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Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing Pedal Review

Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing Pedal Review
Download Example 1
Light ring mod with live expression pedal control of tremolo speed.  Neck pickup.
Download Example 2
Trippy filter tremolo.  Neck pickup.
Download Example 3
Moody sub-octave + harmonic pitch shift.  Bridge pickup.
Download Example 4
Rich harmonies via blended pitch shift.  Bridge pickup.
Clips recorded with Gibson SG through a hand-wired EL34 amp mic'd with Shure SM57.
The early 1960s saw the ring modulator’s first major appearances in the world of music. Pioneer synth builder Don Buchla incorporated a simple ring-mod circuit into his Buchla 100 Modular Synthesizer in 1963. Around the same time, revolutionary electrocomposer Karlheinz Stockhausen was scoring music that often called for numerous ring mods to work in tandem with live musicians. But what does all this mean for guitarists? As with every other invention of sound design, guitarists have absorbed it, corrupted it, and made it a thing of their own.

You may recall Electro-Harmonix’s 1978 release of a basic ring modulator pedal dubbed the Frequency Analyzer. Building on the success of that pedal, EHX recently released the ultra-versatile Ring Thing. Like the Analyzer, it’s a ring mod, but it’s also a pitch shifter, a tremolo, a rotary-speaker emulator, and many other things that can’t be easily classified. And with it, EHX challenges guitarists and electronic music purists alike by cramming so many features into one pedal that you might never have the time to discover them all. The Ring Thing is the most versatile, cutting-edge ring modulation stompbox on the market. Yet even a beginner can bypass the manual and instantly blast off into their own warbling space-time warp.

With This Ring, I Thee Wed
At first glance, I knew the Ring Thing was a quality product, because it boasts the characteristic rugged casing, comfortable knobs, true bypass switching, and high-quality jacks and footswitches. And one glance at the knobs across the top tells of the versatility that lies within. From left to right, we have Blend (wet/dry), Wave (square, sine, ramp up/down, triangle), Filter/Rate, Fine/Depth, Coarse, and Mode. The Ring Thing allows you to store and recall up to nine presets, all hands-free. The Mode knob selects between the pedal’s four main settings—ring modulator, upper sideband modulator, lower sideband modulator, and pitch shift. The pedal features stereo outputs so that, in upper and lower sideband modes, you can send each sideband to a separate output. Features-wise, my only confusion arose from the fact that the square, sine, and triangle waveforms are the only ones marked around the Wave knob. Two ramp waves are situated between the sine and triangle waves, but they’re not labeled. A meager complaint, I’ll admit.

For me, the Ring Thing’s most indispensable feature is the Blend knob, because generally ring modulation devices produce unpredictable, atonal textures that tend to alienate the average guitarist. But who really wants to be the average guitarist? The trick is to modulate a percentage of your sound. It’s this mingling of processed and unprocessed signal that produces tones ranging from subtle strokes of weird harmony to mammoth bells that chime and swell.

The most difficult application of ring modulation has always been on the stage. But EHX has stepped up to the task by including an automatic tuning function, accessible via footswitch, that sets the pitch of the ring mod’s carrier wave to your instrument’s pitch. With this function, you can use the heavily modulated effects of a ring mod without sacrificing the ability to create emotive and discernable melodies. Less than a second after stepping on the Preset/ Tune footswitch, the Ring Thing has already detected your pitch and set the carrier wave accordingly. And get this—if you hold down the footswitch the Ring Thing will track your pitch as you change notes, constantly resetting the carrier wave. This produces some spectacular digital artifacts that make the pedal even better suited for performance and improvisation.

Yet another way to control the Ring Thing’s carrier wave is via a ¼” expression pedal input. Did I mention that the Ring Thing is also a polyphonic pitch shifter? The Pitch- Shift setting yields some pretty epic pitch changes within an enormous four-octave range (two up or two down).

One Ring to Rule Them All
The fun part of the review came, as always, when I put the Ring Thing between my Gibson SG and some tubes. In ring modulator mode, the Ring Thing offers endless ways to transform your instrument into a bell or chime of any size and shape. These are the classic ring mod sounds, and they are executed beautifully. Dialing in the best tone to work with your riff is simple, and pulling back the Blend knob really lets that processed signal interact in complex ways with your unprocessed playing. The Filter knob is a great feature because it allows you to tame some of those unnatural high frequencies that often accompany ring modulation synthesis.

I’ve always loved 8-bit music from 1980s gaming consoles, so I spun the Wave knob fully counterclockwise to the square wave setting. The square wave is what gives you that unmistakably digital, bit-reduced sound—as if you’ve plugged your guitar into an old Commodore 64 computer. Rotate the Filter knob clockwise, and you let all the high frequencies through—what you hear is that buzz-saw digital fuzz distortion that’s all the rage amongst hobbyist pedal builders. The blend of dynamics with this fuzz is pretty striking, and it really inspired me to play as I would through any good amp.

To test the Ring Thing’s tremolo abilities, I switched to the upper sideband setting, dialed in a sine wave, cranked Blend fully clockwise and slowed the speed of the undulations way down. Simple, unmistakable tremolo. Because the speed of the tremolo is determined by the Coarse knob, you can control the speed with an expression pedal. Tremolo happens when your volume is being modulated with a slow cycle anywhere from about 2Hz up to about 15Hz. The range on the Ring Thing is 0 Hz to over 2,000 Hz. And specs like that make the Ring Thing stand out in a crowd.

The Final Mojo
EHX has a long history of developing tools that intersect the guitar and synthesis worlds. Their experience in these areas makes them particularly well positioned to offer guitarists inspiring but practical products like the Ring Thing. To that end, players looking to experiment and broaden their tonal horizons need look no further than this pedal. Even those who already own an expensive analog ring modulator might find themselves preferring the Ring Thing, because it’s so versatile you can’t help but come up with wild new ideas for songs, solos, and more. And really, what else matters?
Buy if...
you want a timeless ring modulator with a wide range of tonal possibilities.
Skip if...
you have no interest in bastardizing your tone in glorious ways.
Rating...


MSRP $210 - Electro-Harmonix - ehx.com

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