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It All Sounds Fuzzy to Me

Last week I wrote about the newest addition to my pedal board, The Zvex Fat Fuzz Factory. I really love this pedal and the sounds it produces. What I can’t believe is just how excited I am over a Fuzz pedal. I’ve always been more of an Overdrive to Distortion kind of guy, but this pedal really changed my perspective on Fuzz. Up until now I didn’t “get” Fuzz pedals, but this one not only changed all that, it also took me back in time.

I’ve been playing guitar and bass since the mid 80’s, and I’ve been in bands pretty much since I started playing. With a blog and podcast about guitar gear, I’m sure that information was not a surprise to anyone. What might be a surprise is before I picked up the guitar my main instrument was the trombone. I was in the school band all through high school and one “rock” band I was in was comprised entirely of school band members. We might have played one or two gigs together, so it was not a huge part of my musical development, but thing that stands out was the guitarist and vocalist of the band, PJ.

PJ was one of those musicians where music just flows from every pore. It was easy for him, or at least appeared that way to the observers. PJ was a very creative musician. He was the first person I’d ever met who fashioned his own distortion pedal. Now here was the creative thing, it was not a pedal in the traditional sense, it was a tape recorder he had modified somehow. It only worked if the play and record buttons were pressed down together and I have no idea how the input and output were fashioned. He would just rig this thing and start playing. It sounded wonderful, and I’d never heard anything quite like it, until now. As I have been playing with the Fat Fuzz Factory, tweaking the settings, marveling at the myriad of shades of fuzz and squelch, it made me think of that old tape deck that PJ used. The sounds are so similar, from the thin break up sounds to the fat, warm fuzz saturated sounds, it took me back to a time I had not thought about in years. Remembering that old tape deck and the tones it generated has helped me put into better perspective the difference between Fuzz, Overdrive, and Distortion.

I’ve stated before on this blog that guitar is really my secondary instrument. I’m a bass player at heart, and because of that I never really “got” all the things guitarists would talk about when it came to tone. As a bassist I love solid state. Never really liked tubes, and never understood why I should. It’s only been recently that I have been discovering the joys of guitar tone that the rest of world has known for a long time, and boy and I enjoying this journey.

 

Zvex Fat Fuzz Factory

Zvex Fat Fuzz Factory

Zvex Fat Fuzz Factory

When I first started getting back into pedals one name that kept popping up was Zvex. At first Zvex just seemed like the “cool” pedal to talk about. I say that because when I first went looking for them it was like searching for a unicorn. Everyone had heard about them but no one had ever seen one or had any idea where I could find one. Sure, I could have ordered one on line, but before I spend any money on and effects pedal, I like to test drive it. Finally after a couple years

Zvex Fat Fuzz Factory at home on the board.

Zvex Fat Fuzz Factory at home on the board.

of searching, I found one to test drive at the same guitar shop that introduced me to the Shaker.

The pedal I tried out was the Fat Fuzz Factory. The first thing I have to to say is man this little pedal lives up to the hype! Fuzz pedals are normally the last pedal I am interested in. I prefer overdrives, delays, and Tremelo pedals, but the shop owner recommended that I give this a whirl, so I did. Joe Gilder talks about directing your gear purchases towards “Creation Tools”, and that’s exactly what this little box is. Within minutes I was coming up with all sorts of new riffs as I was completely inspired by the sound. I love the sonic irreverence of this pedal!

Inside the Zvex Fat Fuzz Factory

Inside the Zvex Fat Fuzz Factory

One of the things that drew me back to pedals over multi-effects back in the 90’s was the ability to get new sounds out of the “standard” pedals by tweaking the parameters in unconventional ways. I loved that fact that there were “nice” sounds and then settings that nobody every planned for anyone to use. Zvex takes this even further and they do it with the intention of you using these crazy sounds. This was the first time I have ever had a manual that calls out the fact that some settings will cause squelching and squealing if you delve from the suggested settings. And squeal it does! You can set this pedal any where from under control to just barely under control to completely out of control.

For me there is no down side to this pedal. It’s a brash, bold, yet warm sounding pedal. It has the original Fuzz Factory setting which sounds wonderful, and then adds two “fat” settings that dial in either extra low end or mammoth low end! I’m still learning my way around the Zvex line, so I had no idea what the differences were between the “Hand painted” models and the “Vexter” series. I have now learned that the “Hand Painted” models are the USA made and the “Vexter” series are made in Taiwan. On Average you save about $100 going with a “Vexter” model and you get the exact sane pedal, but you do get a shorter warranty period. My Vexter Fat Fuzz Factory will have a 2 year warranty vs a lifetime warranty on the USA models. All in all I am really glad I picked up this pedal and now I am even more anxious to explore the line and try out other pedals, like the Sonar Tremolo pedal.

