Line 6 DL4 MkII Review
The green machine that haunted the pedalboards of mid-’00s experimentalists is back—better and smaller.
Loads of delay voices. Easy to jump in and get great sounds. Looper function is a classic.
Tweak and tweez functionalities leave a lot to memorize. Reverb functions could benefit from their own controls
Line 6 DL4 MkII
Many guitarists reach a crossroads where they have to decide to either totally embrace their influences or shun them and find a new path. That applies to gear as well as playing style. Back in the mid ’00s, the Line 6 DL4 started popping up on pedalboards and I ran away. Sure, its extensive array of delay options and cool looper function were tempting. But while forward-thinking artists like Bill Frisell, Mary Halvorson, Battles, Lightning Bolt, and Reggie Watts used this green beast to create the most compelling sounds, the DL4 became ubiquitous. For whatever reason, I—and plenty of players like me—avoided the pedal in an odd attempt to stay clear of a trend.
Fast forward to the present and the DL4 is a modern classic. Its ubiquity diminished as new fleets of modern digital pedals came along offering endless delay-based possibilities. And yet some players still hang onto their trusty green pedals, despite their clunky, anachronistic, pedalboard real estate-hogging enclosures. There must be something special there, right? Luckily for all of us—those who are new to the DL4 or those devotees who want some upgrades—Line 6 has delivered the thoroughly modern DL4 MkII, with all the sounds and functionality of the original and plenty more.
Most reissues of old classics come with some kind of caveat—maybe they lack the essential capacitors of the original, tape has been replaced with DSP, or it’s a PCB version of a hand-wired circuit. A fun thing about the DL4 MkII is it’s just an updated version of the original, so there’s no compromising.
The MkII is immediately recognizable as a DL4, but it’s a little slimmer and sleeker, and its matte finish seems to boast about its modernity. Of course, it still takes up a lot more space on a pedalboard than lots of delay units that perform similar functions. With only six knobs and four switches, plenty of other pedal designers would choose to squish things up into a smaller enclosure. There’s a lot going on around back—stereo ins/outs, a mic in and level control, expression pedal out, MIDI in/out, micro SD slot (for saving loops and extending loop time), USB in, and power—so maybe that’s why they need all that space. I prefer to think that the folks at Line 6 decided that players simply need more space to think. As soon as I got started, I noticed how luxurious it feels to step on the MkII’s switches and not risk hitting another one by mistake. And grabbing the inset knobs doesn’t require a lot of precision or dexterity, so on-the-fly changes are as smooth as can be.
In a world of complex pedals, the DL4 design seems simple. A single knob controls a menu of 30 delay sounds. 15 of these are new, and a “legacy” button switches the function of that knob so you can access the original 15 options. There is also, of course, a looper function. The time, repeats, and mix knobs function as advertised, while the tweak and tweez knobs change function depending upon the selected delay voice. With so many delay-voice options, there is a lot to internalize in those latter two knobs, and I found myself consulting the enclosed paper guide more than I’d like. I’m sure that over the course of continued use and a few gigs I’d memorize some settings for easier control. But the three preset switches offer good starting points that get you close to where you want to be. That should get you going with minimal tweaking/tweezing.
Instant Tones and More
As an inexperienced DL4 user, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to find the sounds I associate with the pedal. I’m mostly talking about the looper function that is utilitarian by today’s standards. Start/stop and overdubbing is simple, and the half-speed/reverse switch gave me insight into some of the most classic Frisell looping tricks.
I couldn’t find a bad delay sound in the bunch. The glitch voice would fit nicely within a Daniel Lanois production and feels reminiscent of the underrated DL4 contemporary, the Boss Slicer (albeit with simpler controls). The tunable harmony voice is of the same milieu and I felt encouraged to attempt my best Terry Riley-on-guitar impression. The auto-vol voice is an approximation of a Slow Gear-style effect and delivers the same sort of kosmische-like bliss, but also found me attempting faux-pedal-steel things that are candy for my ears.
Those are some of the MkII’s more experimental voices. Elsewhere, more straight-ahead delay tones such as the digital/vintage digital, analog mod, and lo res delay deliver exactly what they promise. Each is a unique voice that is easy to access and sounds solid across its settings.
