Handwired in glorious Sidcup, the very bosom of rock’n’roll, these new stompboxes add swoosh, warble, throb and echo to the Rotosound pedal line. Review by Marcus Leadley
Rotosound is one of those great British brands. For the most part the company has stuck to its business of being an innovative maker of music strings, but back in the ’60s they also marketed various rebadged versions of Sola Sound Tone Bender fuzzes, with the MkIII seeing the light of day once again as a handwired reissue in 2011. Even then the rumour mill was grinding about the idea of possible ‘new’ pedals; well, Jason How and the gang have gone and done it, with not just one or two, but six of the beasts. This month we’ll be looking at four, but no doubt the Pusher Compressor and Leveller EQ will be cabled up some time soon.
All the new Rotosound pedals are built into the same rugged steel housing that was created for the reissue fuzz. These are chunky pedals in terms of footprint – fine in that old-school way where you have one or two stompboxes on the floor, not so great if you want to incorporate several onto your pedalboard. You might expect to find a lot of free air inside, but the well laid-out circuit boards take up most of the space.
Although changing the battery means removing the base plate, there’s a 9V power port on the front of each unit – not something you’d ever find on an old germanium fuzz. Although these pedals are vintage-styled and vintage-voiced they are not copies of pre-existing circuits; John Oram’s designs combine the best of both new and old. Each pedal is finished in a solid, bright colour, so they’re easy to distinguish, and each pedal has exactly three knobs… so not too many parameters to get hung up on.
Everyone needs a good tremolo. While the amplitude modulation of an incoming signal sounds like a simple proposition, tremolo can be a subtle or vicious tool, adding rhythm and movement to otherwise static chords. Entire cycling riffs can be built around the right pulsation and different circuits have distinct characteristics.
The best tremolos can be finely adjusted, and this one is very musical. As well as Rate and Depth controls you can click between silicon and germanium circuits using the Silly/Germ knob. One quirk is the fact that in bypass mode the LED glows solid red, but when the tremolo is engaged it pulses in step to the speed. This is useful, telling you you’re in the right zone before you start to tweak by ear.
The knobs offer just the right amount of resistance and interact very intuitively. With Depth set at about 12 o’clock, the Rate control allows you to go from a lazy sweep to a cat-like purr. Wound fully anticlockwise, the effect is completely muted; fully clockwise it gets a little seasick – so you have plenty of scope in between these extremes. At the Silly end of the circuit control the overall sound character is more glassy and clear, at the Germ end there’s more rounded midrange saturation and a slight gain boost.
King Henry Phaser
The phaser is another one of those effects that defines a classic guitar sound, this time of the late ’70s and ’80s – think the Cure and Eddie Van Halen. Phaser modulation is created by splitting the guitar signal in two, filtering one side and letting frequency-dependent phase cancellation shake the voodoo stick. Working the Rate control with Depth set fairly low does give you an effect that sounds a lot like tremolo, but a little more rounded to the ear.
At higher Depth settings this takes on a slightly ‘mouthy’ wah-like characteristic which can be accentuated by driving the Peak control, and at max the effect is not dissimilar to auto wah. Increasding the Peak setting at lower Depth settings creates a superbly chewy sound that’s great for funk rhythm. With a high gain amp and plenty of Peak the pedal sounds great with singing high lead runs and big chunky chords, while driving a clipped amp delivers great New Wave tones.
This time we have Rate, Depth and Level controls. Level is the interesting one: it lets you have more or less of the effected signal added to your basic sound, allowing you to make good use of the more out-there sounds created by higher Rate and Depth settings by just adding fractions to the overall mix, making the sound burble and rumble in ways that don’t sound at all like chorus-effected guitar. People talk of chorus as sounding a bit like a 12-string; that’s not far from reality, as the effect is again created by splitting the input signal and then applying a very short delay and a low-frequency oscillator to one side.
As the delay’s so short the overall output blends together, giving a subtle pitch shift. The Crusader performs well at the more reserved end of the spectrum, where it delivers rich, clean results. It’s mono, of course, but that’s appropriate for most guitar applications, as generally you want the overall signal to stay together in the mix.
Aftermath Analog Delay
Unlike digital delays that combine a sampling capability with a playback buffer and can therefore offer a perfect facsimile of the original event, the echo created by an analogue circuit is subject to degradation of both signal and tone – and the results can sound fantastic. You won’t get especially long delays with analogue kit; there are limitations to bucket brigade technology, which shuttles the signal along lines of capacitors in step to a clock signal, but the combination of a short delay, tonal degradation and a variable feedback capability can give you awesome results.
At lower Depth and Speed settings the Rotosounds gives beautifully warm repeats, and you can use the Feedback to give you a single repeat, or six, eight or more, or dial on through to near-infinite pulsations. Push Feedback to the limit, max out the Rate and let the sonic equivalent of a storm build before you use the Rate again to crash the pitch into a wall; lovely. Used more conservatively the Aftermath is great for lead playing, or you can match the repeat level with your guitar output and sculpt hypnotic riffs.
These very retro-looking pedals will suit players who have got over the appeal of having every option at their feet and prefer to settle for a few well-chosen sounds. They’re not cheap, but neither are they cruising the silly price bracket of some boutique offerings. The workmanship is solid, the components are high-grade, and they’re likely to deliver years of good service. While they may all be single-function devices, all the controls are well thought-out and the blend of limitation and flexibility is musically very appealing.