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Stellartone Micro Pedal Review


Download Example 1
Setting 16 (true bypass), Setting 12, Setting 8
Download Example 2
Straight guitar (tone rolled back), then with tone rolled up and Micro Pedal on 2
Download Example 3
True Bypass setting, then setting 7, then both together.
All clips recorded with a 1965 Fender Stratocaster with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups, into the Micro Pedal then into an Egnater Rebel 30. Recorded directly into Ableton live via the amp's Silent Recording output.
A few years ago Stellartone sent me a Fender Stratocaster that had been outfitted with their ToneStyler so I could review the new tone-shaping system. The ToneStyler is a contour selector switch that shifts the pickup’s resonant frequency and adjusts the treble roll-off point in 1/3-octave steps. Remember the chickenhead Varitone switch on old Gibson 345s? The ToneStyler is a similar concept, but where the Varitone contained only six settings, the ToneStyler offers 16, employing rospacegrade construction and components. A push/pull pot allows you to bypass the system and revert to a standard tone pot if you wish. This is all done passively, with no preamps or batteries involved.

I was impressed by the usability of every one of the 16 positions. My problem was my 13 guitars: which should I install it in? At $99 a pop—not including installation fees—putting one in each guitar was not an option. Apparently others had the same issue, leading Stellartone to introduce the Micro Pedal: a ToneStyler in a box. Micro accurately sums it up: at approximately 2-1/16"x1-7/16"x1-1/4" this pedal is tiny. Fortunately, its weighty construction and full-length rubber rails on the bottom keep it from sliding around the floor when changing settings with your foot. An included rubber sheath for the large plastic switching knob helps give you traction. Stellartone is careful to point out that the Micro Pedal requires a strong pickup signal; you must always set your guitar’s Volume and Tone knobs to 10. Turning the guitar’s Volume down creates a weak signal that will result in a much less audible effect from the pedal. This is a drawback if you manipulate the Volume knob of your guitar as part of your tone shaping and dynamics, but you may find that a volume pedal placed after the Micro Pedal will work for those purposes.

Performance
I tested the Micro Pedal using my 1965 Fender Stratocaster with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups and a Stromberg Monterey with DiMarzio Eric Johnson pickups into an Egnater Rebel-30. I either plugged it directly into the guitars with the included double male jack, or ran a 10’ cable into the Micro Pedal. I then came out of the effect into a volume pedal before the amp. I detected no discernable difference in functionality between jack and cable. The Micro Pedal is essentially a ToneStyler tone control in an external housing, producing 15 discrete EQ contours plus true bypass (position 16). As I recalled from my experience with the ToneStyler-equipped Strat, the sonic difference between adjacent settings is extremely subtle, especially when operating on the high end—still, it is there and ultimately usable. It takes some close listening, but the variations on settings 12–15 are akin to those you might hear if you were able to instantly swap similar model pickups from various manufacturers in your guitar. These fine gradations of highs and upper mids were more audibly in evidence in some areas of the neck than others. An interesting phenomenon was that the more I listened the more I could discern.

Heading down the settings, the middle numbers, 8–12 operate more on the upper mids, often making it sound as if I had switched amps. The lower settings were easier to differentiate, offering focused bass sounds that went from articulate, clean jazz tones in the Rebel-30’s clean setting, to creating creamy distortion through the Egnater’s lead channel. The jazz tones were warm and rounded, with none of the muddy boom that results from rolling off most standard tone controls through clean amps or channels. Pushing the lead channel’s distorted tones with settings 1–6 produced Fripp-like fatness, if not the woody honk of the standard tone control.

There isn’t an unmusical notch on the pedal’s knob, but neither are there any radical ones, such as out-of-phase types of sounds or high-pass reggae skank effects. As with the ToneStyler, I was knocked out by how natural sounding all the settings were; the Micro Pedal never sounds like a “tone control.” Sometimes the effect is like turning one guitar into a variety of different brands, types, and models, while retaining the particular playing characteristics of the instrument at hand. At other times it made the Rebel-30 sound like a different amp—a tweed Fender, or a Polytone. This is not digital modeling, but rather pure analog sound. Occasionally, it just seemed to make the sound “better”: subtly warmer or more present.

The Micro Pedal proved surprisingly easy to shift between adjacent settings on the floor, especially considering its miniscule dimensions. I was amazed that I was able to navigate the knob through the 16 incremental settings without overturning the pedal once. Moving the knob quickly from low settings all the way around to true bypass by foot was less comfortable. As there is no footswitch to perform the bypass function, I found myself preferring to plug it straight into the guitar, or use a short cable and attach it to my strap. This kept the knob close at hand, and allowed faster access to wide-ranging settings, including bypass mode. (A footswitchable bypass model may be in the offing down the line).

The Final Mojo
The Stellartone system is a valuable tool for carving out sonic space in a live or recorded mix. Even if you have trouble hearing the difference between setting 15 and setting 14, you can easily find a minimum of five or six settings that you will return to again and again. You may prefer the jazz model, where the EQ range is extended one octave lower, which is also touted as being effective for taming bright single-coil pickups. A bass model is available as well. Installing the original ToneStyler may be preferable if you only own one guitar, or have a stash of cash to put them in your entire arsenal. The Micro Pedal is the solution for those want a wealth of musical tone variations for a vintage instrument whose wiring they are loathe to touch, as well as those who want the effect on their entire collection while suffering through this economy.
Buy if...
you want the tone variations but can’t afford a ToneStyler for each guitar, or don’t want to rewire a vintage piece.
Skip if...
skiyou’re happy with the standard tone controls on your instruments.
Rating...
4.5 

Street $129 - Stellartone - stellartone.com