Quite a bit of thought has gone into the design of Red Witch’s latest chorus/vibrato pedal, the Empress. Offering an amazing amount of flexibility, the Empress isn’t limited to one or two schools of chorusing. Instead, its Voice control gives the pedal the ability to go from uptown, sophisticated chorusing to vintage, grungy warble by offering a wide range of delay time adjustment. This enables the Empress to approximate the flavor of several classic choruses while including thoroughly modern touches like true bypass switching and a sturdy, die-cast enclosure.
The Empress’s main knobs include Mix, which controls the wet/dry mix sent to the output; Depth; the magic Voice control; and Velocity, which controls the speed. Above the knobs are two mini-switches; the first controls switching from Vibrato to Chorus, while the second selects bright or normal operation, which only really comes into play when the Voice control is below noon by adding a touch of high-end to the warmer, more subtle settings. There is also an internal dip switch controlling the input level. Its stock setting offers the input staging of the Empress’ predecessor, the Medusa. Flipping the switch offers higher gain, which is useful for counteracting the perceived volume drop when running less intense settings with clean tones. When distortion or overdrive is available, the switch adds a not-altogether-pleasant graininess to the upper-mids, but once the Voice control is turned up past 11 o’clock or so, the stock setting is golden.
The choruses available run the gamut from CE-1 and CE-2 thickness to Kurt Cobain – or better yet, John McGeoch – approved liquid warble. The Voice control really allows the user to dial in just the perfect amount of chorus, and it quickly makes you wonder why this control isn’t more widespread. Coupled with the Mix control, pretty much anything is possible and I delighted in nailing some old Banshees and PiL sounds. Of course, the Empress can do the “Crossfire” thing well enough, but its real forte is the more spaced out sounds – think vintage EH PolyChorus without the noise. By the same token, the Empress is capable of delivering subtle, dare I say tasteful, chorusing, making it useful for jazz or pop duties.
The Vibrato effects were cake, capable of everything from subtle, vintage wiggle to downright nasty seasick sounds. This is easily one of the more musical implementations of this effect in a pedal. I enjoyed it most staying closer to the old-school tones it provided, rather than the really out-of-tune sounds, but even those would be perfect for inflicting some art-school damage.
The Final Mojo
Ben Fulton, the man behind Red Witch, has succeeded in designing a chorus pedal that is capable of dialing in pretty much any chorus sound you may have floating in your head while not relying on past sounds to get you there. Sure, there are some sonic benchmarks, but the Empress made it remarkably easy to spend a moment or two dialing in the perfect chorus sound for the situation, rather than simply busting out a “fast Leslie” or “vintage Boss” sound. If you want to stick with the tried and true, go pick up a modeling pedal and save yourself some grief. If you want to dial in your tones, give the Empress a go.
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you’re looking for a versatile chorus with a useable vibrato
you want two knobs and an on/off switch