Zen of Recording

Digging “Deeper”

Question:
How many Emo musicians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Answer:
Six. The guitarist does it, while the rest of the band yells “More reverb!”

A great many of records that I produced in the early 2000s were ambitious sonic explorations from hip, arty, and fearless bands with walks full of swagger and hearts bursting with passion. Bands with names like Waterline Drift, Via Satellite, lowcloudcover, or Goodbye, Blue Monday. Each of these groups had one or two guitar players that were employing several, even dozens of foot-pedal effects to create a signature sound. Fuzz distortion, purposely backward patched wah-wahs, compressors, envelope filters, a seemingly endless array of yard sale finds and layaway treasures were constantly being tried out or swapped out in the knob-twirling quest for the unique and hyper-cool. Textures and ambience were the places where much of this attention was paid, along with the ability to dynamically and musically change them, in real time.

Delay and modulation effects are among the most “vibey,” because they alter our sensory perception of the world around us. They mess with our ability to determine the actual space an instrument exists in, or its size and structure. All of this real-time feedback we’re used to relying upon our senses for can be skewed, smeared, and even reimagined, provided one has the right tools.

Last month we took a look at Truetone’s (www.truetone.com) Jekyll & Hyde Overdrive-Distortion and found a lot of personality and functionality packed into its attractive and roadworthy housing. This month, we’ll dip into the waters of the H20 Liquid Chorus and Echo ($179.95).

Mentioned previously were the fact that both pedals are a part of the V3 series, presented by designers Bob Weil and RG Keen, and a “two pedals in one” design. Both pedals also share two Forever Footswitches (guaranteed for 10 million clicks) and the same size, shape, solid build, and an abundance of control and tone-shaping features via similarly laid out knob and switch arrays across the unit’s face.

Across the top, knobs for SPEED, WIDTH AND DEPTH address the Chorus (and Vibrato) section, followed by DELAY, REPEATS and LEVEL controls for the Echo. Below them we find two smaller knobs: TONE and CHOR-VIB, as well as dip switches for INTENSITY, SHORT/LONG echo times, and DETUNE (on/off).

Part of the initial charm of this unit is the familiar simplicity of these controls. Most musicians possessing even a fleeting experience with delay effects can quickly and easily dial up any number of classic analog-style echo effects, from Sun Records’ tape slap-back to the more expansive sounds of Pink Floyd, in no time.

While mono compatible, the controls for the chorus effects (particularly Width) are probably best appreciated within the stereo realm, which brings us to yet another feature shared with the Jekyll & Hyde, an innovative patch routing scheme. Plugging into the IN at the far right and taking the output from the left side’s OUT1 the signal first passes through the Chorus section and then to the Echo and out to your amp or mixer, just as most pedals would. This can be reordered however, by plugging into the IN jack at the center of the unit and running a short patch cord into the other input, using that signal from OUT2. Modulating the echoes (instead of chorusing everything and then echoing the cumulative effect) has long been a preference for me, so that seems like a natural fit, except that it’s a mono setup. Even using both outputs for a stereo effect only applies to the chorus. The echo effects are always centered. The chorus and echo effects can also be addressed as two completely independent effects in a single housing, allowing for even more routing options in performance or recording situations.

Right out of the can, with the knobs all positioned at 12 o’clock, the Intensity switch in the second of its three positions and the Tone knob turned to 7 o’clock, this chorus pretty much sounds like a Roland JC120 Jazz/Chorus guitar amp at a nominal volume level. This is a good thing and starts us at a recognizable median tone. Adjusting the Speed and Depth really showed the versatility of the chorus and I could find many of the recognizable chorused, flanged, or ‘Leslie’d tones of artists like the Police’s Andy Summers, Chic’s Nile Rogers, or Adrian Belew. The Width shows a great deal of potential in both mono and in stereo, as its gauzy ripples are simply revelatory. The Tone knob definitely holds a lot of sway over the sound, adding innumerable colors to the palette, as you dial in its brighter or darker shadings. Flipping the Detune switch removes the original signal from the sound entirely, greatly intensifying the chorus’ impact on the signal. While this lends a whole lot more “character” to the effect, but in use, a queasy and seasick feeling often accompanied it.

Bringing up the echoes brings even more dimension to the sound, whether subtly imparting a tight room ambience, or switching the echoes to Long and going full Pink Floyd, the sound was full of both familiar favorites and as yet unheard new possibilities. Twisting through the Repeats and Level controls, self-oscillation effects are easily arrived at, making it a breeze to get gooey, face melting psychedelic effects from this cool device.

Like its two-faced sibling that we looked at last month, the H20 features either True Bypass or the Pure Tone Buffer, customizing the pedal’s coloration to your preference.

Whether we’re talking about the girthy, aggressive grit of the Jekyll & Hyde or the syrupy, undulating modulations of the H20 Chorus–Echo, both of these hefty foot pedal effects strike an excellent balance between the modern present and the vintage past and are both are worth the dough.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, mastering engineer, and singer/songwriter. Hear him perform as part of the Java Joe’s Songwriter Showcase Night, June 10th. Check his recording work at www.kaspro.com

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