Tag Archives: gear

Product Review: Electro Harmonix C9 and Mel9 pedals

In 2005ish, I was engaged in robust discussions on the interwebs about pedalboards and pedals in a few public forums. There was an emerging culture of pedal-geeks eager to find quality compact solutions for live performance, and a manufacturing culture that as a whole, couldn’t see past its own proverbial nose.

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I remember stating that classic Electro Harmonix pedals, while I loved the sounds, were too big to be of practical use on a modern well-appointed pedalboard. The pedal industry (those who would listen, anyway), and older players all howled together in derision at the idea that I would use 9-10 pedals. “You must not be much of a player if you have to rely on all that.” “Pro players LIKE big pedals.” “You’ll end up using less.” I heard it all. Meanwhile, I was turning down gigs, sessions and students because there was too much demand for the soundscapes I could create. So there’s that.

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Not long after, the Electro Harmonix “Nano” series hit the scene, and the company has been cranking out different versions of their pedals, plus exciting new ones, for the last decade. Other pedal makers went back to the drawing board(s) as boutique pedals started changing the game. Dual-gain and multi-delay pedals have abounded. Tap-tempo is the new normal. It’s finally getting interesting out here.

Meanwhile, in EH’s R&D department…

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A couple of years ago, the B9 Organ Machine caught my ear. Too broke to buy one, I waited for used ones to become available. The C9 was released soon after. The Key9 and Mel9 followed. I was blown away by the Mel9 pedal, and really interested in the C9 pedal. So I bought one of each, determined to choose one or the other, as my new sound option. I use a lot of stacked delay sounds for keyboard-like ambience, and a leslie effect to invoke an organ-like vibe. So you can understand how each pedal has appeal for me.

[True story: in December of 2016, at the latest, I started trying to reach EH to suggest a Synth9 pedal. I used that very name, and even jotted down a few sound patches on a note pad. I was stunned a few weeks ago when the Synth9 pedal was announced!]

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The first to arrive was the Mel9. Blown away by Don Carr’s demo of it on the Sweetwater website, I imagined finding a small handful of sounds to employ to create huge walls of live ambience layered over/under my growling guitar. After a day or two of putting it through its paces, I realized I may have overestimated it. I had similarly been intrigued by the C9, and so I picked one up to compare. As a quick overall comparison, the Mel9 does no organ sounds, but it does more otther stuff. The C9 is almost all organs, except for a Mellotron Flute sound that is actually, in my opinion, superior to that of the Mel9.

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Basic overviews:

  • Both pedals have single input and dual output. One ouput is for the dry, unaffected signal. The other is for the effect. This allows you the option of sending the effect to a separate amplifier or PA channel.
  • Both pedals have separate volume controls for the dry signal and the effect, so you can blend them and/or set volumes to your liking.
  • The C9′s next two controls are for modulation and “click” (the click attack of the organ keys). These controls change different parameters in certain sounds.
    The Mel9′s next two controls are for attack and sustain. Like the C9, they perform different functions on some sounds.
  • Both pedals have a main sound-patch dial, and each one has 9 sounds.

Impressions:

The C9 has less variety. Everything is an organ, with the exception of the “Mello Flutes” (Mellotron Flute). That said, more of the C9 sounds are useful. The Mel9 has more variety, but I found fewer sounds to be good.

Functional Criticisms:

The C9 is an organ machine, and as every organist knows, you’re gonna want to control the Leslie. There is no control of the modulation, except by twisting the “Mod” knob. While it’s a mono pedal, the C9 mod sounds really nice and spatial at slow speeds, giving a nice doppler chorus without getting phasey. The faster speeds are less beautiful, but usable. Honestly, it makes more sense to run the C9 with no modulation through a good leslie simulator. I tried this, but it wasn’t awesome, though I retained control of the leslie speed.

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The Mel9 attempts to capture the classic seasick side-effect of the Mellotron tapes being pulled at inconsistent rates across its playback heads. This is done reasonably well, but there is no control over it. It’s always on. Always. On. ALWAYS. It can never be dialed-back, down, out, etc. Sure wish this was a dial I could turn!
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Both pedals could benefit GREATLY from an expression pedal control, and a switch to scroll through sound patches. I pray for future mods to be discovered.

