For the first instalment of the pedals shootouts, we'll start with the good old wha pedal, one of the first type of commercially available effects pedals. There are thousands of types out there, new and old, and I have only included here a selection of the ones I like best. Amongst others, I have omitted the Schaller Wha-wha Yoy-Yoy which despite its funny name is pretty weak sounding (and most often made out of plastic), and my cheap PSK Wha that only becomes useful when you take the time to re-house it and wax-pot its inductor (check out the Colorsound RIng Modulator shell further down).
From top left to bottom right:
_ The Jen Super Double Sound is electronically identical to the simple "Double Sound". It features a pretty fierce but extremely fun fuzz effect and a classic Vox wha circuit! The wah effect is very clean, very soft and almost natural, if there is such a thing. The pedal throw is a bit short but has a good sweep. It is quite linear with no filter peak like on most standard Cry Babies. This is the wha pedal that reminds me the most of the classic Hendrix wha tones (Axis Bold As Love era) and it is my best sounding wah pedal.
_ The japanese Shin-ei Companion Wha is becoming famous as one of the japanese alternatives to the old classic italian and american models. Again, its circuit is that of a standard Cry Baby. It works well but has an ever-so-slightly too short sweep. The tone is good but nothing to write home about in my opinion. All in all, a respectable pedal but not better than your bog standard GCB95.
_ The Ibanez Standard Wau Fuzz is one good looking pedal and as a consequence it attracts a lot of buyers. But it's a shame that it doesn't sound so great. The wha is wired in reverse, which is easy to remedy, but the effect is quite simply lame, very shallow and uninspiring. I also have a Wau Wau pedal that sounds just as lame. The pedal feel is also not as good as that of the classic Vox design. The fuzz is quite agressive and can produce octavia types of tone. The Wau Fuzz is fun to look at but it won't make you wail.
_ This old Morley Wha-Volume is another great looking pedal. It is mains powered as all of the chrome series pedals. It is based on the famous photo-resistor circuit popularized by Morley. The pedal throw is extreme and you'd better do stretching movements before using it live! The tone of the Wha-Volume is typically Morley with a very long range and fairly soft highs. It can go pretty deep and has a sound more akin to that of an analog filter than to your average wha. This one is very fun to play for special effect or unusual wha parts, but watch that ankle!
_ The following Morley PWA's tone is pretty close to its old brother's but the range doesn't go as low. It's circuit is again based on the photocell design and the pedal throw is also shorter which is actually a bit more practical. Again, the tone is more filter-like than wha-like. It works well for bass or keyboards but you have to get used to it for guitar. As far as I am concerned, the position of the footswitch on the side of the pedal isn't particularly suited to live use so this one won't go on my pedalboards.
_ This VOX branded Sola Sound is a true VOX wah but it is strictly identical to the 70's Colorsound wah made famous by Mark Thompson in his Guitar Player pedals shootout back in 92. It is not the Sola Sound design that works without an inductor but it bears the more traditional circuit. This is a great sounding pedal, true to the American magazine's article. It has quite a long throw and limited output but it is extremely vocal and sweet sounding. I like it very much but I consider my Jen Double Sound to be even sweeter. The tones are comparable but the sweep of the Vox isn't as linear as the Jen's because of the mechanical cam design used here.
_ The good old Dunlop Wha GCB95 closes this shootout. It is the most popular model of all wha pedals, although it has seen many evolutions as far as the circuit, the circuit board and the components quality is concerned. It has a definetly classic tone and sounds great for leads with a mids peak in the middle of the sweep that some love and others hate. While not the best wha pedal there is, it is the most common one because it sounds good and it can be used efficiently for all styles of music. It is also very sturdy and this is very important for a wha pedal!
The great looking Guyatone Driver Box is an almost straight copy of an MXR Dynacomp. The same mid emphasis is perceptible: great for a bit of country music. It really is a great compressor that makes you want to play. What sets these Guyatone pedals apart is the use of very cool looking knobs that look like miniature versions of vintage Orange amps knobs.