The captivating sound of Echo (echo..echo..echo..)

The Echorec at home on my board

The Echorec at home on my board

During the holiday shopping season my wife discovered eBates.com(full disclosure, this links to our referral site). If your are not familiar with it, essentially you sign up, shop using their links and earn cash back on your purchases. One day as my wife was telling me about the deals she was finding, she mentioned that she thought she had seen a couple music sites. Naturally that captured my interest, so I checked it out and discovered that Guitar Center is an affiliate and offers 4% cash back, and occasionally an extra saving coupon.

I love a good deal so I decided to take a chance on a pedal brand I had heard good things about, but have never tried in person. Always in the market for a good delay pedal I took a chance on the Catalinbread Echorec. The Echorec captured my attention because it claimed to replicate the old delays units used by guys like David Gilmour. I’d never heard of the Echorec before. I was familiar with tape delay units, but not like this. Apparently this unit had four tape heads and a spinning metallic disc to record with. If you want to know more about the original unit check out the manual for Catalinbread’s version. They were so obsessed with it that they found an old unit and then restored it.

echorec

The Echorec sealed in the anti-static bag

When I got this pedal home I was freaked out a little. It was sealed in an anti-static bag with no explanation of why or if the pedal needs special storage and handling. That said the build is just beautiful. It’s really solid and simple and the PDF manual online does a great job of walking you through all the unique sounds you can get with this pedal. This experience alone has me very interested in checking out the rest of their line.

The build would not mean anything if it did not sound good, and it does not sound good….it sounds GREAT! The psychedelic delay sounds I have always dreamed of just poured out this pedal like water. So easy to get swirling, echoing, bouncy sounds, all while adding a little extra color to the sound. This pedal has been so much fun that I am thinking about doing a delay shoot out on a future podcast or maybe even on YouTube. Either way, I,m going to be making a LOT of noise this year.

Review of the TC Electronic Shaker Mini

The Shaker Mini on my pedal board

As I mentioned in my super quick review of the 2015 Gibson SG’s, I finally had a chance to spend some time at a local music shop in my new locale. I told the owner that I liked Tremelo pedals and he proceeded to tell me how much he LOVES the one by Sioux guitars (which he NEVER seems to have in stock, this was my second visit in 3 months time). After the let down of it still not being in stock, he let me try the TC Electronic Shaker Mini.

The Shaker is a vibrato pedal and it’s one of the best I have heard to date . It can give you a subtle, chorus type shimmer effect or you can take it to the other extreme and get sounds that remind me of the days when the tape deck in my car would eat a tape. When people think of a vibrato pedal, they often associate with the swirling chorus of a Leslie speaker cabinet. This pedals comes close to that magical sound. The big selling point of this pedal is that you can “unlock” more sonic possibilities using the Tone Print editor and Tone Print app.

The Tone Print app is available for iOS and Android and allows you to download and then program your pedal with custom preset sounds from top guitarists like John Petrucci, Gary Holt, and Brent Hinds, just to name a few. The app is pretty slick and it’s easy to find presets by pedal or by your favorite artist. Loading new Tone Prints is super easy. I used my iPhone 5s to “beam” several different sounds over to my Shaker mini, including a really cool preset that let’s the pedal function with a momentary switch, meaning it only works while you are stepping on it.

Here’s my beef with the Tone Print function, the editing software is a pain in the butt and the manual is no help. As of now I have not edited any of my own sounds together due to how cumbersome the process is. You have to have the pedal connected to the app to access any editing parameter settings, so that means I need to find a long USB cable to reach from my iMac to my pedal board before I can try that out. TC Electronic is on version 2 of the editor, and I am hoping that on version 3 they introduce the ability to design Tone Prints without having the pedals connected and then be able to sync with the Tone Print app on your phone so you can “beam” over later.

My final assessment of the pedal is that it is a good value if you are looking for a vibrato pedal that takes up very little space and sounds GREAT! If you are happy with using presets and want to wrestle with the editing software, you will have a lot of sonic options available to you. However if you want more features and flexibility right off the bat and don’t really “need” the “mini” size, I would spend the extra $30 to get the full size version that has the “mini” toggle switch for activating the “latch” feature without the need of editing software.

All that said, I have to say that I am now VERY interested in the TC Electronic Tone Print series pedals. I really like the construction and durable feel of these pedals. Next on my wish list is John Petrucci’s signature “Dreamscape” pedal which is a chorus, a flanger, and a vibrato all in one pedal. I am very excited to see how TC Electronic develops this line in the future.

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