JHS’ boutique effects pedals are exercises in minimalism. Perhaps it’s because—like a lot of great industrial design—JHS pedals work quite well without the benefit of visual hype and favor form over function. From their Peel N’ Pump compressor to their Sweet Tea overdrive, a lot of care goes into making these pedals tick. And like great beer aficionados, JHS clearly know the history of their craft intimately and build small-run stompboxes that are savvy re-imaginings of some best-loved flavors, with plenty of innovative tone blending and interface features to make them stand apart.
Consider the Panther Analog Tap Tempo Delay, which clearly sets out to explore the terrain mapped by the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man. The JHS pairs real-deal bucket brigade analog delay circuitry with a smooth and rich modulation circuit that aims for the creamy shimmer and low-mid warmth of its inspiration. But it adds functions like tap tempo for players hooked on more modern delays.
The Panther’s minimal interface is both cool and a potential headache. The number of knobs certainly merits clear labels, but apart from the single-letter representations on the unit, knob functions are only explained on an included information card.
Like the Memory Man, the Panther doesn’t save presets (it’s not digital, after all), includes a Dry Output, and maxes out at a single second of delay time—it’s not a ton, but it’s more than the Edge had on the first couple of U2 records, and likely all you need for most applications.
The Panther features an effects send/return for patching in external effects to process the delayed repeat signal only. The tap-tempo control can also be used with modulation without affecting delay time, and there are jacks for an assignable expression pedal and an external tap-tempo pedal to supplement the onboard tap-tempo switch. Other cool features include a chirp toggle, which switches between bright-sounding repeats in the style of a Boss DM-2, or darker, more backgrounded repeats that, to my ears, suggest the sound of some vintage tape delay units. The subdivision knob (called the ratio control) offers a choice of quarter-, dotted-eighth, eighth-, and triplet eighth-note divisions.
The Soul of an Echo
After dialing the modulation speed and depth completely down (it’s too bad there’s not a way to bypass it more easily), your two main options for shaping the delay are delay time and delay ratio or number of subdivisions. The ratio control (denoted by a somewhat puzzling ? symbol) is a standard type of rotary knob.
The delay time control, of course, has everything to do with how these ratios actually play out. Set to the far left, the delay time (T) is at its longest—about a full second of delay—and when the ratio is also set to the far left the pedal delivers straight quarter-note delays. It’s easy to hear how lush and truly analog-sounding the delays are at this setting, and each repeat is a nice, sepia-toned reproduction of the first that fades out sweetly with a warm, organic degradation.
Chirping and Percolating
Setting the chirp toggle switch to the down position is meant to make the repeats a bit brighter and more present, but frankly, the difference is hard to detect apart from a more rounded top-end when the chirp is off. Nevertheless, in either position I found the delay to be warm and pleasing—capable of lending a beautiful harmonic underpinning to my clean dominant 9 and 6/9 chords. Adding modulation brings a lovely contour to long chords and slow figures that evokes players like Bill Frisell, and the pedal’s wide-ranging warble ranges from light chorus to full-on Leslie whoosh, letting you add cool decaying tails to whole-notes and complex chords.
Of course, delays can work as well for rhythms as textures, and as rich and warm as the basic sound of the Panther is, it’s every bit as good at handling nifty delay-rhythm passages. The dotted-eighth and triplet subdivisions work especially well for setting up the kind of rolling feel that the Edge used in the famous dotted-eighth groove of “Pride in the Name of Love,” and that Roger Waters employed on “One of These Days.”
Depending on your tempo, this effect can also be achieved by setting an eighth-note subdivision and planting your accents on the first note of each eight-note triplet in your rhythm (tip: you’ll find yourself playing on the downbeat only on the 1 and 4). The Panther’s vintage vibe really works for this approach, and the addition of some light modulation brings even more richness and width to your sound—though it can leave you wishing that the Panther were equipped with true stereo delay functionality. (Yes, it does have a dry output for stereo field effects, but does not do actual stereo delays.) The idea of having these thick, richly voiced repeats panned or even ping-ponging in stereo is almost too dreamy to bear.
The Panther is a very versatile analog pedal that modernizes a circuit inspired by the functionality and features from one of the most beloved delays of all time. And while it still lacks some of the user convenience of digital units, and the Zen approach to graphic design makes the Panther challenging to navigate, it makes up for those shortcomings with gorgeous tones only real-deal 3205 bucket brigade chip sets can produce.
The Panther’s capabilities run deep, and the rhythmic and sonic possibilities seem to grow the more you prowl the time-domain jungle with this sleek and hungry audio predator. It compares very favorably to some of today’s best delay pedals, such as the tape-simulating Strymon El Capistan, the updated Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man with tap tempo, and the very cool Diamond Memory Lane—which is probably closest in style and spirit to the pedal the Panther. You will pay to keep that kind of company, and the Panther, at $499, is an investment in genuine analog that not everyone will be willing to make.
Still, this is a professional-grade, handmade pedal for audiophile players looking to tap into the universe of texture, rhythm, and modulation that analog delay does so well. Both in function and flavor, the Panther channels the best of vintage sonics and an adventurous spark of its own that’s hard not to admire.