Operations:

The option is either to use all effect, with no guitar blended in, or to blend guitar plus effect. Unfortunately, some sounds require different settings than others. To use more than one sound, you need to do some knob-turning. This means either (1.) bending down and fiddling, mid-set, or (2.) keeping the pedal within reach (On a music stand? Top of the amp?).

That brings up the issue of signal path. EH insists that you run the C9 or Mel9 FIRST (or close to it) in your signal path. That means it comes pre-gain. So if you’re blending dry & effect, the effect is then going through your distortion pedal. This is not pretty. I put mine after my gain pedals, so that I had the option of a dirty rhythm with an effect blended in (the gain, which wasn’t too high, didn’t change the C9/Mel9 sound much).

In any case, I started imagining a complex system of signal routing that became increasingly absurd.

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Bottom line:

The C9 gives you some great organ sounds, without much control. The Mel9 gives a few more novelty sounds. It’s probably best to approach both pedals in one of two ways. Either they are something you goof around with on a tabletop, while you sit nearby and twist knobs, or you choose ONE sound, dial it in, and use that ONE sound on your live rig. Changing sounds is impractical, live. But if dialed-in nicely, it can create a cool backing keyboard bed. The questions you and I are then left with is whether an organ bed or a Mellotron bed is better. Today, I can’t answer that.

Maybe I’m no help at all, because now I’m considering adding/comparing a Synth9.

Have you tried a B9, C9, Key9, Mel9 or Synth9? What was your experience? Is there another pedal that seemed like it promised the moon, but delivered less? What was it? How would you improve this EH series of pedals? Do you know of any mods? Share your thoughts!

Don’t Buy Gear For A Gig You Don’t Have

There you are, dear guitarist. You’re sitting at home with your guitar. It’s not the best guitar, but it’s pretty good. Could it be “better?” Maybe, but then what’s the definition of “better?” That’s another topic.
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I joined my first working band when I was about eighteen. My guitars were an Electra Phoenix, a Westone Spectrum FX, and an Ovation Custom Balladeer. My Electra looked just like this… until I added EMG pickups, and a Kahler tremolo.

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The Westone was snazzier, and the Ovation was the envy of my peers.

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Chick magnets!

My only amplifier was a Crate 20w solid-state combo that I had gotten when I was about fourteen. It didn’t sound very good, so my bassist (who was really a guitarist) let me use his Gallien Krueger 250ML amp. We ran it directly into the PA system via the microphone cable output on the back. Combined with the handful of cranky old effects pedals I had picked up, it sounded enormous. The Crate amp got used for my acoustic.

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It would be several more years before I would discover what a real tube amp could do.

Before the gig, I spent about $30 on three guitar stands, reasoning that a real gigging guitarist needed stands for his guitars. That way they would be within reach on stage, without lying on the floor (bad idea), leaning against something (risky), or sitting in their cases (inconvenient). I’ll never forget how cool my side of the stage looked with my three guitars on stands, plus two (dorky little solid-state) amps stacked one atop the other. Thus began my process of buying gear for gigs. THAT purchase was sensible. Subsequent purchases might not have been so practical.

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Somewhere along the way, the allure of expensive solutions appeared. A few years passed. Now I had a great Stratocaster… but it wasn’t American. Now I had a great amp… but it wasn’t vintage. I got great sounds from my modern effects processor, but… it lacked vibe. So I got a vintage amp and some vibey pedals. By dumb luck (really- the singer was my friend’s little sister. Some other friends started producing an album with her, and I recorded some guitar tracks as a favor), I ended up in a band that got a lot of attention. As a result, “tapers” came to our shows and recorded our performances. Today, I have a small collection of those recordings, and, in listening back, I honestly cannot tell you what gear I was using.

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At the time, I reached the conclusion that I needed “pro gear” to be considered a pro; and if I was considered a pro, THEN surely I would get more pro gigs. This led me to a lot of bad purchase decisions, basically in an attempt to buy my fame and fortune, one gadget at a time. I observe this trend running rampant today.

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Two things: (1.) This guy should get some stands. (2.) I may or may not have a room that looks like this.

I haven’t played a “real” gig in a while. I work for a church with an approximately 3000-person congregation, and find myself on stage there pretty consistently. Between that and my own studio work, I am pretty content. Nonetheless, I think about booking a live gig here or there, but to do that, I imagine all sorts of needs: I surely NEED a high end vocal mic. Definitely, I will NEED expensive pickup solutions and preamps for my acoustic guitars. I have a small PA, but I will NEED monitors for it. Even though my 1941 Epiphone archtop has traveled in a gig bag since I bought it in 1997, I’m going to NEED a hard case for it.