The Rolly Box from the same Guyatone range is not a copy of an MXR phaser. Its tone is nevertheless very interesting with a deeply-notched modulation that's extremely wide and chewy. It is great for special effects or for your daily slice of Stoner Rock!
The last Guyatone pedal is the "Clean Box". It is in fact a noise gate which circuit is taken from the MXR equivalent. While it certainly does its job and is fairly transparent, it only works well with vintage-style levels of distortion as it doesn't offer extensive control on the gate's behaviour. This particular exemple is physically extremely clean indicating that it hasn't been used much in 30 years!
Ibanez 10 series
There isn't much more I can say about the TS10 that hasn't been said other than that I really appreciate the 10 series: cheap, good sounding, resilient and disregarded by most hyped-up guitarists listening with their eyes. Thanks for that! As you might have guessed, I particularly like the TS10 over the TS9 as it's mid peak is voiced lower: it suits me perfectly.
I also like the CP10. It is a Dynacomp derivative with a different OTA and a more transparent voice. It works well and constitutes a nice alternative the MXR standard. Some says it robs some bass: I don't find that a problem when the signal is compressed as it is very subtle and brings clarity more than anything.
The Fat Cat (dark green) is in fact a RAT with a different voicing. I got this one in Buenos Aires and liked it so much that I converted my Pro Co Rat to Fat Cat specs. Try it in front of a clean Bassman and you'll understand why. It can do mild overdrive, distortion and all-out fuzz. Great stuff.
The LM7 is quite the opposite funnily enough. It is the only pedal of the range to bear the number 7 (go figure), and it sounds pants. It is based on the Fat Cat and the circuit board is strictly the same (the reference is even FC01!). It only lacks the clipping diodes and has a slightly different voicing. I probably shouldn't divulge it, but by simply replacing the op-amp with a J-Fet model, the sound improves ten-folds and the pedal becomes a usable fuzz box.
The DL10 is just a good honest digital delay. It is cleaner than an analogic one but smoother than a modern digital unit thanks to its low digital specs. It is very good if you use your delays before your amp and not in the effects loop.
Ibanez 1st series
These two dinosaurs are from the first series of the Ibanez pedals. The missing one is the famous Standard Fuzz whoch has two sliders for control.
The Ibanez Standard Wau Fuzz and Ibanez Wau Wau are good looking pedal and they attract a lot of buyers because of that. It's a shame they don't sound so great. The wha is wired in reverse, which is easy to remedy, but the effect is quite simply lame, very shallow and uninspiring.
The fuzz is quite aggressive and very similar to a Univox Superfuzz. The two tone options given by the footswitch are good alternatives but don't change the character of the distortion effect. It isn't bad for crazy lead parts, but it is simply unusable for most rythm duties. The Ibanez Standard Fuzz circuit is very similar, so buyers beware: the pedal looks good but try it before you buy!
Ibanez L series
On the top left, we have the ADL delay. It is an exceptional delay pedal as far as I am concerned. It shows all the qualities of a great analog delay, without the downfalls. The tone is as clean as can be for the technology, warm but not mushy, and is truly addictive. It is definetly as good as the Maxon AD999 which for me is a reference, and it only lacks its extended delay time.
As you have probably noticed, I am an Ibanez FL9 enthusiast and this Ibanez FLL isn't bad either. It has exactly the same control layout, but it doesn't have the depth of its older sister. The swoosh is slightly higher pitch but what it lacks in that department is made up for it by the intensity of the "swoosh". In other words, another great flanger!
The Super Metal is said to be an exact replica of the sought after SM9. It definetly lacks its fantastic metallic blue shade and as far as i am concerned isn't a great pedal for guitar. While the produced tone could be qualified as old-school metal, it isn't really inspiring. It doesn't lack sustain but has no dynamics to speak of and the highs are a bit too abrasive. Anyway, it works pretty well forfuzzy bass tones.
