Picture the two biggest-selling phasers ever. (That’s the Phase 90 and Small Stone, for those of you dwelling on other planets.) Now count the knobs on each: one. Apart from that crazy color switch on the Small Stone, that’s all it took to conjure rushing, whooshing, deliciousness from those beautifully primitive boxes.
Indeed, simplicity can sound beautiful. But phase can be shaped and manipulated to dramatic musical ends in many ways beyond just rate and depth. The Wombtone, by Chase Bliss designer Joel Korte, seems hell-bent on putting every imaginable shade of phasing at the player’s fingertips. So while the Wombtone lacks the boneheaded-yet-elegant simplicity of the classic phasers, it’s a veritable amusement park for phase devotees—and one of the most inventive evolutions of the effect that we’ve seen in a compact stompbox.
Control the Waves!
Joel Korte’s ability to stuff a lot of wave-shaping control into a small enclosure is impressive. The Wombtone bristles with switches and knobs—and none of them seem superfluous.
The speed knob ranges from lazily cycling swirl to frantic hummingbird-wing flutter. The depth control provides everything from subtle, barely perceptible phasing to intense, near-percussive peaks (which can be especially hard-hitting with extreme feedback setting). Players who obsess over perceived level loss in modulation pedals will love the volume control, which overcomes any perceived signal loss—and lends a surprisingly complex drive texture at intense settings.
The form knob generates some of the most interesting sounds by shifting the wave peak, creating asymmetric shapes that alter the phase’s rhythmic character. You can sculpt the wave even more radically by assigning different wave shapes to either side of the peak via two wave-shape switches, each with the option of square, triangle, and sine waveforms. At times, the two functions work together to give the Wombtone a fun synth-like personality. Thankfully, the Wombtone has two presets, so you can toggle between your most demented setting and the lush familiarity of conventional phasing.
The ramp function in particular makes the Wombtone special. It controls the rate at which the effect swells in intensity. Ramping is typically used to simulate the gradual acceleration of a Leslie speaker, but here it’s far more multifaceted. (More on this in a moment.)
If you’re already intimidated by this swarm of controls, you may want to abandon this review right here, because the pedal’s underside houses 16 additional DIP switches that tailor the ramp function (and control the parameters assigned to an expression pedal, should you wish to use one.) It’s rare to encounter such functionality outside a much larger (and less pedalboard-friendly) effect.
The Many Phases of … Phase
Unlike some simpler, less expensive phasers, the Wombtone doesn’t excessively color or suck the life from your tone. In fact, its relative transparency may startle players accustomed to vintage phaser tones. The Wombtone feels uncommonly responsive and dynamic for a modulation pedal, so signal chains peppered with overdrive or fuzz reveal the best characteristics of those pedals—even relatively noisy and barbaric models such as the Fuzzrite and Shin-Ei clones that I paired with the Wombtone to great effect.
The real fun happens when you customize the DIP switches settings, which determine which combination of rate, depth, feedback, form, and volume functions are assigned to the ramp control or expression pedal. The permutations are nearly limitless. (You might, for example, specify rising volumes and speeds, but falling feedback levels.) These odd combinations can be especially dramatic at slow ramp settings. An expression pedal (not included) enables even more expressive manipulation of these unusual settings. During, say, a fuzzy solo, you can transition from mellow sounds to demented hyper-speed flutters or multi-dimensional Uni-Vibe-on-drugs swirls.
The Wombtone is a phaser that goes beyond phase. Like delays that use multiple head simulations for rhythmic emphasis, it can create rhythmic, percussive effects not often associated with its core effect. Like a synthesizer, the Wombtone can generate complex and fascinatingly “unnatural” modulation. While the pedal may intimidate purists and switch-o-phobes, its functions are easy to manage once you grasp how they interact. It takes time to explore the Wombtone’s multitudinous variations, but you’ll be rewarded with tones you simply can’t extract from simpler phasers. It may look like a handful, yet the Wombtone is wonderfully musical, a spark to creativity, and just plain fun.
Watch the Review Demo: