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Tech 21 Roto Choir Pedal Review

Tech 21 Roto Choir Pedal Review

The Roto Choir is both an amp simulator and a rotary-speaker effect that excels at both.

Evoking the vastness of the heavens in one moment and watery, pressurized pulsations the next is no small feat. However, this has been the task of the humble (and huge) Leslie rotating-speaker cabinet for decades. Guitarists’ use and misuse of the Leslie and its swirling sounds is well chronicled. But simulating a rotary speaker convincingly with a stompbox remains one of the great challenges in the pedal-design world.

One of the more overlooked aspects of the Leslie’s sound is that it has its own onboard tube amplifier. So when Andrew Barta of Tech 21 had a go at a rotary-speaker- in-a-stompbox, he felt it was natural to include his SansAmp tube-amp simulation—technology that has been an industry mainstay for years. And with such effective amp simulation onboard, the Roto Choir represents a unique departure from standard modulation fare. It is both an amp simulator and a rotary-speaker effect that excels at both.

Spin Doctor
The Roto Choir’s tweaking options are very intuitive, given how much ground the pedal covers. Amplifier controls include Level, High and Low EQ knobs, and a Drive control. Bass rotor and horn rotation speed settings are adjustable via the Top Speed knob and Fast/Slow switch. The Biamped button spins (in the figurative sense) both the bass speaker rotor and treble horn when engaged, and bass speaker rotor alone when switched off. This latter setting greatly enhances the effect of the Position control, which simulates microphone proximity.

Round We Go
Plugging into a Fender Champ, I started my test of the Roto Choir with the Biamped button in the off position, getting rid of the horn component to get a more Fender Vibratone-like sound. I engaged the Slow setting and set the Position knob to 9 o’clock, which produced a lush, chorus-like sound peppered with a phasey, trebley color. Kicking the footswitch into Fast mode was like changing from chorus to an intense vibrato.

The pedal really comes into its own when switched into Biamped mode. With Position and Speed at noon, the sound coming out of my Les Paul’s bridge humbucker bloomed and swirled throughout the room with impressive clarity and warmth. The sound was almost completely free of digital edginess, and I found myself delightfully lost in David Gilmour-like ambient swirl in both Slow and Fast modes. Just like a good old Leslie, the pedal is not exactly noise free, and the noise is more noticeable with the Drive control turned up. At no time, though, did the noise compete with or distract from the rich, musical sounds coming out of the amplifier.

Turning up the Position and Speed knobs put me into the Roto Choir’s organ simulation range, which was probably my favorite tone. Those looking to get some of Jimmy Smith’s funk and swing from a guitar should take note. Cutting back a bit on the Drive and Top Speed controls produced an even more subtle flavor that sounded quite like Charlie Hunter’s organ-like sound on “Right Now Move.”

The Verdict
If you’re at all curious about the captivating sonorities and celestial potential of vintage rotating speakers, you should spend some time with the Tech 21 Roto Choir. On the Biamped setting especially, it’s incredibly easy to conjure huge, smile-inducing sounds you never thought would come from a guitar. At times, the illusion is so strong it’s hard to believe you’re actually listening to a little metal box. The extra oomph and flavor you can coax from the pedal by toying with the amp section controls can help you tailor the effect even more precisely for your rig and performance situations. Good rotary simulators tend to be pretty expensive, and at $219, the Tech 21 isn’t small change. But given the control and quality of the sounds within, it represents a value for anyone bent on exploring rotary speaker swirl.
Buy if...
you’re after a convincing and highly tweakable Leslie simulation.
Skip if...
a more antiseptic and completely noise-free rotary sound is essential to your sound.

Street $219 - Tech 21 -

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