When hearing the name Dan Armstrong, most people think of that clear Plexiglas guitar made by Ampeg. For stompbox freaks, the name conjures up images of legendary effects like


When hearing the name Dan Armstrong, most people think of that clear Plexiglas guitar made by Ampeg. For stompbox freaks, the name conjures up images of legendary effects like the Orange Squeezer and the Blue Clipper. In the seventies, Dan Armstrong designed a line of acclaimed effects modules that were manufactured by the Musictronics Corporation. The line has returned, fresh for 2008, and is now being manufactured by Grafton Electronics, appropriately located in bucolic Grafton, Vermont. They’ve given these hand-assembled pedals a brand new, interlocking design, allowing them to fit together for a more efficient, space-saving layout on your pedalboard. We were able to gets our hands on a few of these Sound Modifiers to see if time has been kind to Dan Armstrong’s designs.

Dan Armstrong Sound Modifiers
Blue Clipper
The Blue Clipper is a thick sounding fuzz with gargantuan sustain. Does that sound like the description for a Big Muff? Well it fits, as I would say this pedal is the Big Muff’s noisier cousin with a very similar tone. The Blue Clipper delivers a nice, thick fuzz like the Muff, but this unit packs a little more bite. The big difference is that the gain level is preset and there is no tone knob to be found. Rest assured – it has enough gain and is dialed in for most people’s tastes. In a startling display of simplicity, you control the gain of the Blue Clipper by adjusting your guitar’s volume. Turned down you get some nice crunchy break up; crank that volume knob and the Blue Clipper churns with snarl and spit. It handles most chords well, but occasionally got muddy with certain chord voicings, especially when on the neck pickup. Another possible point of contention occurs when the guitar’s volume is all the way up – hit any open strings while simultaneously playing fretted notes and the fretted notes may get washed out.

This pedal will go over well with the minimalist crowd – the front of the pedal features a lone volume knob, a blue LED and an on/off switch. The switch is not the normal button you’ll see on most stompboxes – it’s very easy to press and a simple brush past could possibly engage the pedal. The battery is changed by removing some very stubborn screws on the back cover – it took me a while to get into the unit, and once inside, I noticed that the manufacturer was fairly conservative in the amount of solder used, raising the real possibility that you may have to climb inside the case with a hot iron someday. That said, the construction seemed solid and the case is built like a tank. If you’re looking to add thick fuzz that can play naughty or nice, this pedal is the way to go.

Rating...
3.0 

MSRP $169 - Grafton Electronics - danarmstrongeffects.com


Dan Armstrong Sound Modifiers
Rating...
4.0

MSRP $169
Green Ringer
The Green Ringer combines distortion with an interesting ring modulator-like effect. According to the manual, if a single note is played it creates a tone one octave above. I did notice some subtle ring modulation on the breakup, which was cool in its own right, but playing two notes into the Green Ringer is where the fun really starts. The manual also states that, depending on the interval played, the tone the Ringer produces will either be harmonically related to the original note or dissonant. There are a lot of variables here and inventive players will love this.

This pedal really begs for experimentation. You can go from awesome Octavia-like sounds to crazy, out-there ring modulation. Throw in some unison bends and you’ll be greeted with a cacophony of sounds coming out of your amp. The pedal doesn’t really offer that much gain, but throw it in front of another distortion device and you have gold. The Green Ringer seems born to be paired with the Blue Clipper – it really brightens up the Clipper’s tone and gives you all the aforementioned effects without diminishing them at all. Due to the noticable lack of controls, this pedal is simple to use – just plug it in and go. I did notice that the effect is more prevalent on the neck pickup than the bridge and build quality is on par with the Blue Clipper.

All in all, I really enjoyed the Green Ringer. It allows the musician to control what kind of ring modulation they want by knowing how the notes they play will affect the sound. If you’ve been in the market for a ring modulator, or just want to add some flavor to your riffs, this comes highly recommended.

Rating...
4.0 

MSRP $169 - Grafton Electronics- danarmstrongeffects.com



Dan Armstrong Sound Modifiers
Black Reaper
As either the most stripped down pedal ever or the ultimate niche accessory, the Black Reaper does one thing: it lowers the midrange frequencies of the input signal. It’s basically a mid scoop pedal, but don’t think eighties thrash metal. What the Black Reaper does is make your tone rich and full, allowing you to crank your amp without adding any harsh midrange frequencies. This pedal plays extremely well with Strat and Tele bridge pickups, as they can sometimes be too quacky and thin-sounding.

