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Back before Pro Tools, plug-ins, and stompboxes, getting chorus, phaser, or flanger sounds required resources and ingenuity beyond a few clicks of a mouse or footswitches. The seminal flange heard all over the Beatles’ Revolver was achieved through tape manipulation— splitting a signal to tape reels running at different speeds and back to a mixing desk to put the same signal slightly out of phase. The jet-plane flange heard on many recordings from the same era was achieved by literally touching the rim of a tape reel to slow it down and create a more extreme bending effect. At the root of all of these sounds, however were human minds, hands, and moving parts.
Creating something as organic as those original effects is laborious and never easy—even if certain analog and digital flangers have a cool sound all their own. And given that even the most dedicated tone purist can’t afford to haul around matching reel-to-reel decks or Leslie speakers, it’s a good thing that effects builders like Jack Deville Electronics have kept up the fight and remained on the prowl for new flavors of these modulation effects.
With the Mod Zero, Jack Deville has built an entirely analog, multifunction modulation unit that brings flanging, chorusing, rotary-speaker, and vibrato effects together in a single box. And the sum is a very original evolution of some very recognizable effects.
On the Box
The Mod Zero is built around vintage-style analog bucket-brigade technology and uses the Jack Deville Click-Less true-bypass switches, which are also found on the company’s Buzzmaster fuzz box (reviewed August 2010) and sold separately as a replacement for pedals suffering from analog snap, crackle, and pop.
With six knobs on its face, the Mod Zero provides a slightly complex, yet intuitive, gateway to tapping into its many varieties of warble. The two largest knobs control the Dry/Wet mix and the Speed rate, which is indicated in real-time via a flashing LED. Volume controls the overall output level—a nice feature that many modulation effects seem to overlook these days—and it goes from mellow to grindingly loud.
The real power resides with the Depth, Regeneration, and Manual controls. Counterclockwise, the Depth knob eliminates modulation, while a full twist clockwise produces maximum effect intensity. The Regeneration control doubles the modulation upon itself, creating magnification that can get squirrely or subtle, depending on how aggressively you set things up. Lastly, the Manual knob sets the signal’s base delay time. Two separate switches activate the chorus and flange effects. You can’t operate both at the same time, but you can jump from one effect to the other with ease.
Like all Jack Deville pedals, the Mod Zero lives its life in an ominous, ’70s sci-fi-style housing that looks something like Darth Vader’s Imperial counterpart to the big, colorful, early Electro-Harmonix boxes. It could use a clip inside the unit to secure the loose battery, but this minor annoyance shouldn’t cause any performance issues.
The Click-Less true-bypass switches are an improvement to most true-bypass systems, although there was still a noticeable (albeit slight) pop when engaging or disengaging the switches. The switch posts are made of plastic, and their give within the mount might be a cause for concern for those who tend to stomp hard.
Under the hood, I noticed that these switches were secured to the top of the unit and distanced from the capacitor-strewn board. All of Deville’s pedals are handwired, and the company’s attention to detail is evident once you examine the guts (fun fact: “smoke and mirrors blood and tears” is laser-engraved on the silicon wafer).
Two footswitches enable you to move from chorus, vibrato, and tremolo on one side, to flanging, Through-Zero Flanging, or Leslie settings on the other. Unfortunately, since there’s a single control set for both effects, you can’t switch from chorus to flanging with different parameters. However, the provided instructions suggest that the Speed and Dry/ Wet knobs are larger for adjusting on the fly with your foot. Such adjustments were achievable on a sparse pedalboard, but more complicated on ’boards starved for real estate.
I tested the Mod Zero with a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul running into a Vox Pathfinder, a Fender Twin Reverb, and a ’68 Fender Bassman matched to a 4x12 with Celestion Vintage 30s. Right out of the box and set to relatively neutral settings, the pedal dripped liquid swirls and sweet analog curlicues. Everything from miniscule water-drop vibrato to nose-diving B-52 flange was accessible with minimal knob tweaking, and it was difficult to find harsh or unusable settings.
The Zero treads on the dark side tonewise, but it’s not all shadow. With the Stratocaster I was able to easily dial up the bright arpeggiated chime of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” with a little tweaking of the Manual control on the Leslie setting. Flipping over to the flanger and making a few minor adjustments to Depth gave me a very Hendrix-like Univibe sound à la “Machine Gun.” Single-coils and humbuckers performed equally well, and the Mod Zero is transparent enough to leave pickup selection to personal preference rather than necessity. Overall, I found the Regeneration control a little extreme on higher settings, especially with the Vox—it yielded a throaty and less-than-totally-musical bark at the peak of a wave, especially for the chorus effect. This was slightly less of an issue on the Bassman and Twin Reverb, which had more headroom to work with.
For adventurous minds and ears, it’s worth experimenting with different sweet spots between the Regeneration and Manual settings. Certain combinations yield ghost-like harmonics that sound wonderful when augmented with a delay unit running after the Zero. On that note, the Mod Zero was very friendly with additional pedals, and it especially warmed to overdrive and distortions— in my case, a Fulltone Fulldrive 2 and a modified Electro-Harmonix NYC Big Muff Pi.
At $250 each, the multifunction Mod Zero isn’t exactly inexpensive. But in the boutique pedal market, one could easily spend that kind of money on a box that serves up a single effect. So on that count it represents a real value for real craft. The unique circuit will satisfy tone chasers and hardcore pedal geeks seeking individual turf and more modern voicings, although classicists who find solace in vintage tones may miss some time-tested textures. Using the pedal to the full extent of it capabilities on the fly can be challenging, too, given the capable, but sometimes limited, control set. On the whole, however, it’s a great pedal for everyone from experimentalists to lead players looking to spice up stale jams, and it will reward any guitarist who takes the time to explore the myriad sonic options it puts at their fingertips.
you love classic modulation effects but want more modern and unique voicings.
only the most authentic vintage modulation sounds tickle your fancy.
Street $250 - Jack Deville Electronics - jackdeville.com