Varied and rich phase tones. Presets are easy to program and recall, and enable dramatic texture shifts.
Envelope filter tones can be somewhat thin and one-dimensional.
Seymour Duncan Polaron
Ease of Use:
With little fanfare, Seymour Duncan—a company known best for pickups—has evolved into a very interesting pedal builder, too. Because Seymour Duncan is rooted in such an elemental facet of the electric guitar equation, you might expect the company to stick to simpler stompbox designs. But the Polaron phaser and envelope filter, like other recent stompbox releases from Seymour Duncan, is much more complex than magnets and wire or a simple fuzz clone. Yet, with its combination of analog sounds and digital control, it’s an intuitive performance tool and a path to exploring unusual modulation and filter tones—striking a nice balance between the practical and the unexpected.
Any pedal that tries to achieve old-school familiarity and digital flexibility has to walk a fine line between overemphasizing the former and underutilizing the latter—and vice versa. But straight away, you get the sense that Seymour Duncan found the sweet spot with the Polaron.
There are six controls, but only five are in play at a given time, because the sensitivity knob is used exclusively with the envelope filter, which, in turn, has no need for the phaser’s depth control. Given that some classic phasers are built around a single rate control, even the 5-knob array may seem busy to some phase minimalists. But the less common controls—the stage knob, the resonance control, and the tune knob (which shifts the resonant peak along the frequency spectrum)—are all critical to shaping the Polaron’s more unexpected phase sounds.
The Polaron isn’t the only multi-stage phaser out in the world, but with eight settings ranging from two to 16 filter stages, Seymour Duncan made sure the pedal can cover everything from the softest, mellowest phase tones to the very deepest. The tune control shifts the peak frequency and can transform the tone profile profoundly. It can be used with extreme depth and tune settings to create bizarre asymmetric peaks, interesting syncopated and irregular rhythm patterns, and unusual wave shapes. The resonance control, meanwhile, is relatively user-friendly. It’s precise and powerful, but it seems more resistant to the ear-piercing peaks that can plague phasers, flangers, and envelope filters at aggressive settings.
The footswitches, by the way, are multi-function soft-relay units. The preset switch also functions as a tap tempo switch when you hold it down for a full second. The bypass switch, meanwhile, also activates a second mode that enables envelope control of the LFO frequency. Using the two switches together enables storage of new presets, and the process is fast and intuitive.
Mod Moods in Multitudes
The Polaron’s 2-, 4-, and 6-stage phaser settings can be dialed in to sound much like old analog friends—like the Phase 45, Phase 90, Phase 100, and Small Stone—and the 4-stage settings in particular are quite creamy. The 4-stage setting matched up quite favorably with my favorite vintage Small Stone, but with a lot less tone and volume suck. It was more difficult for the Polaron to achieve the fatness of my favorite Phase 90 in isolation, but it came close, and my guess is that it would be a dead ringer in most recorded mixes.
Even in the 4- and 6-stage phase modes, intense depth, rate, and resonance settings can sound like the babble of a demented robot. In the 10- to 16-stage range, however, they can be positively insane. Higher gain-stage numbers aren’t just for odd and alien textures, though. They can also be the ticket to cool flange- and chorus-like effects when you set the tune, resonance, and depth levels just to the counterclockwise side of noon.
I’d venture that most players will primarily use the phase functions of the Polaron. But the envelope mode, which enables you to control the LFO with input dynamics, opens up a trove of cool textures. The envelope function isn’t an envelope filter effect in the most popularly understood sense. And players who plan to use it extensively should be aware that it doesn’t readily replicate the sound of classic envelope filters like the Mu-Tron III. There are loads of awesome sounds available via the Polaron’s filter function, including many that can make a riff or lead passage positively slice through a mix. But, in general, the Polaron’s envelope filter tends to have the flavor of a cocked wah at most positions rather than the super vowel-y quack of a Mu-Tron.
Though the Polaron has the capacity for just three presets, you can use them to really leverage the device’s immense variations in tone and readily move between vastly different sounds—say, a slow, gentle phase through a vocal verse and an intense, fast-fluttering phase for a lead. And considering how divergent the Polaron’s tones can be, it’s a good thing the presets are there. The presets have one shortcoming: You can’t save them with different stage settings, because doing so would require converting the signal to digital and Seymour Duncan preferred to keep the effected signal 100 percent analog. That limitation still permits access to very different textures. But it’s hard to not imagine the radical tone shifts that would be possible if you could save presets with different stages.
The Polaron is brimming with unusual phase and envelope colors, and lush, familiar sounds that often stand in convincingly for the most revered vintage phasers. Such a diversity of tones could have been hard to manage. But the Polaron’s means of programming, storing, and retrieving presets is simple and elegant—striking a nice balance between “too much” and what can be practically used on stage. The result is a modulator that guides intuitive, creative exploration and enables radical tone shifts on stage.
Watch the First Look: