I love classic overdrive and distortion as much as the next guy. Eric Clapton’s tone on the Bluesbreakers record changed my life. Robben Ford plays one note through his Dumble amp and I’m a goner. Stevie Ray? —Fuggedaboutit! Amp derived or pedal driven, who doesn’t love the sweet, singing sound of rich, even-order harmonics.
Lately though, I find myself drawn to rougher sounds: the octave fuzz excursions of Oz Noy, or the bit-crushed noise of Nine Inch Nails. I am rediscovering my Fender Blender and Ampeg Scrambler fuzz boxes, reveling in their ragged, lo-fi quality. Apparently I am not alone; an increasing number of guitarists are eschewing the smooth sounds of the power ballad solo in favor of tones that make you fear for their amplifiers—and their sanity.
Thus, the time seems right for the WMD Geiger Counter. Though it can serve up standard overdrives and distortions, this pedal’s forte is a full menu of signal destroying, twisted effects—not a fancy restaurant menu with only four or five items, but a diner menu that goes on for page after page.
Ground Based Interceptor
The Geiger Counter packs a high gain, modern preamp, driving an 8-bit computer into a 4.5” x 3.5” box. Colored bright yellow, with a radioactive insignia that warns of the extreme effects within, this solid metal housing crams a multitude of controls into its small footprint.
Those new to the world of more complex signal processing should not be scared off by the unit’s five knobs, three LEDs, Control Voltage (CV) input, two toggle switches, and HEX display. Operation is well covered in the blissfully short manual.
The rotary switch-selectable wave tables are simply described by WMD as a stage that “takes your signal and destroys it with math.” The Gain and Tone Knobs are self-explanatory; their adjacent toggle disables the Tone. Though this increases the gain, I found that some wave table settings sounded better with and some without the tone engaged. Pressing the Wave Table rotary switch can place the Bit reduction control before or after the wave table for radically different effects. Rather than get into a technical description of all the controls, let me just describe some of the cool effects I was able to conjure from this little box.
The first surprise was that with the sample rate and bit depth up full, and the wave table set at 20 on the display, the Geiger Counter produced a relatively normal, dynamic overdrive that responded nicely to touch and changes in the instrument volume level. You can hear this fat, rock tone in Clip 1 on the website. Any crackling you hear is coming from the guitar, not the pedal, which is comparatively quiet, given the insane gain it can fabricate.
Of course, there are dozens of pedals that can do a basic distortion; the fun began as I increased the wave table numbers. The higher I went within each number set (10s, 20s, 30s, etc.) the wilder the tone got. The Geiger Counter let me choose from 252 wave tables. When you combine that with various bit settings—before or after the wave table, and a sample rate adjustable from over 58kHz down to 280Hz, you approach an infinite number of ways to contort and distort your guitar signal. The second surprise was how many of these sounds are usable. The actual amount will depend on your level of musical dementia. Many are exhilarating variations on filtered fuzz.
Plugging an expression pedal into the CV input let me command some of the crazier effects even as I played. For Clip 2, I sustained a chord, while sweeping the sample rate with the pedal. I loved how the sound changed, as the chord faded, from a full-throated scream to a high banshee wail—all this from just rocking the pedal as the chord decayed. For Clip 3 I played a melodic line, and then swept the pedal at the end of the lick. The WMD pedal gave the line a character unlike any other distortion pedal out there: in some ways synthlike, but still retaining a guitar quality.
The Final Mojo
If you remain unconvinced about the pedal’s musical potential, check out Clip 4, where I threw the previous clips together for a track that sounds like ZZ Top from Mars. All the noises save for the bass and beat were made with Geiger Counter and guitar through a clean amp model using Overloud TH1 software. For those who want to add the sounds of the future to their arsenal of traditional tones, the WMD Geiger Counter is a must-have.
you love extreme new sounds.
you are a tone traditionalist.