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Multi-effect units aren’t easy to do. They can go from promising to a total letdown in the time it takes to get lost among the multitude of knobs that cover most such units. And though there are plenty of examples of companies who get it right, the general reputation for unruliness still makes them something of a pariah in the pedal world—engendering a mindset among cynics that says, “Who cares if you have a dozens effects at your fingertips if they’re difficult to use?”
Apparently, that reputation hasn’t scared Electro-Harmonix. They’ve produced several multi-effect boxes in recent years—though they tend to be quite different than the pedals most players associate with the term. Rather than go the route of housing a hundred digital effects in a plastic housing with a flimsy footpad and a clunky interface, EHX inventively clusters some of their most reliable effects in a single box. The latest is the Epitome, a digitally controlled system that harnesses an impressive reverb and modulation trio—the Holy Grail Plus, Stereo Electric Mistress, and Micro POG.
Three of a Kind
Players who tend to run at the sight of more than three knobs probably won’t flock to the Epitome at first. It features nine knobs and four switches, but it looks more complex than it is in practice, and the layout is rather straightforward. Gold, purple, and red sections help you visually separate the controls for each effect. And if you’ve used any of these staple EHX effects individually, you’ll feel right at home—the controls for the Holy Grail Plus, Stereo Electric Mistress, and Micro POG are essentially the same as the standalone versions.
In the Holy Grail section, the balance between your dry signal and the reverb is controlled with the blend knob, while the amt (amount) knob changes the length of the reverb tail. The 4-position rotary selector chooses the reverb type—spring, hall, room, or the notorious flerb—EHX’s kooky ’verb that basically has a flanger at the end of the chain. Turning the amt knob clockwise while on the flerb setting increases the modulation of the flanged output.
Engaging the shimmer switch activates an echo effect when the reverb type is set to flerb. The Grail section’s amt knob then alters the length of repeats from 25 to 590ms. When only the Holy Grail footswitch is engaged, the echo generates a single repeat. If you engage the Micro POG switch, you can add additional repeats for the sub, and upper octave, as well as the dry signal.
With the shimmer switch disengaged, the Micro POG delivers the polyphonic octave generation capability that has made each of the POG’s iterations (the POG, POG2, and Micro POG) hits. The Micro POG section’s controls are a breeze to use and will be a delight to anyone who found the original POG and POG2 intimidating. You just turn each one clockwise to increase the presence of the corresponding octave. Roll off the up and dry knobs to create faux bass sounds, or set them all around high noon for organ tones.
The Stereo Electric Mistress section is an updated version of the company’s classic from 1976—the first commercially available flanger. Turning either the flanger or chorus knob clockwise increases the presence of those effects in the signal path. Rate transforms the speed of the modulation, ranging from a slow sweep to a chopping, laser-gun-like sweep.
Solo ’Em or Stack ’Em
I’ve kept an EHX Holy Grail on my pedalboard for years—the spring setting has a huge, three-dimensional sound that’s damn close to replicating a true spring ’verb, and I’ve used it on everything from guitars and bass to vocals and synthesizers. And with the Epitome’s Holy Grail Plus sounds, I was able to summon a spring counterpart for my Fender Bassman that, with a little Bigsby wiggle, would win over any spaghetti-western or surf fan. If you don’t plan on leaving the reverb engaged 24/7, you’ll need to mind your blend level. Once you creep past 11 o’clock or so, the lack of dry attack produces what’s perceived as volume loss. Just about any reverb pedal suffers this affliction, so if you’re aiming for a heavily saturated passage, you may want to kick on a booster to counteract the minimal loss.
Using the Micro POG is easy. If you’re a Jack White fan, you’ll be able to hit most of the “Blue Orchid”-type rhythmic tones except for a few of the two-octave and detuned settings he coaxed from his original POG. With the Grail in shimmer mode, the POG section’s controls alter the amount of octave delay decay. Keeping the POG’s sub and up knobs at very different settings is where things get really interesting, and you can create a quick sub slapback with an elongated octave-up comet trail. Or you can try turning down the dry signal to achieve clean, 8-bit style flutters that get downright nasty with a dirt box out front.
Having both a flanger and chorus onboard creates opportunities to generate unique modulation flavors, including a fairly wide variety of cool, stuttering synthesizer effects when you crank up the rate. You can also get a faux cocked-wah sound by pushing the Mistress’ presence and rolling off the rate. Increase the rate a few hairs, and you can simulate auto-wah bounce, or crank it all the way up for a UFO flyby effect (which sounds especially cutting with single-coils). Engaging the shimmer button changes the right-to-left signal path and places the Electric Mistress at the end of the chain. This generally results in more atmospheric output made up of huge modulating reverb that’s great for ethereal rhythm beds.
Some folks may be bummed that the Epitome isn’t true-bypass, but it does prevent annoying effect-engage clicks—which can be especially painful when you’re using echo-/time-based effects over a wispy chord structure. Thankfully, the Epitome runs clear as a bell, and it’s practically impossible to coax a harsh tone out of this thing, though you’ll most certainly find some weird ones.
Like a lot of guitarists, I tend to stay away from multi-effect units: Cycling through tiny LCD screens and saving presets is not my idea of a good time. But, as with just about everything Electro-Harmonix produces, the Epitome is different—it’s a pedal full of possibilities and a surprisingly user-friendly control set. Each of the effects are great individually, but you can spend days concocting new combinations with the trio of reverb, modulation, and octave effects. And the signal-path- and echo-switching capabilities add a layer of texture-altering functionality you wouldn’t get from any of these popular EHX effects in their standalone forms. For some players, this particular bundling of effects will be totally confounding and, at $369, incredibly expensive. But pickers who love unusual, atmospheric textures are not only likely to deem the Epitome a bargain, but a weapon of very impressive power, too.