Turning the knob is like turning the tone knob on your guitar, but without removing any of the highs like a traditional tone control. It did become apparent that as you add more gain the pedal’s effectiveness decreases – after cranking up the distortion on my amp the effect became less noticeable. Placing the Reaper before or after a distortion pedal had little effect, remaining barely apparent. This pedal seems geared toward players that play clean or slightly overdriven.

As with the previous pedals, the Black Reaper is beyond easy to use; however, in an odd design decision, the effect is increased by turning the knob to the left instead of to the right. It’s a minor point, but something to keep in mind if you’re turning a lot of knobs during a set. Nevertheless, for all you players out there who need to roll off some midrange and fill out your clean sound, this pedal is for you.

Rating...
3.0 

MSRP $169 - Grafton Electronics - danarmstrong effects.com


Dan Armstrong Sound Modifiers
The Orange Squeezer
Just like Mr. Whipple when no one was looking, this pedal puts the squeeze on your tone as any compressor should. Following in the pint-sized footsteps of its relatives, the Squeezer features a lone knob for adjusting the volume of the effect. While it has a versatile range, turning the volume up too high caused the pedal to clip and cut out, so care should be taken when using the Squeezer in a live capacity. I plugged it in and right off the bat I was getting that smooth compressor tone we all know and love, in addition to some great sustain.

According to the manual, it has an internal adjustment to let the player pick the threshold of the effect, but a look inside the pedal only revealed an adjustment wheel situated behind the input jack and not within easy reach. What does this mean? While the pedal seemed to be set at a threshold suiting my needs, if it’s not set the way you like, you’ll have to do some digging to adjust it and risk the possibility of breaking delicate solder joints in the process. I liked the sound, but it would be really nice if it was easier to get to that internal adjustment, as I suspect the Squeezer could be capable of greater things.

Rating...
3.0 

MSRP $169 - Grafton Electronics- danarmstrongeffects.com



The Final Mojo
Grafton has put these classic pedals into some interesting new cases – they feature unique grooves which allow pedal owners to interlock the effects together, saving precious space on your pedalboard. But aside from the nifty locking design, it’s a mixed bag with these Sound Modifiers. The Blue Clipper is a nice thick fuzz and the Green Ringer was a pleasant surprise. I would have liked to see the Black Reaper accommodate a more distorted signal and wonder about the internal adjustment on the Orange Squeezer. Additionally, the pedals each have a jack for a 9-volt external power supply but my wall wart plugs didn’t fit, making me wonder if a special adapter is needed.

Regardless, all of the pedals performed as advertised; if you were a fan of the original Dan Armstrongs or are just really into minimalist design, you’ll want to check out these compact pedals for your board.


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Noise Box Harmonic Frequency Generator There are many types of tone freaks in this world. Some people love the vintage tones from the days of yore. Some folks rely


Noise Box & Liquid Sunshine


Noise Box Harmonic Frequency Generator


There are many types of tone freaks in this world. Some people love the vintage tones from the days of yore. Some folks rely on the newest or most expensive technology to achieve that perfect tone. And then there are those who want to explore new sonic territories – or just make a bunch of racket. If you fit into the latter category, the SubDecay Noise Box is undoubtedly for you.

The Noise Box is an envelope sensitive harmonic frequency generator. Beneath all the noise, it features a fuzz tone with some nicely subtle octave effects; on top of that is the Frequency Generator, with various controls for your sound mangling enjoyment. The control knobs are Level, Voice, Sense, Chaos, and Frequency. Level controls your overall volume and the Voice control allows you to select between two different “voicings,” essentially frequencies/tones with different characters. Dialing between the voicings – set far left or right – rewards you with different levels of frequency filtering. The Sense knob controls how much the input will affect the range of the generator, while the Frequency knob sets the resting pitch the frequency generator will start from. And then there’s the Chaos knob, arguably the coolest setting on the pedal. This controls the attack, and the farther you turn it, the less correctly the pedal can track to keep the pitch. The sounds created by the frequency generator will become more random, depending how far you push the Chaos knob.

So what do you get from all these knobs? A ridiculous amount of different sounds, that’s what. I was able to dial in a diverse array of tones with the Noise Box. On the tamer side I was able to get a cool octave fuzz with interesting overtones that seemed to bounce off each other with crackling breakup; on the more extreme side I conjured up crazy synth-like, 8-bit video game madness – think Mega Man explosions. The Noise Box is also sensitive to the input signal, and depending on where you have your instrument’s controls set, you may be able to create completely different sounds.

