The Schumann PLL is capable of the kind of ragged polyphony and noisy collapse you’d hear in an ’80s arcade game like Missile Command, with descending laser-beam pitch glides and vocal roars as notes decay. Photo courtesy of Lynn Schumann
Brian Hamilton, smallsound/bigsound – Schumann Electronics PLL
One thing I appreciate about Brian Hamilton’s work at smallsound/bigsound is his capacity to surprise: In an industry where it seems five new effects companies appear each week with a new overdrive clone, Hamilton’s work—including his pitch-bending No Memory delay and Team Awesome Fuzz Machine—can delight and vex players looking for something different and unexpected. Because of this, I presumed the gear that has inspired Brian would be a bit wilder, with a broader scope of control than most traditional guitar effects.
While the Schumann Electronics PLL is described on the company’s website as an analog harmonizer that turns the input signal into a square wave with a multiplier and divider that adds intervals to your note, most players who play through one would describe it as the ultimate signal mangler and mutator—one where the dangerous textures of something like a Fuzz Factory might serve as a starting point. From there it can devolve into square waves completely devoid of pick attack—stuff that resembles a programmed Nine Inch Nails sequence—or into the kind of ragged polyphony and noisy collapse you’d hear in an ’80s arcade game like Missile Command, with descending laser-beam pitch glides and vocal roars as notes decay.
“I think we’re all used to certain effects where there’s a certain expectation of what’s going to happen when you play, and the controls seem to operate independently,” Brian begins. “Gain—that gives you more. Tone makes it bright or dark. Volume? That’s pretty self-explanatory. But with the PLL, everything seems interdependent and connected. You mess with the preamp, and that changes what you’ll want to do with the lag time, the tracking, or the multiplier. You have to figure out how things are connected and the balancing act involved in getting it right.”
While chatting about the PLL and how it influenced the way he thinks of sounds and his own designs, Brian said something that really stuck with me. “The PLL might have been the first effect I ever played that made me really consider what can happen after you play a note. I think before that—even with a lot of wild effects—there’s stuff you take for granted about how stuff will respond. The PLL kind of turns that on its head.”
The guys at BassFuzz.com give us a primer on the PLL’s daunting collection of dials, knobs, and switches.