Tag Archives: pedal board

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!

How to Get Perfect Stacked Delays on a Musician’s Budget.

 

The “DDA” (“Dave’s Delay Array”)

Developed circa 2002, by Dave Eberhardt.

In the mid-90′s, I bought my first Boss DD-5 Digital Delay which finally allowed me to have a portable tap-tempo delay.

Up until that point, my only tap delay was a Lexicon JamMan rackmount delay/sampler. Over the years, I tried combining lots of different delays, and spent a lot of time tapping and switching and generally being miserable.

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 A few years later, the DD-6 promised some new features, so I bought one. Immediately I discovered that I couldn’t use it the way I liked, and I sold it. But as I was trying to come up with a graceful way to synchronize and cascade my delays, it hit me like a thunderbolt one afternoon in my basement:

I could split the tap-tempo footswitch cable, and trigger TWO DD-5′s!

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Well, I got a second DD-5, did a little splicing and soldering, and it worked perfectly. Later I added a third DD-5. This has been my delay rig now for nearly fifteen years. Only recently has anyone produced a synchronized tap delay that works as well as several DD-5′s.

Note: Boss’ DD-7 will work the same way as the DD-5. It offers more options, but I don’t think it has as much clarity as the DD-5. Just my opinion.

 

What I like about the DD-5 and DD-7 are these three features:

  1. Each pedal is always listening to the tap, even when it is bypassed.
  2. Echoes decay naturally when the pedal is bypassed.
  3. Can be connected to a common tap pedal.

 

With the DD-5′s, I can be just playing along with the band and tapping my foot. As soon as I step on the delay pedal, the echo of each is in perfect sync, and they are all in perfect sync together! You want that U2 thing? Simple. Want big swimmy volume-swells? Done. At present, the only modern units that offer the same grace of live operation are the Line 6 M9 and the TC Electronic Flashback Triple Delay. Those have some negative details that I will save for another time.

In any case, here’s how to make the DDA (“Dave’s Delay Array”). Wiring will require the sacrifice of a few cables, or the creation of some new ones. I like to connect the tap-tempo input cables to the DD-5′s with right-angle jacks like these:

You can use a special tap-tempo pedal, but any momentary-interrupt, non-latching footswitch will work. I like to use those simple sustain pedals that get used with keyboards. They tend to be quiet and durable. I don’t like my audience to hear my foot going ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk…

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Anyway, strip the cable’s black outer covering down to expose the two wires inside. In my diagram, I have colored them red and yellow, but they may be any two colors. Strip the colored covering down to expose the bare wires. Lightly braid the respective wires going to each DD-5 together, red and red, yellow and yellow.

Now expose the wires on the tap-tempo footswitch cable the same way, and lightly connect it to the braided DD-5 wires. Connect power and audio, and test to see if it works. If neither delay syncs to your tap, switch the wires on the tap cable. Once it works, make the connections permanent, wither with connectors or by soldering. Don’t leave the bare wires exposed. I use heat-shrink tubing and/or tape. Make sure that the separate wire connections don’t touch each other (keep the red away from the yellows), or it will short out the connection (this isn’t harmful, but it just won’t work).I bend the reds to one end of the cable, and the yellows to the other end.

It may take you a few attempts to get it all laid-out and connected the way you want. Experienced solderers can do this kind of work in a few minutes. The good news is that you can start with two delays and add a third. This is how mine are connected.

s DD5 delay-array

Connect all the yellow wires together, and then all the red wires together. Don’t let the reds tough the yellows! And again, these may not be the wire-colors you see.

This is my actual pedalboard. You can see that I marked each DD-5 with the beat-value of each echo. Oh, by the way, that’s correction fluid (“Wite Out”) on black gaffer’s tape. I usually cover manufacturer names and logos. It’s MY pedal now.

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Oh yeah. That VS-XO is a recent addition. I will be doing a demo and review of it later :)

For the record, this is basically what I used for all of my live gigs with the Katie Reider Band, Crossroads, everyone I worked with at Blue Jordan records, sub dates, The Mood Rings, Horizon, etc.  I hope the DDA works well for you, saves you money and headaches, and gets you the same kind of easy sonic victory that it has for me. Best of luck!

Got any other cool delay ideas? I’d love to hear them. Feel free to ask me for more details on the DDA. Remember, that’s “DAVE’s Delay Array.”

 

All information herein © 2016. You may use it and share it, just document where you heard it first. :)