tc electronic nova delay reverb modulation compressor dynamics stompbox pedal

TC Electronic''s Nova line returns the company to its guitar-centric roots.

Tore, with TC''s Nova System, a floor-based multi-effects processor.
Even though TC Electronic has made guitar products for 30 years, you could say the Danish company is in the process of getting back into the guitar business. Known primarily for high quality gear that you are more likely to see rack-mounted in a studio rather than on stage, the company’s focus is shifting a bit. TC is putting its high-end sound on the floor, giving guitarists feature-packed boxes o’ tone that offer new and classic sounds along with the kind of variable control that TC is known for. We had a chance to talk with TC Electronic’s Tore Mogensen about the company’s Nova line of effects.

A lot of companies are catering to players who value simplistic designs – making guitars and pedals with a single knob. Obviously you guys are going for something way different.

We’re a high tech company. I don’t see us doing super-simple pedals with the same kind of conviction and credibility as somebody like Analog Man or other more traditional companies. What we’re known for, and what we have credibility in doing, is making pedals that have a lot of options, but at the same time are pretty easy to use.

Our idea for the Nova pedals was to make them simple to use overall, but once you start stretching out beneath the surface and you actually open up the manual and read it, you’ll see that there are all these hidden things that will actually make life easier for you. You’ll discover some cool little things that you’ll want to use. And if you just wanted to use it like a regular pedal, you can do that as well.

Read our reviews from the Nova Series:
Nova Delay
Nova Reverb
One thing that comes to mind is the Audio Tapping feature in the Nova Delay - it lets you set a delay tempo by holding down the tap tempo switch while you play a rhythm into it. It’s very simple and there are many ways to control it. How did that develop?

It really came from trying a lot of pedals. Particularly if you wanted to have rhythmic delays, or specifically if you wanted to play a U2 song or something like that, and you wanted to have the delay and tempo, it’s often pretty hard to tap and tempo accurately if it’s pretty fast. We’ve spent all this time practicing, playing, and having a steady right hand, and so as guitar players, we’re really trained to precise with our hands, not our feet.

So we started thinking, “How hard can it be?” It took a little time to perfect, but once our engineers got the basic thing going, it was mainly a matter of tweaking it so it worked properly. I think it works really great, especially for faster rhythms that you can’t really tap, and for when the drummer does the counting, you can just tap the tempo without anybody listening because the pedal mutes it at the same time. That was sort of the idea behind all this – if the drummer’s doing his countdown, you just tap in the tempo and nobody knows.

I would think some people are intimidated by TC in general, or even the Nova pedals specifically. There are an awful lot of knobs and switches involved.

The Nova Delay looks a little bit like a rack processor, so it might be a little intimidating if you’re used to two regular pedals without a lot of LEDs, auto-increments of seven seconds, and all that stuff. That’s actually one of the reasons we wanted to do the manual mode of the pedals. We discussed whether to even include presets, but we figured with the amount of options and possibilities, the presets are good to have in there.

We want to maintain the feeling that it’s just a pedal. There are a lot of pedal guys who just want to have instant access to the knobs and that “what you see is what you hear” vibe, and that’s where the manual mode comes in. If you just want to use them as regular pedals, it’s really easy to do. You can get some good results by setting everything at 12 o’clock.

Talk about the Dynamics pedal. In a nutshell, what does it do?

Well, it’s a pretty special pedal. Initially we just wanted to do a compression pedal because even though a lot of guys don’t typically associate TC with compression and dynamics, it’s actually one of the areas we’ve spent the most time researching, and have had a lot of success with in other areas of the music business. We really wanted to take some of that experience and knowledge and apply it to guitar.

The basic idea actually was to make a new kind of compression for guitar because the typical guitar compressor is a full-band compressor. What always annoys me when I play guitar, and I like to use a bit of compression, is that it’s really hard to get a nice compression that sounds uniform over all the strings because you have a lot more energy in the lower strings. So if you set the threshold of the compressor to sound nice for the lower strings then you have almost no compression for the higher strings, or vice versa.

