Come with us, time travelers, as we revisit a year’s worth of axes, amps, stomps, basses, baritones, and other tools of our music-making trade—all deemed worthy of the Premier Gear Award.
Fulltone 2B JFET Booster
Much of what makes Fulltone’s Full Drive 2 and 3 such hits is their forgiving simplicity: They make dialing up great overdrive and boost tones a breeze. The 2B takes that simplicity a step further, extracting the boost section from the Full Drive 3 and stuffing it into a sturdy, ultra-compact pedal that packs a wallop and serves as a tone masseuse extraordinaire.
$103 street, fulltone.com
Come with us time travelers, as we revisit a year’s worth of axes, amps, stomps, basses, baritones, and other tools of our music-making trade—all deemed worthy of the Premier Gear Award. This year’s list is as diverse as ever: Classics revisited, shred machines made affordable, fuzzes refined and made more fiendish, amps that blast and purr, basses that boom, and time-warping delays and reverbs that mock astronomers’ notions about the cosmos. From manufacturers big and small, these delights await you in the pages ahead. Enjoy the voyage.
This little purple prize packs classic sounds in a bulletproof and super-affordable package.
I love analog delay unabashedly. Along with a good fuzz, it’s probably the only effect I couldn’t live without. Over the years I’ve put up with the hassles of maintaining a Maestro Echoplex and a less-than-optimally-space-efficient Deluxe Memory Man to indulge my analog echo fixations. So when cool compact analog delays like the Carbon Copy, MF Delay, and DM-2w hit the market at reasonable prices, I rejoiced. Ibanez’s new Analog Delay Mini takes those reasons for celebration—low price and small size—to even more affordable and tinier extremes. The even-better news? It sounds fantastic.
I don’t know about you, but once I get over the cuteness of tiny pedals, I start to imagine accidentally crushing them in a state of performance overzealousness—or worse, turning an ankle stumbling over one in some spectacular stage injury incident. The AD Mini is still small enough to feel unsteady underfoot if you don’t have it securely Velcroed or otherwise tethered to a board. But you can forget about other incidental damage. The Japan-built AD Mini feels as tough and solid as brass knuckles. The only points of vulnerability might be the small knobs used for the repeat and mix controls, although they are basically quite sturdy. Mostly the little Ibanez feels destined to last as long as one of its tough-as-nails forebears.
Rough and Ready Retro Repeater
Bucket-brigade-driven analog delays looked like an endangered species when big manufacturers of BBD chips started to wind down production. Thanks to companies like Coolaudio, though, good BBD chips are available again, enabling reissues of classic delay and modulation circuits as well as entirely new devices. Coolaudio’s work helps drive the AD Mini in the form of V3208 BBD chips. But while these chips are found in many new analog delays, that doesn’t mean the AD Mini sounds just like the rest of the pack.
Like any of the most desirable vintage analog delays, the AD Mini generates repeats that degrade as they are regenerated from one BBD chip to the next. This effect, typically heard as a progressive “darkening” of repeats, is a big part of analog delay’s appeal. To many ears, it sounds more natural and organic, tames the harsher side of vintage-style fuzz, and adds a cool haze to modulation effects.
The AD Mini’s repeats degrade in all the most preferable ways. There’s a smooth contour to each fade that never sounds excessively distorted or clipped—even at the longest repeat settings. But the AD Mini also has a very tasteful sheen of extra top-end clarity that, while miles from digital’s sterility, adds air and definition that’s an asset in the context of spacy, meandering leads and rhythmically driven delay passages. Like many newer analog delays, the AD Mini effectively doubles the 300 ms maximum delay time of vintage stalwarts like the Ibanez AD9 and Boss DM-2. The extra delay time dovetails nicely with the extra air and top-end presence—especially when gain pedals are in the mix. It also highlights the very nice sensitivity and taper of the controls, which enable fine-tuning of delay times and repeats (great for dialing in rhythmic delays) and smooth, controlled oscillation swells.
Whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool analog echo devotee or new to the effect’s charms, the Analog Delay Mini is a supremely satisfying way to experience the nuanced, organic, and musical possibilities of an analog circuit. It’s beautifully built, sounds amazing, is fun to use, and is a flat-out steal given what vintage dealers ask for original analog delays. If you can get past its diminutive footprint, it’s worth every penny—and then some.
Watch the Review Demo:
The far reaches of octave-effect capabilities are made accessible via this compact new digital box.
Gibson Les Paul Standard into a Soldano Sweet Sixteen head.
Few effects can force a transformation in playing style quite like octave pedals. They can make single notes scream like birds of prey or add a beefy sub-octave thump that makes every string pluck sound like it weighs 300 pounds. But no matter which extreme you pursue, an octave pedal will make playing a familiar passage feel very different—and, on good days, prompt musical invention.
Digital design has made octave pedals more flexible and friendly to experimental, inventive approaches in recent years. And clever manufacturers can now deliver some of the wider, interactive functionality of treadle-based designs like the DigiTech Whammy in compact pedals. TC Electronic’s Sub ’N’ Up, the latest addition to the company’s TonePrint series, is a cool study in how much octave-tweaking fun you can stuff into a little enclosure without a treadle.
One Monster, Many Growls
The surprisingly basic, relatively simple layout of the Sub ’N’ Up includes knobs for controlling dry/effected mix, the amount of “up” or high octave, the amount of first sub-octave, and the intestine-rumbling frequencies of the pedal’s second sub-octave engine. There is also a three-way toggle switch that allows selection between polyphonic settings, a TonePrint selector (our demo unit came loaded with a killer faux organ sound, complete with its own modulation), and traditional, non-polyphonic mode (labeled “classic”). It’s an intuitive pedal, even if you’re a neophyte octave pedal user.
The polyphonic sounds the Sub ’N’ Up brings to the table are superb. An oft-heard complaint from octave addicts is that most octave pedals track poorly—glitching out when chords or odd interval bends enter the picture. Even some of the best octave pedals can still get confused and glitch if too much complex harmonic information is thrown their direction. So it’s impressive that Sub ’N’ Up handles these musical situations as well as it does. In polyphonic mode—even with the ominous low rumble of its second sub-octave engaged—chords ring and rumble with surprising clarity and without pronounced latency or glitchy artifacts. But if glitchiness is what you’re after, the classic setting provides those raw, crooked sounds with ease. The second sub-octave is a huge part of the fun, especially when utilized on bass guitar through a proper bass amplifier. Truly filthy textures lurk in the upper range of this control.
Beam Me Sub ’N’ Up
TC’s very useful TonePrint technology looks more impressive and practical with every new release and TonePrint library addition. It’s a big part of what makes Sub ’N’ Up so versatile, too. The organ TonePrint the Sub ’N’ Up came with generated warbling, lush polyphonic swirl that evoked classic combo organs, stoked rhythmic ideas, and lent economy to my playing as I picked riffs to match the fat, bubbling tones. Paired with a Stratocaster loaded with Seymour Duncan APS-1 single-coil pickups through a Fender Pro Junior, comped chords became a great alternative rhythm guitar texture. With a distorted 100-watt Marshall JCM800 head and 4x12, it sounded like Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore melded into a single musician! Diving even further into the TonePrint editor enables you to craft tones that range from more esoteric keyboard sounds to very convincing 12-string guitar tones.
Between the killer polyphonic tracking and the nearly limitless flexibility afforded by its TonePrint technology, the Sub ’N’ Up might be the only octave effect you need. The lack of treadle means some extremely radical octave-shift maneuvers remain impossible. But the available tones are fantastic, and surprises abound—especially when you consider the small size. At just around $130, the Sub ’N’ Up is another great value from an increasingly impressive pedal line.
Watch the Review Demo: