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In an industry that can be slow to embrace change, Denmark’s TC Electronic rarely sits still. Never keen on rehashing tired stompbox templates, TC’s recent effects systems like the Nova, G-System, and G-Natural for acoustic guitar are all brimming with features, voices, and switching options. The company’s products reflect an engineering mindset that focuses on sound and song creation rather than emulation.
TC Electronic’s new TonePrint series, which include the Flashback Delay and Looper, Shaker Vibrato, Vortex Flanger, and Corona Chorus reviewed here, are another example of TC’s tireless exploration into the potential of digital effects. But, what’s truly new about the true bypass TonePrint pedals is the new approach to artist collaboration and end-user web interactivity that makes effect performance parameters imagined by Bumblefoot, John Petrucci, Orianthi, Pete Thorn, and others available to any player with a TonePrint pedal and web connectivity. The end result is one of the most unique and intriguing stompbox concepts that’s come down the chute in a while.
Affordability is certainly part of the TonePrint pedals’ appeal. The Shaker, Corona, and Vortex each cost about $130 on the street, and the Flashback goes for about $170. TC Electronic could have built any number of player-specified performance parameters into a more expensive digital pedal. But the TonePrint concept is about options and enabling curious guitarists to shop for sounds, check ’em out, and try new ones—almost like a sonic Netflix. And for the player who’s willing to invest a little time in exploring the constantly growing library of TonePrint presets, the pedals represent a real bargain and a portal to experimentation, unexpected sounds— and perhaps applications beyond what the TonePrint artists ever imagined.
For the TonePrint concept to work—and not inhibit creative applications of the technology—downloading the TonePrint sounds themselves had to be a fast and uncomplicated process. And with the exception of a few hiccups here and there, it was as simple as using the included cable to plug the pedal into my Mac’s USB port (you can just as easily use a PC), visiting the dedicated section of the TC Electronic website, selecting a TonePrint, and clicking the download command. The interface is well-designed, concise, informative, fun to explore, and conducive to experimenting with different effects, which is really the point.
While the downloadable TonePrints are the real news with these pedals, it’s worth noting that each is a more-than-capable device on its own. And if plans to expand the TonePrint library come to fruition, the ability to continuously modify the performance of these pedals well into the future is what will make them special.
|Download Example 1
Pete Thorn Modulation Delay Toneprint, Level at noon, Delay at 10 o'clock, Feedback at 2 o'clock
|Clips recorded with a Fender Telecaster and Vox Pathfinder|
Of all the TonePrint pedals, the stereo output-equipped Flashback is the most versatile. As of this writing, there are 12 artist TonePrint presets from guitarists including Pete Thorn and Bumblefoot, as well as five TC Electronic factory TonePrints available on the Flashback page. But there are also nine switchable delay modes on the pedal itself, including a TC2290-inspired delay, analog- and tape-style delays, a lo-fi setting, a modulated delay, and slap, ping-pong, and reverse settings. The looper, meanwhile, can handle up to a 40-second loop in mono or a 20-second loop in stereo. So even without TonePrint presets, the Flashback gives you a lot of ways to explore echo.
Some of the most inspiring built-in modes include Mod (modulation), which adds a slight and very pleasing vibrato effect akin to Echoplex tape warble that sounds fantastic on hanging, slow-strummed chords and slow- to medium-tempo arpeggios. Tape mode has many similar qualities with the addition of a fairly authentic-sounding high-end decay, while Lofi mode sounds like a tape delay that’s done about 40 years on a fishing boat—very nice for skuzzy garage rock. Slap mode worked beautifully for a pass at “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” and a few other greasy rockabilly runs. Loop mode is about as easy to use as a looper can be. To capture audio, you simply hold down the footswitch for the duration of the chord progression or picking pattern you want to loop. The Reverse delay was a ton of fun too, though the reverse repeats had a vague, but perceptible digital quality to the swells.
The Flashback’s TonePrints aren’t all subtle variations on existing parameters. I downloaded Guns N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot’s Alienmimic delay, which matches your dry signal with repeats that sound like a scrambled transmission from a busted satellite—a texture that works surprisingly well for atmospheric slide work. The Bumblefoot Dual Delay TonePrint gives the illusion of two delays working at a slightly offset rate, which I dialed in with the Feedback and FX Level knobs at about 10 o’clock for some cool eighth-note “Another Brick in the Wall”- flavored picking. The differences in texture between this Dual Delay Toneprint and the onboard 2290 mode set to the same levels were subtle. But the extra wash in the signal was worth the investigation and the time required to hook up the pedal and download the TonePrint—a process that took two minutes at most.