So what we really wanted to do was find a way to get a more uniform compression that could be used both for the typical guitar use – squashing the hell out of it for nice country and funk playing – but also to get more of a mastering or studio kind of sound where you just sort of tighten up and get a sound that just sounds better with the pedal on. It’s not something you entirely notice, it just feels a little better to play and the sound is a little tighter and more focused.

We wanted to be able to do both, and we sort of figured we could do something like that based on multi-band compression technology, which is basically three compressors running at the same time in the background tuned for different frequencies. So we set out with this crazy pedal where you have to tune everything in the compressor yourself – frequencies, thresholds and stuff. After we tested it, we figured that it was way too much.

So even though the Dynamics pedal is complicated for a guitar compressor, it actually started out even more complicated. What we ended up with is a pedal that looks basically like a regular studio compressor, but when you’re tuning them on the one compressor, one threshold, one attack knob, and so on, you’re really tuning three compressors in the background with some presets that we’ve set up so they’re moving in different ratios.

This pedal also allows you to split your line so you can run a raw sound against the compression or send one to the front of your amp and the other to your effects loop, which is something I’ve seen guys rigging up themselves.

Yeah, that was the second part of the idea, and it mainly comes from me being a metal guitar player a few years ago. I always wanted a pedal like that because, for metal or hard rock guitar in particular, you want something in front of your distortion to sort of tighten up the sound just to give you that crunch that metal or rock guitar requires. And then you’ll go to your amp and add the distortion there into a pedal or whatever, and after that, you want to be able to take the noise down.

With the technology we have in these algorithms, we have noise-scaling in there as well; we figured we’d make the perfect pedal for metal guitar players. Plug into that pedal and go into the amp, and back into the pedal through the noise gate, and that’s pretty much all you need for that type of playing.

You alluded to what we call the Drive Blend, where you get the benefits of the compression, but you don’t lose all the dynamics and the pick attack in your playing. We all sort of figured that with the more subtle compression that we’re able to do because of the multiband compression, it would be great for acoustic guitar players as well. And for a lot of these guys, they want to play with a bit of compression for their own sound going through an amp, but the front-of-house engineer probably won’t want to have that kind of compression on. He’ll add it using his own compressors for the front of house instead, so that way you can actually use an engine to just go to your amp, and then you can use the other output and bypass that engine to go into the PA system without any compression on, so it makes the engineer happy as well.

Let’s talk about the Modulator. It seems like you’ve almost made a multi-effects pedal just for the modulation side of things.

TC had been known for doing great modulation effects for a long time. Our thirty-year-old Stereo Chorus Flanger pedal is still selling amazingly well even though it hasn’t been changed at all for thirty years. And it’s something we’re known for in the guitar community. We thought that if we were going to do something new, simply doing a new chorus pedal wouldn’t make much sense because we already have the one that is considered an industry standard along with a few other great chorus pedals from other companies.

We figured if we were going to do a new digital version of modulation effects, we might as well sort of take advantage of the things you can do in the digital domain that you can’t do in the analog domain. We sort of went nuts from there. The basic idea was to do a dual-engine pedal - that’s actually where the original idea came from because we’ve gotten a lot of requests from users, you know, the more rack-oriented kind of guys who really like our 1210 Rack Processor which is actually two chorus flanger pedals linked together. It’s kind of like the classic eighties, early-nineties, L.A., Michael Landau, Lukather kind of sound, that’s what they all used. That dual was discontinued a long time ago, and we’ve gotten a lot of requests to either make it again, or to make something that would give the user the same kind of sound. That’s the basic idea and we sort of went from there.

Something that a lot of users of our multi-effects processor have commented on is that we lump a lot of our effects together in effect blocks, like the modulation block. If users want to have tremolo and chorus on the same patch, they can’t because you either choose the chorus or the tremolo. We figured we’d do a two engine pedal that sort of allows users to mix and match the effects, and the result is you can make pretty much any kind of sound you can imagine with that pedal.

