Premier Guitar

Subdecay Octasynth Pedal Review

October 18, 2011
When they first hit the airwaves, the monophonic analog synths of the ’60s and ’70s bewildered listeners with their impossible, otherworldly timbres. They changed modern music in a major way too. The Buchla 200, Minimoog, and Arp 2600, among others, became staples of pop melodies, commercials, and film soundscapes, and have remained fixtures in electronic and experimental genres and forward-thinking guitar music alike.

Like so many analog artifacts that don’t quite get their due in their time, monophonic analog synths are now embraced by players who have found that nothing sounds quite as fat and rich. And Oregon-based SubDecay’s Octasynth does a fantastic job of delivering classic analog sounds and modern, noisy, glitchy tones, in a pedal that’s authentically synth-like and responsive to guitarists and the dynamic strengths of the guitar itself.

Controlled Chaos
Powered by 9V battery or standard DC adapter, the Octasynth is a handbuilt, sturdy—and with its circa-’76 video game graphics—supremely vibey pedal. It is also true-bypass with 100 percent analog circuitry. But of greatest importance to most guitarists, who may be coming from a place of relative synth naïveté, it’s very simple to operate.

In some ways, you can think of the Octasynth as an octave pedal with an analog-synth brain. It converts your monophonic (single note) signal into three separate square waves—the root, one octave down, and two octaves down. Using its Blend control, the Octasynth lets you to build a sound with any combination of those voices. With the Blend at noon, all three synth waves are present and this results in a rich and slightly chorusy sound.

One of the most impressive features of the Octasynth is its dynamic filter, which works interactively with your pick attack, not unlike an auto wah. Palm-muted notes will produce short, stabbing synth-bass pops, while articulated, sustaining notes will produce brassy, lingering tones. As the strength of the input signal (your pick attack) is reduced, the filter cutoff sweeps lower into thunderous sub-octave zones. The Resonance knob, like any filter resonance control, determines the intensity of the frequencies near the filter cutoff. At minimum settings, the filter is nearly imperceptible. At maximum settings, the filter sweep is intense and approaches self-oscillation, which gives you a lot of range to shape the synth’s voice.

Close Encounters
Like most octave and synth-styled pedals, single notes and neck pickups are essential to getting the best tone, and I found that using my Gibson SG’s neck pickup with the tone control rolled back produced a much more controlled response from the unit. With my vintage Fender Super Bassman dialed in for a throaty clean tone, I engaged the Octasynth with all controls at noon and was struck by how much my guitar rig sounded like a Roland Juno-6, a digitally controlled analog synth used extensively in ’80s synth pop and video games.



I was also amazed by how responsive the pedal is to playing dynamics. Even the most controlled, robotic, palm-muted staccato notes on my guitar had slight variations in filter response. And I was able to jam synth lines with the advantage of extremely expressive touch sensitivity not possible with any keyboard I’ve ever played, which is very cool and might, by itself, justify buying this pedal.



Tweaking the filter controls gave me access to a wide variety of tones including driving, sustained, buzzing lead lines and deep, pumping bass sequences—and everything in between. Chords are a garbled mess of glitchy goodness. But this is really a pedal for spicing up leads, guitar melodies, and second parts based on single-note patterns. That’s hardly a limitation, however. Given the few controls, the versatility is impressive.

The Verdict
Synthesizers, whether vintage or modern, tend to be pretty complex. But SubDecay’s Octasynth takes the basic concepts and sounds of those classic mind-bending machines and loads them into a simple-to- use and straightforward unit. It’ll give you truly potent and expressive old-school sounds that can spice up a run-of-the-mill funk or space rock jam.
Buy if...
you’re looking to add classic synth sounds to your tunes without hiring a keyboard player.
Skip if...
there’s a reason why you don’t already have a keyboard player.
Rating...


Street $179 - SubDecay - subdecay.com

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