Tag Archives: performance

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!

Guitarists – What Do You Take From Your Influences?

What Do You Take From Your Influences?

I was 11 when I learned Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” Up to that point, I really had no concept of what could be done with a guitar, and I was stunned by the beauty of this music I had never heard. To this day, Jimmy Page remains my biggest influence, though I don’t really sound anything like him.

It was sixth grade, and it was as if a veil had been removed from my ears. Suddenly I was REALLY HEARING the music on the radio. The next year, MTV went on the air, and suddenly I could SEE Rock and Roll… and guitars; beautiful awesome guitars! Prior to this, and even for several years after, it was almost as if showing rock bands on mainstream network TV was inappropriate.

 

MTV didn’t have enough material to fill their programming time, so they showed concert footage. It was there that I saw The Who for the first time, and Rush and Triumph and Van Halen. Through produced videos, I saw Lindsey Buckingham with Fleetwood Mac, and some teenagers called Def Leppard and U2. As MTV grew, guitars seemed to wane in importance as the 80′s went in the direction of Madonna and Michael Jackson. But by then, I was a guitarist, tried and true.

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I have three main spheres on influence on my playing: classic rock, shredders and early metal, and what I once heard someone call the “guitar anti-heroes”

The classic rock genre is easy, because it’s where I started. There’s Page and Hendrix and Clapton, Brian May and Pete Townshend and Alex Lifeson. Lifeson in particular carried me into and through the 80′s, where the others didn’t do much that was new or different.

It was Van Halen who changed the game for me (and millions of others). The early metal bands caught my ear, particularly Iron Maiden with Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Vivian Campbell’s work with Dio floored me, and then Vai and Yngwie and Satriani appeared and floored me again. I thought I was doing well keeping pace with them (for a teenager) until I discovered Nuno Bettencourt. That’s when I knew I couldn’t keep up. The consolation at that point was that I had a girlfriend who was WAY more interested in my songwriting and singing.

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It was then that something clicked for me. It was all about “the hook.” Peter Buck and Lindsey Buckingham and The Edge and Andy Summers and Mike Campbell and modern Alex Lifeson all suddenly made sense to me. I started writing guitar hooks into each song, and people really connected to that. When I ended up in the band I toured with, it was because my guitar hooks gave voice to the instrumental passages where our fantastic singer wasn’t actually singing. Every part became identifiable.

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It was Page that taught me atmosphere and the incorporation of unusual chord voices. Hendrix taught me soul and swagger. Clapton gave me heart. Brian May gave me dexterity. Alex Lifeson gave me unconventional thinking.

Van Halen gave me freedom. Vai let me get weird, and Satch pointed out the beauty of melody. Nuno made me reach farther to reconcile funk with rock, and have fun with it. Peter Buck brought me back to the value of a jangly rhythm. Lindsey showed me how to get out of the way of the song. The Edge taught me how to make small things carry a big sound. Andy Summer let me use my jazz training to up-end stale pop formulas. Mike Campbell taught me how to write phrases that speak without words, in the middle of wordy songs.

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I finally got the chance to put it all to work, to take it all out into the world, sort it out, and apply it in front of hungry listeners. I think it worked. I had a pretty good run with it. I developed a style that reflects those influences and became a pretty unique blend of them all.

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Who are your main influences, and what did you take from them? How do you apply it to what you do? How well does it work? I’d love to hear about it.