Posts Tagged ‘Fuzz’

Ricken’s Fuzz FR III

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Rickens-FuzzFRIII

What is it?
Ricken’s Fuzz FR III, made by Jen in Italy around mid 70’s for “Ricken’s” and molested by several people later on.

To begin with, Jen used to make their III Fuzz for couple of brands, Ricken’s being one of them. Opportunity to trade one serviced unit in arose, and of course i was curious. Alert started to ring in my head with the word “serviced” as this claim was not followed by a name of anyone. Not anyone with reputation or experience with pedals or not, but not a name at all. Usually, when museum age vintage pedals are serviced, the seller or trader wants everyone to know who did the work as this will usually affect the value more than expected – and not necessarily towards a good direction. Next alerting fact that was when i said “you can send the blue pedal to …” and the answer was “the pedal is white”. So the unit was painted by someone and that someone didn’t even bother to remove the label plate from the face. The new coat nicely covers up the corners of the aluminum plate. I went ahead with the trade anyway, as the Jen version is rare enough to take action. These OEM’s even more – even though those are way less desirable and thus, sell for way less when available. Another thing was about the foot switch. The seller told me that it didn’t work perfectly. I told that this wasn’t an issue for me as i could fix it rather easily by just replacing the part.

Rickens-FuzzFRIII-back

So the trade went through and i got the fuzz. The original knobs were in decent condition with just a few chips. Flipping the pedal over showed the original bottom rubber with cutout for the “Made in Italy” label and the original blue color. I bet the original paint job has been in horrible condition, since the new white is very thick and matte in finish. But the “Made in” label is just beautiful. Don’t know if the early seventies were simpler times. At least the typeface and fonts made by hand in preproduction of the prints make me feel warm and fuzzy. Nope. This is not a statement about the tone, just for print used by european silk screeners of that day.

Rickens-FuzzFRIII.guts1

Next up was to remove the bottom plate to see what’s in there. The circuit and the battery both have their original foam pads in tact. At first test run, the switch did indeed leave contacts out. Only about 2 of 50 presses resulted in proper switching. I gave up on the original and replaced it with 2PDT standard true bypass. I saw no point in wiring the new switch per the original, as the switch had four poles, only two of them used and still the input of the circuit was connected all the time. Next up was to check out the circuit itself. Yup. I paid way too much for this unit in the trade.

Rickens-FuzzFRIII.guts2

Well. Some you win, some you lose. This was perfect example of the latter. The fixes for the broken board strips are for the faint hearted. But since it works and the traces are bad, i left is as it was. Sure i could have made it prettier with any other repair method than soldering bare resistor legs over the original strip between the joints. Sure it works. But since it’s all about that 70’s piercing silicon fuzz with notable mushroom cloud factor, i saw little point in tampering with the fixes. After all, the value of the pedal in this condition is less than the parts for a proper clone and repairing it further would probably not make it any better. Ugly fix. I wouldn’t have done it this way myself. Now, for the more interesting part..

Rickens-FuzzFRIII.guts3

Component side of the board shows BC239C transistors, basic carbon film resistors and green mylar caps with a few diodes thrown in. And luckily there is a approximate schematic up at Fuzz Central. By the schematic alone i can take a guess how this will sound. And since it’s loosely based on the Tonebender family, i can suggest one or two mods for the circuit just by looking at it. First, which isn’t the best option, would be to up all three 10n caps to something like 100n to let more of the lower frequencies through. This method has a few downsides, one being too much gain which leads to hard audible oscillation. So i wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, i’d suggest anyone owning one not in museum grade condition to add one more 10n cap from input to ground. This will dump a part of the highest frequencies to ground and it’ll let the circuit do it’s magic in a nice sounding manner. So…

How does it sound?
As a stock unit, run with a full battery and modern guitar humbuckers – horrible. Screeching and horribly piercing highs. Think of a maxed controls of a Fuzz Face with a Screaming Bird in front of it and at the end of it, a hard clipping diodes ala Rat. Oh. That’s basically exactly what the circuit is, so imagining it shouldn’t be all tha hard. Strong, piercing, but rather unusable would be how i’d describe the tone. But once we mod it slightly and add the 10n cap from input to ground, the sound clears up, the oscillations are gone and the pedals starts to play along nicely with the guitar controls.

