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Posts Tagged ‘chorus’

…and a few others to consider

I know, I know… A lot of people wouldn’t ever think about doing this, but I’ve used them for years, and actually got the inspiration from one of the greatest acoustic guitarists – in my humble opinion – who ever walked planet Earth: Michael Hedges. While he mainly used a chorus pedal, it gave me the idea that I could take advantage of the interesting sonic layers I could add to my sound. Note that these aren’t hard and fast rules, but for me, I don’t go to a gig without them. And also note that this assumes you’re plugging your guitar into a board or an amp of sorts.

Reverb

A lot of acoustic amps have onboard reverb, but I’ve found that they’re not quite as good as a dedicated pedal that I can tweak. My favorite reverb pedals that I use are the DigiTech Hardwire RV-7 Reverb and the TC Electronics Hall of Fame Reverb. The RV-7 is no longer in production and I’ve had it for several years, but it’s awesome. Apparently, the DigiTech Polara builds on DigiTech’s use of Lexicon reverb models. Lexicon reverbs are the tops, and I’ve used them on pedals and sound boards for years. As far as the Hall of Fame reverb, it’s an absolutely solid reverb pedal, though admittedly, it sits on my electric board. This pedal is cool because it has TC Electronic’s TonePrint capability that allows you to download saved tweaks from their site. I’ve used it, but I tend to like where I set my reverb, so I don’t use it too much.

Chorus

Frankly, I couldn’t live without this in my live gigs. I never use it really heavy – even for electric guitar – but it can add depth and shimmer to your plugged-in tone. Frankly, you have to play a lot of these to find the right kind of sound for you. But my go-to chorus pedals are as follows (in order of use): TC Electronic Corona Chorus, BOSS CE-2 Chorus (vintage MIJ black-label – and I only use it in my home studio now because it’s so rare), Homebrew Electronics THC (discontinued, but the warmest, most liquid chorus I’ve ever heard). The Corona is my workhorse chorus pedal that I use for both acoustic and electric. There’s really something about this particular pedal that I just dig. It’s actually a very subtle chorus, and that suits me just fine because I don’t ever want a pedal to dominate my sound. I usually just set it in the standard setting. I keep it at about 10 o’clock for level; I set “speed” at about the same, and depth about 2pm. Then depending on where I’m plugged in, I’ll adjust the tone to where I perceive it to be balanced with the rest of my signal chain.

I actually also have a BOSS  CE-5, but that sits in my spares drawer just in case one goes down. It’s decent, but it’s not a CE-2, which is a pretty special sound. You can still get CE-2’s used. But you’ll want to get one in excellent to mint condition.

Analog Delay

I’m making an important distinction here mainly because I’ve never been able to get a satisfactory sound with a digital delay with my acoustic. And to tell the truth, while I’ve had several digital delays in the past, I now only use my Vox Time Machine for digital delay. But even that doesn’t get used much. Instead, I have two mainstays that I use pretty regularly. First is my Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay (hand-wired). Whew! I paid a pretty penny for that (USD $325 new) but there’s a less-expensive PCB board version that sounds incredibly good as well. In any case, I use this pedal mainly for acoustic. To me, it has this other-worldly sound that I just can’t get enough of when I’m playing my acoustic through it. It works great with my electric rig as well, but I tend to prefer my MXR Carbon Copy for that. For some reason, the Carbon Copy has an awesome mojo in my electric signal chain. I just love it. It doesn’t have the depth of the Deep Blue, but that’s not really what I’m after when I’m playing electric guitar. I just like to add some ambiance to my solos. Got that from Tommy Shaw of Stix.

Other Pedals To Consider

I use the following pedals depending upon the venue I’m playing.

Compressor/Sustainer – My go-to is the Maxon CP101 Compressor. I usually use this if the venue I’m playing doesn’t have an onboard compressor and/or the venue has really high ceilings, and I need my band to be pretty narrow to cut through the ambient noise.

Acoustic Enhancer – I use the BBE Sonic Stomp, and again, I use it mainly for wide-open areas. This is particularly useful for when I’m playing with other acoustic guitars and am doing a lot of solos. I typically use it to add some high-end shimmer – but sparingly, otherwise I risk sounding “tinny.”

