Deliciously vocal analog flange can be brutal or beautiful.
For a lot of musicians, this reviewer included, Moog is a magical name. Since the ’60s, instruments and implements bearing the Moog name have been Excaliburs and magic wands for psychedelic cosmonauts, prog trippers, electric jazz freaks, electronic music masterminds, and other outsiders who lock themselves away in studios for weeks on end in quest of otherworldly and filthily funky sounds.
Whether it’s one of Bob Moog’s fantastic modular synths or a Moogerfooger pedal, Moog’s aura of eccentric cool is rooted in envelope-pushing sounds and a give-and-take relationship that assumes, even demands, musical curiosity from players. Curiosity and exploration are still the ticket to getting the most and best sounds out of the analog Moog MF Flange and its bucket-brigade chip. But the device rewards casual plug ’n’ play guitarists just as readily—even as it begs to be tweaked and twisted within an inch of its life.
Moog for Modern Times
The Flange and its recently released cousin, the MF Chorus, are the newest additions to the Minifooger line (see our review in the February 2014 issue). Those pedals made waves by stuffing the most essential functionality and sonic flavors of the mind-blowing Moogerfooger series into compact and relatively inexpensive pedal forms. Along with the MF Flange and Chorus, the entire Minifooger line has been cosmetically redesigned, and the units look streamlined and sharp. Even in their stark silver-and-black livery, the MF Flange and its cousins communicate a stand-out-in-a-crowd ’60s/’70s stompbox design sensibility. They don’t look quite like anything else, and whether you’ve got a busy pedalboard or you’re a stompbox aesthete, the bold look is a big plus.
The pedal also seems carved from granite. It’s hefty, feels sturdy, and an inspection of the pedal’s guts reveals a tidy, if busy, circuit and board. All the switch work and jacks are affixed securely to the chassis, safely insulated from the bumpy travails of hard gigging. Here you’ll also find the switch that enables the pedal’s stereo capability.
The control set is fairly straightforward stuff. There are knobs for rate, depth, and feedback like you’d see on just about any flanger. But there’s an additional a knob for delay time that can also be controlled with the optional expression pedal. A small “type” switch shapes the voice further by either subtracting feedback from the input signal (which lends a more rounded and vocal texture) or by summing the feedback with the dry and input signal.
A flanger can be a perplexing thing for fence sitters or the uninitiated. It’s not, in general, a subtle effect. But the real delight of the MF Flange is how it can range from subdued to positively deranged.
In mellow, more traditionally musical settings, the Moog sounds organic and warmly analog. It’s not that difficult to dial in very pretty, near-rotary chorus-like sounds at low delay time settings, and fast modulation rates sound especially chewy and intoxicating—occupying that cool space where it’s hard to discern where you’re hearing vibrato, a fast phaser, or a creatively EQ’d Leslie. At slower rates and more aggressive feedback and delay time settings you can hear the MF teetering between deep phase and flange zones.
Like any really good analog, bucket-brigade device, the MF Flange has a basic voice that’s essentially dark, mysterious, and very organic in the way it decays. Those qualities also enable some of the pedal’s craziest textures to sound very musical. There’s no way you could mate the extreme, metallic resonant peaks you can extract from the MF Flange to a digital circuit without cringe (and tear) inducing spikes.
But the Moog’s almost singing vocal quality has a softening effect, and the unit’s harmonic artifacts have a beguiling, disappearing-into-the-mist quality that sounds doubly beautiful through a long delay or reverb. Longer delay and rate times in particular reveal how organic the Moog’s analog voice can sound. The falling-from-50,000-feet phase cycle has a surreal, and complex voice that evokes Moog’s vintage synths.
The Moog also handles a lot of harmonic information well. When I put the harmonic explosion of a Rickenbacker 370-12 string out front and added aggressive time and feedback stings, raga-style runs took on a demented and swirling sitar-like quality that I’m not sure I’ve heard or generated anywhere else.
The MF Flange controls have crazy-great range. The slowest rates are hot-tar and molasses slow, while the fastest feel strobscopically twitchy. Likewise, mellow depth settings enable you to use even radical textures as subtle background color—especially when you select the more sedate subtracted-feedback voice. And with the highly recommended optional expression pedal in the mix, you can move from outlandish to demure with a twitch of your toe.
Flange is a difficult effect to explore and master—at least if you intend to use it in most “tasteful” and deranged applications. But the Moog’s deep, rich analog voice and the vast expansive tone-shaping control it puts at your fingertips make it both approachable and capable of real sonic damage. At various settings (and especially with an expression pedal in the mix) it can deliver unique, outside-the-box phase, chorus, rotary, tape flange, and wah sounds. The price may seem steep for a flanger, but given the sound manipulation it can manage outside the realm of common flanging, it delivers surprising bang for the buck.