You will have probably noticed we are quite big fans of vintage and cool boutique pedals. Not just tools for tripping up guitarists, we just love the immediacy and character that pedals provide. Out of this love we have put them on full display at our Livingston Studios. The pedals cabinet boasts some unusual twists, gain/overdrive/fuzz pedals, modulation effects pedals and an array of delay/reverb pedals.
First in line we have a pair of wah pedals, a vintage classic for that wonderfully vowelly veering into phase type of wah, the other a much more modern take with a wider searing tone.
First up is a wah from the legendary Japanese brand Shin-ei. Shin-ei came into existence after the demise of Honey and took over the floundering company's operations. It created a wide variety of now incredibly sought after effects that were sold under many different brand names. Production stopped sometime in the 1970s. What became of the company is something of a mystery. This wah is under their Kimbara name. Combine this with the Companion fuzz also featured on this board and you are into instant The Jesus And Mary Chain territory.
Our other wah is the Dunlop Slash Signature, a very different and modern take on the classic wah. Featuring a Fasel inductor to provide those classic Vox Clyde McCoy type of tones, it also includes a high gain distortion circuit for those modern searing lead tones.
This is then followed by a Klon KTR. If any pedal was the impetus behind the ‘transparent overdrive’ craze it would be the Klon. The Klon was one of the first ‘boutique’ overdrive pedals. Introduced in 1994, it was designed and handbuilt by Bill Finnegan. Originally priced at $225 (which 20 years later still seems pretty high for an OD pedal) and discontinued in 2009, the Klon Centaur now sells for $1,500 and up on the used market.
In 1994, a $225 overdrive pedal was a pretty bold idea. Many guitarists were either happily using digital rack units or just starting to realise that maybe those old ‘stomp boxes’ that we replaced in favour of our rack units were actually pretty awesome. In any case, the Klon Centaur slowly built a following and landed on many a pro board over the years. According to the Klon website, 5,400 Klon Centaurs were built between 1994 and 2009. The final selling price before the Centaur was discontinued was $329. When Bill Finnegan discontinued the Klon Centaur in 2009, it opened the door for original units to skyrocket in value and for other builders to create clones or ‘Klones’ of the Centaur. However, since the original Klon Centaur had a ‘gooped’ circuit board, meaning it was coated in epoxy to keep others from reverse-engineering it, it took a while for the circuit to be analysed. Eventually, numerous builders offered their own versions of the Centaur – some apparently more accurate than others.
Finnegan then came back with the Klon KTR, which he himself says took a long, long time to finish. Though Finnegan says it was much more difficult than he expected, he feels it has achieved all of his design objectives. “It sounds the same as the Centaur, takes up considerably less space on a pedalboard, is less expensive and it’s distinctive aesthetically — it’s got the Klon thing going on.” He laughs, “Whatever the Klon thing is.”
Next up are two pedals by one of our favourite (if rather short-lived) brands Lovetone. Only in business for just over five years, Lovetone created some of the most original and coolest pedals on the planet. We have chosen both The Big Cheese and The Brown Source for our board. The Big Cheese has graced just about every major player’s pedal board, from The Edge to J Mascis to Johnny Marr to many many more, one of the greatest fuzz pedals ever made and super versatile. The Brown Source just loves to work in conjunction with a great amp, giving you that classic late 60s/70s grunt without any of the nasty fizz normally associated.
Next up is the daddy of the huge sustain fuzz, the EH Big Muff Pi. The NYC original, Hendrix and Santana were among the first to get a piece of the Pi, and for over 40 years the Big Muff Pi has been defining the sound of rock guitar. Revered by contemporary guitarists and rock legends for its rich, creamy, violin-like sustain, from Pink Floyd to The White Stripes, everyone still wants a piece of the Pi. This boards unit is a 1990 ‘Russian model giving instant Smashing Pumpkins to Black Keys fun’.
Following the Pi is another stone-cold classic, the RAT. The Pro Co RAT pedal first burst on to the guitar scene in the mid 80s, and swept through the guitar playing world like no other dirt pedal has. There was a good reason for this. It was really good. At lower settings it behaves like a cool overdrive that kicks a good amp into some really musical high gain fun. At mid-way settings a filthy animal that turns the cleanest Fender amp into a metal monster. And at its highest setting the best retro fuzzy pedal, so good that Hendrix would probably be using, if he was still with us. Users as diverse as Sunn O))) to Matt Bellamy to Kevin Shields to Jeff Beck make the RAT a truly versatile dirt box. The model on this board is the Big Box ‘Woodcutter’ from 1990.
