The DSP-based Orbital Modulator from Source Audio packs 12 modulation effects and significant shaping power in a compact pedal that’s formidable onstage or in the studio.
As you navigate the controls for the new Source Audio Orbital Modulator—or any of its cousins in the Soundblox 2 family—you’ll notice readouts for “options” and “control.” If you’ve worked with Source Audio’s pedals at all in the past, you know those two words might as well be part of a company mantra. Indeed, the Massachusetts pedal manufacturer can seem more stacked with engineers than MIT, and many of their stomps are designed to deliver something approaching the processing power, functionality, and control of a larger rack device.
The powerful DSP-based Orbital Modulator embodies that approach, packing 12 modulation effects (two of which can be saved as presets and assigned to the two footswitches) and significant shaping power in a compact pedal that’s formidable onstage or in the studio.
With all its knobs, buttons, and blinking lights, the Orbital doesn’t boast the world’s most welcoming interface. But it doesn’t take long to learn how to navigate the unit. The centermost knob accesses four effect groups—chorus, flanger, resonator, and phaser. Within each of these modulations you can select variations, including quad chorus, vibe (based on the original Uni-Vibe built by Japan’s Shin-Ei in the 1960s), and multi-stage phasing. The remaining knobs control parameters such as depth, speed, and wave shape.
The option control opens up even more fine-tuning potential, enabling adjustment of six parameters (as shown by the LEDs at left) in conjunction with the option knob. Delay/freq adjusts the delay time between the dry and modified signal when using chorus or flanging. When using the phaser, a clockwise turn moves the modulation center point over higher frequencies and gives the effect a brighter tone. Feedback controls the amount of wet signal fed back into the pedal, an essential adjustment that affects overall presence and definition.
The volume parameter provides up to 6 dB of gain, and lo retain isolates low-end output in case you want less effect on your bass frequencies. Increasing tremolo adds another layer of modulation to your base modulation, and you can dial up the presence to generate a more robust chop. Mix adjusts the overall ratio of your dry and wet signal, with a maximum wet signal when cranked clockwise. However, the 12 o’clock position produces a completely dry signal, and once you start going counter-clockwise the frequency becomes inverted—typically pulling out some of the low end, depending on the effect.
Although the fact that the Orbital can only be powered with the included 9V barrel adapter might be a bummer to some players, the two footswitches boast flexibility that should more than make up for it: Both can be switched to either true or buffered bypass. On the downside, their proximity to each other, to the other controls, and to the edge of the housing can make it difficult to engage one without hitting a knob or button, the other footswitch, or an adjacent pedal’s footswitch.
Each switch can also be used as a tap tempo for the speed control. If the left preset is engaged, the right switch becomes the tap switch, and vice versa. There’s also a multifunction in/out that can be used to adjust modulation via MIDI, an expression pedal, or Source Audio’s unique motion-sensing Hot Hand.
Inserted between a Les Paul and a ’68 silverface Fender Bassman, the Orbital Modulator displayed a lot of range—and headroom. I first dialed in a dual chorus effect for a deep, interwoven waver that remained impressively complex without getting oversaturated or mushy. At these settings, the basic character of the Orbital Modulator is fairly bright, which obscured some of the Les Paul’s low-end honk. But I was able to enhance low-end definition with the lo retain parameter. Notching up feedback helped pull out more top-end too, and what I ended up with was a very full-bodied chorus that was perfect for ’80s Cure-inspired leads.
The Orbital’s “12 stage” setting showcases its more extreme capabilities. It’s the most chaotic of the phaser’s four stages and takes you giant leaps away from the Leslie-like sounds of tamer settings. Single-string runs using a sine wave took on a cosmic character, sending ringing trails chasing after each picked note. Using tap tempo to increase the speed gave the modulated tones a metallic, hollow, and springy feel, perfect for a dub vamp. Rolling off the bridge pickup’s tone knob created a hazy, percussive tone perfect for a slow Funkadelic jam.
