Catalinbread STS-88 Review
This dialed-in flange/reverb combo sets the controls for shoegazing.
An interesting spin on a unique effect combo. Easy to use. Sounds great with fuzz.
Limited control set will be a non-starter for many flange and reverb afficionados.
The Catalinbread STS-88 flanger and reverb isn’t designed to be associated with any one genre or style. But pairing a 2-knob flange effect with a preset reverb is a strong stance. It’s as if Catalinbread were saying, “These tones are supposed to go together, deal with it.” Rather than provide a bevy of tweaking options, the STS-88’s simple 4-knob/2-effect design removes the potential for sonic option anxiety. It also arguably eliminates some possibilities. But shoegazers and space rockers should listen up.
Simple and Stripped Down
Using a stripped-down pedal can be refreshing, and advanced flangers and reverbs can both be more complex than fun. The STS-88, though, does not suffer from that malady. Instead, flanger control is limited to just two knobs, depth and rate, both of which have a nice, wide range. The STS-88’s flanger tone is warm, and I had no trouble conjuring airplanes and ooze as soon as I plugged in. But the limited nature of the pedal’s controls does mean a lack of sculpting nuance that I’ve enjoyed in some other flangers. Players who aren’t flange freaks, though, will probably find most of what they want in just two knobs.
I was compelled by the idea of a 1-knob reverb. It’s a bold move! And the STS-88’s lush reverb is perfect for washing out the gooey flange. But with just one knob, you can only select less reverb or more, and I couldn’t help imagining what else I could do if I was given just a little more control over decay or tone. The fourth knob is a wet/dry mix, which I’m surprised to say is my favorite option on the STS-88. I’m normally all in on flangers and content to go pretty wet with my tones. But having the ability to dial-in my mix allowed the STS-88 to play a bit better with other effects, which is, I believe, essential to its mission.
With the mix around 11 o’clock and a Fuzz Face clone cranked, I struck a balance between gnarly, cutting fuzz and washy flange and reverb that mixed into a booming, shoegaze-y slurry.
Mixin’ It Up
Catalinbread’s pedals always feel well-thought-out and unique. So, despite my desire for more control, I knew there must be something a little deeper behind the simplicity of the design. If this flanger and reverb are meant to live together within these parameters, what’s the angle? The mix knob, I found, is the key.
Take the way the STS-88 plays with fuzz. I’m a sucker for fuzzed-out flanger tones in the Dinosaur Jr. vein, but I don’t always love the way flangers play with fuzz. But the wet/dry mix on the STS-88 is an easy and elegant solution, and when I ran a fuzz through the pedal, I found my bliss. With the mix around 11 o’clock and a Fuzz Face clone cranked, I struck a balance between gnarly, cutting fuzz and washy flange and reverb that mixed into a booming, shoegaze-y slurry. Messing with the mix is rewarding, and I found many fuzzy, spaced-out sounds throughout the range of the flanger controls with this pairing. A noise gate on the wet side of the flanger circuit also helps the STS-88 pair more effectively with high gain. I also enjoyed overdrive sounds with the STS-88, but to my ears, the STS-88 really thrives with fuzz, and that’s what sells the pedal. In that setting, the limitations the designers built into the pedal make a lot of sense.
Option fatigue can be a real thing with feature-rich pedals, so I’m usually happy to have my options limited. It would be cool if Catalinbread built multiple versions of the STS-88, as they do with their Belle Epoch delay, which also comes in a more complex Deluxe version. Maybe it could include a searing fuzz circuit as well as a time or tone control for the reverb.
As is, the STS-88 is a fun and totally useful addition to a pedal collection. As a flanger, it’s less about Prince-style tones than space-rock sounds. The biggest hangup will probably be whether you like the reverb tone or not, or whether you miss more control. Considering the pedal’s $209 price, that’s worth researching, because it’s going to be a personal taste kind of thing. But if you dig it, the STS-88 sure is fun.