Last on our board is an absolutely mint condition late 60s Shin-ei/Kimbara Companion fuzz, like the MXR Blue Box it’s a one-trick pony but what a trick it is. Think Jack White's killer chainsaw fuzz intro on the ‘Another Way to Die’ soundtrack. Other big fans of the Companion fuzz are The Jesus And Mary Chain, Radiohead, Graham Coxon and Dan Auerbach.
Released June 1976 and with sales at over 7 million, the all-time classic BOSS CE-1 was the first chorus pedal from BOSS. The circuit had already been used in the now-legendary Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus amplifier, and BOSS decided that it would be a great idea to take the chorus circuit out of the JC-120 and sell it as a separate unit. The result became the CE-1 Chorus Ensemble.
The CE-1 is based around the Matsushita BBD MN3002. This circuit is originally developed by Philips but Matsushita was given a licence to make it from the mid-70s. Its list of users reads like a who's who of great guitar tone, including legends such as Jeff Baxter and Adrian Belew. It has also been dubbed the 'Andy Summers in a box' pedal as it does a wonderful version of the famous The Police guitar sound, but both Pete Cornish and Andy have confirmed that he never actually used a CE-1 (it was in fact a Pete Cornish-modded EH Electric Mistress).
The CE-1 is two stereo effects (chorus and vibrato) in one box. Vibrato is controlled via speed and depth controls while the chorus utilises just one overall effect level knob. This may sound limiting, but it's quite the opposite as through its range this single control offers everything from subtle shimmering chorus to near Leslie cabinet simulations while never losing an ounce of its musical quality.
Next up is another Roland classic if of the rarer variety, the Roland AP-7 Jet Phaser. Want to pretend to be Larry Graham or in The Isley Brothers? The AP-7 is the pedal for that wildly distinctive sound. The Jet Phaser combines fuzz and a multi-stage phase controlled via four control knobs and a six-way mode switch that provides four distorted jet settings and two clean. The resonance control takes the phaser from mild to very pronounced, added to this are two foot switches; one for effect bypass, the other for fast or slow modulation rate. One of the coolest and wildest pedals of all time.
One of our favourite (and not just us, just ask Andy Summers or Dave Gilmour) flangers next, the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress. The Deluxe Electric Mistress was designed by Electro-Harmonix engineer Howard Davis (who also designed the Deluxe Memory Man). It was offered alongside the original Mistress between 1978-81 and later reissued in 1999 (to present) presented in a slightly larger box.
The Deluxe features a noise filter, making it less noisy than the original Mistress. It has a slightly more jet-like tone, like the MXR, with a hint more mid-range and low end.
With all of the Livingston Studios boards, we attempted to source the originals as much as possible and we found the current large box Deluxe Electric Mistress has a considerably darker and less transparent tone compared to this original 70s model.
Being a big Les Claypool fan, I felt a ring modulator just had to be included on one of these boards, and as no corners are being cut we decided to go with only the finest, that being the Moog MF-102. For those not familiar with ring modulation, the Moog rebuilds your sound into two separate tones and then uses an internal carrier oscillator to spread those tones apart in the frequency spectrum. The higher the carrier frequency, the more the new tones are separated, serving up an astounding range of effects; from slow, velvet-smooth tremelo to chains jangling in a Chinese gong to classic outer space sounds. Instant DJ Shadow territory in a box.
Next in line are two pedals that put a twist on the board as they are not modulation pedals, however they perfectly compliment our selection.
Firstly we have a legendary and super-rare 1978 Ross Grey Compressor, possibly the most copied and revered compressor pedal circuit of all time (Keeley, Barber and Analog Man have all attempted a version). Warm, funky, juicy sustain, never harsh. Rare as hen's teeth and the most sought-after compression pedal there is.
This pedal is famously the key element in the Trey Anastasio sound, by his own claim. When he temporarily took it off of his board fans were upset enough with the tonal change to actually start a campaign demanding he bring it back.
But aside from that guy, this was THE best compression pedal of the 70s and is the sound of countless hit records of the era.
After that is a script logo MXR Blue Box, not an everyday use pedal but wonderful on the right source. The huge double octave down fuzz creates some truly out of this world effects, think Jimmy Page on 'Fool In the Rain'. Wonderfully subterranean and psychedelic fun.
Lastly is a stone-cold all time must-have, the Musictronics Mu-Tron III. Introduced in 1972 (our Livingston Studios board unit is a very early example) the Mu-Tron III was an instant success and was used by jazz/fusion guitarist Larry Coryell, Funkadelic bass player Bootsy Collins (for his 'space bass'), guitarist Jerry Garcia and Stevie Wonder, who used it on his Clavinet for the song 'Higher Ground'.
First up is a one-off for these three boards. We're not the biggest fans of multi-effects units but in this case we make an extreme exception. We've always been huge Eventide fans and their H9 Harmonizer multi-effects pedal could be seen as a greatest hits list taken directly from their groundbreaking ModFactor, PitchFactor, TimeFactor and Space pedals. Preloaded with 15 algorithms from those four pedals, the H9 also has two algorithms that are unique: UltraTap and Resonator. All of this processing power is housed in a surprisingly small, modernist-looking white box with an efficient, minimalist feature set. Welcome to the future.
Next up are two opposite sides of the same analogue coin, the wonderfully dirty and much underrated DOD FX90 delay and the wonderfully new take on analogue the Maxon AD-999.
Looking at the AD-999 first, the Maxon is one of the most ambitious and practical analogue delay pedals to come along in a very long time. A few years back the hopes of analogue lovers the world over were dashed when Panasonic closed their BBD production line for good. Rather than giving in to the digital wave, Maxon took the opposite approach and had BBDs manufactured exclusively for them. Each AD-999 comes loaded with eight Maxon MN3107D BBDs for a total of 900ms of pure, rich, organic analogue delay. Standard delay time, delay level and feedback controls combine with wet/dry outputs for a variety of sounds and signal routing options.
The DOD however is one of the last great pedals to utilise the famous MN3005 chip. Introduced in mid-1984 as the twelfth DOD FX-series pedal, it was the last FX-series pedal to feature 'bars' graphics and the first with three control knobs. Although its circuit was revised some 12 times (up to Revision L), the FX90 always used the revered analogue MN3005 chip, the same chip used in the first version of the Boss DM-2 Delay. We have found that the FX90 can be easily coaxed into wild Radiohead-style self-oscillation. Whats not to love?
Next up is the most in-demand analogue delays ever built. Musicians love it and collectors cherish it. Nothing can compare to the organic sound of analogue delay, and nothing does analogue like the Deluxe Memory Man. Up to 550ms of vibrant echo that rivals tape delay; lush, spatial chorus and haunting vibrato are just a few of the treats in the Memory Man's wild sonic palette. Utterly wonderful also on a Moog-style synth or for those early U2 tones.
Another unit from Electro-Harmonix is up next. This pedal has been attracting serious attention over the past few years, especially from those of the duo variety such as The Kills and Royal Blood. Back in 2005, Electro-Harmonix unveiled the POG, a polyphonic octave generator that enabled guitarists to conjure everything from the surreal jangle of an 18-string guitar to rich, thick walls of symphonic sound. If you want that bigger than big sound, this is the guy.
Two pedals next from one of our all time favourite brands Lovetone. For those of you who might not have encountered the magnificence of Lovetone before, the chances of which being highly likely due to the short lived nature of the brand, we would really recommend trying to find some of these pedals to experience. They were truly unique in design. On this board we feature a Doppleganger (dual LFO phaser/vibrato) and The Meatball (amazing envelope follower/triggered filter). Both allow control of multiple parameters of the effect through the use of low frequency oscillators (LFOs), expression pedals or control voltage (CV) - features more commonly found in analogue synthesisers and synthesiser modules. This ability to create extremely unusual sounds has made the pedals highly regarded by musicians and producers including Beastie Boys, Metallica, Radiohead, The Edge, Johnny Marr and Alan Moulder. Although neither strictly time-based effects, the versatility of these units, especially in terms of interfacing with other units, compliments our selection of delays wonderfully, creating some totally unique new effect combinations.
Lastly is a pedal from a brand that has really caught the attention of many over the past few years, that brand being Strymon and the pedal their magnetic monster that is the El Capistan.
The El Capistan is able to go from the sound of a pristine, studio-quality tape machine to the heavily fluctuating sound of a machine in need of service in a heartbeat, giving the full-bodied sound of fresh tape all the way to the gnarled qualities of worn out tape. All of this without the headaches of tape machine maintenance and repair, it's simply a must have.