The phaser control’s lower stages approximate the wobble on classic-rock records, and again tap tempo was indispensable for quickly and precisely changing speed.
With a Stratocaster in the mix, I discovered one of my favorite settings was a vibe option. Making the most of it demanded the use of an expression pedal for adjusting the speed, but it sounded excellent at a fixed rate, too. Keeping the Bassman at the verge of breakup and kicking on the vibe yielded Hendrix-like tones—two-note bends became a dizzying howl, particularly with two pickups engaged.
Adding a Fuzz Face clone yielded more savage Jimi tones, and in this much louder, more hectic setting, the Orbital’s finetuning capabilities were invaluable. The lo retain and feedback parameters helped me fine-tune the output so the fuzz cut through the swirling, complex mix. And despite all its tweakability, the Orbital is very transparent and friendly to the intrinsic voices of your rig elements.
At $169 street, the Orbital Modulator is a great deal for such a complete, capable, and option-filled modulation machine—and its 56-bit DSP processing makes many of the more analog-like effects sound quite genuine. There are plenty of parameters to discover new and colorful sonic textures, and it’s friendly to single-coils and humbuckers.
Perhaps best of all is that all that parameter control means you can really tailor the waveform and EQ characteristics of this pedal to suit the idiosyncrasies of your rig. Given that flexibility, the Orbital Modulator is a great solution if you’re trying to sack a few effects from your chain, save pedalboard space, or are looking for a highly configurable modulation pedal that can move readily from stage to the studio.
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The tone, playability, and flawless build of the Vigier Excalibur Special 7 elevates the guitar to a level of all-around performance that few companies can touch.
In an industry that so often looks backward, Vigier Guitars seems to thrive on pushing forward. They were among the first electric-guitar builders to experiment with carbon fiber-reinforced wood to improve durability and tuning stability. They’ve used onboard microprocessors and helped pave the way for the fretless guitar with their Surfreter in the early ’80s.
Vigier has also catered to 7-string players for more than 30 years. And though the new Excalibur Special 7 reviewed here doesn’t find Vigier reinventing the wheel, the tweaks and refinements that set this guitar apart make it one of the biggest-sounding and slinkiest-playing 7-strings you’ll ever encounter.
The ingredients in the Special 7’s sonic brew begin with the two-piece alder body, which is capped with a beautiful book-matched, flamed maple top. The woods have been subjected to Vigier’s drying process, where the wood is dried for three years before the body sections are cut and the pieces joined. Once the body is completed, Vigier applies a thin varnish that’s given a five-week minimum curing time.
Crafted from wood that goes through the same drying process as the body, the hard maple neck is bolted to the body and reinforced with carbon fiber, which improves tuning stability, helps counter the pull of a seventh string, and makes the neck particularly resistant to changes in humidity. With this design, the neck should require little adjustment over the life of the guitar. The neck’s 24-fret maple fretboard sports stainless steel fretwire, as well as a specially hardened and removable Teflon nut. A zero fret ensures proper action across the fretboard.
Vigier also chose top-quality hardware for the Special 7. In place of traditional string trees, a custom string-retention system moves with the strings during play to prevent binding. Heavy-duty Schaller locking tuners not only hold the strings securely in tune, but also add mass to the headstock, which may result in more sustain.
Vigier’s proprietary 2017 model tremolo system might be the most impressive bit of kit on the Special 7. The floating design pivots on needle bearings instead of knife edges, which can wear out over time with heavy usage. Vigier test the bearings by turning them up to 10,000 times a minute—which makes it rather unlikely you’ll ever wear them out during your lifetime.
For pickups, Vigier decided to use the same set of DiMarzio Blaze pickups and 5-way switching that are featured in their Supra 7 model—specifically, a 15.8k DP700 humbucker in the neck, a 13.7k DP701 single-coil in the middle, and a 20.8k DP702 in the bridge. And while those output ratings might seem hot for anything but hard rock and metal, they extend the low-end range and help deliver the detail and clarity that can make the difference between average and great-sounding overdrive tones. Vigier also added the momentary kill switch that’s sported on their Ron Thal DoubleBfoot signature model, and it’s stealthily hidden, yet easily accessible, right above the volume knob.
