Ratings

Pros:
Nice build. Fair price. Super-freaky noises that once required a computer.

Cons:
Not everyone appreciates super-freaky noises.

Street:
$229

Dwarfcraft Grazer Sample Slice Repeater
dwarfcraft.com

 



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Playing gigs through a laptop is a royal pain in the posterior. Those of us foolhardy enough to attempt it take consolation in the fact that we can access many audio processes not found in stompboxes. But we geeks should feel a bit less smug now that granular delay has migrated to the pedalboard via effects like the Dwarfcraft Grazer Sample Slice Repeater reviewed here.

Planting the Grain
Granular delay (or granular synthesis, which is kinda/sorta the same thing) is a noisy, chaotic effect. It samples miniscule portions of your incoming audio—sometimes as small as a single sample—and plays them back, often at varying speeds and pitches. The results rarely sound like conventional echo. You’re likelier to encounter blurry psychedelic trails, frantic flickering, and ringing metallic noises that evoke a horde of mechanical insects. It can be nearly impossible to get predictable results, but you inevitably uncover trippy, otherworldly sounds that can be musical.

Manipulating miniscule segments of sound isn’t a new idea: Modernist composer Iannis Xenakis first explored the concept 60 years ago. The effect became more widely available late in the last century via such deep-dive music programs as Native Instruments’ Reaktor and Cycling 74’s Max, both of which were soon integrated into leading DAWs. Still, this technology remained a computer-only proposition until recently.

Multigrain Diet
Grazer captures a large palette of granular tones in a 4.5" x 3.5" x 2" pedal. Two silent relay switches activate the effect and initiate granular sampling. Grazer samples continuously, and when you click the “grab” switch, Grazer snatches a slice audio randomly from the sample pool. But remember, these are extremely small slices, so the result is nothing like, say, capturing a note or chord with a looper pedal.

There’s also an automatic sampling mode, activated via toggle. In this mode, Grazer grabs short samples at a steady, LFO-driven rate. A dedicated grab knob sets the rate, while a “size” control specifies the length of each captured sample. (Maximum-length samples are still very short—nothing like conventional delay with obvious echoes.)

It can be nearly impossible to get predictable results, but you inevitably uncover trippy, otherworldly sounds—some of which are musically useful.

Whichever grab method you choose, you can then control the wet/dry mix and the playback pitch. An additional toggle reverses the playback direction. But despite all these options, it’s hard to predict results. Grazer is definitely a “fool around till you find something” pedal. (That’s no criticism of the design—it’s just the nature of the effect.)

Choose Your Own Misadventure
Chances are you’ll spend a lot of time working the pitch knob. This has an extremely wide range: It ascends four octaves in the first quarter of its rotation. (There is no downward transposition.) Above that, tones get increasingly clangorous. When aiming for a sound more or less in tune with your dry signal, you’re likely to hang out in the knob’s lower regions. It helps that the transpositions ascend step by step, rather than in a continuous smear. In the lower octaves, it’s easy to specify the relatively harmonious octave or perfect-fifth transposition that best suits your dry part.

But for many users, tuneful transpositions aren’t the point: It’s more about provocative noise. Things get even more provocative and noisy when you connect an expression pedal (not included). That way, you can choose whether to pilot the pitch control or the grain-size knob. The results will probably remain unpredictable, but at least you can specify when and how quickly tones change. Unlike some software granular effects that offer a smoothing function, Grazer’s tones are often punctuated by noisy clicks and pops. But for some, that’s a feature, not a bug. Or if it is a bug, it’s an awesome Venusian robo-cricket.

The Verdict
Random and unpredictable by nature, granular processing isn’t for every guitarist—or even most guitarists. Still, you don’t have to be a sound-bomb-throwing anarchist to make good use of Grazer. I can imagine it deployed creatively even in straight-ahead songs, especially if introduced at subtle levels. For experimentally minded players, Grazer definitely merits investigation. Its processes may confound you, but you’re not likely to be bored.