I’m a purist when it comes to pedal design. And I prefer a pedal’s functions to be visible and relatively easy to manipulate. When a pedal has a secret function, it can feel like a cute Easter-egg bonus feature rather than a practical one. The surprise here is that the MkII comes loaded with 15 secret reverb sounds, which is a lot of hidden functionality. While a big part of the charm of the pedal is its simple control set, an extra knob or two would make access to these reverb voices much easier. There are a lot of reverb sounds here to explore, and I was drawn to the ducking, particle verb, and searchlights settings, But, again, the hidden functionality meant I mostly used the delay functions I could see.
The DL4 MkII is a fine update of a classic pedal. All the classic sounds are easily discoverable, as are all the new ones. The design is simple and easy to use. The hidden reverb function is a nice bonus, but it sounds so good that I’d like to use it more easily on the fly. That said, it’s hard to fault this pedal for that one flaw. The MkII offers a load of functionality in one unit that will appeal to experimenters and those with simpler delay cravings. This green machine is a classic for a reason and the MkII is going to keep it that way.
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For these new recreations, Fender focuses on the little things that make original golden-era Fenders objects of obsession.
If there’s one thing players love more than new guitars, it’s old guitars—the unique feel, the design idiosyncrasies, the quirks in finish that all came from the pre-CNC era of instrument manufacturing. These characteristics become the stuff of legend, passed on through the years via rumors and anecdotes in shops, forums, and community networks.
It’s a little difficult to separate fact from fiction given these guitars aren’t easy to get your hands on. Fender Telecasters manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s sell for upwards of $20,000. But old is about to become new again. Fender’s American Vintage II series features 12 year-specific electric guitar and bass models from over two decades, spanning 1951 to 1977, that replicate most specs on their original counterparts, but are produced with modern technologies that ensure uniform build and feel.
Chronologically, the series begins and ends, fittingly, with the Telecaster—starting with the butterscotch blonde, blackguard 1951 Telecaster (built with an ash body, one-piece U-shaped maple neck, and 7.25" radius fretboard) and ending with the 1977 Telecaster Custom, which features a C-shaped neck, a CuNiFe magnet-based Wide Range humbucker in the neck position, and a single-coil at the bridge. The rest of the series spans the highlights of Fender’s repertoire: the 1954 Precision Bass, 1957 Stratocaster in ash or alder, 1960 Precision Bass, 1961 Stratocaster, 1963 Telecaster, 1966 Jazz Bass, 1966 Jazzmaster, 1972 Tele Thinline, 1973 Strat, and 1975 Telecaster Deluxe. The 1951 Telecaster, 1957 Strat, 1961 Strat, and 1966 Jazz Bass will also be offered as left-handed models. Street prices run from $2,099 to $2,399.
Fender '72 American Vintage II Telecaster Thinline Demo | First Look
Spec’d To Please
Every guitar in the series sports the era’s 7.25" radius fretboard, a mostly abandoned spec found on Custom Shop instruments—Mexico-made Vintera models, and Fender’s Artist Series guitars like the Jimmy Page, Jason Isbell, and Albert Hammond Jr. models. Most modern Fenders feature a 9.5" radius, while radii on Gibsons reach upwards of 12". Videos experimenting with the 7.25" radius’ playability pull in tens of thousands of viewers, suggesting both a modern fascination with and a lack of exposure to the radius among some younger and less experienced players.
T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne picks an American Vintage II 1966 Jazzmaster in Dakota red.
Bringing back the polarizing 7.25" radius across the entire series is a gamble, and it’s been nearly five years since Fender released year-specific models. But Fender executive vice president Justin Norvell says that two years ago when the Fender brain trust was conceptualizing the American Vintage II line, they decided the time was right to “go back to the well.”
“We’ve been doing the same [models], the same years, over and over again for 30 years,” says Norvell. “We really wanted to change the line and expand it into some new things that we hadn’t done before and pick some different years that we thought were cool.”
