Love phasing? Then why limit yourself to just one when MXR offers two, all crammed into a weeny box. Review by Marcus Leadley
Specs: Dual phaser pedal, mono input, mono or dual output. Made in USA
Speed (x 2), Parallel/Series, Vintage, Sync
Contact: Westside Distribution – +44 (0) 844 326 2000 – westsidedistribution.com – www.jimdunlop.com
The original Phase 90 was perhaps the pedal that really announced MXR to the world in the mid-’70s – and its best salesman was none other than Eddie Van Halen, although Brian May was no slouch in the phaser department either. It’s one of the classic swooshy pedals of the era, adding tonal movement to distorted rhythm and lead playing as well as funking up clean sounds, and it endured the onslaught of punk to become a new wave sound that has survived the vagaries of fashion better, some would say, than chorus. The Phase 90’s sweeping tone was created by splitting the signal in two, filtering one side and letting frequency-dependent phase cancellation work its magic. Changing the mix ratio changes the speed of the modulation, and that’s all there was to the orange Phase 90: one knob and a footswitch.
The MXR Custom Shop Phase 99 takes phasing to a whole new level, for this little box contains not one but two phaser circuits. There are two rotary speed controls and three buttons that let you toggle between series/parallel mode and modern/vintage tone and switch the phaser sync on and off.
There are also two dip switches inside the unit, and this is where things get a little confusing. The manual says to leave SW5 alone as it does nothing; curious, but maybe there’s a mod in the pipeline. With SW6 down (the factory default) you get the output of both phasers for both series and parallel modes presented at OUT 1, creating a mix for basic mono guitar playing.
Plug a second amp into OUT 2 and select Series mode, and the output of each phaser is sent to a separate out, and you can independently control the speed. If you select parallel mode instead, both outputs are sent a blend of both phasers. If you are playing in mono, moving SW6 to its ‘up’ position when in parallel mode means you’re only using one phase circuit – this gives you the most basic of phase tones – and if you press the vintage switch you basically have the softer, early Phase 90 sound. Switching to series mode gives you a blend again.
Practically, this madness translates into the following: if you just plug your guitar direct into an amp, set the dip switch ‘up’ if you want a single, classic phaser tone and a second dual phaser sound. If you want two dual phaser sounds, push the switch down. If you use a stereo rig, leave the switch down – then you get either two independent phasers or a blended output.
Despite the complexity there’s no getting away from the fact that the Phase 99 sounds like a phaser, and it’s full of those familiar great sounds. Beyond the basics you can sculpt all manner of subtle phase shades. Syncing the phasers creates depth and richness, while controlling the speed of the two units independently lets you programme all sorts of shakes, wiggles and implied rhythms into your sound – both subtle and crazy. Working with the unit in stereo creates a whole new palate of spatial effects, but these are quite difficult to control; what you hear partly depends on where you stand in relation to your amps. The vintage control appears to mute the top end of the signal and accentuate the mid spectrum, and its effect is fairly consistent across all settings.
The Phase 99 is a well-made, low-noise, flexible pedal – ideal if you’re planning to make phasing a key element of your sound or want a wide range of options to play with. If you just want a retro-sounding phaser, something much simpler will be adequate. Phasers are generally at their best when used in moderation; the Phase 99 can be a very subtle tool and the level of control of fine detail is really impressive.