Without mods and assuming there weren’t any to begin with, the Jen III Fuzz and the OEM versions of the same unit are next to unusable as they are. With a very simple addition of one capacitor will make it very nice and powerful sounding fuzz unit. These will never stand up against modern requirements what we want and need from pedals. But instead, these will serve their purpose as collectibles and niché specialities for me and every other tone freak out there.

Sadly, muy unit had zero collector value when it arrived. But i still find it interesting enough to keep.

Dunlop JDF2 Fuzz Face

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Dunlop-JDF2-FuzzFace

What is it?
Dunlop JDF2 Fuzz Face. No idea where Dunlop currently makes these. If pot date codes are correct, this unit may have been rolled out in 2010.

I’ve already written about the blue Jimi Hendrix model, which seemed like a decent silicon transistor remake of the unit Jimi used back in the day. That unit did look like a vintage board. But it turned out to be a borg with its surface mount components and trimmers hidden on the solder side. I was quite reluctant to open this up due to the experience provided by the Hendrix model. Somehow i’m glad i eventually did.

For these later units, the board doesn’t even try to look like vintage units. It’s your standard modern Dunlop board with ground fills and lead-free solder. On top of that, we have trimmers for bias, which are hot glued to their places.

Dunlop-JDF2-FuzzFace-guts

Jacks and pots are connected with a clip on terminal and to minimize the amount of labour, the tiny board is mounted to the stomp switch terminals. This makes me wonder if those mini Fuzz Faces introduced in early 10’s have the same board inside. It would make sense. The transistors are AC218s, or at least they try to be. Those look a lot like restamped germaniums to me. If i try really hard to find something good to say, the pots, jacks and the battery snap are quality items that should be able to take a hit or two on the road.

No DC jack, nor any other good things we usually find in modern effects. Expect for the board, obviously. In all rather disappointing use for this enclosure. One should be able to score a period correct reproduction PCB through internet and use the enclosure with that.  But then again.. This is a piece of evidence how big brand and volumes can shift the idea in a design to something completely different. This will also be a part of Fuzz Face history, there’s no disputing that. In all. Decent unit. Nothing great and definitely nothing even close to the units sold as Fuzz Faces just a decade or two ago.

How does it sound?
Like every other Fuzz Face and its straight-on derivative. Sluggish output level, all or nothing -type of controls, decent behaviour with guitar controls and well. Most of that original Fuzz Face magic in sound is present. I’d say this is very nice entry level fuzz for the youngster who want to get their hands dirty with their very first germanium fuzz. Some might consider this a keeper due to it’s tone. I find it as a keeper only because it resembles the golden oldie visually. Tone is rather close and visual aesthetics are in place. That’s about it. Very cheap to manufacture and due to its reputation, the price is also easy to keep high. Still. Recommended for a first fuzz device (never mind the Big Muff Pi for this urpose), but that’s pretty much it. Get one if you can, but don’t pay too much for this Dunlop model.

EHX Graphic Fuzz XO

Monday, April 6th, 2015

EHX-XO-GraphicFuzz

What is it?
Electro-Harmonix Graphic Fuzz with variable envelope response, from XO-series. Made in NYC in the late 00’s. Most likely in 2009.

A friend was letting this one go and i just simply couldn’t help myself. Pricing for an used Graphic Fuzz isn’t too cheap, but then again – it definitely isn’t one of your average straight up clones or slight derivatives of something else. The box is big, but there are ten large slide pots for the controls. Reasonable spacing for standard rotary potentiometers would have possibly called for even bigger box. That would also have taken the graphic EQ out of the equation. I took a peek inside once i got my hands on the unit.