“It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”—Steve Thomas, Fender
To decide on which years to produce, Fender drew from what Norvell calls a “huge cauldron of information” from Custom Shop master builders to collectors with vintage models to former employees from the 1950s and 1960s. The hands-on manufacturing of Fender’s golden years meant guitars produced within the same year would have marked differences in design and finish. So, the team had to procure multiple versions of the same year’s guitar to decide which models to replicate. Norvell says some purists would advocate for the “cleanest, most down-the-middle kind of variant,” while others would push for more esoteric and rare versions. Norvell says that ultimately, the team picked the models that they felt best represented “the throughline of history on our platforms.”
Simple and agile, the Fender Precision Bass—here in its new American Vintage II ’54 incarnation—earned its reputation in the hands of Bill Black, James Jamerson, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and other foundational players.
Norvell says the American Vintage II series was developed, in part, in response to calls to reproduce vintage guitars. Just like with classic cars, he says, people are passionate about year-specific guitars. Plus, American Vintage II fits perfectly with the pandemic-stoked yearning for bygone times. “For some people, these specific years are representative of experiences they had when they were first playing guitar, or a favorite artist that played guitars from these eras,” says Norvell. “These are touchstones for those stories, and that makes them very desirable.”
Fender’s electric guitar research and design team, led by director Steve Thomas, dug through the company’s archive of original drawings and designs—dating all the way back to Leo Fender’s original shop in Fullerton, California. They found detailed notes, including some documenting body woods that changed mid-year on certain models. Halfway through 1956, for example, Stratocaster bodies switched from ash to alder. That meant the American Vintage II 1957 Stratocaster needed to be alder, too. That, in turn, meant ensuring enough alder was on hand to fulfill production needs.
Among the series’ Stratocaster recreations is this 1973-style instrument, with an ash body, maple C-profile neck, rosewood fretboard, and the company’s Pure Vintage single-coils.
Thomas and his team discovered another piece of the production puzzle when researching how pickups for that same 1957 Strat were made. “We realized that if we incorporated a little bit more pinch control on the winders, we could more effectively mimic the way pickups would have been hand-wound in the ’50s,” says Thomas. “It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”
Thomas proudly calls the guitars “some of the best instruments we’ve ever made here in the Fender plant,” pointing to the level of detail put into design features, including more delicate lacquer finishes which take longer to cure and dry, and vintage-correct tweed cases for some guitars. New pickups were incorporated in the series, like a reworking of Seth Lover’s famed CuNiFe Wide Range humbuckers, which were discontinued around 1981. Even more minute details, like the width of 12th fret dots and the material used for them, were labored over. Three different models in the line feature clay dot inlays at unique, year-specific spacings.
Ironically, modern CNC manufacturing now makes these design quirks consistent features in mass-produced instruments. While the hand-crafted guitars from the ’50s and ’60s varied a lot from instrument to instrument. “Everything needs to be located perfectly, and it wasn’t necessarily back in the day,” says Norvell. “Now, it can be.”
Don’t Look Back
With this new series so firmly planted in the rose-tinted past, Fender does run the risk of netting only vintage-obsessed players. But Norvell says the team, despite being sticklers for period-correct detail, sought to strike a balance between vintage specs, practicality, and playability. The 1957 Stratocaster, for example, has a 5-way switch rather than the original’s 3-way switch. Norvell also asserts that the “ergonomic” old-school radius feels great when chording. “It might not be [right for] a shred machine, but it feels great and effortless.”
The 1966 Jazz Bass is also represented, shown here in a left-handed version.
Norvell also pushes back on the notion that Fender is playing it safe by indulging nostalgia and leaning on their past successes. He says that while the vintage models are some of the most desirable on the market, the team “purposely did not stick to the safe bets,” citing unusual year models like the 1954 P Bass and the 1973 Stratocaster.There’s a good reason why anything that hails back to “the good ol’ days” hits home with every generation. We’re constantly plagued by a belief that what came before is better than what we’ve got now. But with the American Vintage II series, Fender makes the case that guitars from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s can very easily be a relevant part of the 2020s.
JET Pedals Releases The Red Sea
The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment.
Introducing the Red Sea, an all-analog signal routing matrix, designed for countless stereo and mono signal path routing options. The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment. The Red Sea has accomplished this in a compact, easy-to-use, and cost-effective solution.