The Ibanez Metal Screamer is one good sounding pedal. Contrary to what its name suggests, you won't get "metal" levels of distortion as it is only a slightly modified TS9. With just one component change (the cap going to ground in the first op-amp stage feedback loop), this pedal offers a bit more bass and mids than your standard Tube Screamer. So it is one of the first modified TS ever produced, long before all the "boutique" business. I like this pedal when playing with single coils but since I always use my overdrives in front of a crunching amp, I still prefer a TS10 with humbuckers. The bass cut is needed to avoid mushiness in the sound with them. And you still have plenty of bass end because of the compression effect of the amp.
The graphic EQ of the Ibanez L series employs the same circuit as the GE-9, although the circuit board is different to accomodate the shape of the pedal. Just like its big sisters (the GE-9 and the GE-601), the GEL does what it is supposed to be and it is quiet enough for most guitaristic uses.
Ibanez 9 series
Ibanez series 9 pedals are good, roadworthy effects. The FL9 is my favorite of the lot and is as good as the Electric Mistress: this is why I have two! You can freeze the sweep for a "filter matrix" effect and the "swoosh" really stands out of the mix. The fact that it is much more compact and practical than the Mistress makes it ideal for live use.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that this Maxon GE-9 uses the same circuit as the Ibanez GE-9. But this model form the 80's uses the circuit of the already reviewed and earlier Ibanez GE-601. It does its job well, like pretty much all guitar dedicated graphic eqs on the market. But this one somehow managed to re-ignite my interest in these pedals. While toying with it, I reproduced the response curve of my trusty Tube Screamers and I discovered that I could get a very similar overdriving effect, but without the inherent compression of the TS. This made my tone clearer, with more definition and attack, while simultaneoussly not introducing more highs. I never thought I'd play a gig without my good old Tube Screamer but it looks like I will very soon. And it was so simple! Why didn't I think of that before?
The AD9 is one of the holy grails of delay pedals, at least according to what's on the web. It does sound good and shares all the qulities of the 9 series, but I can't help preferrring my cleaner Ibanez ADL. The AD9 tone is fairly grungy and dark and will get you all these self oscillation noises, and that's exactly what one looks for in an analogic delay pedal. The color is great too!
The PT9 phaser is a fairly high-pitched phaser. It's seems that it has a more of a "head voice" rather than a "tummy voice". It is musical and enjoyable but doesn't sound like your average phaser.
The SD9 Sonic Distortion is another sought after Ibanez pedal. It is a not so distant cousin of the Boss DS1 and as for this orange stallwart, I am not so thrilled about it. It lacks output and mids which makes it ok for bedroom use but not so much for live use. Ah well, who said the majority was always right?
Electro Harmonix pedals
Ever since I tried a 70's Electro-Harmonix Small Stone in the Live Music Shop (Peterborough), I always wanted one. But I wanted one cheap.... And I finally found it. Its tone is close to my Sovtek version (see below), but it has a shimmering high end that the Russian one lacks completely. Switch it on after a fuzz and it is instant Billy Corgan in the Gish or Siamese Dreams albums. I simply love it!
My love of Big Muff Pi won't go unnoticed. There are only 2 here, with one of them in the form of the original Little Big Muff (there is another one on my pedal board). Both of these versions are of the "opamp" type, meaning that their tone is different from the original BMP transistor type. It is nevertheless not so distant and actually has my preference. Both pedals use the exact same circuit board. In their original state, LBMP are unusable: the two position tone switch goes from one extreme of a Big Muff Pi tone pot to the other. In other words, its either muffled or extremely shrill. I have a set of mods that I developped on the BMP and I have applied it here: I am quite proud of the result (I used the LBMP on two of the Poncharello "Tune In" album).
The Doctor Q is one funky mofo with a quite a dirty but approrpriate sweep. This one dates back from the 70s but the first reissues are just as good: the circuit is very simple with no mojo parts.
The Electric Mistress (again from the seventies) is one of my favourite flangers. It can nail many different classic flange tone without the gurgle that in my opinion plagues MXR flangers. Use it in a stereo rig and you are in flanger heaven. The filter matrix mode is definetly a plus here for those extreme metal tones or for overdubbing (ask Mr Corgan).