Age of Irony: A Day/Year in the Life of PG’s Pedal Issue
Is Alanis Morissette about to collaborate with Harley Flanagan, or am I just flying high on Delta-variant wings?
Believe me, the irony of writing what I'm about to write after my previous column called out "Guitardom's Biggest Crybaby" is not lost on me. As we once again put the final touches on our annual Pedal Issue—a mammoth effort stacked with 25 reviews of killer new stomps from both biggies and underdogs—I decided to take a look at how I commemorated the big event last year. In that little ditty ("This World Sucks, So I Made My Own"), I mentioned how the process had been complicated not just by the then-new pandemic wreaking havoc on the industry, but also by both a freak storm here at PG headquarters and a Mad Max-esque wildfire situation for PG staffers based in California.
How rich, then, that a year later we—collectively—are yet again on our heels from the hip new Delta variant and a crapload of new fires all over the world. (Apparently John F. Malta, artist for this year's super-neato Pedal Issue cover, was feeling the same vibes, too!) Meanwhile, all the humans in my household are recovering from one mother of a virus. We're all vaccinated and tests say it's not COVID, but maybe they're false negatives? Either way, it's the shittiest we've felt in a decade, and only a fraction of the OTC meds we've been downing seem to do any good. After a couple weeks of tissue-filled garbage cans and a chorus of ungodly nose-blowing and hacking coughs, we're finally kind of on the mend, but my sinuses are still so clogged and my brain so sleep deprived I can hardly put words together in any semblance of sense. Hell, I don't even know if any of this is truly textbook irony or whether I'm just mucus-musing, Alanis Morissette-style, to the tune of a nonexistent Cro-Mags album.
Point is, my perception of things might be just slightly colored by my own misery, but it seems to me the world still kinda sucks—probably a helluva a lot more than we thought it would this time last year. But hey, at least we still have pedals!
I don't even know if any of this is truly textbook irony or whether I'm just mucus-musing, Alanis Morissette-style, to the tune of a nonexistent Cro-Mags album.
And that's no sass either, friend. Sure, PG crewmembers still lurching toward deadline might read some sarcasm into the statement. But it truly is a testament to our resilience as a community, as a species, that we've somehow managed to come up with so many mesmerizing stompboxes and make ever-cooler music with them, despite the state of things.
I personally got my first-ever whacks at three pedal brands I'd never really played before—one from an industry heavyweight, two from tiny outfits—and each took me by ever-so-pleasant surprise. Call me shallow … or maybe say I'm setting the bar low … or whatever, but hey, if I can derive a few hours of somnambulistic sonic pleasure as the world around me/us seems to fall further into the pot, then that's a win in my book. (Granted, again, it probably isn't quite textbook material.)
Rest assured, once my head is cleared, I'll have better perspective on all this. In the meantime, all I can say is—get your jabs (vaccinations), mates. A snot-filled week is better than dead. And it's your best chance to witness the next batch of ear-tantalizing pedals come this time next year.
Tweaker or Freaker?
It can strain the brain, but this incredibly flexible (and fun) harmonic trem stands out in a multitude of modulated ways. The PG Anasounds Ages review.
Recorded using a Telecaster with Curtis Novak Tele-V and JM-V pickups into a silver-panel Fender Vibro Champ with a Warehouse G8C miked with a Royer R-121 feeding an Audient iD44 going into GarageBand with no EQ-ing, compression, or effects.
Clip 1: Bridge and neck pickup, first with Ages bypassed, then engaged with out at 3 o’clock, depth at noon, and tone at 10 o’clock.
Clip 2: Neck pickup, first with Ages bypassed, then engaged (with triple-cosine waveform selected) in envelope-controlled rate mode, then envelope-controlled depth mode, with out at 4 o’clock, depth at max, and tone at 3 o’clock.
Lots of lovely tones. Very flexible for its size. Cool attack-sensitive modes.
Can be time-consuming to dial preferred internal settings. No expression-pedal jack. Manual and control labels could be clearer.