I haven’t booked a single gig yet, and already I’m buying a microphone, pickups and preamps, monitors, and a case. See how that works?

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A few weeks ago, I was gear-porning on Sweetwater.com, looking at studio mics, upgrades for my pedalboard, some VST plugins, and even a couple of instruments. I got up to get a drink, and when I came back to my computer, the lust-spell had been broken. I closed each shiny browser tab, saying “Nope,” “Nope,” “Nope.” “I don’t need this yet.” That’s when the wisdom landed in my lap.

“Don’t buy gear for a gig you don’t have.”

Have you ever imagined a need for a piece of music gear? Was it an instrument, amplifier or another gadget? Did you buy it? If so, did it really solve your problems? How about real solutions? Have you ever bought something that was a perfect solution? What was it?

Share your thoughts!

Product Review: Tech 21 FlyRig RK5

Review of the Tech 21 FlyRig RK5, by Dave Eberhardt

First off, I recorded a demo of the FlyRig RK5, which you can check out, here: https://youtu.be/vzaO05Kvlvs

Tech 21 has produced several items which I like very much. The original SansAmp has shown up on a many of the recordings I’ve made (I’ll bet you a sandwich you can’t identify which ones), and I liked the Bass Driver preamp on my bass so much that I bought an RBI to keep in my studio rack.

The original FlyRig seemed like such a great idea when I first discovered it, and the RK version had the sort of gain I really like, so I jumped on it. The SansAmp section, reverb and DLA (delay) are the same in both models, so the only difference is the OMG gain in the RK version, versus the PLEXI gain in the original.

First reactions: The FlyRig box is surprisingly tiny, and so I was even more surprised at how tiny the actual FlyRig actually is, inside it. Seriously, it’s the size of two cell phones end-to-end. It came with its own proprietary (and alarmingly flimsy) power supply. Sadly, this is not a standard 9v adapter, so you can’t add a FlyRig to an existing pedalboard daisy chain.

Sounds and features: By itself, the SansAmp section is glorious. It sounds like an amp, and responds like one. Tone controls are responsive and musical. The reverb is remarkable. Unfortunately, it isn’t foot-switchable. There’s no graceful way to deal with this on stage. Just don’t even try.

The OMG gain is fantastic, and interacts well with the SansAmp. Then the OMG boost sends it all into screaming rock Valhalla. Used without an amp, the SansAmp functions well as an amp-simulator, letting you boost it with the two stages of the OMG. With an amp, the SansAmp section can be used as its own boost/gain, and the OMG and its boost can be tweaked differently. So there are lots of gain combinations to explore.

The DLA section boasts a really nice-sounding tap delay, with the option to add a randomized modulation. Turning the delay-time all the way down allows the modulation to be used as a “secret” chorus. As a delay freak, I was disappointed that the only realistic use of the delay was tapped quarter notes (or 8th-notes if I double-timed it). If you want dotted-8th delays, you better be able to tap a beat-and-a-half. Lotsa luck with that. I was further disappointed (and really surprised) by the DLA noise floor.

Persnickety: There is a current trend to have footpedals color the clouds with their huge bright light shows. I hate this. When I perform, I want my pedal rig to be as unobtrusive as possible. The Flyrig lights up every knob in each section that’s enabled. I wish each function just had a single LED. If you like footlights, you may love it. Moreover, when powered-up, the whole unit -I mean, each section- defaults to being ON.

At the end of a few weeks of using it both live and in the studio, I found myself craving more options, or wishing I had just gotten an OMG pedal. To me, the unit doesn’t offer much that I don’t already have, and it’s tiny footprint (while impressive) isn’t enough of a perk to replace anything I already have.

I asked Tech 21 if the FlyRig could be modded with extra jacks (I was really interested in a send/return, perhaps on a single stereo jack), and was told that they couldn’t imagine such an option. In my experience, manufacturers are rarely imaginative in this regard.

Maybe someone else will mod their FlyRig, and I’ll revisit the option. Until then, I’d rather use something a little larger, quieter, and better-appointed

Pros: Compact, great amp-sim and gain stages.

Cons: Reverb isn’t switchable, delay is limited and noisy. Power supply is distressingly cheapo.

 

Have you tried one? What was your experience?