There are only a few nitpicky points to make about this build: it’s a solid pedal, but oddly the power supply input is located on the side, which may or may not be a problem, depending on your setup. Also, the 9V battery inside the pedal isn’t the most secure, and you can feel it moving around when handling the pedal.

This pedal’s versatility makes for a wide range of sounds, ranging from octave fuzziness to sounds that’ll make dogs attack their owners and cause dolphins to beach themselves. For all you noise heads out there, I strongly recommend adding this pedal to your arsenal. To anyone else just looking for some new inspiration, I suggest checking it out and tweaking away.



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Liquid Sunshine Overdrive


In my effort to introduce the concept of K.I.S.S. – keep it simple, stupid – into my life, I tend to sidestep things that I sometimes shouldn’t, product manuals being one of them. I’m all for educating myself, but given a choice between reading some overly optimistic and over-manipulated manufacturer specs or tossing a baseball around with my kid, you can guess which one wins out.

When the Liquid Sunshine arrived for a review, I figured I could easily rock an overdrive with one Volume and two Drive knobs, mistakenly reckoning that it was some sort of stackable overdrive. In this case, the truth is ultimately so much cooler. Volume is what one would assume, handling the Liquid Sunshine’s level duties, with the real fun starting whilst fiddling with the two Drive knobs, located above one another to the right of the big Volume control.

The top Drive control affects the guitar’s full frequency range, while the bottom boosts the mid and high frequencies. It’s a really clever way to eighty-six the need for a dedicated tone control, while still providing more-useful-than-you-could-imagine toneshaping capabilities. From the factory, the controls are voiced for guitarists wanting some dirt for an amp they appreciate as-is. The pedal’s voicing can be changed via two internal dip switches – one for bass, one for treble. Flipping up the treble switch on the right gives the Liquid Sunshine the ability to act as a more pronounced treble booster by boosting, or cutting, high frequencies at the pedal’s output, while the bass switch – which boosts or cuts bass frequencies to the Liquid Sunshine’s input – at least to my ears, imparts a more traditional overdrive tonality by adding just a smidge of mid-range boxiness. It may be just what’s needed to cut through certain mixes, but it’s by no means anywhere near Tube Screamer territory.

After putzing with all of the dip switch settings, I ended up liking the factory settings the best, and this is where I found it easiest to coax truly inspirational tones. The Liquid Sunshine made my amp sound like my amp, simply cranked up louder than it actually was, all while adding a touch of very useable thickness to the lower mids. Sustain was on par with a dimed tube-amp, with none of that overly-compressed, nasal quality common with traditionally designed ODs.

Another first for me was the Liquid Sunshine’s ability to convincingly replicate a cranked amp with the amp set completely clean. I tend to not like the way overdrives sound in this setting, preferring an OD in front of an already-hard-working tube amp, but the pedal performed exceedingly well, making it an excellent choice for lower volume gigs. Of course, running the Liquid Sunshine in front of an amp that was sweating a bit was in a word – glorious.

SubDecay set out to make something that wasn’t your father’s overdrive, and has succeeded admirably, offering up a pedal truly worthy of any desert-island list, right after the endless supply of beer and Adriana Lima.



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SubDecay Studios
Noise Box MSRP $159
Liquid Sunshine MSRP $149
subdecay.com


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We’ve all seen it, and wondered just how it works – it’s that guitar with the little red lights in the fretboard that shows you where to find chords and scales


Fretlight FG-451 Pro Guitar We’ve all seen it, and wondered just how it works – it’s that guitar with the little red lights in the fretboard that shows you where to find chords and scales. This month we took a look at the Fretlight FG-451 Pro from Optek Music Systems, to see how it works as a guitar and as a teaching tool.


The Guitar
The Frelight is a unique instrument, featuring a 21-fret LED grid buried underneath an advanced polymer fretboard – plugging the guitar into your computer, and using the included software (more about this later) causes the LEDs to light up and display various chords or scales, depending on what you would like to learn.

There are four options of the guitar you can purchase at different price levels, meaning that the Fretlight is feasible for those looking to get into guitar without much initial outlay. The model we received is Optek’s top-of-the-line model, the Pro. It features a Swamp ash body, with curved flamed maple top in a natural finish. Humbuckers in the neck and bridge, a middle position single-coil and locking, sealed tuners rounded out the package.

