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Has any guitar writer ever discussed ring modulation without noting that it’s not a sound for all tastes?
For the uninitiated: Unlike other modulation effects, wherein the modulation is produced by waveforms so low you can’t hear them (hence the term LFO, for low-frequency oscillator), ring mods use modulating pitches high enough to hear. Applying them to your signal unleashes sonic anarchy: alien bells, foul-mouthed robots, clangorous swoops and glides. Any of these tones will get you banned for life from your local Tuesday night blues jam.
Sound like fun? If so, you may be a ring mod pervert. And despite what the haters say, you can find uses for these clanging noises, especially when they’re mixed subtly with conventional guitar tones.
The MF Ring, a $159 spinoff from Moog’s $299 MF-102 Ring Modulator, omits some of the larger pedal’s features. (I won’t say it omits “bells and whistles,” because it does bell and whistle sounds just fine.) While the MF-102 lets you route a controller pedal to any parameter, on the MF Ring control is locked to modulation frequency—definitely the most dramatic option. Also absent: a choice of modulation waveforms, a drive control, and a toggle to shift between higher and lower frequency ranges. And with its minimum oscillation frequency of 90Hz, the MF Ring doesn’t allow you to slow down the modulation sufficiently for tremolo sounds. (On an MF-102, dialing in frequencies under 10Hz or so yields gorgeous, shimmering tremolo—one of the pedal’s great “secret sounds.”)
But make no mistake, the MF Ring can be just as alienating as its Moogerfooger uncle. And by alienating, I mean both “bumming out conservative ears” and “making you sound like an alien.”
A wet/dry mix control and a treble-nixing tone control are essential for dialing back the intensity of the effect. Ring modulation can (and usually does) introduce wild high-frequency content well above the usual guitar range. Taming that can be the difference between the tone that gets you hired and the one that gets you fired. Overall sound quality is comparable to that of the MF-102—there are just fewer options.
As on the MF Boost, connecting an expression pedal (not included) expands the range of the effect, here widening the sweep of the modulation frequency. Again, it’s a clever way to players determine the range of their sweeps, but bear in mind that you must use a controller to access the MF Ring’s full repertoire.Verdict
The MF Ring performs as advertised. The price is fair. It’s also one of your only options for a dedicated, true analog ring modulator. On the other hand, digital ring modulation, available on many multi-effectors, has all the—um—emotive power of analog. Whether the MF Ring warrants a plot of land on your pedalboard, I can’t say. Consult your inner pervert.