Tag Archives: pedalboard

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!

Dangerous Defaults, and The Great Christian Pedalboard Escalations of the 21st Century.

In the early 2000′s, I was gigging regularly in three bands as a sideman, fronting my OWN band, and playing every weekend in a megachurch to around 5000 people.

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In an attempt to get the most sounds possible (remember- I had around 5 steady gigs), I had ended up with a gigantic pedalboard holding 13 stompboxes, controller switches and pedals, and a MIDI controller. These then went into six rack-mounted effects processors, and ran stereo into a pair of UK-made Vox AC-15 amplifers.

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I was constantly unhappy.

Something always needed adjustment, and it was never right. My cable costs alone were astronomical. It took a full hour to break it down and load it into my car, and another hour to set it up.

I had an epiphany about it and simplified my whole rig down to a pedalboard with about 9 pedals; no rack gear and only one amp. At the time, my final pedalboard (NINE PEDALS!?) still seemed pretty big. By today’s standards, it’s quaint.

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Fifteen years later, I’ve earned a modest reputation as a guitarist, etc. I was lucky to be associated with great artists who got (deserved) attention, and I happened to have played in several of the largest houses of worship in the area, right as each of their respective music ministries was really hitting its stride (I like to think I was partially responsible for that).

Today, what has really come to surprise me is how much MONEY is being spent by church guitarists on gear. Sweet Christmas, the pedalboards make mine look cheap, old, tragic and small!
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One of the conditions I have come to recognize about myself is that, after a certain point, there is a law of diminishing returns with music equipment. In fact I think it actually becomes subtractive. Even as a pro guitarist, there is a limit to the number of guitars I can own before they become burdensome (seems to be around 15 for me). After that, I literally use them less; grabbing the nearest one because it’s convenient. It becomes a default. A DEFAULT.

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The same goes for effects. The more I have, the less I explore and experiment. I settled on a “meat & potatoes” approach to my gear at some point, where I wanted the basic tools to allow me to express my PLAYING. What I’m observing now is an approach by which church guitarists are using expensive guitar rigs so that their playing expresses their effects. They have all kinds of novel noises, but no strong guitar presence.

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24 strings plus glorious mustache = strong presence.

Not too long ago, a famous worship band went on tour. They appeared on some daytime talk-shows here in the USA, and then performed in Israel by the Sea of Galilee, all looking very sincere (so much gravitas). The daytime TV performances were of particular interest to me, as I could see the musicians doing their jobs. I saw two gigantic pedalboards with complex lights. What I heard was, chords, chords, two-note thing, chords. Ugh. It takes TWO of you to accomplish so little?

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Recently, I joined Instagram. Mostly I’ve been photographing my guitars, and gathering guitar-related followers. A few of these are church guys. One proudly displayed his latest pedalboard layout in a photo. It has to have $2500 worth of equipment on it. Maybe he’s gigging all over the place, but that’s not the impression I got.
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My amazingly creative Instagram handle is “david_eberhardt” if you’re interested in finding/following me.

The point of all this is not the excess of equipment. It’s the related dearth of sonic imagination.
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There’s some sort of trade-off. I don’t know where it happens, but this idea has been driving me for some time. I’m convinced that the more options we have, the less creative we become. Hollywood’s preference for CGI spectacle over plot or character development is a good indicator of this.

When I had comparably very little equipment in my freshly-started home studio, I produced some of my best work. It won awards. It got me on the radio. People started following me. Back then I was doing everything I possibly could to discover sounds and fit musical phrases in to songs.

A few years later, I had too much gear, and I felt like I was chasing after the music instead of having it roll out of me naturally. I was basically throwing gadgets at the problem, instead of looking inside myself for the solution. Somewhere in the process, I also discovered DEFAULT.

Maybe that’s why modern worship music seems so artistically bankrupt. There are fewer deep introspective musical approaches, but plenty of products marketed as solutions. There is plenty of technology, but not much technique. There is not enough artistic desperation, but plenty of default.

Years ago, I heard the story of how Peter Gabriel famously took all the cymbals from the drum kit to force Genesis to start playing differently. It inspired me to force periodic challenges upon myself. I tend to prefer playing a Fender guitar (I have perhaps too many of these), so every January, I force myself to play my Gibson Les Paul as much as possible until the weather looks like Spring. This month, I forced myself back to my classical guitar to learn a piece I’ve been meaning to learn since I was in high school. I’m planning to start practicing acoustic guitar chord-melody pieces again shortly.
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A lot of it boils down to starting over, from scratch, to get away from the defaults.

