Hands-On Review:Electro-Harmonix EHX Guitar Effects
These X-citing generation EHXers are definitely not slackers
By Jim Gault
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
Here I am, the kid in the candy store again. It doesn’t happen often but when a writing assignment begins with EHX guitar effects piled on my desk, the fun is about to begin. What makes this assignment even juicier is most of the pedals are brand-spanking new. I get to be among the first to try them out. Included are two new delay units that extend the Deluxe Memory Man: the Memory Boy, and Memory Toy. There’s also the new Cathedral, a stereo reverb unit that has the majesty you’d expect from the guys who gave us the The Holy Grail. And one of the most interesting "pedals" isn’t an effect pedal at all. It’s a guitar head; an amplifier with 22 watts of juice, tone to die for, and nano-sized to fit in your shirt pocket.
A small but deadly weapon
The 22 Caliber is not just a shrunken head. It’s the smallest real amp ever. It’s a 22-watter that can drive a 4x12 cab at full-on volume, and it’s packed into a box you can carry in your shirt pocket. I plugged it into a 2x10 cab, thinking that I should take it easy on the little guy, but it blew me away with how loud it could get. The 22 can drive any 8- or 16-ohm cabinet.
Controls are totally simple. There’s just a volume knob and toggle switch for choosing Normal or Bright modes, but that’s more controls than my vintage Gibson Skylark has.
What is most amazing is the great tone it puts out. In Normal mode it has a big full low end; robust sound for power crunching; the Bright mode boosts the high end with more presence and definition. Especially cool, when you turn up the volume, it begins to overdrive in much the same way a vintage Class A amp responds to cranked volume.
The main Man
The Deluxe Memory Man is a legendary EHX classic that set the standard for all analog delays to come. It has a 550ms delay range and very full, natural sound with a tape delay-like quality. It also adds switchable modulation from chorus to vibrato with continuous control over depth. This makes the Deluxe Memory Man several pedals in one, capable of producing lush, sweet chorus effects; vibratos ranging from vintage to spooky; and shimmering glassy modern vibrato. One thing I especially like about using Deluxe Memory Man, as well as the Boy and Toy, covered below, is the zero loss of gain.
The time and modulation effects can be simultaneous and interaction of their parameters can create some wonderfully weird results. For example, with full-on vibrato and feedback up a little, turning the Delay timing knob creates doppler-like up and down pitch slides. There are also settings that give you a tanky chorus (what I call drain pipe). It’s a pedal that requires familiarity with the controls for live use, and in-flight knob twisting. True bypass, dry and wet outputs, rugged construction, and an included power supply are basics that complete the package.
Memory Boy is a new delay/mod unit based on the Deluxe Memory Man. The name suggests a simplified version, and it is to some extent. Memory Boy doesn’t have a Level control, and vibrato/chorus is handled by a three-way switch. It also lacks Deluxe Memory Man’s direct out, but adds a few new wrinkles of its own. The most significant is expression pedal capability, which allows foot control over delay time or modulation rate. You also get a choice of triangle or square waveforms. The Boy is more compact and lower priced than its dad; but like the Deluxe Memory Man, it’s a very playable pedal. Once you get the hang of the knobs and how they interact, exciting dynamic effects are easily within your grasp.
The Memory Toy was actually my favorite of the three delays. It’s a simple set-and-forget pedal with just three knobs: Delay, Blend, and Feedback, plus a switch for adding a touch of chorus. It’s affordable and doesn’t take up a lot space in your pedalboard. Most important, its delay sounds fantastic, as does the chorus. If you’re the kind of player who uses a pedal for that one perfect tone for solos, the Memory Toy is the one you want. If your music leans more toward sonic insanity and you want a pedal you can play like an instrument, look to Deluxe Memory Man or Memory Boy.
Eve of distortion
Next up, Big Muff Pi. This is the Adam and Eve of distortion. All distortion pedals in existence today are direct descendants of The Big Muff. Need I describe the sound? Okay; rock 'n' roll. Need more specifics? How ’bout Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Pink Floyd, right up through modern bands such as The White Stripes. And of course, there’s the unforgettable guitar sound of The Guess Who’s "American Woman," which in my opinion, would never have become the huge rock classic without the compelling voice of the Big Muff speaking so eloquently through Randy Bachman’s guitar—a signature sound emulated on virtually every digital effects modeling pedal to date—and I’ve yet to hear one that nails it.
Because a guitar mag erroneously reported the Muff wasn’t introduced until 1971, some Hendrix "purists" believe he couldn’t have used one. Well, they weren’t there. However, Electro-Harmonix founder and close friend of Jimi Hendrix, Mike Matthews was. In fact, he was at a recording session showing Jimi a new prototype he was developing and saw Jimi using the Big Muff he had bought from Henry, the boss at Manny’s Music Store in New York City. (Henry called Mike to give him the news.) So, to set the record straight, the Big Muff came out in 1969, not ’71. It was Carlos Santana who bought his Big Muff in ’71 (and I’ve seen a copy of the check). That said; I didn’t have to test the Big Muff sample that Mike sent me. I just looked over at the one that’s been sitting in my pedalboard. When I want that sweet, violin-like sustain, which is pretty much always, I kick in the Big Muff—no tweazing, tweaking, futzing, or fooling required. You have just three simple knobs to deal with: Volume, Tone, and Sustain. Once set, you’re set for life. This is the real deal; the words classic and legendary just don’t cut it. Not merely a part of rock history, but a vital element at the epicenter of the big bang that gave birth to the universe of rock ’n’ roll. Accept no substitutes.
