The My Bloody Valentine tone maestro helps design an intricate, complex, but ultimately intuitive source of potent octave fuzz and overtones galore.
Huge swaths of unexpected sounds that can exist well outside the My Bloody Valentine tone sphere. Beautiful, high quality build. Fascinating, organic interactions between controls.
Pedalboard space freaks are going to complain that it’s big.
Fender Shields Blender
Kevin Shields tone chasers are a minor cult—sharing insights and discoveries about ways and means to replicate the intoxicating, enveloping sounds of My Bloody Valentine’s LPs, and in particular, their masterwork, Loveless. It’s a curious pursuit, in a way, for it is well documented that Shields created most of that album’s time- and space-bending sheets-of-sound guitar parts via the rather economical combination of reverse reverb and the vibrato on a Fender Jazzmaster.
My Bloody Valentine on stage, however, is quite another matter. Seeing the band live is a little like breathing the atmosphere of another planet. It’s heavy, loud, and sometimes disorienting, which is largely the product of a sea of colliding and intertwining overtones. It’s an almost extra-dimensional extension of the songs on the records. And to build the melodious, swirling, and deafening world of MBV live, Shields relies on an imposing quiver of stompboxes. As it turns out, one of the most critical of these is a vintage Fender Blender, an octave fuzz that went largely unappreciated in its time. With the release of the Fender Shields Blender, a highly modified version of the original, the Blender’s days in the shadows are likely numbered.
Building on a Blend
For those less familiar with Shields’ work, it’s important to know that his ears, mind, and aesthetic fixations dwell, to a significant extent, in the realm of overtones, and the magic made when they interweave to form a more colorful whole. Curiously, one of Shields’ and My Bloody Valentine’s deepest probes into the overtone world is the bludgeoningly loud and sustained onslaught of the song “You Made Me Realise.” Shields’ first investigations of the Blender’s potential occurred during this nightly, set-ending ritual. And the combination of octave-up fuzz, a footswitchable fuzz boost, a tone knob, and a wet/dry blend control made it a perfect vehicle for adding another color to the song’s outro overtone feast. The Shields Blender, however, explodes and expands the feature set—and the available sounds—of the original Blender significantly.
Bigger Blend, Minds Blown
Shields’ and Fender’s design additions profoundly expand the possibilities afforded by the new Blender. First, there’s a new footswitchable, mammoth sub-octave fuzz with dedicated volume control. It can be used with or without the octave up signal from the original, which can now be added or subtracted via a pushbutton. That means you can use the fuzz alone, with one of the octave effects, or both. That flexibility gives you a wagonload of huge, menacing, and mangled textures to work with. But they are just a fraction of the tones you can craft here. The fuzz has its own very range-ful tone knob, which recasts the fuzz’s personality considerably. The expand section, which has a dedicated footswitch (and was called the tone boost on the original) enables you to boost the fuzz output.
The wildest addition to the original Blender, though, is the sag circuit. Shields noted that many sag functions, which starve a circuit of voltage, are a bit subtle. This one is most assuredly not. It’s also not the easiest function to figure out. But practice yields very cool and often unexpected results. While it works in dynamically responsive, rhythmic, almost tremolo-like ways at the right settings (which seems to be Shields’ preferred application), I loved its potential in fingerpicked situations, where its dynamic responsiveness shined. Fingerpicking triads high on the neck with both octave effects engaged yielded melodic, glitchy effects that could be continuously reshaped by touch, and by using mellower trigger levels you can summon a greater degree of dynamic control. It’s important to note that strong octave-down fuzz settings can render the sag control less nuanced. But used together they can also summon the chaotic, tectonic-scale, Earth-cracking tonalities that are part of the live “You Made Me Realise” or Neil Young’s most deranged octave divider and melting tweed Deluxe moments.
While it yields many chaotic results, the Fender Shields Blender is not the product of a chaotic design approach. Shields is known for striving for very specific sonic results and for being uncompromising in those quests. That a Kevin Shields-approved pedal could exist at all is something of a surprise to this longtime fan. But what’s also a surprise is how incredibly varied and full of twists the Shields Blender can be. The addition of the sub-octave fuzz is inspired. So is the tricky-to-wrangle, but ultimately satisfying, sag circuit, which offers unusual tones and interactivity galore. Making the fuzz independently operable from the octave effects also extends the pedal’s flexibility. But it’s the potential interrelationships between all of the controls and functions that ultimately make the Shields Blender such a rich mine of possible sounds. For the intrepid and patient explorer willing to crack the many codes within, fantastic rewards await.
