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TC Electronic TonePrint Flashback Delay and Looper, Shaker Vibrato, Vortex Flanger, and Corona Chorus Pedal Reviews

The TonePrint concept is about options and enabling curious guitarists to shop for sounds, check ’em out, and try new ones—almost like a sonic Netflix.

In an industry that can be slow to embrace change, Denmark’s TC Electronic rarely sits still. Never keen on rehashing tired stompbox templates, TC’s recent effects systems like the Nova, G-System, and G-Natural for acoustic guitar are all brimming with features, voices, and switching options. The company’s products reflect an engineering mindset that focuses on sound and song creation rather than emulation.

TC Electronic’s new TonePrint series, which include the Flashback Delay and Looper, Shaker Vibrato, Vortex Flanger, and Corona Chorus reviewed here, are another example of TC’s tireless exploration into the potential of digital effects. But, what’s truly new about the true bypass TonePrint pedals is the new approach to artist collaboration and end-user web interactivity that makes effect performance parameters imagined by Bumblefoot, John Petrucci, Orianthi, Pete Thorn, and others available to any player with a TonePrint pedal and web connectivity. The end result is one of the most unique and intriguing stompbox concepts that’s come down the chute in a while.

Affordability is certainly part of the TonePrint pedals’ appeal. The Shaker, Corona, and Vortex each cost about $130 on the street, and the Flashback goes for about $170. TC Electronic could have built any number of player-specified performance parameters into a more expensive digital pedal. But the TonePrint concept is about options and enabling curious guitarists to shop for sounds, check ’em out, and try new ones—almost like a sonic Netflix. And for the player who’s willing to invest a little time in exploring the constantly growing library of TonePrint presets, the pedals represent a real bargain and a portal to experimentation, unexpected sounds— and perhaps applications beyond what the TonePrint artists ever imagined.

For the TonePrint concept to work—and not inhibit creative applications of the technology—downloading the TonePrint sounds themselves had to be a fast and uncomplicated process. And with the exception of a few hiccups here and there, it was as simple as using the included cable to plug the pedal into my Mac’s USB port (you can just as easily use a PC), visiting the dedicated section of the TC Electronic website, selecting a TonePrint, and clicking the download command. The interface is well-designed, concise, informative, fun to explore, and conducive to experimenting with different effects, which is really the point.

While the downloadable TonePrints are the real news with these pedals, it’s worth noting that each is a more-than-capable device on its own. And if plans to expand the TonePrint library come to fruition, the ability to continuously modify the performance of these pedals well into the future is what will make them special.

Download Example 1
Pete Thorn Modulation Delay Toneprint, Level at noon, Delay at 10 o'clock, Feedback at 2 o'clock
Clips recorded with a Fender Telecaster and Vox Pathfinder
Flashback Delay/Looper

Of all the TonePrint pedals, the stereo output-equipped Flashback is the most versatile. As of this writing, there are 12 artist TonePrint presets from guitarists including Pete Thorn and Bumblefoot, as well as five TC Electronic factory TonePrints available on the Flashback page. But there are also nine switchable delay modes on the pedal itself, including a TC2290-inspired delay, analog- and tape-style delays, a lo-fi setting, a modulated delay, and slap, ping-pong, and reverse settings. The looper, meanwhile, can handle up to a 40-second loop in mono or a 20-second loop in stereo. So even without TonePrint presets, the Flashback gives you a lot of ways to explore echo.

Some of the most inspiring built-in modes include Mod (modulation), which adds a slight and very pleasing vibrato effect akin to Echoplex tape warble that sounds fantastic on hanging, slow-strummed chords and slow- to medium-tempo arpeggios. Tape mode has many similar qualities with the addition of a fairly authentic-sounding high-end decay, while Lofi mode sounds like a tape delay that’s done about 40 years on a fishing boat—very nice for skuzzy garage rock. Slap mode worked beautifully for a pass at “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” and a few other greasy rockabilly runs. Loop mode is about as easy to use as a looper can be. To capture audio, you simply hold down the footswitch for the duration of the chord progression or picking pattern you want to loop. The Reverse delay was a ton of fun too, though the reverse repeats had a vague, but perceptible digital quality to the swells.

The Flashback’s TonePrints aren’t all subtle variations on existing parameters. I downloaded Guns N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot’s Alienmimic delay, which matches your dry signal with repeats that sound like a scrambled transmission from a busted satellite—a texture that works surprisingly well for atmospheric slide work. The Bumblefoot Dual Delay TonePrint gives the illusion of two delays working at a slightly offset rate, which I dialed in with the Feedback and FX Level knobs at about 10 o’clock for some cool eighth-note “Another Brick in the Wall”- flavored picking. The differences in texture between this Dual Delay Toneprint and the onboard 2290 mode set to the same levels were subtle. But the extra wash in the signal was worth the investigation and the time required to hook up the pedal and download the TonePrint—a process that took two minutes at most.

Download Example 1
Orianthi TonePrint. Level 2 o'clock, Speed 11 o'clock, Depth 2 o'clock, Tone 1 o'clock
Clips recorded with a Fender Telecaster and Vox Pathfinder
Corona Chorus
The green Corona Chorus is a straightforward and easy-to-use chorus pedal with a fairly wide range of modulation from very subtle to radical. The control set is a conventional array of Level, Speed, Depth, and Tone controls. But the pedal also has an additional switch that enables on-the-fly activation of a Tri-Chorus that you can use in stereo mode for a rich chorus comprising slightly offset depth and speed settings that sounds super wide.

