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If you’re a fan of out-of-the-ordinary guitar tones, you’re probably intrigued by Electro-Harmonix’ Freeze pedal. The ability to sample a little chunk of sound and then mangle it with effects pedals—effectively enabling players to turn their pedal boards into modular synths—has kept adventurous guitarists twitching with the sense of possibility.
Never a company to rest on their laurels, Electro-Harmonix has now introduced the Superego, which builds on the Freeze principle with cool auto mode, an effects loop, and a gliss control that behaves like a portamento when moving between notes. For sonic tweakers, this is the kind of device that makes it hard to hold back mad-scientist cackles.
Since the Superego is effectively a synth pedal, the controls might be less than totally familiar to the average guitarist. One of the most important features is the three-way switch that selects between latch, momentary, and auto modes. They dictate how the footswitch works, but can also change the function of individual controls entirely. In latch mode, for instance, the speed knob—which otherwise controls the attack and decay rate of a frozen tone—dictates the number of layers the latch mode will play back at once.
The gliss control approximates the portamento control on a synth—creating glides from note to note or one chord to another. Dry controls the relative volume of the dry and synth-like effected signal. There’s also a built-in effects loop, which really expands the way you can tinker with the wet/dry signal relationship.
The hardware is what we’ve come to expect from Electro-Harmonix pedals these days—it’s not overbuilt and bulky, but it doesn’t feel the least bit flimsy either. And it’s a compact pedal considering how many crazy features lurk within the unit. This thing is cool looking too, and with the Eye of Providence and green and blue line work from out of an ’80s arcade game, you won’t mistake this pedal for anything else on your board.
To test the Superego and take advantage of the effects loop, I set up the Superego with a tremolo and a chorus pedal (in the loop), ran delay, distortion and wah on either side of the EHX, and routed the whole array into a ’60s blackface Fender Twin.
What’s immediately impressive about the Superego is the ease with which you can access tones that are typically feasible only with the help of studio trickery. The latch mode is extremely useful for sampling your own sounds on the fly to build a backdrop texture—especially sweet if your organ player has called in sick. It’s easy to generate Eno-esque ambient soundscapes by strumming a chord as you hit the switch and then playing melodically over the captured sound.
With the addition of a little distortion and chorus, and engaging the Superego’s gliss function, I nailed the gliding guitar tones from My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When” without having to use delay or whammy bar techniques. It’s also easy to cop sounds from Radiohead’s “Treefingers” off their album Kid A with the latch mode, reverb, and a little distortion.
The momentary mode lets you accent and texture a part with more freedom on the fly because it will only trigger when the footswitch is held down—great for adding emphasis to a single dramatic note or chord in a solo. The auto mode puts everything you play through the synth engine. Chords will blend dramatically (depending on the gliss amount) and slower speed settings can highlight harmonics and artifacts in very cool ways.
The Superego can feel a little tricky, largely because the threshold that determines when a sound is sampled is set pretty high (most likely because you don’t want to trigger the pedal inadvertently.) And you have to be very careful with picking technique, because digging in can create a tangle of unpleasant high-frequency harmonics. In general, the Superego can be a little intense in the upper frequencies, and you may find yourself reaching for the tone knob on your guitar or amp to strike the right balance.
The Superego could easily become a centerpiece sound for some solo musicians, but will dramatically expand the palette of any guitarist that plays the role of texturalist in a band. There’s no shortage to the types of tones that can be created, depending on your playing approach and the effects you use around it. And this pedal can be a virtual one-person symphony in the right hands. At just over 200 bucks, the price of admission might seem a little steep. But few pedals do what the Superego does in a compact form factor, and you might have to buy multiple pedals just to achieve this sound.
If you’re a dedicated tone explorer and texturalist, you’d be silly to pass this pedal up. And if you savor the art of transforming your guitar entirely, the Superego is an amazing place to start.