EHX-XO-GraphicFuzz-guts

I see six dual opamps and no inductors. This means that the EQ section is done with gyrators and in the same manner as found in most modern graphic EQs. Rest of the features are not that simple to see by just looking at the board layout. There is a fuzz that can be switched on and off and there is a “variable envelope response”, which acts almost as a compressor. But not quite. I’d say it functions closer to an envelope generator we find on synthesizers. No, it does not act exactly like those either. Still, the dynamics slide sets the attack of the tone and sustain sets the release.

So the set of features is pretty much a thought that comes from outside of the box. Original idea, but does it carry us far enough?

How does it sound?
Almost but not quite. We are stuck with relatively faceless graphic EQ and a fuzz/overdrive that’s quite close to the one knob Muff Overdrive. Not any version of Big Muff. The one knob Muff. You know, the one that comes in red and green from the nano series. The EQ works well, while it is rather generic. Then agai, no of us might even want a graphic EQ with a personality. It does, however, make the fuzz/overdrive a lot more usable. For the envelope part.. I do not have that many good words about it. It works like nothing else, so it’s hard to wrap your head around it. Versatile, yes. Usable, well, ok. Good? Maybe i wouldn’t go that far. Interesting. That would be a good word to describe the unit.

Nice set of features and these could serve a purpose for those who want something different ™. Wide set of features, but the tones leave me somewhat cold. Not the worst EHX box, though.

Seymour Duncan SFX-02 Tweak Fuzz

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

SeymourDuncan-SFX-02-Tweak Fuzz

What is it?
Seymour Duncan SFX-02 Tweak Fuzz from the first Seymour Duncan effect series. Possibly from mid 00’s.

The  first series of stompboxes from highly regarded pickup manufacturer? Sure i wanted to see what was going on for myself. I believe the number of manufactured units is rather high and since most of the designs in this first series were priced neatly, they were bound to sell some. But my guess is still – not enough. As we’ve seen with various brands, if a design is a hit, it will stay in production for ages. Wonder if we’ll see a reissue of this at some point. Chances are, no, but still. It would be interesting.  Once i got mine, i took it out for a spin. And tore it open, as usual.

SeymourDuncan-SFX-02-Tweak Fuzz-guts1

There’s two small boards stacked inside. Other for controls and other for the main circuit. Boards are fastened to the box with  pots and jacks. Not a bad thing to see. There’s true bypass switching in place with industry standard three pole switch. Neatly done either way. The battery slot isn’t too easy to access and requires one to remove the bottom plate and its four screws to reach it. But then again. Who uses batteries anyway..

There’s been a traced schematic around for years. Couldn’t find it right of the bat, but one should be able to find it through internet archives with little detective work. It’s Analogguru’s work (and truly amazing work indeed) and it shows us what this thing is made of. The “tweak” control is the key. This control simply changes the value of the input cap from thin sounding small value to fat sounding, larger value. Rest of the circuit is slightly tweaked Fuzz Face.

SeymourDuncan-SFX-02-Tweak Fuzz-guts2

And since it is nothing more but a silicon Fuzz Face, it suffers from the same culprits this classic circuit has always suffered. This being the mediocre output level capability with modern output guitar pickups. But that’s at least partly, compensated with sturdy feel and decent looks. Switchable input cap for a classic circuit may not be enough to create an individual hit.

How does it sound?
Really good. The classic Fuzz Face sound with six different tone settings from thin and nasal to big and fat. Actually, i hear no difference between this unit and quite a few higher end/boutique FF derivatives. And the tone of that blue Dunlop reissue is in tact. This truly shines with single coils or humbuckers with vintage output (less than 10K). For the availability and price, this is very tempting alternative for current big boxed FF reissues. My guess is that these will have their reputation and price  going up in the future. Or this could be one of many slightly tweaked derivatives that will simply be forgotten. Only time will tell.

EHX Big Muff Pi Nano

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

EHX-BMP-nano

What is it?
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi Nano. Made in NYC, 2013.

Ok. This took them long enough. The massive Big Muff enclosure is sort of an visual trade mark for this obviously classic fuzz/distortion, but there’s been Little Big Muff out for a long time. Little BMP being the same circuit, but just in a 1590BB-sized box and with mostly SMD construction. We all know the circuit doesn’t require the huge box, even with through hole parts since dozens of other brands and boutiquers have been offering their tweaked clones ages. And usually in a smaller, 1590B, or 125B sized enclosure. In my opinion, the size form factor does matter to a degree. B-box always trumps the bigger ones (but if we go smaller than that, my interest drops lower than hell). So, in a sense, EHX releasing a BMP in a smaller form was just a matter of time. Chinese cloners are currently selling similar circuits in A-sized boxes, but i do hope that EHX doesn’t go there. Ever.

EHX-BMP-nano-guts

Looking at the circuit and checking out the treasure cove for BMP information, The KitRae’s Big Muff Page, the design for this one is the same as for current huge box reissue and Little BMP. Our basic four gain stage design with the middle ones having diodes for clipping. Exactly like all the other discrete semiconductor BMP versions. Circuit is actually very close to Little BMP with through hole transistors, diodes and a few key capacitors. And since this is electronically the same as current ones in bigger boxes…

How does it sound?
It sounds exactly like the others. Big and creamy with decent output levels. As with all BMPs, the  sound is at its greatest with clean amps and medium to low output pickups. The design and the sound it represents has endured time extremely well. There have been some changes in the design over the decades with all of them having a lot in common, while still sounding different. This and all the others post-2000 units sound more or less the same. With a few exceptions. Still, no surprises. Just the classic tones in a extremely usable format.

Catalinbread Merkin Fuzz

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Catalinbread-Merkin

What is it?
Catalinbread Merkin Fuzz. Made in USA in 2010.

One of the first more “boutique” pedals i sourced and deemed as a keeper. Before getting  the unit, i had already played around with the circuit as the traced schematic has been floating around for years. You should be able to find at DIY forums. Due to this, there wasn’t anything completely new to me when i first fired this original up. When this unit reached me it had its LED burned out and i swapped it for a new one back then. Sad thing is that i didn’t snap any photos then. Call it laziness, but i just didn’t find the enthusiasm to open it all the way again for this article. If we start by looking at the guts, we’ll see two sided board that is looking very professional, but at the same time, rather dull.

Catalinbread-Merkin-guts

Sometimes it’s great to find that circuits that have very little to do with each other on the topology have similar sounds coming out of them. I’m certain that some people thought this to be just modernized and treble cut Mosrite Fuzzrite due to it’s spongy, wild sounds. But designwise this isn’t even relatively close to Fuzzrite. In general, there are three transistor stages, which all take every single bit of gain out of their semiconductors. The texture pot is mixing the output of first and second stage, which is then pushed to the third stage. Somehow this arrangement reminds me more of the Baldwin-Burns Buzzaround, while still being nothing too close. In other words, the circuit design is pretty cool and has some out of the box thinking in it. Sure, there isn’t anything completely profound and anyone with deep experience and understanding in fuzzes could have created something that takes bits and pieces from the Fuzzrite and Buzzaround to combine them in a modern circuit. I’m not sure if this is the case. But if this design is created on a breadboard without following the two schematics mentioned, i’ll take my hat off and raise my glass.

Catalinbread is one of the companies that have grown from single person boutique operation to respectable scale and very respected reputation. There is a reason for this. First off, they know where they are coming from. Second, the quality. Professional and modern boards which are then hand crafted. Boards may look dull, but all the joints look like person with the iron has a real interest in the finished product. Next Catalinbread pedal i’m getting may very well be a new one.

How does it sound?
Ingenious. From that “satisfaction” to killer mushroom clouds. There is definitely that vintage sputter in the tone and texture maxed will give you massive single note lead tones that will work great on those doom/stoner leads too. While the two-knob configuration is the way to go with vintage-like fuzzes, there are tons of different sounds. The pedals reacts to guitar’s volume knob as a gain, and the guitar tone can be used to transform the sound. You’ll get up octaves and down octavish craziness in there too. Not to the degree of MXR Bluebox, of course, but still the overtones are something quite different from Fuzzrites and derivatives. If i had to describe this pedal with a one word. The word would be a “keeper”. Sure. It may not fit to everyone’s taste as it is quite wild. But to me. A keeper.