Ease of Use:
The term “harmonic tremolo” is almost a misnomer. Most classic tremolo sounds come from amps using a light-dependent optocoupler or either power- or preamp-tube bias shifting to modulate the volume of your guitar signal. But the harmonic effect popularized by 1960s Fender brown-panel amps splits your signal in two—bass and treble—and modulates them in opposition to each other. The net effect—typically colored with grit from the three 12AX7s used to drive it—often sounds more like pitch shift than other tremolo types. Magnatone’s famous vibrato, which is often lumped in the harmonic tremolo category, uses phasing and filters to achieve a similar pitch-shifting modulation effect.
French outfit Anasounds’ new take on harmonic tremolo is the deceptively simple-looking Ages. Even more ambitious than its innovative and pedalboard-friendly Element spring reverb, it packs a host of options into an enclosure with just four knobs, a 3-way toggle, and two footswitches.
Tweaky or Freaky?
Depending on your proclivities, Ages’ controls might seem ingeniously streamlined or a test of your cranial recall capabilities. Because although the basic functions of controls—tap/osc(illation) and bypass footswitches, the mode toggle, and out (effect gain), tone, depth, and subdivisions knobs—are mostly grok-able by name, several hidden options lurk within.
For starters, if you hold down the bypass footswitch for two seconds, the tri-color LED turns from either blinking red (bypassed) or white (engaged) to blue, indicating you’re in “trimpot mode” (which, as we’ll see, is somewhat confusingly named). Trimpot mode enables control of several parameters, including two favorite—and rarely encountered—features in a tremolo pedal: attack-sensitive rate and depth modes. Here, the tone knob becomes an envelope control governing either rate or depth of the effect (depending on the mode you select with the toggle).
If you turn the tone/envelope control left from noon, rate or depth decreases with greater pick intensity. If you turn clockwise from noon, rate or depth increases with greater pick intensity. Meanwhile, in trimpot mode, the depth dial works hand in hand with tone/envelope—becoming a threshold control for the rate- or depth-ramping effect. Lastly, trimpot mode can repurpose the toggle and subdivision knob so you can select one of seven different LFO waveforms (sine, rising-ramp, falling-ramp, square, polynomial, double cosine, and triple cosine). Once you’ve set the waveform, envelope, and threshold, you tap the bypass toggle to save them, then re-position the knobs and toggle to your desired depth, tone, and mode settings.
Dizzy yet? Hold on, because we haven’t even talked about the actual trimpots—oh, and the DIP switches! Be prepared to crack open Ages because, depending on your pickups, these controls could be the difference between loving your Anasounds and not. Two trim pots fine-tune the tone knob by increasing or reducing the range of available treble and bass gain. Two more trim pots govern the minimum and maximum amplitude (range) of the LFOs. And two DIP switches toggle between preset frequency-filter points for the bass LFO, and the treble LFO.
The Anasounds Ages can do so much that it’s hard to cover it all here. At its core, it serves up lush, inspiring harmonic trem sounds with way more control than any vintage amp. But it’s not without its quirks/frustrations: There’s no expression input, yet there’s a mini jack for connecting the company’s magnetic-sensor Spinner product ($140 street). I give Anasounds creative points for thinking outside the box, but this exclusion feels like you’re being nudged toward a proprietary additional purchase with very limited applicability (Spinner currently only works with one other Anasounds pedal). That said, the Ages’ ability to shape tones—deliciously nasty, tweed-style dirt, with a cool cocked-wah EQ curve, for instance—while offering powerful dynamic control options, make it a unique-sounding tremolo powerhouse.
Origin Effects Deluxe61 Review
A positively luxurious stomp nails the liquid textures of brown-panel Deluxe bias tremolo.
Top-shelf quality. Immersive, liquid, trem' textures that meld seamlessly with guitar and amp tones. Elegantly simple but capable control set.
Origin Effects Deluxe61 Bias Tremolo
Editor's note: Deluxe61 Amp Tremolo & Drive is the updated name of the Origin Effects pedal that debuted under the name REVIVALTrem.
