EarthQuaker Devices, an Akron, Ohio, company that has made waves over the last few years with a fast-growing line of mean fuzz boxes and unique delay and modulation units, seems to understand the inherent musicality of synths. Its recently released Bit Commander analog guitar synthesizer has an amazing capacity for enhancing melody lines, retaining definition in a variety of musical situations, and making sounds that, in the right context, sound just plain beautiful.
Part of the Bit Commander’s musicality is rooted in its simple architecture. Rather than get carried away with multiple wave types, envelopes, or oscillators, EarthQuaker based the Bit Commander’s sound on a single square wave, the relative level of which can be adjusted with the Base control. The top three knobs control the level of the octave voices. Sub is two octaves down from the base tone. Down 1 is a single octave down, and Up 1 is an octave up from the base. A Level knob works as a master volume for the summed effect, and the Filter control functions more or less as a tone control.
Together, it’s an exceptionally well-executed layout that facilitates fast experimentation and tone tweaks on the fly. The controls are also wonderfully responsive.
A Toneful Monster
One of the real pleasures of the Bit Commander is how well the unit tracks fingering nuance. Quick, full-step slides, fast finger vibrato, hammer-ons, and legato work all retained full harmonic detail and percussive qualities, which few other synth pedals or octave pedals can pull off with such aplomb.
The Bit Commander also displays an impressive capacity for sustain—though, like any synth or octave pedal, this isn’t always a sure thing. I worked out a few lead runs ending in dramatically sustained, full-step bends, only to have the bend fizz out every third try. When it does work out, the Bit Commander sings like a Frankensteined fusion of tenor and baritone vocalists and a Univox Super Fuzz—a combination that sounds wicked in funky and strutting band settings. That said, even the notes that hang the longest ultimately cut out very abruptly. The square base tone assures that there’s a fuzzy haze to just about anything you play on the Bit Commander. You can remove much of it by rolling back the Filter control. But in doing so you can lose the sweetest aspect of the Bit Commander’s voice— a warm, round fuzz that’s very much at home in the context of melodic leads while retaining a nasty, funky buzz that sounds like some future-shocked Marc Bolan.
The Bit Commander doesn’t escape all the typical guitar-synth limitations, though: Bridge pickups can create high-end spikes that upset the harmonic balance of low octaves, true chords are all but impossible, and tracking notes much below the 7th—or maybe the 5th—fret can get very glitchy, too. However, it’s much less so than with a lot of synth and octave pedals, and at lower master volume levels, I was actually able to play some fat and precise glitch-free bass lines. In general, though, all the money is up past the 7th fret for the Bit Commander.
You don’t often think of guitar synths as pedalboard staples, but because the Bit Commander is no one-trick pony—it has the musicality to work as a sonorous octave fuzz, a funky baritone substitute, or a secret weapon for harmonized leads—it could become one for a certain segment of the guitar-playing population. The octave voice controls all have an impressive range and responsiveness that really makes experimentation rewarding. It’s also a very forgiving unit built around an inherently simple circuit with a clear and powerful basic voice. In all, it’s a delicious-sounding and elegant, if demented, piece of work.
you’re looking for funky and futuristic sounds that are truly responsive to the touch.
synthy tones make you squirm.
Street $175 - Earthquaker Devices - earthquakerdevices.com
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