear that a legend was being born from those early units, literally crafting a sound that would be heard and used by so many musicians for generations to come.

Whether it be channeling the vintage sounds of Jimi Hendrix or crafting modern filter sounds, the Wah-Wah is an indelible piece of equipment and tonal tool that every guitarist should have in their arsenal. Like most tone tools, I look at their usage as colors. Colors that can help shade the perfect moment in a layer of music, bringing out something special from the unknown. The Wah-Wah is one of those perfect tools for the job. It also goes without saying that as great as this effect is, it takes smart usage, and is not kind to the heavy hand --- no Wah should outstay it's welcome! Wacka-Wacka-Wacka...

I typically look at two elements when picking what type and model of Wah Pedal to use, and it's quite simple really: live on stage and in the studio. Many pieces of gear are suspect to this type of delineation and for me, the Wah Pedal is a big one. I look at the Stage VS. Studio in a modern/Vintage manner. The elements of the stage and live music environment will not allow my vintage-voiced pieces to shine, or even worse, be heard! The same goes for the studio choices, a modern piece may not have that depth of color I'm looking for when every note and iteration of my tone is under the proverbial microscope.

So, it comes down to two choices for me these days. The Teese RMC5 Wizard Wah and the Oxbow Studios Clyde McCoy (Picture Replica). Both pedals are lovely sounding and feeling Wah's, capable of making all the classic tones we've all heard and yearn to make.

I choose the Teese RCM5 Wizard Wah for the stage as it's voiced slightly more modern than most vintage voiced Wah's, and it has a treadle throw (how far the tone goes across the potentiometer's tonal spectrum). It has more low end, and most importantly, cuts through the loud full band mix regardless of the amount of distortion or gain. It works incredibly well in the live environment due to how well it's heard through a band mix -- I cannot stress enough how important it is to pick tools that suit the job, nothing is worse than stepping on a pedal and not being heard. The Wizard Wah also has a circuit inside that allows it to run in front of vintage style Fuzz pedals, the Fuzz Face to be exact. The Fuzz Face and the Wah-Wah (Jimi Hendrix anybody!?), is a classic combination that has always had issues due to the impedance mismatch that happens when running both together; and specifically the Wah Pedal before the Fuzz (which I and many believe to sound the best). The Wizard Wah has a handy fuzz friendly buffer circuit installed which alleviates all those issues. This Wah Pedal makes for a formidable choice for the stage and arguably could be used for any musical genre due to it's extremely friendly tone and feel. 

The Oxbow Studios Clyde McCoy (Picture Replica) is a horse of a different color. While I look for pieces that will help me be heard and sound great on stage, in the recording studio I look for tonal tools that are incredibly interesting sounding and most often landing in the vintage voiced camp. The Oxbow is an incredible replica of the much adorned and expensive 1967 Vox/Thomas Organ Clyde McCoy. It's a sound that is so classic and such a part of the guitar's tonal vernacular, and simply a joy to play --- there's a reason people seek high and low for great sounding originals and pay a hefty price. The Oxbow is a handmade Wah that uses hard to find vintage components from the 60's with only one idea in mind: to replicate a legendary piece of gear. I love using the Oxbow in the studio for it's fine tuned touches that can shine in the studio. It's got a very vocal yet sweet character to the throw. There's not too much high end and certainly not too much low end. In short, the Oxbow sounds like a very good original. You could spend years and boatloads of cash trying to find the original that works and sounds great, it's a joy to have modern replicas like the Oxbow available to make that tonal journey a bit easier to ride.

If you don't have either of these pedals or want to work on getting the best out of your own equipment, it's important to use the ideology of what will work best for each situation. Think about how your pieces work in a live environment versus the studio. Choose your tools correctly for your style, performance and tone. It's all about maximizing what you as a musician can give to the song, because without the song we are just a piece of the puzzle. Happy tone hunting!

Tracking Tools ::: Double Tracking Tones & Teamwork

Hey friends! Today I'd like to talk a bit about the idea of double tracking guitar tones, and the combination of gear used, to get the best out of a very useful and often invoked utility in the recording studio. If you're not familiar with the idea of a 'double tracked guitar', it is as it sounds -- adding multiple layers of guitar tracks to beef up and thicken parts. It's most often used on choruses, and can often be more than 2 tracks on top of each other, especially in commercial rock and pop music. Why must we thicken and beef up these parts?! Some purists and producers would argue that it's not necessary and the mix should feel big and huge on it's own. While I mostly agree with that idea, it's also important to note that our ears are used to hearing double, triple, and quadruple tracked guitar parts in much of today's music. It's what makes the moment feel right, it settles in the listeners ear in a way that's familiar yet powerful.

I've been using this method for years in the studio, trying many different combinations of effects, guitars, and amplifiers to yield the best results. For me personally, I find that it comes down to a simple ideology: Contrasting tones within a musical "hand-shake". Breaking it down, it means that if we're talking about just two parts here, they should be contrasting in tone yet act like a puzzle piece for each other. This takes experimentation and time, as each players rig, technique and touch are all different -- much less the material you're recording. Each part is played as close as possible in time, feel and phrasing to create the doubling effect. It thickens and beefs up the part musically, because no matter how close you are to the original part, the double will always have little tiny bits that are different. This is what makes this process worthwhile. This is also why you must actually play and record the part over on a separate track rather than just copy and paste it. It's the different performance that makes it work.

Now on to the toys! I've experimented with a bunch of different ways to approach doubling guitars and I've found that the contrasting tones and hand-shake approach yields the best results. Currently, I record mono-sends to two differently voiced amplifiers at the same time. At the moment, these are a Blankenship Twinplex and a Morgan JMI AC15. I then use contrasting guitars and gain pedals (boost, overdrive, distortion, fuzz) for each part. I'll break it down here....

Part I: Blankenship/Morgan Amps + Danocaster Stratocaster + Shin's Music Dumbloid ODS

Part II: Blankenship/Morgan Amps + Montuoro Hollowbody + Nobels ODR-1

The contrasting tone of each guitar and pedal create that musical hand-shake that sit in a track very well. For instance, the single coil pickups of the Danocaster contrast with the humbucker pickups in the Montuoro hollowbody, as do the ragged edges of the Dumbloid ODS, and the softer bold attack of the Nobels ODR-1. Each part and performance could dictate different pieces of gear of course, but for a powerful rock chorus --- this combination is incredible and I found it to be a perfect match. You don't have to have these particular pedals to establish this technique -- it's all about using what you have to get the most out of a session.

Essentially, the most important thought here is contrast and connection. How well the different pieces of the puzzle fit with each other but also how the distinct differences can sum a whole, larger than each part. It's essentially the ideology of teamwork. Regardless of what gear you might have, you have to take the time and listen to how each ingredient interacts with the other. Making those choices and experimenting to find the best combinations and ultimately making that musical "hand-shake"... ultimately creating stellar and powerful tracks! Happy tracking!



The King of Analog Delays ::: Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man

Hey folks! Today I'd like to share with you a bit about one of my most favorite recent acquisitions. While I'm incredibly late in the game on picking up this pedal, I have fallen head over heels and am very happy nonetheless. What dastardly piece of magic could I be speaking of?! Well, none other than the "King Of All Analog Delays!" Ok... sorry for shouting! 

While there are many incredible and amazing analog delay pedals in this musical world, the Deluxe Memory Man from Electro Harmonix could quite possibly be the reigning champ. Specifically the "big box" Deluxe Memory Man from the 90's with the attached AC power cord, which is the one that I currently own. My pal Dave Phillips, resident pedalboard and tonal guru who is the genius behind LA Sound Design, recommended this particular iteration of the EHX Deluxe Memory Man. As many Los Angeles gear hounds will tell you -- when Dave recommends something it's usually right on the money. This particular DMM (as many of us gear geeks will call it) is nothing short of that.

The Deluxe Memory Man has been made by Electro Harmonix since the 1970's and has undergone many different versions of itself. Originally, the DMM only had 330ms of delay time and was a simple analog delay. This 90's version I have is the most famous version with vibrato/chorus/delay. Essentially it's a fantastically voiced analog delay with roughly 400ms of delay time. 400ms is quite enough for most parts you might use this type of delay for --- which is simply gorgeous and juicy tones. That my friends is the beauty of this giant beast of a pedal... the tones of the Big Box DMM's of yesteryear are just something you need to hear in person (and hopefully play) to really get the whole picture.

In my opinion, the tone of the DMM is in part due to the analog chips it uses (mine uses the fabled geek alert Panasonic MN3005 delay chips, which are no longer made); but also equally in part due to the pre-amp that powers the whole enchilada. There's just that sweetness that even when you run the pedal at minimum blend, there's no delay effect but the signal is still running through the entire circuit. It's just one of those things in this life as a guitarist and gearhead that once you try it --- it's quite hard to replicate or replace. It just has "that" thing that makes your heart and music flutter.

