Review: Electro-Harmonix Stereo Electric Mistress & Holy Stain
June 15, 2008
Stereo Electric Mistress
The original Electric Mistress debuted in 1976, and throughout the late seventies and eighties, players like Andy Summers, David Gilmour, and Alex Lifeson used the effect to help sculpt their unique signature tones. The nineties reintroduced Electro-Harmonix and the Electric Mistress to the masses, and the Electric Mistress was once again being heard everywhere. This latest offering from EH has a few tricks up its sleeve, as well as a few improvements.
The new enclosure is both smaller and much more robust, giving you a more confident stomp while saving space on your pedalboard. The SEM uses the 9.6v DC 200mA power adapter, rather than more convenient batteries, but I was also able to power it with my Voodoo Labs Pedal Power2 with no problems. The usual 1/4 input, with stereo 1/4 outs round out the first glance.
One feature that struck me immediately was the LED – it pulsates and glows from red to green with the rate of modulation. Besides being very hypnotic, it also made it easier to find the rate that I like on a dark stage.
The SEM is digital, not analog, but I am not biased toward one or the other – I only worry about whether it sounds good or not. Well, getting a great sound out of this pedal is as easy as plugging in and setting all the control knobs to noon. It put a smile on my face right from the start, with a thick, watery, rich chorus with a slow flanger sweep. Think Police territory here.
There are three control knobs on the SEM: Rate, Flanger Depth and Chorus Depth. When I backed off the Chorus and Flanger Depth to 10 o’clock, I found a David Gilmore setting that I envision using quite a bit. The SEM definitely holds its own with other chorus pedals I’ve owned through the years, and the flanger gives you a good range, from subtle waves to jet-like swoops.
The Rate knob features the Filter Matrix mode. EH found a clever way to combine the Filter Matrix with a normal rate control sweep into one pot. From 6 to 10 o’clock, you control the Filter Matrix, which allows you to go through the flanger sweep and pinpoint the sweet spot, or as EH calls it, the Filter Matrix Sound. From 11 o’clock on, you control the speed of rate, from a slow, relaxed swooshing sweep, all the way to whacked-out, almost ring modulator-like sounds.
With the flange and chorus depth cranked, R2D2 sounds are possible by rocking the rate knob back and forth between 7 o’clock and 11 o’clock. I was also able to coax my rig into oscillatory feedback and out-of-this-world metallic overtones – fun for me and my neighbors!
Larger Than Life
As with all EH pedals, diming the knobs created something extreme - in this case sonic mayhem - but still usable somehow, somewhere! Whether it’s the endless screaming sustain of a Big Muff, or the cavernous decay of the Holier Grail, EH never disappoints me on this, and the Stereo Electric Mistress is no exception.
This pedal sounds great in mono but, the stereo outs really showcase the huge sound this pedal is capable of. Running stereo from the SEM into a pair of combos produced swirling, voluptuous, 3D sounds that were as thick as a milkshake. It was a huge disappointment for me when I switched back to the mono signal.
If I could suggest any improvements, I would add an expression pedal option to control the rate. That way you could speed up and slow the speed for a rotary speaker effect, or I could crank the rate up for a dubbed out reggae ending.
The Final Mojo
Fans of the original should find plenty to love about this update of a classic. For the money, I don’t think you can beat the SEM – there are just tons of usable, organic tones. I’m going to have a hard time parting with this one!
The Holy Stain pedal is the first multi-effects unit from EH. As expected from a company that has forged a sonic path in rock-n-roll history, the Holy Stain offers up a wide variety of distortion tones and effects.
Removing the four screws on the bottom plate of the zinc alloy enclosure revealed a neat, clean circuit board. The DSP side is digital, but the Dirt and Color side is all analog. Again, this pedal eschews batteries for an included 9V power supply. You can use any AC Adapter that supplies 9VDC at 100mA, and the plug''s inner ring is negative. The Holy Stain features two footswitches; one controls the mode of effect and the other is the true bypass, which completely bypasses the pedal in your chain.
The Holy Stain features an expression pedal input and the instruction manual lists six compatible pedals in case you''re like me and your go-to Line 6 expression pedal won''t work. The expression pedal controls the Amount knob, which controls the pitch shifting, speed of the tremolo or reverb delay time. It doesn’t allow total control or selection over any parameters.
There are two types of reverb available: room and hall. While the room reverb sounded great, hall reverb was absolutely stunning. Using a Strat through a clean Fender tube amp, with the Holy Stain clean with hall reverb, the sound was huge and beautiful, with deep, clear tones. An added bonus was being able to control the mix as well as the delay time of the reverb.
The Tremolo goes from a warm sexy pulse, to a choppy strut. I liked the Tremolo sound, but every time I selected another DSP effect I had to find my settings all over again. Not having the ability to store your sounds really limits this pedal in a live setting.
Pitch Shift goes down a fourth or up a third. You can bend the pitch up for a cool, almost pedal steel effect, but in the end this effect is not one of the most useful settings on the pedal. There was a notable delay with the tracking, and it lacks some of the cool features of the DigiTech Whammy -- no dive bombs or high-pitch monkey squeals here.
Down and Dirty
There are three types of Dirt available with the Holy Stain. The Clean Dirt with the Warm Color selected gives you a very subtle distortion. It’s clean, but it sounds like a really loud clean tube amp. This distortion is not at all ugly. Combined with the Hall reverb, this setting sounded like gold. After returning to this sound over and over, I can easily call it my favorite. It was very warm and spacious, and it will make your clean amp sound better. You wont find pristine clean here, but selecting either the Dark or Bright color choices seemed to lessen the distortion somewhat.
The second Dirt setting is Fuzz. This is some serious, thick fuzz -- more of a modern-type fuzz sound. You can chug-chug-chug on the low E and grind for days. It’s a bummer you can''t adjust the amount of gain on any of the dirt selections, though, as I kept wishing I could dial out some of the gain on the fuzz for a more vintage sound.
The final Dirt setting, Drive, is a bit rude -- not as refined. I also felt the Drive setting was too similar to the Fuzz, and harmonics and sustain didn’t jump out as much as they do with some of the other higher gain pedals out there. Shredders in particular will find themselves wishing for more gain.
Controlling EQ is done by selecting from three preset notches: Bright, Dark, or Warm. These colors can then be fine-tuned using the Tone knob. The Tone knob had a very wide range, going from blanket-over-the-speakers muddy to a tinny, trebly shrill. I favored an almost noon position with the Tone knob, and stayed on the warm setting. I found the Bright setting to be way too ice pick-in-the-ears for my liking, but it might sound better on bass. The Dark setting would be good for taming the highs on a bright sounding amp or guitar.
The Final Mojo
I think this box is better for a studio cat looking to broaden their tonal palette. This is not boutique butter tone, this is rock-n-roll. The analog fuzz and drive tones make no apologies, and the DSP effects sound great. Although I think it would be a stretch to call this a versatile multi-effects box, for the price, you really can tweak a lot of sounds from this box.