How much synth can you cram into a small-format stompbox? Hell if I know, but Mothership 2 puts sardine cans to shame.
The second incarnation of Pigtronix’s guitar-synth pedal has a footprint less than half that of its predecessor. That’s good news for players with overpopulated pedalboards. It omits version No. 1’s “smart ring modulator”. But it adds cool new features: a third voice, a morbidly obese sync mode, an innovative timbre/sweep control, and dynamic sensitivity.
Mono a Mono
Mothership 2 is a three-voice analog synth. It’s monophonic, though, so its three oscillators mirror the pitch of your playing, but only for single-note melodies. Chords and even slightly overlapping notes yield glitchy chaos. The tracking is fast and consistent, though as on most devices of this type, you get the best results when picking and damping cleanly and favoring the neck pickup. The three voices are a smooth triangle wave, a buzzier square wave, and a potentially bone-rattling sub octave.
The interface is ingenious. Using custom-designed concentric knobs, the pedal provides 10 controls in the space of five. These include level controls for the three voices and your clean signal. (You can mute the guitar signal for pure synth sounds). A dynamics knob sets the degree to which the synths mimic your picking intensity. The glide control ads variable lag to the pitch tracking, so synth notes can swoop up or down en route to their destinations. Other controls set the intervals of major thirds, fourths, and fifths between guitar and synth signals.
That Synching Feeling
A dedicated toggle activates sync mode, wherein the three oscillators are slaved to the sub oscillator for ultra-fat single-note sounds. The sweep knob, active only in sync mode, controls the overtone for each of the voices, or the pitch of the slaved oscillator within the corpulent sync sound. The timbre knob, also available only in sync mode, controls the amount of sub-octave square wave present on each of the oscillator voices. The glide knob, meanwhile, modulates the overtones of the square wave and triangle wave voices. Even though there are no LFOs, you can create sounds with timbres that vary over time.
You can hear the pedal’s amplitude tracking starting at 00:27 in the demo audio clip. It may take time to acquire the touch needed to make most of the feature. The hour or two I spent weren’t sufficient for me to master the feel. Softly played notes often fell below the synth-trigger threshold. But I suspect the results would improve after a bit more practice.
Born of Bernie
The name Mothership, with its P-Funk associations, is perfectly appropriate. Since the pedal has no attack/delay/sustain/release-style amplitude envelope controls, its synth tones invariably have fast, guitar-like attack. And with no release control, they sustain continuously until you damp the strings or the notes fade out. Thanks to the synth’s speedy tracking and punchy presence, the Mothership 2 is perfect for funky groove parts. The less-than-nuanced synth colors are often humorous, but seldom pretty or dreamy. The sensibility is far closer to Bernie Worrell than to Brian Eno. That said, you could definitely take these tones in atmospheric directions using downstream reverb, delay, and modulation pedals.
The Mothership 2 requires an 18V adapter (included). There’s an expression/control voltage input (pedal not included). In sync mode, the pedal sets the sweep knob’s overtone frequency. In regular mode, it’s a pitch-bend for the synth voices. Another cool feature is a dedicated sub oscillator output. This pedal’s lows can sound pretty badass through a guitar amp, as heard at 00:52 in the demo clip. But routed through a beefy sound system, they could loosen bowels.
The Mothership 2 is a small pedal full of big sounds. It’s not a full-featured synth, but it excels at punchy lead lines and humungous bass tones. It’s beautifully made, ingeniously designed, and fairly priced.