The guitar plays fairly well for having an non-conventional fretboard – the maple neck in a “C” shape felt smooth, and the fret job was respectable – but the sum of all parts results in a somewhat mediocre guitar tone when plugged into an amp. I found the tone to be a bit underwhelming, and it was hard to keep the sound from becoming muddy in higher-gain situations. That being said, most musicians would not approach this as a gigging guitar – with the Pro’s comparitively high entry price ($899.99), one might be better off getting one of the cheaper models for something that will probably never see a stage.


The Setup
Of course, it would be easy to sit and point out how the Fretlight compares to a Classic Player Strat or Tele, but that’s unfair; all models of the Fretlight line, the Pro included, were designed to be robust teaching tools. When combined with the included and optional software, the FG-451 turns into a powerful instrument.


Setup and installation of everything was a breeze, and there’s a DVD video to help you out if you get stuck – even the most computer phobic users should be able to figure this one out. The included cable plugs right into a USB port on the computer and there is an input for an optional footswitch to control different features of the software. One note – the Fretlight software was designed for a PC, so if you run Mac, you’ll have to find another solution, or just use the guitar with an amp.

There is so much with the software that is beyond the scope of this review for me to go into it with any detail, so I’ll just give you a brief overview.


Fretlight FG-451 Pro Guitar Guitar Power
Some of you may know about Guitar Power – a scale, chord and arpeggio reference tool. This is essentially the same product with the added feature of being able to light up frets on the guitar. The interface is quite intuitive; you basically pick the root note and it’ll give you choices for all the chord shapes, scales and arpeggios your little heart desires. There is also a chord finder feature, which you can use to build chords and see what they sound like. Guitar Power will play the chord and show you on the neck – it is exactly this kind of interactivity the Fretlight was made for. This software was very useful, and the best part is that Guitar Power is free.


Fretlight Lesson Player
The lesson player is used to play the included and additional lesson packs. The Fretlight comes with 30 lessons, and additional packages are downloadable from Fretlight’s website. The packs come in various styles as well as in different playing levels and run $49.95 each.

Each lesson has some text and then a track that will play, while showing you everything on the guitar in real time. The lessons have many helpful interactive images, as well as additional tips from your official Fretlight instructor, Nate (he’s good people). These are great in breaking up the lesson because, at least in this first pack, there’s a lot of reading – not necessarily what users might want to do. All in all, given the amount of money one would spend on live guitar lessons, this software is a fair way to get some home instruction at your own pace.


M-Player Sofware
The M-Player ($39.95) plays MIDI versions of popular songs you can play along to. It displays the chords and scales as the song plays, and lights up on the guitar as well. The software also allows you to change the tempo without changing the pitch, so you can find a speed that is most comfortable for you. Songs are available online and can be bought individually for $2.99-$3.99 or in bundles at various prices. This is a fun idea, but it might become a bit expensive if you have a long list of songs to learn.


Guitarz Software
Guitarz ($59.95) is a lot like Guitar Power, but allows you to easily build chord progressions that will light up on the guitar – a good tool for composing and soloing over your own songs. The interface is not as intuitive as Guitar Power, but there are a lot more options.

By far the most exciting feature is the ability to open up any tab file and have it light up the neck of the guitar. Of course, not all tab on the Internet is correct, so Guitarz will allow you to go in and edit the file until you get it right. Of all the software available for the Fretlight, this is definitely the most impressive program.


AxMaster
AxMaster ($34.95) is a guitar fretboard diagram creation tool which allows you to make custom diagrams and display them on the neck of the guitar. This is great for creating voicings and inversions in every position. You can also choose a scale and have it show all the notes on the neck of the guitar. You can add or remove sections of notes, just show notes on individual strings and even save your diagrams as images for use in other programs. The interface is a bit more advanced than other software and it takes a little longer to learn, but it seems to be the next natural step after you’ve exhausted the capabilities of Guitar Power.


Final Mojo
Overall, I had great experience with the Fretlight Pro guitar. My only gripe is I would have liked the guitar to the sound a bit better plugged in for the price tag, but the real value of this guitar is not in the guitar itself but in the software that interacts with it. Unfortunately the software and additional lessons can be a bit pricey, so how much value you’ll get out of it depends on how deep your wallet is.

Nevertheless, if you’re set on learning, this is a great way to go.


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Optek Music Systems
MSRP $899.99
www.fretlight.com

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