Paul Trombetta Design Tornita! Pedal Review
July 19, 2011
Boutique manufacturer Paul Trombetta came to the effects business via a pretty traditional path. His pedals, though, are anything but typical. At 16, he started wiring his own guitars and rehousing effects. By 2003, he was modifying Electro-Harmonix Big Muffs and Pro Co Rats for friends, and in 2005 birthed Paul Trombetta Design to market pedal creations of his own.
Trombetta says his primary design motivation is to provide cutting-edge tones in pedals that are also capable of generating more recognizable and universally useful sounds. His Mini-Bone, for example, offers fat, dynamic Fuzz Face-style drive, yet also yields trumpet and trombone sounds, low octaves, and can harmonize a fifth down. All Trombetta’s pedals are true bypass, handwired, point-to-point, with carefully selected and matched components. And as many as half the pedals he sells are ordered with custom paint or engraving. They’re real works of art, from both an aesthetic and musical perspective. So it’s little surprise that Trombetta’s work drew the attention of experimental guitarist and soundtrack composer David Torn—or that he and Trombetta would conspire on a pedal to suit Torn’s needs. The result is the Tornita!
Torn and Paid
Torn and Trombetta’s relationship dates to 2009 when Torn (David Bowie, k.d. lang, John Legend, Tori Amos, Bill Bruford, Mick Karn, David Sylvian, Meshell Ndegeocello, Don Cherry) ordered a Mini-Bone from Trombetta. Pleased with his purchase, Torn had Trombetta send him one of the now-discontinued Donita pedals—a six-knob, highgain distortion that could produce self-oscillating feedback. Discussions ensued between Torn and Trombetta concerning modifications to the Donita design—things like latching and momentary feedback buttons, and foot adjustable feedback pitch control. The inclusion of these options and the layout of the resulting stompbox created something that was as much an instrument as a guitar pedal.
Though Trombetta produces over 200 pedals a year, the appearance of our test Tornita! retains a DIY aesthetic: The word “in”—like all the pedal’s details—is handcarved into the brushed metal casing to indicate the whereabouts of the input, a circle with a line across it (presumably representing negative tip) marks the adapter input, and the big Blend knob looks like it was pulled off a piece of gear from the ’50s.
The controls include Volume and Bias, as well as the oversized and unlabeled Blend knob. The Bias control creates cool bitreduction effects and affects the way the feedback reacts to both your playing and the fuzz sustain. There is a 3-way, mini-toggle Presence switch on the back, which has a very subtle mid-boost effect. A mini-toggle Feedback phase switch offers Up and Down modes. Up emphasizes the upper frequencies in feedback mode, while down favors—you guessed it—the lower ones. Either mode has the potential to unleash auto arpeggiating patterns, low octaves, and droning. The Momentary feedback footswitch enables you to engage the feedback effect for as long as you hold it down. The Latch mode holds and sustains feedback so you can use your foot to adjust the Blend knob for pitch changes and other surprises. The Tornita! operates on a 9V battery and standard 9V adapter.
I tested the Tornita! with a Fernandes Stratstyle and a Fender Stratocaster run through an Egnater Rebel 30 and an Orange Tiny Terror. I also recorded some samples by running the Tornita! directly into Ableton Live using Live’s Amp and Speaker plug ins to warm up the recorded tone.
With the Bias all the way up, the straight fuzz sound of the Tornita! was fat, warm, and reed-like, with plenty of sustain. Backing off the Volume thinned and cleaned up the sound significantly, creating a sharp cutting tone that sliced through a mix.
Turning the Bias down transports you to more experimental realms. A slight nudge counterclockwise added a cool crackle to the fuzz and shortened the sustain considerably. Turning it almost totally down transformed my guitar’s tone into an electronic blip.
Moving beyond the straight fuzz setting, I entered a world of character-rich tones that are definitely designed with the more adventurous guitarist in mind. Stepping on either the Latch or Momentary Feedback switches gave me pitch shifts, random arpeggios, and synth-style oscillator sweeps that I could control—and I use the term loosely—with my pickup selector switch, guitar volume and tone knobs, and/or the pedal’s Blend control. As I began to change the relationship between the knobs and switches, the tones started mutating thick and fast, and I found dozens of really musical, if unorthodox sounds.
The one hitch may be in trying to recreate them. Getting the same tone twice isn’t always just a question of recalling the position of each knob and switch. And what felt like the same notes or licks on the guitar would often yield different effects each time—even with identical settings— as the Tornita! picked up nuances in attack and intensity.
It didn’t take long to embrace the chaos, and I had hours of fun exploring the different squeals and squawks emanating from my axe. I found that with the guitar volume full up it was possible to play lines over the feedback, and that reducing the Bias brought out more arpeggios.
The Tornita! is a blast for creating unusual-sounding passages for recording projects. And editing some parts yielded inspirations for whole songs. For live applications, it’s worth taking the time to learn which settings yield predictable, repeatable results (changing the position of the 5-way on the Strat, with the guitar volume all the way up, was one of my favorites), but a big part of the fun of the Tornita! is the surprise factor for both you and your audience—if you’re willing to take a few chances.
Tornita! is not for everyone. If your music is more experimental in nature, this pedal is a must-have, but if you just want the straight fuzz sound, you might opt for Trombetta’s Fudge fuzz or any number of more traditional fuzzes instead. Should you want to combine the far-out with the traditional, Trombetta’s FeederBoneMachine offers a version of Tornita! combined with a Mini- Bone in one pedal.
The effects world is rife with distortion and fuzz pedals, making it hard to come up with something new. Paul Trombetta has not only come up with fresh noises, he manages to make them sound great. The Tornita! pushes the envelope of what a distortion/fuzz can do and fuzz freaks and outer-limits players alike should rejoice.
you want thick, musical fuzz and want to create strange effects with guitar knobs or pickup switches.
you just want fuzz.
Street $229 - Paul Trombetta Design - paultrombetta.com