A trio of vintage-rooted analog stomps rises from dustbin has-beens to just-maybe gotta-haves.
Beholding the three new Orange Vintage Series pedals—in all their substantial, Technicolor splendor—it’s hard to believe that they weren’t more successful in their original incarnation. Orange didn’t shift many original Distortion, Phazer, and Sustain units. And these days, when even the most obscure stompbox has been dissected down to the molecular level, little is written about them. Few original specimens pop up for sale, and even Orange itself had to hunt and gather pedals from the guitar community so they could study for this resurrection project.
I’m grateful they went to the effort though. The new U.K.-built Orange effects are awesome. They’re stupidly easy to use. They look amazing—pedalboard space be damned. They also sound killer and offer real sonic alternatives to more common old-school-style effects.
Each of the Orange Vintage Series pedals are $249, which is not cheap—especially given their simplicity. By they are beautifully made, with tidy through-hole circuit boards, serviceable parts, and quality that rivals or equals what I see in a lot of boutique-class pedals selling for similar prices. They are also beautiful. And I, for one, find inspiration in pedals that are fun to look at—particularly when they sound as good as these.
Orange Distortion, Sustain & Phaser Pedal Demos | First Look
When the original Orange Distortion appeared in the late ’70s, the delineations between fuzz, booster, overdrive, and distortion were neither clear nor very widely discussed in the greater guitar sphere. Generally, a customer probably went into a store looking for a tool to make their rig sound nastier, tried out a few things, and left with the one they liked best.
It’s cool, then, that this iteration of the Orange Distortion—which, from this trio, deviates most from the original—so adroitly spans so many of those categories. Engineer Ade Emsley didn’t love the sound of the original, so he overhauled the whole circuit. In this iteration, the Orange Distortion is built around a JFET-based amplifier circuit with preset bass and midrange in the tone stack and a treble control that can be adjusted via an internal potentiometer. This shift in design ethos does nothing to diminish the Orange Distortion’s 1970s aura when it’s switched on, however.
Like a few late-1970s circuits—the DOD 250 and MXR Distortion + come to mind—the Orange Distortion’s drive can be hot and aggressive but leave a lot of room for string detail to breathe. The compression inherent in distortion is not too oppressive here, which helps make things sound big and organic. The high-mid voice has a tough Marshall accent that can dish sweet Peter Green-style lead tones. And pretty grinding distortion tones can still feel and sound articulate. The Orange Distortion also excels at the other end of the gain spectrum. It works as a pretty-clean to just-barely-dirty boost that adds lots of extra-explosive life and sparkle to a bridge pickup and lends a Fender amp circuit a just-right dose of Anglo-amp presence and heat.
A shift in design ethos does nothing to diminish the Orange Distortion’s 1970s aura when it’s switched on.
A few players will want to take advantage of the treble pot on the interior—particularly humbucker players. But while the Curtis Novak Widerange units I used could sound blurry past the first third of the gain range, these tones were still beautiful, liquid stuff. The pedal is also responsive to dynamics, and guitar volume attenuation is effective for coaxing clean tones.
Though “distortion” may suggest a narrow range of tones, Orange’s Distortion gives you a lot of sounds to work with. The near-clean tones are lively and detailed. The mid-gain tones, meanwhile, are rich and brimming with naturalistic and amp-like saturation characteristics. It’s less claustrophobic than my favorite old RAT2, more open and meatier than a Klon clone at high gain settings, and responsive to picking and volume dynamics. Classic rock-oriented players will rejoice at the sounds available here, but there are also loads of tones for less stylistically constrained players to explore, from jangly to compressed and fuzzy.
We are spoiled for phaser choice these days—both in sheer numbers and in the extensive waveform-shaping options you get in newer pedals. In light of these evolutions, it’s easy to forget how limited and primitive early phasers were. The two pillars of phase at the time, the MXR Phase 90 and Electro-Harmonix Small Stone, each had just one knob for modulation rate. Only the latter took the radical step of adding a “color” or phase intensity switch. Orange’s Phaser is built in the manner of these classic units. It exhibits many of the best attributes of both but is intoxicating on its own merits. And like so many great 1-knob phasers, it’s deeper and more versatile than you might think.
Like both a vintage Small Stone and the Phase 90, the Orange Phaser’s modulations feel and sound extra dimensional.
Like the original Phase 90 and Small Stone, the Orange Phaser is a 4-stage phaser circuit, which usually adds up to a sweet spot between intensity and clarity. In the Orange Phaser, that translates to a liquid pulse that’s reminiscent of a favorite vintage Small Stone. It’s a little less vowel-y than my favorite script Phase 90. But like both a vintage Small Stone and the Phase 90, the Orange Phaser’s modulations feel and sound extra dimensional. In the case of the Orange unit, that means a balanced emphasis on low- and high-end frequencies as it cycles through its modulations, which gives it a chewiness and a noticeable sense of size. And for an analog phaser, the Orange is a remarkably quiet pedal. Its low noise floor creates extra clarity and a full-spectrum feel.
A 4-stage, 1-knob modulator—we’ve heard this tune before, right? Yes and no. The Orange unit is highly reminiscent of vintage Small Stone and Phase 90 sounds. But the low noise floor enhances detail in an already clear-sounding circuit, creating a more vivid picture of the rubbery drag and elasticity that makes a vintage phaser sound so watery and immersive. It may be very old school, but Orange’s phaser still feels like real refinement.
“Sustain” in the case of this new Orange pedal means compression. And this take on vintage optical compression spans familiar and more open-ended sounds and textures. For starters, the Orange Sustain, like the Phaser, adds very little additional noise to your signal, so you can add loads of sustain (via the depth control) and an ample helping of boost (from the level control) without adding an intolerable layer of hiss.
At certain settings (and especially at low volumes), the Sustain feels and sounds a little like the many Ross-derived compressors that appeared in the 1970s. And many players who use a Dyna Comp or other Ross-inspired compressors will find cool equivalent sounds and effects in the middle ranges of the Sustain’s controls. In general though, the Orange’s optical circuitry helps make the Sustain feel much more oxygenated. There’s a lot less speaker-smothered-in-a-blanket squish and obliteration of picking dynamics—even at high sustain levels. For players that like the sonic benefits of super-heavy squish, the absence of these heaviest compression sounds might be a deal breaker. But I suspect most players will love the clear, potent boost and the more subtle squish and sustain this circuit generates.
The Orange’s optical circuitry helps make the Sustain feel much more oxygenated.
The Orange Sustain, like its sibling pedals in the Vintage Series, inhabits a very cool niche. It’s as simple-to-use and as sonically forgiving as a Dyna Comp—perhaps even more so. But with a well-executed and simple optical circuit, it manages to sound big and transparent almost in the fashion of a studio compressor. Low-compression boost sounds are burly and smooth, thanks, in part, to the optical circuitry. And piling on more sustain and output volume makes things warm and growly. High-squish addicts, or those that like the more brash side of a Ross or Dyna Comp, might find the Orange a little refined. But try plugging one in with a little reverb and a big tube amp cranked up loud.… I expect you’ll be psyched.
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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.
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)
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.
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