That’s pretty cool because it gives you a lot of control – you can sync a lot of the modulation effects based off time delay and whatnot. You could sync all these together rather than have to tweak for an hour just to get them to be in phase.

That’s the other part of it, with the dual engines, you can do a lot of crazy stuff that you can’t do with any other pedal. With two phasers in the two engines, you can get pretty close to some of the old Mu-Tron and Bi-Phase effects, or put use tremolos with different sub-divisions and you get this sort of rhythmic tremolo thing that you really can’t get with any other type of pedal.

The other thing we also talked about was, you know, there are a few classic albums that sort of define an effect. “Eruption” for phaser, or “Machine Gun” for Uni-Vibe type sounds -- there are these classic tracks that are the type of sound you really want. If it’s done really well, and the engineer has taken his time, especially with modulation effects, you want to have them in sync with the music. You want to have the highest point of the LFO and the lowest point, you want them to begin at the one beat, so that the phaser or the flanger or whatever is at its highest or lowest point at the one beat and then moves rhythmically with the music. It just gives you a more musical kind of effect.

So the first thing we did, obviously, was to add the tap tempo which was something we’d been able to do for a long time in our multi-effect processors, but in a pedal form it’s not common to see a phaser or a flanger with tap tempo on it. We really wanted to take it a step further, so we added an LFO trigger, or that’s at least what we called it. Basically what that means is, in a typical pedal you have the LFO running all the time, so whenever you engage the pedal, press the on switch, you have no idea where the LFO is in its cycle. That’s sort of ok if you’re using chorus or something like that - it really doesn’t matter where the LFO is. But if you’re using a hot tremolo, you want to have your guitar on the one beat, you don’t want to sound like you’re playing reggae because the LFO is in the wrong place compared to where the music is.

What the LFO trigger does, is it stops the LFO once you bypass the pedal and it resets it again, so when you engage the pedal again, if you do it in sync with the music, then you are certain that you’ll get the right effect. It really makes it possible to get some of these great sounding effects that are synced up to the music even in live use.

Listen: Download an example of the hall reverb, courtesy of TC Electronic
When it comes to ’verbs, people have pretty high expectations for TC Electronic. What was it like designing the Nova Reverb?

It was just a ton of fun. I honestly think we have some of the best reverbs in the entire industry, so it was more of a matter of going through our pretty big, aggregate library of great reverbs and finding the one that is best suited for guitar. And obviously, we already have some great reverbs in some of our multi-effects processors, but we actually chose another one for the Nova Reverb Pedal that I actually, honestly think sounds even better. Apart from the great development team and research team that we have, we also have a few “golden-ear” guys who are real experts in choosing effects and particularly reverbs. So we had one of these guys sit down with some great classic amp reverbs and some old plates and try to mix the sound that you would get from those classic reverb styles. Obviously, we’re known for studio quality reverbs like halls and rooms, but we also wanted to make some really cool springs and plates as well. I honestly think we succeeded.

Some of the new ground you’re breaking with the Nova Reverb is that it’s listening to you and you can control whether it’s staying the same throughout your playing, or whether it kind of dials down with you should your playing intensity decrease. And as if that isn’t cool enough, it can do the reverse, too.

There are a lot of guitar players who don’t like to play with reverb. They have this view that it clutters up their sound. I think it mainly boils down to two things, one is that it’s actually pretty hard to set a reverb so that it really matches the sound that you have. If you just put something on there and choose a large hall, then chances are that it’ll sound pretty bad, there’s a risk of that at least. So there are a lot of guitar players that sort of shy away from reverb because of that. The other thing is very valid - that reverb is basically just a million little delay repeats and it will clog up your sound a bit.

