Weird becomes wonderful in a heady, ambitious modulation pedal that somehow always sounds organic.
Super diverse and versatile modulation sounds with uncanny musicality.
Discerning and predicting some knob functions can be confusing.
Catalinbread Many Worlds
Named after physicist Hugh Everett III’s quantum-mechanics theory of the multiverse, the Catalinbread’s Many Worlds phaser takes a tonal trajectory arcing back to the mid-’70s Phase 90 and fractures it, Schrödinger’s cat-style, with eight stages and eight LFO modes. Five knobs govern up to eight parameters and five traditional LFO types—sine, square, sawtooth, reverse-sawtooth, and triangle—plus two envelope-dependent sine modes that trigger varying levels of phase sweep (one downward, one up) based on the intensity of your string attack. In “battle” mode, two sine waves with independently controllable speeds compete to dominate the phase output.
What a World, What a World
Based on what you just read, you couldn’t be blamed for feeling slightly daunted about transporting to Many Worlds’ sonic planes—especially if you’re accustomed to simpler phase fare. It has more knobs than traditional units, and, to newer players, a couple of controls could be confused with other sound concepts or parameters. Freq (frequency), rather than governing Hz-based pitch ranges, controls what some may be used to seeing labeled “rate”—how quickly the phase cycles back and forth—while feedback might make you think of a delay pedal but is better thought of as a resonance knob. In addition, two of the five knobs have mode-dependent functions.
Thankfully, clever labeling and a laminated reference card help you keep things straight. Orange text and waveform icons indicate that, in envelope modes, the upper-left knob becomes an attack control for the low-pass filter, while depth becomes a sens (sensitivity) control regulating input gain for the envelope-detection algorithm. Similarly, light-purple indicates that, in battle LFO mode, the top-middle knob regulates the rate/frequency of the second waveform rather than depth. If all this is starting to make your head swim, just know all that really matters is your ears will perceive myriad cool sounds, even if your brain doesn’t quite grok all the terms or diagrams.
It’s strangely easy to make unusual settings sit right in a mix.
To get a feel for how Many Worlds sounds in the material plane, I engaged my Telecaster’s bridge pickup, dialed up a good ol’ sine wave, nudged mix to 10 o’clock and freq, depth, and feedback to around noon, and—voila! —instant high-lonesome country sounds. Classic and lush, with a slightly pinched nasal quality alluding to the constantly shifting contours of desert dunes. Engaging both pickups, I chose what you might deem an opposite vibe—reverse-sawtooth. But with freq and feedback at noon and depth at max, this imparted an even more delectably undulating movement to spaghetti-western fingerpicking patterns. Somewhat surprisingly, going to regular sawtooth—i.e., with a build up to the peak waveform rather than ramping down from the peak—yielded a bigger, bolder feel to similar picking work. Turns out the feedback knob is a huge key to the overall vibe of any given “world,” with higher settings instilling a slightly honky sound that feels more sensitive to playing dynamics, while lower settings feel more open and airy.
In downward-sweeping envelope mode, dialing attack (alternate parameter for the freq control) and feedback to minimum and both mix and sensitivity (alternate for depth) to noon inspired Andy Summers-esque staccato arpeggios, which bloomed with a lovely, hypnotizing lushness. For envelope-up mode, I cranked attack, sens, feedback, andmix. But rather than sounding bizarre, it imbued guitar lines with a thick, gooey, inviting swirl. Unlike with, say, an envelope-controlled tremolo, Many Worlds’ attack-sensitive modes feel less predictable due to the asymmetrical crisscrossing of waveforms and phase rates. Yet that unpredictability is precisely what’s compelling. A guitar-playing observer wouldn’t think, “Cool—that phaser is reacting to attack dynamics!” But the player themself would be increasingly engrossed in a constantly shifting experience that lures them deeper and deeper as the subtly writhing tonal possibilities become more evident.
As heady as Many Worlds’ ambitions and control set might seem, what’s remarkable is how useful its delightful array of sounds is. Having grown up with Van Halen’s MXR and David Gilmour’s Small Stone sounds defining my idea of phasing, I remember my disappointment/confusion upon first experimenting with a more complex 4-knobber. Sure, it served up a lot of spacey sounds, but they also often felt hackneyed and harsh—like, “Why would I want that sound?” But with Many Worlds it’s strangely easy to make unusual settings sit right in a mix. Yes, you can get out-there and weird, particularly with square waves or in battle mode. Yet even with the latter’s ever-present sonic Cylon sweep in the background, there’s a musicality that doesn’t feel at all alien.