Some gear nerd debates get pretty pointless. Disputing the merits of different op-amps in two late-model RATs? Maybe that time would be better spent practicing. But tremolo circuits are another matter. The differences between bias, optical, and harmonic tremolo can be audible and profound. Each has its merits and champions. But in terms of soul and musical utility, it's hard to beat bias tremolo's soft, contoured pulses and mellow-to-throbbing range.
Origin Effects' all-analog Deluxe61 is based on the power tube bias tremolo from the brown-panel Fender Deluxe—a circuit many players regard as the silkiest ever built. Authentically reproducing such a circuit is no task for the timid. Then again, Origin made its name reproducing the topology and performance of the legendary UREI 1176 studio compressor in stompbox form. So it's no surprise they would tackle an effect so nuanced and full of sonic intangibles. What's impressive is how the Deluxe61 nails those elusive, intoxicating bias tremolo colors.
Wave-Riding Luxury Liner
If you love the sense of craft that goes missing in much modern technology, the Deluxe61 will be a treat. It's built almost absurdly well by stompbox standards. Ever wondered what the Rolls-Royce of pedals looks and feels like? This is certainly a contender.
A two-tiered circuit board accommodates the many high-quality components that make up the modulation and drive circuits. (The latter is derived from the company's excellent Revival Drive.) Soft-relay footswitches and jacks are all chassis-mounted independent of the circuit boards. The enclosure feels close to bulletproof. Clearly, the Deluxe61 was built for heavy touring and meant to be serviced in the unlikely event a component fails.
The control set is smart, logical, and simple in practice. Even the two footswitches, which cleverly enable operation of the drive channel independent of the tremolo, are thoughtfully situated toward the outboard reaches of the enclosure—reducing the risk of hitting both switches simultaneously.
There may be more radical tremolos, but few achieve such musical seamlessness.
In some respects, it's easy to characterize the modulations the Deluxe61 produces. They're exceptionally smooth, liquid, and very dreamy. But they are also beguilingly complex. Some stronger settings subtly suggest pitch shifting and phasing without suffering the dynamic penalties those effects can incur—a remarkable bit of sonic trickery. A/B'd against the optical tremolo in a recent-vintage '65 Twin Reverb reissue, the Origin is clearly more complex and watery, its undulations less binary and harsh, and its effects on picking dynamics less intense. Compared to a near-50 year old Vibro Champ that utilizes a preamp-bias tremolo circuit, the Origin nails the very best of the vintage amp's sounds and responsiveness, but sounds richer and offers much more expansive fine-tuning range in the pots.
There are trade-offs for all this intoxicating aqueousness. The Deluxe61's most intense modulations might not be intense enough for players that like the hard pulses of a Vox Repeater circuit or the angular textures of an optical black-panel Fender tremolo. Nor does the Deluxe61 get as woozy as a Magnatone-style circuit (a harmonic tremolo to which brown-panel Deluxe tremolo is often likened). But the payoff is clarity and presence that makes nuanced, complex, and melodic musical passages sound perfectly interwoven with the modulations. There may be more radical tremolos, but few achieve such musical seamlessness.
Then there's the versatility afforded by the extra modulation and drive controls. The 3-position "multi" toggle significantly extends the range of the speed control, enabling super-fast flutters amp trem' can't deliver and giving expressive fodder to experimental tremolo fans. Another toggle activates a harder, almost triangle-shaped wave to generate more intense modulations. The post-drive EQ switch is invaluable for making the effect more subdued or pronounced when switching between dark and bright amps or pickups, but also offers a flatter-response option if you want to route directly to a recording interface or a desk. The drive channel, meanwhile, is delicious—generating sweet and malleable low-to mid-gain drive and body that you may never want to remove from your tone equation, tremolo or not.
The Deluxe61 is expensive at 430 bucks. But the quality is absolutely top shelf and the sounds are, too. What's more, you can enjoy the benefits of bias trem without the extra wear and tear that bias trem circuits inevitably inflict on your tubes. If you're on the fence, perhaps those cost savings can help justify luxuriating in this pedal's priceless tones.
Origin Effects Deluxe61 Tremolo & Drive Demo | First Look