You can't really speak about the big box DMM without talking about it's gorgeous modulation. It has a subtle or crazy vibrato, chorus tone, and delay. It's what makes this pedal perfect for clean ambient passages or crazy noise filled explosions. It's all in there. Even if you don't play guitar or have no interest or dog in this fight, you've heard the Deluxe Memory Man in so much of our musical vernacular. One of the most famous users would be Edge of U2 fame. Much of their early recordings were just guitar, Vox AC30 and the Deluxe Memory Man. It goes without saying, the DMM is a venerable and historic monster of a pedal.

If you'd care to delve into the history and very interesting journey of the DMM, take a look at this great piece from Tone Report. Thanks for the Memories, Man: Evolution of the Legendary Analog Delay

Lastly, I must give a shout-out to Mike Piera of Analogman Effects who helped return this particular DMM to it's fullest potential. The 1990's are at this point (much to my dismay) of "vintage" era, and this pedal needed some TLC after purchasing it. It had a previously awful true bypass modification which caused the pedal to cut out intermittently along with some noise issues. The crafty artisans at Analogman took great care and got it fixed up and re-calibrated, hence making it sound as good as it can. It's nice to know that you can always make this beautiful gear of a bygone era not only function in this fast paced digital landscape, but also sound incredibly beautiful.

Mono Cases ::: Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

Today's post may not seem like the most exciting facet of the musician's experience, but anyone who travels by plane, train or automobile with any type of music equipment will tell you tales of the grave importance of high quality protection to withstand the dangers of travel. While safety might not appear to be the first thing on a musician's mind, when it comes to expensive and irreplaceable tools of the trade -- it's all too important.

Which brings me to the incredible cases built by Mono Creators. All Mono cases are "soft shell" hybrid designed cases that actually offer more support and protection than many hard shell traditional cases. I have traveled in and out of town with two different models from Mono for years and couldn't be happier and more assured that my sensitive instruments will travel, arrive and be stored in total safety. Mono uses some very cool lightweight yet extremely durable materials in their cases, offering an ergonomic "back-pack" type harness making it wearable on your back.

I use both the M80 Vertigo for my electric guitars and the M80 Classical/OM for my acoustics. While both have some differences, they both offer the same key components. The most important being neck support. There are countless fright-night stories of someone traveling with a Gibson guitar and finding out that the headstock has been broken in the same spot all Gibson guitars get broken (due to the design and tension of the strings on the headstock)... it's a nightmare situation. Mono keeps the neck and the headstock safe during travel with it's proprietary "Headlock" systems. Basically, it creates a sandwich of support between the top and bottom of the case itself. While nothing is truly indestructible, this type of neck protection is spot on.

The M80 Vertigo is a slimmer case designed for electric guitars mostly. It will fit most guitars, and even fits a slightly oblong custom Montuoro hollowbody guitar I have, just fine. The M80 Classical/OM is slightly more robust and fitting for an acoustic guitar. There's a little more room to breath and also includes a bit more storage space. Both cases offer ample storage for any accessories you might need. Mono also offers additional cases that can clip on to the Vertigo itself: The Guitar Tick, which allows for even more storage.

I literally cannot recommend Mono Cases enough for your valuable pieces of music equipment. Mono is of course not limited to keeping guitars safe, they've got you covered for most anything you might need to travel and protect. Pedalboards, DJ's, Drummers, Producers.... they've got something for everyone. Lightweight and durable is the name of the game here and I couldn't agree more, or be any happier with these cases. I'm truly happy to support a company that cares so much about supporting musician's in their craft and the often overlooked aspect of not just performing or creating, but getting there.

In the end, it's always about the journey anyhow right!? Thanks for reading and catch you on the road!

Berkos FX Third Stone II ::: My Favorite Prize For Every Fuzz Fight

Hello Gearheads! Today we talk FUZZ! Ok, now many of you actually know me, and of my personal journeys into the descent of the deep and dark abyss of Fuzz pedals. It's been an interesting and wild road that's led me through (and to) some of my favorite circuits derived from one of the oldest --- the Fuzz Face, Dallas Arbiter to be exact. It's completely a classic, used by so many great tone-meisters including of course, Mr. James Marshall Hendrix. Jimi was indeed the spark to the flame in many a young guitarist's hearts including mine; He practically founded the tonal landscape any modern guitarist might navigate. One piece of Jimi's circle was the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face - An enormously versatile and incredible sounding effect. The Fuzz Face could be used to make clean tones all the way to monstrous distorted fuzzed out bliss. It's a very interesting and simple circuit that's unique to every moment in the way that life is really --- this is why I think I'm personally drawn to them. So much control and many shades of color much like a great painter's palette, the Fuzz Face is simply put... inspiring, which leads us to the fuzz of the hour.

