Mooer ShimVerb, Green Mile, Black Secret, and Pitch Box Pedal Reviews
Mooer Audio Company is a rather ambitious instrument-manufacturing entity. The China-based outfit builds everything from electric drum pads to pedalboard cases, vocal processors, and compact, AC30- and Bassman-style heads. But the company’s largest, and perhaps most successful, line of products is the Micro Series, a line of nearly 40 stompboxes that covers the entire spectrum of guitar effects—EQs, echoes, fuzz units, and many shades of modulation. The company recently garnered praise from Velvet Underground sonic revolutionary and audio alchemist John Cale, and for good-reason—they deliver gigantic tones in very, very small packages.
Sonic Legos Made of Steel
Measuring in at roughly 1" x 2" (we told you they were small!), Micro Series pedals are perfect for cluttered pedalboards and stage minimalists. Each uses true-bypass switching and operates only on a 9V adapter, for there’s not a hint of room available for batteries, and the 1/4" jacks are staggered to save space on width. Each effect Micro Series effect comes in an all-metal enclosure that’s rugged and thick enough to resist denting.
In general, micro-sized effects take some getting used to when incorporating into your effects chain. Whether it’s a Mooer, one of Red Witch’s Seven Sisters, or a Malekko Omicron series pedal, the small footprint and lack of mass make it easy to unwittingly kick one of these tiny tots out of place, so I strongly suggest Velcro-ing or zip-tying these little dudes down.
The Mooer ShimVerb looks cool in gunmetal gray with a slight hint of sparkle. Three main controls (decay, level, and color) alter the reverb, depending on which of the three modes—room, spring, or shimmer—you select. Room mode is effective for subtle ’verb washes, but it can sound just a bit boxy and sterile, especially as the color knob is turned clockwise. The spring setting can also sound just a bit digital when color is pushed, though mellower color settings can deliver excellent Ennio Morricone-style spaghetti-western tones with a darker Fender amp and single-coils. The shimmer mode is the star of the show, and can dish out startlingly rich, glammy, post-rock colors with fluttering, warm overtones. Cranking up the level will completely devour notes—creating a cosmic acid-wash that can become marvelously synth like if you couple the ShimVerb with volume swells.
There does seem to be a significant drop in dry volume relative to wet volume if you push the level too high, which is a bit of a bummer because the most saturated reverb settings can sound amazing. Obviously, it’s less worrisome if you’re inclined to keep the verb on all the time. You might also hear a bit of a pop when you switch on the ShimVerb at higher Levels (which is quite common in reverb pedals), so it’s best to engage the unit when there’s a pause in a passage or just deal with the slight pop as the effect starts to process.
Green Mile Overdrive
It’s no surprise that Mooer included a TS-9-style pedal in the Micro Series. The Green Mile features a glossy aquamarine paint job, a red LED, a large overdrive knob, smaller level and tone pots, and a hot/warm mode toggle.
The Green Mile is a smart, simple overdrive that will be a delight for the set-it-and-forget-it crowd. Using the warm mode through a clean amplifier and dialing the level up to around 2 o’clock gets you to unity gain, and if you flip the mode to hot, there’s a hefty boost in volume output. Increasing the tone spikes the brightness and adds a little white noise that was much more prevalent with single-coils than it was with my Les Paul’s humbuckers.
Although the Green Mile is not the sort of overdrive that can deliver a natural, amp-like gain, it does offer some interesting flexibility in terms of the mid spike that’s prevalent in basic TS-9 reissues. The mode switch lends a cool bit of extra versatility too—warm delivers muscular vintage twang, and hot fans the flames if your leads need some real teeth.
Black Secret Distortion
The Black Secret picks up where the Green Mile leaves off, with a large distortion knob, smaller level and filter pots, and a vintage/turbo toggle. Vintage mode has a distinct late-’70s appeal that recalls the days when hard-rock heroes ratcheted up the intensity of the gain wars.
Keeping the filter knob in its higher reaches produces a bassy but still brash response and can yield some ProCo RAT-like gnashing if you keep the distortion turned up. Dial the distortion back to around noon, and you’ll get grinding, Noel Gallagher-circa-’94 Marshall tones. Flipping to the hotter turbo setting increases output considerably if you’re using a clean amp, so pull down the level if you plan on regularly switching between the two modes. For an affordable pedal, the Black Secret also manages to stay relatively noise free in high-gain situations, and yet it can still coax out very musical feedback—making it a very complete distortion machine for the price.
The Pitch Box
The sparkly blue Pitch Box is home to a treasure trove of tricks. Unlike many of its more conventionally tweakable brethren, the Pitch Box only has a 3-position toggle for harmony, pitch shift, and detune modes, and a knob for selecting the pitch-shift range. But those pitch settings—16 in all—offer a world of options, and you can add intervals of +24 semitones.
In harmony mode, you can almost replicate the octave effects of a Digitech Whammy sans the footpedal control. The tracking for strummed chords is excellent, however, and White Stripes enthusiasts will rejoice at having an affordable option for reproducing Jack White’s octave leads. Through a dirty amplifier, pitch shift mode is capable of exhaling Southern sludge with the pitch at -7 or -8. Or you can kick it up into the high + semitone range for helium-huffing robo chatter.
The most extreme -24 position for both harmony and pitch shift modes are least impressive at low volumes. They can also be a bit abrasive with the single-coils of a Strat or Tele, and, in general, humbuckers are far better suited for these lower reaches. Perhaps unsurprisingly, with pitch-down settings the detune mode is more like a chorus effect that lends a darker voice than playing a guitar in Eb or C standard tuning, and with pitch-up settings it delivers sparkly ’80s and ’90s chorus tones. Regardless of your preference in tonality, it does have an excellent all-around tone—warm and free of digital artifacts.
The Mooer Micro Series proves once again that a quality build and tones that range from solid to great can be packed into very, very small packages. If you like the relative reassurance that comes with having a more massive and stable chunk of steel under your feet, the Micro Series may not be for you. But it doesn’t take much in terms of time and effort to secure these units to a small pedalboard, and if you fly to gigs and feel better stowing gear in the overhead compartment, these miniature monsters will make life much easier. Some of the smaller controls can be hard to use, because it’s sometimes physically difficult to see their position, so you’ll often have to play it by ear if you’re making changes on the fly during a gig. But once you get them dialed in, chances are you won’t have to change their tonal control unless you’re swapping out guitars every song or two. In terms of both practicality and price, these Mooer’s are all worth a look, and they’re bound to suit a wide range of players, from beginners to gigging pros.