The Corona provided one of the more interesting studies of the potential to transform the pedal’s character via a TonePrint download. In this case, I downloaded the Orianthi chorus, which was a pleasant but subtle chorus with all the controls set to noon. Setting everything to just about 2 o’clock, however, gave the Chorus, with it’s new Orianthi-informed identity, a sweet, swelling Leslie quality that sounded quite nice for Abbey Road or Dark Side of the Moon rotary-speaker colors.

Switching back to standard Chorus mode, however conjured a less smooth and slightly digital-sounding chorus— not unpleasant, but a distinctly more undulating sound than the Orianthi chorus. And having both on tap really was like having two very different chorus pedals in front of me—one more analog flavored, the other a more radical and pulsing sound—but both very useful for drastically changing the mood of a single arpeggio to accentuate a bridge section or chorus. Those very different sounds had me wishing I could switch between them with an additional footswitch rather than having to use the pedal’s onboard knob. Given the compact and standard footprint of the TonePrint pedal, that would require a tricky bit of engineering, but it’s a touch that would make the pedal a lot more useful onstage.

Vortex Flanger
The Vortex Flanger—like any flanger—is not an effect for everyone. Hendrix aficionados looking to capture some of the studio moods from Electric Ladyland will always find a place for flange stylings. But in most cases, they aren’t for the faint-of-heart. That’s no different for the Vortex, but its price and the flexibility afforded by the available TonePrints makes this unit a more versatile and attractive flanger than most.

With controls for Speed, Feedback, Depth, and Delay Time, the Vortex is easy enough to navigate and use to dial up cool, swirling textures. The pedal’s standard modes can range from smooth to hyper and burbling, depending on how aggressively you toy with the Depth, Speed, and Feedback knobs. But the addition of the TonePrint option (which includes prints from Orianthi and Bumblefoot) and the Tape flange switch really expand the Vortex’s range of voices. The Tape setting sounds great at medium-to-strong intensity for both psych-flavored arpeggios and fast, funk-chord comping. It also works wonders if you want to lend motion to a lingering, fuzz-driven power chord.

The Petrucci TonePrint had a distinct envelope filter-like “wow,” but also added more clarity and definition to arpeggios at higher Speed and Feedback settings. According to the description for this particular TonePrint, Petrucci designed the print around a type of phase cancellation that lends warmth. It’s a quality that was easy to discern and also made the pedal more useful and musical in more extreme flange applications.

Download Example 1
Dave Catching Toneprint. Rise, Speed and Tone at Noon. Tone at 1 o'clock
Clips recorded with a Fender Telecaster and Vox Pathfinder
Shaker Vibrato
Dressed up like a can of Orange Crush, the Shaker tends to be about as subtle as it looks. Timid settings on the pedal, which includes controls for Rise Time, Speed, Depth, and Tone, tend to be relatively ineffective unless you’re looking for the most subtle vibrato wash for chords. Once everything is set to about noon, however, the Shaker comes alive.

Even at these settings, the Shaker imparts a queasy kind of modulation that’s actually quite lovely on suspended chords and open tunings with droning doubles, which take on a kind of waterfall shimmer. The Shaker works best with chords, and it really becomes most effective for lead work when you crank the speed a little bit. There’s no real way to dial in choppier, tremolo channel-type vibrato with this pedal, if that’s what you’re looking for. Nearly every setting has a distinct tape-warble quality that’s generally musical, but a little confining.

The Shaker has a cool Latch feature that enables you to hold the footswitch for momentary applications of your vibrato setting—great for short bridge sections and accents in the context of a song. It’s also a function that’s integral to the Bumblefoot Latch Vibrato TonePrint, which features a very aggressive, but unique vibrato that’s colored with feedback-laden, peak filter-style spikes at the top of each modulation wave. It’s hard to imagine using this particular TonePrint for the duration of most songs, but it works great as a texture you can insert into a song or lead for a moment of intensity or drama.

The Petrucci Clean Vibrato was a more subtle variation on the standard vibrato voice, with a more intense modulation somewhere between tape flutter and a rotary speaker—a great addition to dreamy chord passages. This also served to illustrate how TC’s TonePrints can very subtly, but effectively (and if need be, temporarily) change the basic color of the pedal with very little effort.

The Verdict
Certain old-school guitarists will always want to keep their stompboxes as far away from a computer as possible. Others won’t find the current selection of TonePrint artists very appealing (though TC says more than 30 TonePrints— including from Audley Freed, Jerry McPherson, and Brian Nutter—will soon be available). But as we discovered, you can do very interesting and un- Bumblefoot-like things with a Bumblefoot TonePrint. And really, you shouldn’t necessarily look to the TonePrints as tools for emulation as much as for inspiration.

Guitar players who don’t view the web as an anathema to creative playing will really dig having the ability to search for new sounds online and quickly switch between them—all for only the initial cost of the pedal itself. And every TonePrints page links to your Facebook page, so you can share comments, tips, and settings with your friends.

The key to the success of TonePrint pedals over the long haul may be how effectively TC Electronic expands the TonePrints library and how varied the added voices are. At the very least, TonePrint pedals give players the ability to explore sonic modifications on a whim and get a quick dose of inspiration. These pedals may not turn you into the next Orianthi, but they can be avenues to some cool and unexpected surprises at a very reasonable price. That’s why most folks look to stompboxes anyway, and why TonePrint pedals are a very promising evolution of the form.

Buy if...
you’re intrigued by the notion of regularly adding new voices to your pedals.
Skip if...
you like to go with what you know on your pedalboard.

Street $170 (Flashback Delay and Looper) and $130 (Corona Chorus, Vortex Flanger, Shaker Vibrato) -
TC Electronic