Boss FZ-5 Fuzz

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Boss-FZ5

What is it?
Boss FZ-5 Fuzz. Made in taiwan, may 2007.

Since we are on a roll with sounds coming out of digital circuitry, here’s one to add. Some may have wondered why there isn’t a schematic or any hint of a DIY project for a pedal with this reputation. The answer is simple. The code inside the pedal is the thing that makes up the effect. The electronic circuitry is once more nothing else but input buffer -> electronic switching -> A/D conversion -> digital signal processor -> D/A conversion -> electronic switching -> output buffer. There is a Boss branded signal processor that takes care of creating “that vintage up octave sounds”. Sure. The idea of having a Fuzz Face, Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Tone and an Octavia in a single box is not that bad. Actually i’d call it very tempting.

Boss-FZ5-guts1

But there is a “but”. The label on the cover says “COSM”, so at least the digital design isn’t being covered or pushed aside like it wasn’t there. I’m not sure when digital stopped being a selling point in pedals. In the 80’s and early 90’s it was respected to have everything digital. To be honest, i’m not sure if i’m ever going to get interested in DSP. The DSP is very useful and can do great things. For example, think of all the reverb units around. And what about those multi effects that are nothing short of great for bedroom practice sessions. Here’s the “but”. We are talking about digitally modeling three circuits that would have been doable with cheaper set of components as an analog unit. To me, this seems like one of the in-house competitions Boss engineers might have had. Say, who can turn three simple, a few transistor circuits into a current hogging digital design?

Boss-FZ5-guts2

These three modeled circuits have been classics for decades and for a reason. The different transistors in Fuzz Face (and same goes for the rest of the trio..) make a noticeable difference and there have been several main versions over the years, since late 1960’s. Nevertheless, these classic effects have their status due to driving the semiconductors to the point where they shouldn’t be driven. What boss did, was to model these digitally and put it on the market. And then there are the results…

How does it sound?
Fz-5 isn’t the worst sounding pedal in Boss catalog. Hell, it isn’t even their worst sounding fuzz. But it is like playing chess with a friend on Nintendo. The three modes are surprisingly close to their idols, but still not close enough. The main difference with vintage analog circuits is the “unreliability”. The one factor that makes a Fuzz Face what it is. Even the best digital modeling can’t calculate the semiconductor behavior close enough to reality. Maybe in decade or two, but not yet. These modelers are not that bad sounding things and someone who’s not married to the analog electronics won’t be able to tell a difference. To sum it up, the pedal offers “close enough” models of three widely used and recognized fuzz circuits. For garage punk guitarists, this is not an option. But for those who want to use a little of fuzz in their home recordings, why not. The fuzzes from this box are a lot better than the ones on most multi effect units of the era. At the same time, it is good and it is bad.

DOD FX76 Punkifier

Monday, November 24th, 2014

DOD-FX76-Punkifier

What is it?
DOD FX76 Punkifier from FX series. Made in USA late 1995.

I find the back catalog of DOD FX series to be very interesting. There are a lot of great designs and original ideas in there. And there are a number of boring and dull designs. FX76 Punkifier is not dull. At all. Got mine for a fair price in original box and papers. And additional bottom plate with velcros on it. This way the original plate with rubber mat and serial number wasn’t harmed. For that, i want to express my biggest thank yous for the seller.

The main feature of this design is blendable fuzz/distortion. Not too many of good ones in this dual effect genre around. So my initial feeling was that this may be good, but epectations weren’t too high. I rarely check demos out, because those may skew my view of sound and feel. I need to play with a box to know how it behaves. Demos with unknown players, unknown guitars with unknown pickup setup and unknown amplifiers doesn’t really cut it for me. Even if you knew the name of all the variables above, you’d still have to be acquainted with all the gear to make a educated estimate of how everything works. Sure, the youtube demos will show you the ballpark, but not where you are seated.

DOD-FX76-Punkifier-guts1

Build quality is per all the other FX serie boxes of the era. Neat and somewhat beautiful. Carbon resistors, mylar caps and so on. Quite standard thing to look at. There is a floater schematic online, but it may be incorrect (at least it seems that way to me when comparing it against the actual board), so i won’t be posting it or even a link to it. I hate erroneous schematics. You can find it using your favourite internet search engine. I believe it has most of the topology correct, but devil in the details. Anyway. The base topology (minus the electronic switching) goes as follows; From the input – Input buffering, splitter amp to send the signal two ways. Path one is for a controlless fuzz that could have been designed by Devi Ever, but with a few elaborate and weird ideas on it. Most interesting part may be the reference voltage fed to the transistor bases via 22M resistors. Path two takes the signal to OD250 on steroids style overdrive/distortion circuit that has its own gain control. The outputs of these two paths are then blended together with a pot and this signal is passed to a tone control. Which is followed by volume control and output buffering.

DOD-FX76-Punkifier-guts2

This design has many great ideas on it and it is far from just recycling standard fuzz/distortion ideas. If i was to redesign this, i would probably hook up a fuzz texture control for the fuzz circuitry and have that as a dual pot in conjuction with the OD/Dist side distortion control. That could make it even better, but this is f*n amazing as it is.

Controls are name in the DOD’s 90’s methods. Making them next to unintelligle. Punk, Spikes, Slam and Menace. Yup. Way to go. There were others in that time who did similar things when naming their controls. Creative, yes, but not very useful. Little use gets you accustomed to these names though. So it’s not that big of deal. There’s a bit more reading about this unit on America’s Pedal website. Check it out.

How does it sound?
Just perfect. It doesn’t sound much like any other box you’ll ever hear. I’m giving absolute all praise for personality in tone. When distortion side is maxed and fuzz side toned down, there is something reminding me of OD250, but not much. The fuzz side has it all. It is loud and the tone is the same what you get from blowing a nuclear warhead in your bedroom. While the fuzz is just sick, it still has some aspects that act like vintage Tonebenders. No. I’m not comparing it to Tonebenders. That wouldn’t be right at all. It is modern and powerful, with its roots on vintage tones. In addition to those features, the tone control is usable and can peak the highs in ear piercing manner.

This is not the pedal for blues players. This is a pedal for those who want a personal, weird, piercing tones. One of my all time favorites for a dirt box. Superb. I don’t know what more to say.

Acid Age Electronics Pale Mare

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

AcidAge-PaleMare

What is it?
Acid Age Electronics Pale Mare Fuzz Device. Made in USA and judging by the serial number, the unit is most likely made in 2013.

Seems like Acid Age electronics came to be after the brand Earthbound Audio seized to exist. And Acid Age Electronics seized to exist later and currently there is a brand called Earthbound Audio. Confusing, isn’t it? Either way, the pedal landed on my desk in a trade. Sure i was interested in the box, but not enough to have spent the money foolks were asking for it. Little did i know. The marketing texts online are pretty straight forward and honest about the design. According to that text, the design is a derivate of old Roland BeeBaa fuzz. That’s something you don’t see too often. And next point for my “little did i know” phrase comes real when the bottom plate of this beautiful, screen printed, black prism colored, powder coated enclosure is removed.

AcidAge-PaleMare-guts

When i get my hands on a small brand pedal, this is what i want to see. A quality build with no corners cut and no money or time saved on stuff that really matters. Sadly, this isn’t what i usually see. The usual hack jobs give a bad name for small brands, but seeing something like Pale Mare restores a bit of hope for the humanity. I don’t have any deeper insight for the circuit yet. I may have to study this unit with a magnifying glass soon. Still. The board looks very well made and the hand wired parts look like the guy who build this is truly passionate in creating pedals.

