More pedals: Analogman Chorus, Ibanez FL9 Flanger

Two new toys, err, tools arrived today… an Analogman chorus and an Ibanez flanger. Like the Roland PH-1R I mentioned in an earlier entry, they are analog stompbox effects intended for use with a guitar. Unlike the PH-1R, both of these are still in production and were bought new.

The Analogman chorus is a clone of the old Electro-Harmonix Small Clone chorus, as used by, among others, Kurt Cobain. This one is made by a boutique effects pedal builder who also wrote a great book on vintage effects. EH has since re-issued the original box using the same Small Clone name, but now they use some different chips and circuits and it allegedly doesn’t sound as good (of course) as the old version. Eh, whatever, anyway… the Analogman clone of the Clone also has some improvements over the old version, it looks purty, it’s handmade in the good old USA, and chorus is pretty much my favorite effect. So I got one even though they’re kind of expensive. It sounds great and looks cool and I love it already.

Next is an Ibanez FL9 analog flanger. It sounds nice, but it’s fairly polite and clean, and so far hasn’t grabbed me by the throat and yelled “Keep me!” However, it’s important to remember that an effect that sounds very distinctive and noticeable and cool will also usually grow old very very fast when you use it too much, and in some cases if the effect is dramatic enough, too much can equal “twice”. So we’ll see how this one fares through the recording process, how much it gets used, and what it gets used for before deciding whether or not to sell it on. Also important, just like using a synth, it can sometimes take a while to find an effect’s sweet spot. But, sometimes you never find a spot you like within its settings, so eventually you trade it for something else. The most important thing the FL9 will need to do to stay around is find some way to distinguish itself from the digital flanger models we have in the Kurzweil KSP8 and some of our plugins, because currently my impression is that it’s lacking the distinctive character necessary for me to go out of my way to use it.

Ibanez FL9 Flanger demos on Nord Modular synth sounds with some Line 6 Echo Park delay:

FL9 on Lead Synth. Dry, then progressively more and faster flange.
FL9 on Bass Synth. Dry, then progressively more and faster flange.
FL9 on Pad Synth . Dry, then progressively more and faster flange.

You can make flangers sound more dramatic by adding some distortion before the effect. I didn’t do that in these demos, but will experiment with that some more as we record things.

Chorus and flanger are both delay based effects, and are closely related circuit-wise. Chorus is generally used to thicken up a part by adding a short modulated delay or delays to a sound to make it sound like multiple instruments — a chorus of instruments — are playing. A flanger also thickens things up, but is stereotypically used as sort of a special effect: the jet plane whoooosh you hear on a lot of late 60’s and early 70’s music is often a flanger (though sometimes a phaser, as mentioned in an earlier entry). Like a chorus effect, a flanger also works by adding a short delay and modulating it, and you can in fact often make a chorus-like sound using a flanger pedal by setting it on less extreme settings. The flanger effect was invented by the Abbey Road engineers while recording a Beatles album; they played back multiple copies of the same take on the tape reels, and manually slowed one of them down a bit by pressing on the reel with their finger. Later, both chorus and flanger effects were implemented in an analog circuit fashion by using BBD delay chips. These chips have recently gone out of production, and the only currently made mass produced substitutes are some allegedly noisier and inferior chips cranked out from China, which is why many people prefer either older versions of these pedals or smaller run boutique versions that use hoarded remnants of the old chip stocks.

So why are we using guitar pedals for our synthesizer based music? Shouldn’t we be using, uh, synthesizer pedals? Well we would, but nobody makes synthesizer effects pedals. Most synth players use multi-effects processors, which do everything in one box, which is cool, but not always distinctive. You often end up with a jack of all trades, master of none type device. The latest crisp, clean, digital based models always sound great, but also somehow lack… something. Since we are limiting ourselves to using just one synth for this project (the previously mentioned Nord Modular), we decided we would try to get some more variety in our sounds by using a bunch of unique and/or weird effects that have a distinctive character of their own. Since most of those types of effects are currently made for guitarists in the form of pedals, that’s what we’re going to use. We will still be using some rack based effects when they offer a cooler or more controllable alternative than pedals, such as in the case of analog filters, some types of delay based effects, and reverb. But we’ll also be experimenting with stringing together a bunch of random guitar pedals that weren’t designed for our synths and see what happens.

That brings us to the question of whether or not you can even safely use a guitar pedal with a synthesizer. Keyboards run at line level with low impedance, the pedal expects a guitar type signal with higher impedance. We will talk about this more in a later entry, and I am not an expert so don’t take my word for it… but for now, the short answer is yes, as long as you are careful with your volume levels going into the pedal (it most likely expects a lower level than you will be sending into it), and as long as it sounds good to you coming out of the pedal, you’re okay with just plugging in the stompbox directly after your synth just like you would a rack effect. The longer answer involves buying some extra equipment when just plugging it in doesn’t sound good, but we’ll talk about that another time.