I could tell I was in for a treat when I discovered that the Special 7’s action, intonation, and tuning were absolutely perfect right out of the box. A lot of guitars need a tweak or two after shipping, but thanks to Vigier’s precise engineering and meticulous design, the Special 7 played perfectly—and this guitar came all the way from France. The guitar also has great resonance when you strum it unplugged, and the matte-finished neck has a silky feel that plays effortlessly.
If you’ve never played on stainless steel frets, you might feel like your fingers are sliding around on a skating rink. This slinky feel is great once you’re used to it, but these frets have a very slippery feel compared to traditional nickel fretwire, and you’ll probably benefit from playing with a little extra looseness in your fretting hand. In fact, bending notes on this guitar feels so unrestricted that it’s easy to miss the target completely and take them well past the intended pitch.
Plugged into a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, the guitar sounds huge and delivers tones that have a sharp, smooth, and distinctive attack. Digging hard into the low-B string with a jumpy single-note riff, the attack grew sharper and more focused, helping the Mesa deliver wallop after vicious wallop of heavy, detuned tones. And even extreme levels of gain failed to adversely affect note definition—even with chords that stretched over all seven strings. Nor did it diminish the punch of the low B’s super-taut bottom end.
The virtually frictionless stainless steel frets make long runs up the fretboard feel effortless, and individual notes ring with great sustain. The kill switch comes in handy for percussive passages in the middle of runs or for dramatic, sputtering finishes when bending the notes to oblivion.
The Special 7’s Blaze pickups have a bright tonality and they match very well with darker-sounding amps like the Mesa I used for this review. In particular, the neck pickup excels in clean environments, but it can also apply a warm sting to the upper midrange in mildly overdriven blues-rock applications.
Through a brighter Fender Twin, the high-end clarity of the Blaze pickups is magnified, and I often dropped the guitar’s tone control to soften the hi-fi edge. Even pulling back the treble, however, leaves a tone that’s detailed, deep, and supremely lush.
Vigier’s exacting standards and performance-car approach to guitar building has earned accolades from players throughout the world, and the Special 7 is sure to enhance the company’s reputation among 7-string devotees. The Special 7’s tone, playability, and flawless build elevate the guitar to a level of all-around performance that few companies can touch. Unfortunately, this level of quality comes at a boutique price. But if you haven’t been satisfied with any of the current crop of 7-strings on the market today, this is one that may be worth saving for.
Packed with soulful singing and blazing 6-string, Taylor’s new Out of My Mind is a mesmerizing, nuanced, and imaginatively arranged collection of blues-inflected originals.
Out of My Mind
Yellow Dog Records
Cassie Taylor - "That's My Man"
The daughter of bluesman Otis Taylor, bassist, keyboardist, and vocalist extraordinaire Cassie Taylor has lived music all her life. As a teenager, she sang and played in her father’s band, appearing on eight albums and touring the world. In 2011 she released Blue, her solo debut, and then hit the road in the trio Girls with Guitars.
Packed with soulful singing and blazing 6-string, Taylor’s new Out of My Mind is a mesmerizing, nuanced, and imaginatively arranged collection of blues-inflected originals. Her big, round bass is deep in the pocket, but it’s her voice that’s so arresting. Taylor floats through her melodies with a relaxed, sassy vibe and none of the melismatic tinsel that plagues many contemporary female singers. And when she hits the gas, man, you feel it.
In guitarist Steve Mignano, Taylor has a perfect foil. His long, searing bends and snarling riffs wrap around Taylor’s latte voice like a well-worn leather glove. Tone for days, deluxe dynamics, spirited delivery—Mignano has it all. He mingles fat Wheels of Fire-era Clapton licks with the snappy attack of Texas titans Doyle Bramhall and David Grissom. If you’re craving rootsy music delivered with a fresh, progressive flair, this is it.
Must-hear track: “That’s My Man”