Some years ago, I decided to explore a new sound with my bandmates. We were a mostly heavy rock band that was venturing into art-pop. I came upon this idea that if I tried a finger-picked acoustic guitar passage against my drummer’s African hand percussion, we might discover something interesting. We did. Adding a little electric guitar ambience gave it a great mood, and we discovered something that became very successful in the work we did together and separately in several bands/projects in our area for quite some time.  That song was “Our Yesterdays,” which you can hear, HERE: https://youtu.be/L1Yd69PRQSY

How do you avoid defaults? What challenges do you put in front of yourself to keep you growing as a musician and an artist? Are there any disciplines you employ? What about equipment? Do you have stuff you could get rid of? On what merits do you keep or unload gear? What do you do to find inspiration?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Shout ‘em out!

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: Wampler Dual Fusion

My pedalboard used to be a real source of contentment for me. I’d open it up, play a gig, and glorious sounds would pour forth.

This is approximately what my guitar-playing experience felt like, if I had been empty-handed, outdoors, and female.

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Somewhere along the line, the two gain stages I was using started to dislike each other. For several years I have been swapping out different gain pedals (overdrive and/or distortion). Presently, I’m pretty attached to a pair of custom pedals which were made by two different friends of mine, but I would like to simplify, and use a single pedal if possible. I checked out the Wampler Dual Fusion, and put it through its paces.

I recorded and made a video of the whole process, which you can see here: https://youtu.be/aqgg4Xv8ct4

The pedal is visually gorgeous. Mine is the maroon/brown (mahogany?) metal-flake version. It’s housed in a sturdy 3½” x 4½” enclosure.

LAYOUT- The Dual Fusion has two inputs and two outputs, and a switch that lets you choose which order the gain stages will go.

  • Channel 1 (left side, blue LED) is “Vintage.”
  • Channel 2 (right side, red LED) is “Modern.”

Signal path order is selected via switch, either 1 → 2, or 2 → 1, or Separate***. The pedal features two sets of input/output jacks which correspond to this switch setting, so you’ll need to plug cables in correctly for your desired channel order to work. ***You can also run the gain stages independently, but I have no interest in doing this. Basically, the Dual Fusion has a voicing switch on each channel, plus standard Gain, Tone, and Volume controls. It uses those big white knobs that are usually found on boutique-type pedals. The controls are very responsive, but these knobs are why I don’t like using Fulltone pedals live—  They turn too easily on accident.

  • Channel 1 / Vintage / Right / Blue:  features a voicing switch to let you choose between “smooth” and “fat.”
  • Channel 2 / Modern / Left / Red:  features a voicing switch to select either “throaty” or natural.”

LED’s for each channel are very bright, which can be great for playing outdoor stages on sunny daytime stages, but for dark rooms and dynamic performances with strategic lighting, it could be distracting. Admittedly, this is a pet peeve of mine.

This is not what I want to see at my feet.

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Overall layout pros: Makes perfect sense, once you look at it. Easy to use. Overall layout cons:

  • Having to switch cable jacks to change circuit order is a pain.
  • Big knobs on responsive controls can mean trouble, live.
  • Compact layout is nice, but footswitches are dangerously close together.

Digging in: I plugged the Dual Fusion into my early-90′s UK reissue Vox AC15. This is an amp that does clean sounds extremely well, and has a good midrange voice when overdriven. Setting it to a big clean bright sound, I went to work dialing-in tones on the Dual Fusion.

SOUNDS- On the Vintage/Right/Blue channel… “Fat” boosts the mids in a way not unlike a classic Tube Screamer, and I found this was very flattering to my Fenders without sounding like yet another Tube Screamer copy. I REALLY liked this for rhythms. The “smooth” setting, being more transparent, worked nicely with my Les Paul. Both settings were good with my Telecaster. Gain levels cleaned up nicely in response to guitar volume. Looking at the recorded waveforms, both settings are very compressed. It pushes the guitar’s sound forward in the mix, which is a nice end-result, but might not be as “transparent” (this term seems to mean a lot of things) as one would expect. Listen with your ears. In my experience, a Tube Screamer loses a lot of the articulate treble (which can be appealing when using single coils). The Dual Fusion lets all that come through. It’s nice for chunky rhythm work, but increased gain meant more high-end noise, and some biting pick-attack.