Watch Alex Maier of Superdanger Studios cover all the ways this sleek Grand Performance acoustic-electric excels.
With a gorgeous glossed spruce top and ziricote back and sides, this solid wood Grand Performance cutaway model is a great sounding guitar at an affordable price. New to this model are stunning mother-of-pearl pattern fingerboard and rosette inlays, a multi-stripe rosette border, and white binding. It has an FSC® Certified Richlite® fingerboard and bridge, gloss body, and a hand-rubbed neck finish. Also new to this model is a Fishman® MX-T electronics package with a built-in soundhole tuner that auto mutes the audio output so you can tune up any time without using a pedal. This guitar comes with a burst option and Premium Soft Shell Case so it is Road-ready to join you on all of your adventures!
The bass side of a Pultec EQP-1A is the jumping-off point for a superb op-amp-driven EQ that adds meat and substance to guitar and bass tones.
Classic outboard bass effect in analog stompbox form. Muscular-yet-clear bass tones. Easy to use.
No battery compartment. Modern digital EQ pedals can create similar effects—and many more.
ZeroFive Audio Lowrider
The Lowrider pedal from France’s ZeroFive Audio is a one-trick pony. But it’s a magic pony whose trick, as far as I know, is unique among handbuilt analog stompboxes. It certainly merits a stall in the stables of many bassists, and probably a fair number of guitarists as well.
It’s based on a portion of the circuit from Pultec’s EQP-1A, an outboard equalizer still considered a classic more than 70 years after its introduction. You may be familiar with the device even if you’ve never seen an original, because it’s been cloned endlessly as a software plugin. You’ve certainly heard the effect on countless recordings.
The original Pultec is a 3-band passive EQ paired with a tube-powered gain stage. The Lowrider replicates only the bass section, with a modern op amp in lieu of tubes. Bass boosts are the EQP-1A’s most celebrated sound, thanks to an intriguing design quirk. The original has separate controls for bass boost and cut, and they’re often used simultaneously. That may sound pointless. Don’t the two controls cancel each other out? Nope—due to their different cutoff frequencies and ranges, you can generate massive bass boosts with the gain knob, and then clarify the low mids via the cut knob. Result: walloping lows that don’t get woolly or muddy.
On the Lowrider, the boost and cut controls are combined in a single “intensity” pot. This disappointed me at first. Wouldn’t it be best to have separate controls for bass boom and low-mid clarity? Yet the single-knob solution, with its baked-in boost/cut ratios, simply works. Every setting yields the Pultec’s signature big-yet-clear bass sound. You don’t get the idiosyncratic tube coloration of the original gain stage, but the op amp provides clean and attractive volume boosts with variable amounts of low-end wallop.
As on the original, a rotary switch lets you select the boost frequency. The two lowest settings have been raised to slightly higher frequencies better suited to modern bass tones. There are also two additional settings where the cut frequency is shifted further above the boost frequency for even greater low-mid openness.
Boost for Body and Bigness
Audio Clip 1 demos the six settings on bass guitar. You hear a short phrase eight times: first with the effect bypassed, then with strong boosts centered at 30, 45, 60, and 100 Hz, and then the two custom settings. The clip concludes with a repeat of the bypassed sound. To my ear, all settings are attractive and usable, and it took mere seconds to dial them in. And man, I sure missed the bottom-end muscle when I switched off the pedal!
The Lowrider may also be useful for guitarists, depending on what styles they play and how low they tune. The Lowrider’s lowest-pitched settings reside below the range of most guitars, but the 60 and 100 Hz positions add muscle to low-register baritone guitar lines (Clip 2) and chunky drop-D power chords (Clip 3). Again, both demo clips begin and end with the effect bypassed.
The Lowrider is expertly handbuilt, using full-sized, through-hole components. It has no battery compartment, but it works with any standard 9-volt power supply. You can also run it at 18 volts, where it can accept line-level signals. (That is, you can apply it as an outboard mix effect without using a reamping device.)
There are many ways to add low-end muscle to bass and low-register guitar parts, from pitch shifters to subharmonic synthesizers to modern parametric EQs. But a Pultec-style solution, as capably conjured in ZeroFive’s EQP-1A, is both musically satisfying and nearly idiot-proof.