I must say that i’m not a fan of two stomp switches on a vertically aligned 125B sized box, as that takes extra effort for aiming. And that’s not something i want to do on gig. Basic controls are level, tone and gain. First switch is the bypass. The second switch activates the Voice control, which seems to affect the fuzzy gain of the middle frequencies. In other words, this feature adds a boost that can be used to kick the tone a bit louder. Nothing earth shattering about the controls, but i still can’t get my mind off of the neat build quality and overall greatness of the design. What’s worse, now that i know AAE, nowadays Earthbound Audio, produces this kind of high end builds for very decent prices, i can easily see myself getting another one from his catalog. And what’s even worse…

How does it sound?
This sounds just beautiful. I myself have tinkered with BeeBaa circuit and have loved it from the first second i heard its tone. This does not sound like a clone of Roland BeeBaa, but there is some of that magical mush fuzz in in there that definitely has its roots in the BeeBaa. Overall, this sounds just thicker and more modern than its idol. Fair and usable upgrade to the vintage design. In my opinion it’s always better to redesign and recycle obscure old circuits than to tweak the Big Muff and the Tubescreamer, and to claim those as a new and an original designs. Back to the subject at hand.. The controls have full working range, meaning that there is usable tones in every possible setting. And the Voice control/switch adds more content to the tone when activated. Just amazing fuzz. It has very little to do with the fuzz faces or big muffs, but it lands a lot closer to mushroom cloud blasts that are usually associated with stranger sounding 60’s and 70’s boxes.

For its sound, design and build quality. This is the shit. Probably the greatest small brand pedal i’ve ever had.

EHX Holy Stain

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

EHX-HolyStain

What is it?
Electro Harmonix Holy Stain from XO series.Made in united states in 2010(ish).

Once again. Put a pedal, any pedal, for sale with a broken switch and a price tag around 20% of a new unit. You bet i’ll be there, bombing your email and throwing the little money i have against the computer screen. This was one of those. Simply swapped the defected 3PDT bypass switch and did a little cleaning. Unit works as it should. Or at least close to it.

Checking out the insides shows a DSP based big board. All done in current, dull EHX manner. I’m guessing the drive/fuzz/distortion is done with transistors and the rest is digital. It’s sort of like a modern hybrid.

EHX-HolyStain-guts

Let’s talk about the features a bit. To begin with, the Holy Stain looks like a cross breed between a Muff and a Holy Grail Reverb, with a few added extras. The main stomp switch is our bypass that sets the overall effect on and off. The basic side is controlled by two rotary switches, a tone control and a volume control. The first rotary selects between clean, fuzz or drive modes. The second selects overall tone color between bright, dark and warm. Tone control acts pretty much like the one on big muff pedals and volume is rather self-explanatory. All that is used to set the base tone.

Then we have the rest. Foot switch selects the digital effect mode between room reverb, hall reverb, a pitch shifter and a tremolo. These four modes share the two controls for all of them, the mix and amount. Mix sets the blend of this extra effect against the clean/fuzz/drive tone coming from the first part. The amount acts as a decay time setting for both reverbs. It also sets the frequency of the pitch shifter mode and the rate of the tremolo. Amount can be rocked with a external expression pedal, which makes the tremolo mode a lot more interesting and the pitch shifter to have similar features to a Whammy.

Limited, but still quite a set of features. These usually come pretty cheap, even as new. But if you think about the features and compare them to what you actually use – or want to use. For me, i would probably gone for separate drive and effects sections with a stomp to engage/disengage the effects other than the drive side. Sure there is notable amount of outside the box thinking when the designer has set the features, but…

How does it sound?
I’ll start with the good and go on about the bad a bit later. The Fuzz mode is actually good with its crisp lead sounds. On fuzz mode, the color settings are usable too, even though i tend to leave it on warm. Both reverbs are ok too, with a slight note explained further…

Off to the bad. First off, to me (yup, may be heresy, but i’m talking about my taste) the clean and drive modes are just bad. First thing that comes to mind is the horrible distortion section found in Digitech RP6 multi-effect. Color and tone controls won’t save those, no matter what. Other reason why the RP6 pops up to mind is the latency. All the digital effect modes are fine if you have your mix control below 35% mark. Higher than that, the guitar signal has already gone out of the speakers before the verbs/shifter/tremolo even think about touching the signal. Similar digital lag as heard on RP6.

One very good mode with almost usable multi-effect section – if you keep the mix down enough for it to work right. Otherwise… no.