Wet | Dry | Wet
The Red Sea gives you the ability to run a FULL Stereo wet dry wet rig using only 2 amps or just 2 signals to the FOH, while also giving you complete control over your Wet & Dry mix! Use the Blend knob to control the overall mix between stereo wet effects and mono dry/drive signals.
Stereo Dual Amps
Run dual amp modelers if full stereo w/ stereo effects. Gone are the traditional ways of one amp in the Left channel and another in the Right channel. Now use the Red Sea to seamlessly blend between two separate amps in true stereo. Think of this as a 2-channel amp where you can blend anywhere between both amps.
Stereo Parallel FX
Red Sea has two independent stereo FX loops. Use each FX loop to run stereo delay's and reverb's in parallel, where each effect does not interact with each other. Huge soundscapes can be achieved with washy reverbs and articulate delay repeats while being able to blend between each FX loops mix level.
The Red Sea can also do the following routing options:
- Wet | Dry utilizing a single amp
- Clean Wet | Dry | Wet (drives DO NOT run into wet effects)
- Wet | Dry | Wet with dual delays (one in the L channel & other in R channel)
- Parallel Dual Amps (run dual amp modelers in FULL stereo)
- Convert a tube amp's serial FX Loop to a parallel FX Loop
- Stereo and Mono analog dry through (avoid latency in digital pedals)
Crazy Tube Circuits Announces the Stardust V3
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct amplifier models.
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct maxed-out amplifier models. An all-analog signal path with discrete gain stages featuring MOSFET transistors provides juicy overdrive tones with great note separation that clean up to that sparkly sound that we all love and heard in recordings of the past. Set gain and tone and control everything from your guitar. Sparkly clean to crunchy mean are all there.
You can select the amplifier voicing via the onboard toggle switch.
BSM: Voiced after a blackface amp head that was primarily targeted for bass guitar players but got famous for electric guitar classic rock tones.
VLX: Voiced after a chimey 2x10” combo offering the perfect amount of controllable crunch
DLX: Voiced after one of the most popular low wattage 1×12″ combo amps that have found their way in countless recording studios and clubs around the world.
Stardust V3 now comes with top-mounted jacks and soft-click true bypass via a high-quality relay. The pedal has loads of output volume and enhanced headroom provided by 18V DC (boosted internally) so that it can also be used as a preamp going straight into your Power Amp or AudioInterface when combined with a separate speaker simulation device.
Street price: 199 Euro / 199 USD.
For more information, please visit crazytubecircuits.com.
EarthQuaker Devices Presents the Third Incarnation of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original and includes a third footswitch.
Sunn O))) present an enhanced version of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal Octave Distortion + Booster, in collaboration with their comrades at EarthQuaker Devices. The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original to squeeze every last drop of heavy crushing tone available. The octave section has been fine tuned to make it more pronounced without losing the bottom end and we added a third footswitch, utilizing Flexi-Switch Technology, for the octave to allow an additional method of quick and radical tone shaping.
“Working on this new version has been a great continuity of this collaboration which feels so right, and sounds so right,” says Stephen O’Malley. “It’s a really beautiful pedal and it’s also a beautiful art collaboration. I think we made something really interesting that people can enjoy to use for their own music, but also, it makes a lot of sense to release a piece of distortion as a release for our band. We’re really happy that this is a trilogy now.”
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal is designed to represent the core front end chain used in those sessions, to drive the tubes of the band’s multiple vintage Sunn O))) Model T amplifiers (or take your fancy) into overload ecstasy. This is a 100w tube amp full stack’s holy dream, or its apostate nightmare.
Sunn O))) Life Pedal is a distortion with a blendable analog octave up and a booster
- Features 3 different clipping options: Symmetrical Silicon, Asymmetrical Silicon & LED, and pure OpAmp Drive
- Distortion and booster can be used independently
- Expression and footswitch control over analog octave up
- Octave blend allows total control over how much Octave is mixed into the circuit
- True bypass with silent relay based soft touch switches
- Features EarthQuaker Devices’ proprietary Flexi-Switch® Technology
- Lifetime warranty
- Current Draw: 15 mA
- Octave Distortion: Input impedance: 1 MΩ / Output impedance: <1 kΩ
- Booster: Input Impedance: 500 kΩ / Output Impedance: <1 kΩ
- List Price: $299 USD