The many flavors of Small Stone include the originals by Electro-Harmonix, with the rare treadle model (upper left) and their more contemporary counterparts, as well as versions made under license by Russia’s Sovtek.

Totally Stoned

I’ve owned a great many incarnations of the David Cockerell-designed Small Stone and still have several early examples from which I would not be parted. They just have that sound. Cockerell was also the designer of the famed EMS Synthi Hi-Fli, which I wrote about in PG’s July 2018 issue in “Monster Mutilators: Vintage Guitar Synth Pedals.” That cumbersome device was a key part of David Gilmour’s mid-’70s recordings with Pink Floyd.

When you want the sound of a Small Stone, nothing else comes close, save for the clones several modern boutique pedal makers have been inspired to build. I could write a whole article on the Small Stone alone: from its gestation amongst the circuitry of the EMS Synthi Hi-Fli to the very early Electro-Harmonix versions, through the Sovtek years to today’s Nano.

The first phaser devices came from the Far East, thanks to the propaganda transmissions of Radio Moscow interfering with Japanese medium-wave radio.

There can be drawbacks with vintage Stones, from volume drops to noise, and there’s always the potential that used ones have been messed with, but it’s rarely something beyond the wit of a competent tech. I believe a good Small Stone is an essential ingredient in any serious audio arsenal, whether it’s for the studio or on a pedalboard.

While I’ve been less impressed with some later vintage versions of the Bad Stone variant, I have a very early example that is quite stunning, as is the rare treadle version. You can hear the Small Stone everywhere, from Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygène to Radiohead’s OK Computer.

In addition to the ubiquitous Phase 90—used by David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, and many others—MXR also created the Phase 45 and Phase 100, which have more subtle sonic profiles.

Orange Juice

The MXR Phase 90 is a sonic giant in a minuscule enclosure. It was introduced in 1974 and quickly found favor with the era’s biggest guitarists, including David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, and Eddie Van Halen. Gilmour adopted his after employing the Uni-Vibe for the Wish You Were Here sessions. Page used a Phase 90 live with Led Zeppelin. And Eddie? “Eruption.”

The early script-logo Phase 90s are more sought by collectors, and the very earliest, housed in ultra-lightweight aluminum “Bud Box” enclosures, are the ultimate in desirability. I’ve had many Phase 90s over the years, and there is little difference between script and block logo pedals of similar vintage, aside from the paintwork. But once I found a “Bud Box” version, my search ended. It sounds simply stunning. MXR also produced the Phase 45 and Phase 100, and both are excellent.

The Gerd Schulte Audio Elektronik Compact Phasing ‘A’ is known as the “krautrock phaser,” but guitarists can find a more relatable use of the device in “Catch the Rainbow” on the 1975 debut album by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.

The Krautrock Phaser

Remember when I mentioned that my favorite chorus pedal was actually a flanger? Well, my most coveted phaser is … actually a phaser. (Had you for a moment, didn’t I?) It’s the snappily named Gerd Schulte Audio Elektronik Compact Phasing ‘A’ Number 1. This Germany-made optical phase shifter was used so extensively by many of the most influential German bands of the ’70s that it became known as the “krautrock phaser.” If you’ve heard the whooshing sound of Tangerine Dream’s Mellotron on “Phaedra” or the thick sweep of Kraftwerk’s synthesizers on “Autobahn,” you’ve heard a Schulte. It can be counterintuitive to use, but it sounds like no other phaser and has a wide palette of effects—especially when partnered with a custom control pedal, which unleashes several otherwise hidden settings. Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord of Deep Purple also used the device, so its credentials are as much “rock” as “kraut.”