When they first hit the airwaves, the
monophonic analog synths of the
’60s and ’70s bewildered listeners with
their impossible, otherworldly timbres.
They changed modern music in a major
way too. The Buchla 200, Minimoog, and
Arp 2600, among others, became staples
of pop melodies, commercials, and film
soundscapes, and have remained fixtures
in electronic and experimental genres and
forward-thinking guitar music alike.
Like so many analog artifacts that don’t
quite get their due in their time, monophonic
analog synths are now embraced by players
who have found that nothing sounds quite as
fat and rich. And Oregon-based SubDecay’s
Octasynth does a fantastic job of delivering
classic analog sounds and modern, noisy,
glitchy tones, in a pedal that’s authentically
synth-like and responsive to guitarists and
the dynamic strengths of the guitar itself.
Powered by 9V battery or standard DC
adapter, the Octasynth is a handbuilt,
sturdy—and with its circa-’76 video game
graphics—supremely vibey pedal. It is also
true-bypass with 100 percent analog circuitry.
But of greatest importance to most guitarists,
who may be coming from a place of relative
synth naïveté, it’s very simple to operate.
In some ways, you can think of the
Octasynth as an octave pedal with an
analog-synth brain. It converts your monophonic
(single note) signal into three separate
square waves—the root, one octave
down, and two octaves down. Using its
Blend control, the Octasynth lets you to
build a sound with any combination of
those voices. With the Blend at noon,
all three synth waves are present and this
results in a rich and slightly chorusy sound.
One of the most impressive features of
the Octasynth is its dynamic filter, which
works interactively with your pick attack,
not unlike an auto wah. Palm-muted notes
will produce short, stabbing synth-bass
pops, while articulated, sustaining notes
will produce brassy, lingering tones. As
the strength of the input signal (your pick
attack) is reduced, the filter cutoff sweeps
lower into thunderous sub-octave zones.
The Resonance knob, like any filter resonance
control, determines the intensity
of the frequencies near the filter cutoff.
At minimum settings, the filter is nearly
imperceptible. At maximum settings, the
filter sweep is intense and approaches self-oscillation,
which gives you a lot of range to
shape the synth’s voice.
Like most octave and synth-styled pedals,
single notes and neck pickups are essential
to getting the best tone, and I found that
using my Gibson SG’s neck pickup with the
tone control rolled back produced a much
more controlled response from the unit.
With my vintage Fender Super Bassman
dialed in for a throaty clean tone, I engaged
the Octasynth with all controls at noon
and was struck by how much my guitar rig
sounded like a Roland Juno-6, a digitally
controlled analog synth used extensively in
’80s synth pop and video games.
I was also amazed by how responsive
the pedal is to playing dynamics. Even
the most controlled, robotic, palm-muted
staccato notes on my guitar had slight
variations in filter response. And I was able
to jam synth lines with the advantage of
extremely expressive touch sensitivity not
possible with any keyboard I’ve ever played,
which is very cool and might, by itself, justify
buying this pedal.
Tweaking the filter controls gave me
access to a wide variety of tones including
driving, sustained, buzzing lead lines and
deep, pumping bass sequences—and everything
in between. Chords are a garbled mess
of glitchy goodness. But this is really a pedal
for spicing up leads, guitar melodies, and
second parts based on single-note patterns.
That’s hardly a limitation, however. Given
the few controls, the versatility is impressive.
Synthesizers, whether vintage or modern,
tend to be pretty complex. But SubDecay’s
Octasynth takes the basic concepts and
sounds of those classic mind-bending
machines and loads them into a simple-to-
use and straightforward unit. It’ll give
you truly potent and expressive old-school
sounds that can spice up a run-of-the-mill
funk or space rock jam.
you’re looking to add classic synth sounds to your tunes without hiring a keyboard player.
there’s a reason why you don’t already have a keyboard player.