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Big Joe Stompbox Company, named after American Delta blues Hall of Famer Big Joe Williams, has a line of pedals focused on analog reproductions of classic guitar effects, most of which are various takes on tube overdrive and distortion. The only modulation effect in their current line-up, the Phaser, is a beautifully built unit that conveys a purist mentality, vintage style, and tour-ready toughness.
Keys to the Swoosh
For most players, it’s a struggle to name a single modulation effect that doesn’t have its origins in tape manipulation: Change the speed of a tape and you have pitch shift. Feed a modified signal back onto itself and you have anything from delay to flanging or phase shifting. Few such effects are quite as cool as phasing—even if most players can’t always define exactly what it is.
A good phaser’s tones can range from shimmering to vibrant and Leslie-like to twisting, weirdly resonant spirals. And Big Joe’s Phaser has four control knobs—speed, depth, feedback, and mix—to enable access to the widest array of phasing effects. This setup also represents an excellent balance between ease of use and versatility.
Running in Circles
At its minimum setting, the speed control swooshes through a full cycle about once every four seconds, while at maximum it flutters at a very fast, Leslie-like pace. The depth control allows you to set the effect from a super-subtle swirl to a wildly vibrating undulation. And even at 9 o’clock, the effect is barely noticeable. This is perfect for creating those beautiful you-only-notice-it-when-it’s-not-there textures that can really enhance a song. The feedback knob controls how much signal is fed back into the phasing circuits. Increasing it effectively makes the phasing more resonant, and at higher settings the effect begins to take on a very machine-like resonance—like a fluorescent light tube on its last leg, or a massive electrical engine humming in the basement. The last control, mix, determines the wet/dry level of the effect—completely dry at minimum and fully phased at maximum.
The Phaser works especially well with a Stratocaster’s single-coil pickups. Their inherent brightness induces a cool sparkle and shimmer. Turning up feedback produces a more intense phasing effect, which sounds more like a wah than anything else, and it’s perfect for funky stabs. With the depth and speed controls up relatively high, I was able to easily nail great Leslie-like effects, and at more intense settings like this the Phaser almost sounds like it’s doing a bit of the pitch vibrato that a real Leslie cabinet produces via the Doppler effect.
A Gibson SG and a dose of distortion produces a very psychedelic and charged sweep, making it a real blast to play fast at slower phase rates.
Overall, the Big Joe Phaser walks the line between ease of use and versatility with finesse. And the rugged build quality ensures this stompbox will stand the test of time and regular stage use. If you’re looking to add a subtle sonic texture, a delicious Leslie tone with a twist, or lush psychedelic undulations, it’s worth taking the Big Joe Phaser for a swirl.