Category Archives: FX

Gear Review: Union Tube & Transistor “Swindle” Distortion

swindle-1With a name derived from its Sex Pistols-inspired color scheme, the “Swindle” distortion pedal from UT&T seems designed to emulate the BIG GUITAR sounds of the ’70s. With just two knobs —  volume (left) and gain (right) — the Swindle delivers a trouser-load of boost and a smoothly ascending gain. The controls are very interactive, eliciting a surprisingly wide range of raunch, and the pedal cleans up quite nicely with a some roll-back on your guitar’s volume knob, making it a prime candidate for an “always-on” tone shaper that can also cut through the mix when it’s time for your solo.

Check out my no-frills video for some Swindle riffage:

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Video Demo: Black Cat Monster K-Fuzz

I plan on getting around to doing an actual review of this bad-ass stomp box, but for now here’s a quick video of some noises I made with BC’s new Monster K-Fuzz pedal, based on the Kay Fuzz used most prominently by Daniel Lanois and U2’s The Edge. Beginning tones are with the K-Fuzz in its Silicon and Stock settings, Input Gain at noon. I’m playing a Dearmond M-66 with stock Dearmond tron-style humbuckers through a Quilter 101 head on its “Tweed” setting, and there’s a touch of MXR Carbon Copy delay to add some space to the sound. I start out using the EXP out to sweep the Monster’s “Frequency” control via a Moog expression pedal. Later on you can see more clearly how Frequency relates to the K-Fuzz’s Tone when I unplug from the EXP jack and use the big knob in the top left corner to sweep through the Frequency/Tone filter.

Gear Review: Ibanez AW7

aw7One of my favorite ‘unheard’ guitar effects is Ibanez’s AW7 from their super-ugly but also super-versatile early 2000s Tone-Lock series. The AW in the name stands for Auto-Wah, but this stomper is not simply a clone of the usual Wah/Filter suspects. The designers of the AW7 took the auto-wah idea as a starting point and then just kept piling on the features. What they ended up with was a pedal that not only allows you to select from two distinct Wah/Filters — a standard Wah and a Low Pass Filter (LPF on the pedal) — but also gives you a sweetly raunchy Rat-like built-in distortion circuit that can be either completely off, placed BEFORE the Wah, or placed AFTER the Wah. This placement option is a cool feature that only a few boutique builders still bother with, but it allows you to experiment with a huge variety of tones. Like what? The tone chefs at Gibson.com have a good description:

Wah-wah placed before distortion will allow the distortion pedal to interact with the peaks and valleys of the Wah’s signal. Wah-wah placed after distortion will sound thick and full, but will not be as harmonically rich. It’s worth a try just to see what it sounds like, and although most players swap right back, don’t let that stop ya! Some very famous players have gone the ‘gain-into-Wah’ route.

On top of all that, you can also use the AW7 as a ‘cocked’ or fixed wah by turning the Sensitivity knob down to zero, and you’ve basically got one pedal that does the work of four. Make that five, if you count the placement-changing ability that would require a separate effects loop.

Here’s a no-frills video I did showing some of the features I mentioned above:

Gear Review: Big Sound, Little Muff; Or, this Pi’s for You!

Big Q I can’t answer: “The EHX Big Muff Pi is conspicuous for its very ubiquity. But does it really deserve its exclusive status as the “fuzz of all fuzzes”?’

Few if any axe-grinders have taken to the concert stage without the giant silver wedge of an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi at their feet at one time or another. My first was an army-green Sovtek that I picked up at the local music store/pawnshop I frequented in my teens. I remember being fascinated by the Cyrillic lettering on the pedal’s wooden box, both amazed and confused that this piece of Soviet engineering had found its way to me, in Morristown, Tennessee. I knew nothing of the Big Muff’s long history, or that Sovtek was really just Electro-Harmonix (builder of my first stomp box: a red and black “Small Stone” phase shifter) in exile. That big green wedge was gateway to a whole new universe of tones — and volume — and it was a mainstay at my feet for the better part of twenty-five years. When I sold ‘Big Green’ in order to finance some new gear I coveted, I almost immediately regretted it; despite there being countless new,  Judge-Me-By-My-Size-Do-Youdifferent, and even ‘fuzzier’ options available, I missed the tried-and-true sound of my BMP. After a flirtation with going fuzz-less, I was soon pulled back toward the furry side with the EHX’s Big Muff Pi w/ Tone Wicker, which found a home on my board until, lo and behold, I happened upon the Nano Big Muff Pi — the most unintentionally oxymoronic pedal of all time. How can it be ‘nano’ and ‘big’ at the same time?

Not being a wizard myself, I can’t tell you what kind of spell Mike Matthews and his Brooklyn-based coven slapped on this Lego-brick of a stomp box. What I can tell you is that they somehow shrunk all the best parts of the Big Muff Pi into a teeny enclosure that somehow generates its own unique brand of fairy dust. I have both a newish, big-ass-silver-box “NYC” BMP and a newish Nano BMP, and the Nano stands shoulder to shoulder in terms of in-your-face hairiness, and outshines the full-size BMP in clarity. Maybe my ears are biased, but the Nano actually sounds better to me: just a little bit sharper, letting just a wee bit more of my pick attack come through.

Now, if EHX could just get with the program and start using center-negative 9V inputs like everyone else does, we could really get down to business!