We figured, “Well, we’ve done that already,” with the 2290 Dynamic Delay that sort of became an industry standard effect. You can’t find a lot of multi-effect processors that don’t have that dynamic delay built in there. So then we sort of figured, “Why not do the same for reverb?” because it can add something very, very nice. If you’re going to do the crazy Paul Gilbert speed lick, then you probably don’t want that large hall to sort of interfere with your great picking techniques. So we thought, “All right, well, maybe it works as well for reverb as it does for guitar.” We basically just tried it out and sort of figured that it did, and while we were discussing that, we also figured, “Well, we can do it one way with taking the reverb mix down a bit while you’re playing, so what happens if we do the other thing?” It’s just a matter of doing a little bit of reverse stuff in the algorithm, so we thought, “What happens if we get a lot of reverb while we’re playing and then let it die away, right away after you play?” That’s more of a special effect, but you can create some pretty crazy sounds if you, for example, set the mix to 100 percent, so you’re basically just playing with reverb, and then set the dynamics to some very low settings where you only get the reverb while you’re playing, but that’s more for special effects kind of things.

A lot of people look at a reverb pedal and they pretty much know what it does - it’s just a matter of how lush it can be. But here’s something where you can always flip that sucker backwards and experiment; just have fun.

I really like simple pedals, as you mentioned before, one knob and you just set it where you like it and you can forget about it. But it’s also very cool to have these pedals where you can sort of get that basic sound, but you always have that feeling that if you’re bored one day, or you just want to spend a little time, you get all these unexpected results. That’s one of the things that we wanted to do with all the Nova pedals - get that sort of “ahhh-ha” kind of feeling.

Listen: Download an example of U2-style delay, courtesy of TC Electronic
Let’s get deeper into the delay.

It is our best selling pedal. It’s doing amazingly well and we’re starting to see it on a lot of pro guitar boards as well.

A lot of other delay pedals on the market have these different options. You can get an analog delay, or you can get a tape delay, or you can get a dynamic delay, and it always struck me as a little odd. To me, a dynamic delay is a type of delay…

Yes. It has nothing to do with how the delay sounds.

Yes. So I was always a little bit annoyed that I couldn’t get an analog-sounding dynamic delay, or a tape-sounding modulated delay, something like that. So with the Nova delay, that’s one of the first things we looked at, separating those two things, so we can have all the different delay types: dynamic delay, or reverse delay, ping-pong and so on, and match it with any type of delay sound or tonal character that you want. You can have ping-pong delay that has an analog sound, or a tape sound, or a digital sound, or modulated, so all these things can be mixed and matched to tailor the delay sound that’s right for you.

Talk about the gradual morphing.

It’s going between the basic delay types - digital, analog and tape delay sounds. So, you’re not limited to what TC says is the digital sound, or what TC says is the analog sound or the tape sound. You can actually, gradually morph between the different ones. You can set it in between tape and analog if you feel like the analog setting or the tape setting is too much for you. It allows you to tailor the sound exactly the way you want to.

You guys obviously decided not to put a looper in there. Why not?

There’s a basic reason for that -I think that for a looper to be useful, it really needs to be a separate pedal or something with more control options than, with force, stuffing it into a pedal. We had the technology to do it, but we just couldn’t get the U-wire to work in a way that I felt comfortable with having users actually work with it in any useful kind of way. I’d much rather do a dedicated looper at one point if we’re going to do something like that rather than do a crippled version and stuff it into a delay pedal.

I guess there’s already a lot going on in there.

95 percent of our customers will be using it for a lead basically, not for looping. To do a looper, you have to add more RAM to be able to record at a proper quality, so the pedal would actually be more expensive, too. We’d have to downsample pretty significantly to be able to fit one or two minutes of audio in there. Or we’d have to add an awful lot more RAM and that would make the product more expensive.

It’s not like we’ll announce a looping pedal tomorrow, but you never know what’s coming in the future. It’s definitely on our radar.

I think a lot of players will have a field day experimenting with these pedals, but ya know, they are a different beast. Any advice on how to approach them?

People should go to our website, there’s a ton of information. We have audio samples, and videos, clips from NAMM, Frankfurt Messe and stuff like that. It’s a pretty cool place to start.

For more information:
TC Electronic