Inspired by the great mysteries of quantum mechanics, the Many Worlds phaser pedal from Catalinbread is the company’s first-ever phaser. In true Catalinbread fashion, the Many Worlds phaser takes a vintage reference point — in this case, an iconic single-knob stompbox — but pairs it with expanded control knobs (attack, depth, feedback, and mix) and modulation from eight distinct LFO options.
A safe space for savage fuzz.
Absolutely ripping fuzz sounds that balance sustain and chaos. Cool low-gain and volume-attenuated textures. Sturdy construction. Cool control layout.
High gain sounds rob pedal of some of its nuance
Pigtronix Star Eater
Though it feels sacrilegious to say, sometimes you need a break from fuzz—a chance to rest the ears, to bathe in the overtones of a little reverb, or just listen to the birds sing. That’s the place I was in when the Pigtronix Star Eater arrived. An hour later I wasn’t nearly as interested in the birds anymore.
It’s hard to pinpoint a classic fuzz touchstone that’s useful to describe the Star Eater. At many settings it has a lot of the chainsaw grind and piercing focus of a Shin-Ei Super Fuzz, but it’s thicker. At other settings it has some of the mass and wallop of a Rams Head Big Muff, but it’s less woofy and thick. Elsewhere you hear echoes of the Foxx Tone Machine and ZVex Fuzz Factory. But generally, such comparisons are pretty futile: The Star Eater shines in a galaxy all its own.
One reason the Star Eater’s personality is hard to pigeonhole is that it has a few. This multi-faceted character is attributable to the Star Eater’s big and snarly but malleable fundamental voice, which is controlled by a simple set of three knobs and two rocker switches. When the contour filter is off, the fuzz is shaped by the volume and gain knobs and the germanium/silicon clipping switch. That’s a simple set of controls, but there are many sounds to find within their respective ranges. Winding up the output volume and gain (called hunger) produces hot, trashy, and saturated tones that are killer for super-focused punk power chords and leads that rip and splatter. Sustain is impressive, too. But it’s not the vocal- or violin-like sustain you hear in a Big Muff. Instead, it’s reedy, cracked and fractured, particularly when holding deep pitch bends.
Sustain is not the vocal- or violin-like sustain you hear in a Big Muff. Instead, it’s reedy, cracked and fractured.
Low gain/high volume settings produce sounds that range from ’66-style germanium fuzz voices at full guitar volume to almost ring-modulated and electric-sitar-like voices at attenuated guitar volumes. These glitchier, messier fuzz sounds are some of the pedal’s coolest colors. The fuzz is plenty loud at these lower gain levels, too, which means you can explore these sounds in a live band without the fear of being rendered silent.
Filtered Fatness and Contoured Screech
The contour filter, controllable via the footswitch, rocker switch, and knob on the left side of the pedal, generates versions of the Star Eater voice that run from scooped and fat to raspy and cutting. Parking the sweep knob somewhere around noon and switching in the contour filter makes a given sound from the fuzz side fatter and fuller. You can also further shape the response and tonality with the contour rocker switch, which moves between a scooped and bumped midrange profile.
When you move the sweep knob a little in either direction, the sustain becomes more unstable and EQ emphasis shifts—usually with deliciously perverse results. The best of these sounds, at least in my demented estimation, are in the clockwise range with the mid-contour switch in scooped mode. Here, screaming notes quickly turn to shards of cracked octave overtones and harmonics that sound especially freaked-out and full of fangs when you move the rocker switch to the scooped setting.
While it was hard to determine any direct lineage between the Star Eater and any other classic fuzz (and what a treat that is), the Star Eater evoked many thrilling musical spaces: Mudhoney, Ghost’s Michio Kurihara, the manic buzz of a thousand aggro psych-punk bands, and the meaty, trucking riffage of 100 Sabbathoid sojourners.
What really sets the Star Eater apart for me, though, is attitude. It’s not the burliest fuzz or the weirdest. But by inhabiting a world between those poles, the Star Eater manages to be articulate and nasty—a poet assassin and a civilized brute. These are the kinds of tones that make a solo or driving rhythm part explode in a recorded mix or onstage. And if you like your guitar parts with a touch of chaos and the confrontational, you’ll find this stompbox beautiful.
- All-analog design delivers authentic old-school fuzz tones
- Dual footswitch setup, sporting a powerful fuzz side and a versatile Boost/Filter side to cover all of your fuzz needs
- Precision matched transistor pairs allow you to effortlessly dial in the “sweet spot”
- Voice rocker switch offers both smooth germanium sounds and wild silicon tones
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