Next I tried out what I expected would be the best of the bunch, the stereo Cathedral Reverb. And let me say this up front; there’s infinite, and then there’s truly infinite. The Cathedral falls into the latter category. In fact, as I’m writing this, the Cathedral is sustaining the reverb tail of harmonics (G triad on the 12th fret) that I set in motion about 10 minutes ago. I just went and grabbed some lunch, reverb tail still sustaining. Don’t believe me? Fine. Buy one, turn the Reverb/Time control fully clockwise and play a chord. And after your quest to prove me wrong fails, you will thank me for turning you on to this incredible reverb. There’s also a Tap Tempo/Infinite footswitch that gives you infinite reverb when you hold it down, or lets you adjust pre-delay in real time. Between the Time control and stereo output, you can turn your guitar into an ethereal, lush pad factory—and that’s just one of its five reverb controls. This unit can pretty much take you from "Surf’s up, Dick Dale" to "Greetings from the Grand Canyon."
The Cathedral has eight editable, storable presets, including Grail Spring, Accu Spring, Hall, Room, Plate, Reverse, Echo, and my personal fav, Flerb (Grail Flerb actually), which blends flanging with reverb to give it an animated, shimmering quality. The Damping/Tone knob lets you set the amount of flange in the reverb; hence "Flerb." Flerb is just, well, Flantastic. When not controlling Flerb, damping lets you control the density of the reverb. A Tap/Infinite footswitch lets you sync your delays to the beat in real time. Other standard reverb controls include a dry/wet Blend, Feedback, Pre-Delay, Bypass (footswitch), and a Mode control that allows you to choose between presets. And thanks to 24-bit AD/DA converters, the sound of Cathedral is just brilliant. It also has true stereo I/O. If lush analog reverb with a little something extra is part of your search for the Holy Grail of tone, enter the Cathedral and all your prayers will be answered. And yes, that harmonics reverb tail is still going.
The next generation EHX pitch generator, POG2, not only lets you create multi-stringed guitars and thick walls of sound like its predecessor, the original POG, it adds a number of new features in a smaller, pedalboard-friendly package. The top panel plays host to eight sliders; five on the Voice Mix side of the POG2 including Dry Output, -2 Octaves, which is new, -1 Octave, +1 Octave, and +2 Octaves. This gives you five mixable polyphonic harmonics. On the Effects side, there are three sliders; one for Attack, which lets you control the fade-in time of the octaves so you create fast or slowly evolving swells; LP Filter, which has selectable Q; and detune, so you can create swirling Leslie speaker-style organ effects. A top-panel Q button cycles through four levels of resonance (or Q) for the low-pass Filter. An LED gives you visual feedback; as the Q increases the LED gets brighter.
The cool thing about the POG2 is that its eight storable, editable presets, accessible via the Mode button, are footswitchable, so you don’t have to look like you’re searching for lost contact lenses onstage. And another cool thing is that your guitar’s dry signal can be routed through the attack, low-pass filter, and detune sliders, for even more musical mayhem. I spent hours having fun with this puppy. The polyphonic tracking is flawless, and the sonic possibilities are endless. In fact, I could have easily filled way more presets and still would have only been scratching the surface. Want an ethereal 12-string electric guitar? No problem—spooky backward sounds? One slider away—world’s fattest Fender? Easy. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play my 30-string guitar with the rotating speaker effect.
Now we come to the V256 Vocoder. That’s right; EHX understands the needs of the singer-guitarist who wants to boldly take their voice where harmonizers fear to tread. Not only can you re-create the "Cher" Auto-Tune and talk box effects, the V256 gives you much more. Pitch-challenged singers will love the Instrument Control mode. You can set it to track your single-string guitar playing so that when you play second-octave E, for example, no matter what note you’re singing, second-octave E comes out. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the controls.
The V256, as the name implies, offers up to 256 bands of vocoding, or as little as eight for grittier sounds, controlled via the Bands knob. The Tone knob adjusts the high- and low-frequency quality of the effect. On its right, a Gender Bender knob adjusts vocal formants from macho to girly. The Pitch knob has six modes that control the pitch of the internal synthesized voices, or it can silence them to make the V256 function as a regular vocoder with instrument input. Reflex-Tune mode is EHX’s answer to Auto-Tune. It enables you to choose between key scale pitch quantizing or chromatic, making it easy to obtain the sounds heard on many modern hit songs. Like the POG2, it also allows selectable presets.
But enough of the tech-talk—you can get all the details at musiciansfriend.com. I’m not a lead singer, but I can’t get enough of this baby. I can do things with my voice that take me into the land of the undead or sing in perfect pitch. And being the sort who enjoys making my guitar sound like an other-worldly instrument, it’s a joy to know I can do that with my vocals and not sound like I’m punking out. If you’re looking for the final frontier of guitar and voice, park your starship here.
As with all EHX effects, tweaks are immediately rewarded with tons of tonal options. And the militant, battery-sniffing tone snobs among us will have yet another reason to look down on all other interlopers who dare to make effects pedals. Isn’t it time you joined generation-EHX? I think so.