On any given day, “transparent” seems to mean anything from a clean boost, to an overdrive with no EQ changes, to a blend of gain and unaffected signal, to a lack of any gain-induced compression; or combinations of any/all of the above. I tend to use the term to describe the EQ, but recognize that this is subjective.

The Modern/Left/Red channel features a voicing switch that allows one to choose between “throaty” and “natural.” The “throaty” setting through the AC15, was very nice. Near as I can figure, it is boosting lows and highs (or scooping-out mids) and boosting volume noticeably. Again, with the warm midrangey humbuckers on my Les Paul, this was nice. I preferred the “natural” setting on single coils. On all settings, the Dual Fusion produces (or allows) a LOT of bass frequencies through. This sounds great when playing alone in a room, but could be a mess for a live sound man, or a recording engineer. I ended up cutting my amps’ bass significantly to record the demo tracks. In the room, I heard some pretty harsh trebly tones, but what came out on the recording was very nice. For the record, I was sitting pretty close to the amps, with their speaker cones at about the level of my belt. The best recorded sounds, strangely, came from pointing the microphone RIGHT AT the speaker cone.

A lot of guitarists have lamented the loss of bass frequencies from certain pedals (the Tube Screamers, for example), and favor exaggerated bass response. I’m not one of them. Being a producer/engineer in addition to a guitarist, I spend a lot of time removing unnecessary bass-frequencies from guitar tracks. You can be sure that any sound engineer, live or studio, is doing the same. Why muck up the headroom of your amp with messy bass that needs to be removed anyway, for the clarity of the mix?

The pedal mated well with both my AC15 and my JCM-800 4010. The JCM-800 has no switches or loops or anything, and basically exists as a (small) 50w 1×12 rock machine. Pushing it’s natural distortion into harmonic bliss is always easy with any gain source, and the Dual Fusion was no exception. It is probably more than a user of this amp would ever need, though. The pedal’s responsive tone controls allowed me to get more gain out of the amp while taming its tendency to get piercing high end (no lack of treble in Marshall amps!), so that was positive. However, high gain settings from the pedal were noisy on both amps.

Ideally, I can get 4 gain stages out of two stacked gain circuits:

  1. Totally clean (all off)
  2. Overdrive (one on)
  3. Distortion (the other one on)
  4. SCREAMING (all on).

What I expected was to want to run 2 → 1, that is, the “Modern” (let’s just call it “distortion”) channel into the “Vintage” (let’s just call it “overdrive”). This is how I have had the greatest success in the past. The overdrive fattens up when hit with the distortion, and the combined gain (when compatible) creates a fantastic singing solo sound. On the Dual Fusion, this worked well, and setting the overdrive (Vintage) gain hotter, made the mids jump out more when hit with the distortion (Modern). Fantastic. However, I also liked (and maybe preferred) running 1 → 2, for more tonal consistency from gain stage to stage to combined stage. There were a lot of tonal variables to explore.

Sound pros:

  • Extremely versatile, engaging tones.
  • There’s probably something for everyone here.

Sound cons:

  • Treble transparency = noise, especially on high gain settings.
  • Bass-frequencies are loud, and can make a mess.

SUMMARY- The Dual Fusion is well-made, well-voiced and well-appointed, with useful features and LOTS of options on how to use them. In short, I really like it, especially for mid-level gain and rhythm on single coil guitars. I’m not crazy about the lack of midrange response/boost, and I find it noisier than I expected. Having to unplug/re-plug when switching circuit order makes this feature unusable on the fly, if it’s fastened to a crowded pedalboard. Pros-

  1. Versatility- Users can choose gain stage order and voicing, opting to flatter different types of native guitar tones (single coils versus humbuckers), or dial in something that works well for both.
  2. Sounds great everywhere from low-gain blues/Americana to hard rock.
  3. Compact size, solid construction.
  4. Concise, sensible layout; easy-to-use.

Cons-

  1. Requires unplugging and re-plugging cables to change gain-stage order.
  2. Can be too bassy, treble can be too bright (admittedly subjective).
  3. Treble can cause hiss from the amp, especially at high gain settings.
  4. Bright LED’s plus close footswitches means tall guys with big feet might not stomp the footswitch(es) they intend.

Conclusion: I ended up NOT keeping the Dual Fusion after I made the demo. It isn’t for me, but it came pretty close to being the new pedal on my board! Maybe it will work better for your playing style. Any questions” Feel free to ask. And if you’ve used the Dual Fusion with great results I’d love to hear about them. Also, if you have another dual pedal that you think is worth a review/demo, let me know.