Down the Pipeline
The other controls and features are pretty standard for an analog tremolo. Continuing left to right on the top row is the Waveform control. This varies the undulating wave from sinusoidal (smooth) to sawtooth (choppy) and all forms in between. The next control is Speed, which varies the frequency of undulation or, more correctly, the period of the wave. Counterclockwise is slow, clockwise fast. Next is the Intensity control, which varies the mix of the effected with the non-effected signal (wet/dry mix). Counterclockwise is dry, clockwise is wet.
In the center, you’ll find a bright white LED status light and on/off switch. The switch takes the pedal in and out of true bypass mode, and there’s the expected pop when the switch is pressed. On the sides of the unit are the input jack and expression pedal jack (more on that later) on the right side; and the two (mono/stereo) outs on the left side. The front of the unit has the 2.1mm barrel jack for a 9V regulated power supply.
Removing the back panel allows access to the mini-pot control of the LF cutoff frequency. Also found is the battery connection for the 9V power source. I would recommend always having a battery installed, even if you always use an external power source. The Pipeline is a well-built and compact unit with a nicely painted cast metal case.
Riding the Waves
In use, the signal-to-noise ratio is good for a tremolo unit—they all make noise. The sound itself is full and focused, pleasant to the ear. My preferences may be a bit biased, since my first real amp was a Brownface/white Tolex Twin that I bought in November 1960. Flipping the Harmonic Vibrato switch on the Pipeline brought back a flood of memories from the 12 years I played that amp; from Duane Eddy and Link Wray instrumentals played at local sock hops to psychedelic six-nighters in Minneapolis bars. So, yes, I like it very much, though there are some areas I can see room for improvement.
First off, I found the speed control difficult to use. When starting at minimum speed and traveling to maximum speed nothing much happens until about 3 o’clock. In the next two clock hours, it accelerates from two beats per second to a “helicopter flutter,” making it somewhat difficult to obtain the desired speed. This can be fixed by plugging in an expression pedal, but then the speed is slowest when the “pedal is to the metal” and fastest when the pedal is up position—the opposite of what I consider intuitive.
Also, the status indicator light does not pulse in time with the tremolo setting, so when starting a song you must adjust on the fly or make some noise before the downbeat. Neither is a good option if the guitar plays the intro. A blinking light could get you very close to the desired speed before hitting that first note.
The Final Mojo
I love the sound of the Harmonic Vibrato, so for me the speed control issues are of minor importance. The availability of stereo output is also a nice feature, though I don’t think it has wide application. I could see using it in the studio or in a jazz trio setting… but then, of course, you would be hauling two amps around. The unit is sturdy, compact, and quiet—valuable assets when mounted to a pedalboard.
you want to recreate the coveted brownface harmonic vibrato tones, or
just a good tremolo unit.
you don’t use tremolo or are happy with the effects you have in your amp
or multi-effects unit.