Download Example 1
Waveform 8, then 7. 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom through a Fender Twin.
Download Example 2
Waveform 6. Fender American Strat through a Fender Twin.
Download Example 3
Waveform 3, rate switches slow/med/fast. 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom through a Vox AC30 combo.
In the hands of an imaginative player, phasing can elevate passages, riffs and recordings to new highs. But it’s an effect that usually needs to be very tuneful to be pleasing. That’s not a problem for the Empress Phaser, which shines doing what players expect a phaser to do, but which is also capable of much, much more and possesses the musicality and tonefulness that’s become synonymous with Empress pedals.

Bursting At The Screws
The Empress Phaser, like so many of Empress’ effects, is positively laden with features. And the compact casing is bristling with switching and tone shaping options that make it an unusually versatile phaser.

Phaser devices normally operate on a single waveform, which determines how the phasing effect rises and falls. The Empress Phaser enables you to select
eightwaveforms with a single knob—each with their own unique quirks and reactions. The Blend knob adjusts the wet and dry mix of the overall signal, while the Speed/Ratio knob adjusts frequency through an exceptionally wide range. The pedal also features Width and Gain knobs, which control wave amplitude and output.

Just above the five control knobs there are five three-way switches that help you zero in on your ideal phase even further. The first of these dictates whether the pedal’s effect speed is governed by the Speed/Ratio knob, the convenient tap tempo footswitch (which enables manual input of a tempo and multiplication of rate using the Speed/Ratio knob) or the super-cool Auto mode, which I’ll explain more in detail a little bit later. The next switch, Speed Range, dictates the range of phasing rate controlled by the Speed/Ratio knob. Then there’s the Stages switch, which flips between a thin-sounding, two-pole stage setting, a unique three-pole stage setting, and finally a four-pole stage configuration that is pretty common in most single-knob phasing effects. A Resonance switch adds more feedback and low end response. And the last control determines which performance parameter is controlled by the optional expression pedal.

The Nitty Gritty
A plethora of options can sometimes make it difficult to accomplish simple tasks, but that certainly wasn’t my experience with this pedal. I started my investigation of the Empress by working with some example settings provided by Empress in the manual, and plugged in a 2008 Gibson Les Paul Studio with a Fender Twin Reverb Reissue. The first mode was a simple sine wave, a waveform that most people are used to hearing from phasers and most common modulation effects. The tone was smooth as silk and very full, though I had some minor issues with getting the right level on the Gain control, which was quite sensitive and increased output more than I expected (it’s capable of up to 6 dB of additional gain). Keeping it at around the 10 o’clock position helped keep the effect clean and pure, but anywhere higher than that started to add a little grit to the tone. Thankfully, it was a nice sounding overdrive, and was kind of cool to have when I wanted to dig into the strings for more Smashing Pumpkins or My Bloody Valentine-esque textures.

The interior of the pedal contains a trio of three-DIP switches along with configuration instructions that can be used to customize the control jack. It ships set for an expression pedal, but can be set to be controlled by external control voltage, tap switch, MIDI, and audio (Empress suggests connecting a drum machine). There is an additional MIDI three-DIP switch for further configuring the MIDI control, and a four-DIP switch for customizing the mix/blend configuration.