The Berkos FX Third Stone II is a fantastic fuzz pedal. It's a very good sounding and feeling Silicon Fuzz with some very cool and helpful tweaks. The Third Stone has landed it's completely permanent spot on my pedalboard since it first came out. It allows me to recall the feeling and tone of a great vintage fuzz but with the ability to really dial it in each rig or mix.

Most typical fuzzes have two controls: one for volume and one for fuzz. Usually you must 'dime' each and just use your volume knob on the guitar to get the tonal shifts you might need. The Third Stone II offers that same elemental control but with some very useful additions. Take a look at the description below for each control's functions.

I tend to set my Third Stone II with moderate to full fuzz. Usually I will bring the fuzz control all the way up, then bring back that control while playing to get the amount of fuzz dialed in just right. Often I'll find I like and settle on less fuzz than I'd originally thought. That's the magic of fitting in a mix whether it be live or on recording -- it's detrimentally important to get that dialed in right if you'd like to be heard. I prefer the 'BASS' and 'EXP' modes as they offer the fullest and warmest range on the pedal. Earth, which is a low cut control, I typically set to taste (most often around 3:00).


In the clip below I've used the Third Stone II on all the guitars. The clean tones are the volume knob on the guitar rolled back. The signal path is: Danocaster S Style > Drybell Vibe Machine 2 > Berkos Third Stone II > Strymon Timeline > Tortenmann TT3 Tremolo > Subdecay Super Spring Theory > Blankenship Twinplex & Kerry Wright Cab with Celestion Vintage 30's.

Tonefreak Effects Azalea

Hello Gearheads! Today's offering is from Tone Freak Effects, who make wonderful boutique guitar effects. Derek Tabata builds some great overdrive, boost and tremolo pedals, one of which I'm reviewing today -- Derek's newest offering, the Azalea Overdrive. The Azalea Overdrive is based on the venerable Nobels ODR-1 circuit, made famous (and also famously used) in the Nashville, TN studio scene. For those of you not inclined to the idea that there are 'studio scenes,' it comes down to two simple ideas: you're either in Los Angeles or Nashville. Now of course there are many cities, states, provinces, countries.... worlds (ok maybe we're not quite there yet... but ahem, we did just find 7 new planets... maybe at least one such planet would offer up some new orbital guitar tones!?) That said, it is a common reference with studio gear, ideology, and tones to be divided into those two geographic zones: LA or Nashville.

Getting back on track... see what I did there? The Nobels ODR-1 is a natural overdrive in that it retains the guitar's original voice rather than changing the feel or tactile element. That is simply one of the reasons it's quite revered. The ODR-1 does however have some limitations, which have spurned many DIY modifications and new iterations of this circuit to be made.

Which brings us to the Azalea! The Azalea keeps a lot of the feel and tone of the ODR-1 circuit but adds some very valuable alterations. Firstly, there is a tone control and a bass contour control. The ODR-1 can suffer from a bass heavy EQ in many rigs and depending upon your guitar, amp, and pedals following the circuit, it can be at times woofy or too cluttered in the low end spectrum. The Azalea's two handed punch of standard Tone and Bass contour allows you to fine tune the amount of thump and low end girth you need. This allows you to match the tone of the ODR-1, make it fit better in your rig or the situation you're working in. Having this control of course allows you to get a ton of other tones out of the Azalea than just an ODR-1 tone. Derek has also included a toggle to allow the pedal to be used in either Silicon Diode or L.E.D. gain stages. Basically, the Silicon is the original ODR-1 tone and the L.E.D. allows for louder, less compressed drive tones, which could work really well as a clean to full range boost.

I'm a big fan of this circuit for a few reasons. One of those reasons is how the pedal sounds recorded in a track. It has the 'right' amount of presence and push, mostly due to the fat low end that never gets mushy or clogged sounding. It literally is THE sound of any Country, Pop-Country, Alt-Country etc... rhythm and solo guitar tones. It's big and full yet still sounds like the guitar and amplifier you're using. Incredibly important and valuable as a recording tool. The second reason I love this circuit is how it interacts with other pedals after it. Using the Azalea as a boost for other overdrive and distortions yields some really wonderful results --- mainly just glorious added girth and gain but without any tonal shift. It's a mysterious adventure to enter into the world of stacking gain pedals, many times the result is a diminishing return, where you end up with more gain but 'cutting' less in the mix or sounding fizzy or less defined. Not with the Azalea! It works wonders on my live pedalboard with the Maxon SD-9 (one of my all time favorite live pedals) to get fatter sustaining liquid-esque lead tones. The Azalea truly works well as a 'stacker' - I recommend trying it before all your gain boxes to hear that sustain just leap out of your speakers!

I decided to offer up a short demonstration in song-form of the Azalea's tones. I really enjoy recording with the Azalea, it's intuitive and quick to dial in which I find makes it a great choice for the studio or stage. I highly recommend you check one out!

I'm using a Danocaster S Style with Rocketfire Total 60's pickups and a custom Montuoro koa hollowbody with Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro II humbuckers. The amplifier is a Blankenship Twinplex 120w head with 6550's and a Kerry Wright diagonal 2x12 cabinet with UK made Celestion Vintage 30's.

Hidden Gems /// Ibanez EM5 Echomachine Delay

Today friends, I offer up a somewhat hidden gem in the pedal world: the Ibanez EM5 Echomachine for your perusal. It's a part of the 'Soundtank' or 5 series in Ibanez's line, built from around 1990 until 1999. The Soundtank series was different in that it used a plastic housing instead of metal or aluminum for the pedal enclosures and they were of course shaped like a TANK! Here's some ad-copy from Ibanez regarding the 5 series:

They're called Soundtanks because their high-tech housing and construction is strong enough to survive the worst abuse-whether it's a battlefield or a mosh pit. But more important than Soundtank's indestructibility are the great Soundtank tones-everything from the beautiful Ibanez analog chorusing of the SC5 to the in-your-face industrial carnage of the new Black Noise distortion. Best of all, Soundtanks are affordable, which means you get more tones to your sonic arsenal for lots less bucks.

Check out this adorable advertisement for the Soundtank Series!

Check out this adorable advertisement for the Soundtank Series!

Of course, any musician who uses pedals will tell you that the above statement is a bit far reaching as anything built of plastic isn't going to survive WWWIII or even a drunken heavy footed stomp. That said, the quirks of the pedals design aren't an issue when looking at the sound of this delay. The Echomachine is an incredibly easy-to-use delay pedal that I find, works in many musical situations.

The EM5 is at it's core, a digital delay pedal that sounds incredibly warm and very much akin to the tones of a great sounding Echoplex or Tape Delay unit. It's repeats are clear, yet warm --- they never "get in the way" of your playing. For this reason, it finds itself on a lot of pedalboards including mine. I was hipped to this beautiful hidden gem via my friend and tone guru David Phillips of LA Sound Design. LA Sound Design recommends these units quite often and can be seen on a lot of the pedalboard systems they make. I'd fraction to say that the seminal aspect the EM5 has could be due to David's love of the pedal, which of course flows right into his clients. One of the most recent converts to the EM5 would be Doyle Bramhall II, who's using it on his recently completed LASD pedalboard.

Doyle Bramhall II pedalboard built by LA Sound Design --- thanks to Nils Bryant for the picture

Doyle Bramhall II pedalboard built by LA Sound Design --- thanks to Nils Bryant for the picture

In our current 'Golden Age' of available choices in the guitar effect world, it's refreshing to find something so simple like the EM5. It only has 3 controls: Echo, Repeat & Speed. It's tone lives mostly in the organic tape like world, and only if you max out all controls will it self oscillate --- beautifully and in a controllable way. The circuit is NOT True Bypass! Oh no! I'm aghast! You're probably asking me why would you go through all of this and recommend me a pedal that's not true bypass!!!??? Well, simply it sounds good. The debate of true bypass, buffered bypass, non-buffered pedals...(that's another rodeo friends) but what I can tell you is that the EM5 does NOT suffer from any of the issues that most non true bypass pedals often do. It will not suck your tone or take your beautifully crafted signal chain and flop a blanket over the whole enchilada. Honestly, I do hear a slight bump in the upper mid range content, which is very pleasing. It's even more pleasing if you have a longer signal chain or a darker rig. On my larger LASD pedalboard, I use it on all the time whether I'm using the delay mix or not. I notice that whole rig sounds better with it on --- a very subtle yet noticeable effect. It helps the notes 'pop out' a little more. I have heard that the EM5 might introduce a tiny bit of clock noise (a sort of ticking sound that is persistent while the effect is on, mostly common with analog delay circuits) in high gain amplifier rigs --- the solution being that it could be in a true bypass loop.

All said and done, the EM5 Echomachine is a proper not-so-hidden gem anymore. Completely worth checking out if you are in the market for a simple, incredibly musical delay pedal without a ton of bells and whistles. They do pop up for sale quite frequently on Ebay & Reverb. I think I'll go and try to find another backup right now!

Happy tone hunting friends... until next time... next time... (get it!? yup a delay joke)