Vibe – I know what you might be saying, “Really?!!!” For me, this is a “mood” type of pedal. I don’t use it much, but when I want to get a pulsating, modulated tone, there’s nothing but vibe that’ll do. And for me, my vibe of choice is the Voodoo Labs MicroVibe.

Of course, you don’t really “need” any of these. And if I were to choose just one, I’d probably go with a good reverb pedal first. There’s nothing like adding a little “grease” to your sound than with some subtle reverb. The next would be delay, then chorus. But I should say that in my solo acoustic gigs, my chorus pedal is always on. I have a very subtle setting that I use that really pleases me, so I just keep it on all the time. But in its absence, I’d choose a delay over that.

And as I mentioned above, there are no hard and fast rules, but having literally played thousands of gigs over the last 35 years, I’m banking on my experience to at least get you started.

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Looked back through some old posts and saw a comment on one of earlier posts on the TC Electronic Corona Chorus where a commenter believed that the chorus pedal was one of the more useless pedals. I didn’t take offense to that statement, because everyone has their tonal preferences, but for me, chorus has been an integral part of my sound for years – especially when I’m playing acoustic guitar.

I started using a chorus when I saw Michael Hedges start using one way back in the early 80’s. Before he hit it big, I used to watch him at least a couple of times a week at a local bar, and one day he showed up on stage with BOSS CE-2. I instantly fell in love with that sound. He never went over the top with it, but he used chorus in a lot of tunes after his first album. Done right, chorus can be absolutely inspiring.

Here’s a video of Michael playing the first three songs off his Taproot album. The first song, The Naked Stalk, is one of my all-time favorite Michael Hedges tunes. It is super-simple, but that’s the beauty of this piece. Anyway, take a look:

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I was feeling a bit nostalgic yesterday and put my BOSS CE-2 on my board. Though I’ll never get rid of the pedal because of its value – both vintage and personal – I have to admit that I hadn’t played the pedal in at least year; maybe more, as I had moved on to other choruses such as the TC Electronic Corona Chorus and the Homebrew THC. But after playing it at my solo gig yesterday, I think it’ll definitely stay on my mini board.

When I mentioned feeling nostalgic earlier, the CE-2 was my first chorus pedal. Actually, it was the first pedal I purchased back in the early 80’s. I had an original black label model circa 1981 or so (been awhile). I had purchased it along with an in-hole pickup for my Yamaha FG-335 and a Roland 15 Watt solid state amp, and actually put a lot of mileage on that pedal but finally traded it for another cheapo. For years, I could never recapture that tone, so I just went without it. But I never forgot the tone.

Back in 2010, I purchased a green label, MIJ model from the mid-80’s, and played it for several months until I came across my other two chorus pedals that I mentioned above. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work well with my Plexi-style amps, so I just took it off my board. It sat collecting dust until I played it yesterday.

It hit me like a ton of bricks yesterday that what made me fall in love with the sound was how it sounded with an acoustic guitar. The chorus is voiced a bit bright, so the deep voice of an acoustic balances out the potentially harsh tones. I was very much in tonal heaven yesterday as that pedal just added so much to my acoustic tone. I could set it to thick and liquid, to very subtle and it just sounded fantastic.

Here are a few clips I recorded this morning. I’m playing my Gretch Electromatic and outputting through my VHT Special 6. The amp is miked with a Sennheiser e609 positioned off-axis, at the edge of the speaker cone to pick up the lows. The first two clips are short comparison clips, while the third is finger-picked chord progression.

Very Subtle (Rate @ Noon, Depth @ 9)

Adding a Bit More Chime (Rate @ Noon, Depth @ 10:30-11am)

Liquid, but not over the top (Rate @ Noon, Depth @ 2pm)

No EQ was used on the recording. What you heard was a straight recording of the amp’s output. I did level balance a bit to bring up the softer, finger-picked tracks, but did no EQ shaping.

The thing about the CE-2 tone is that it is not a thick chorus tone, and it is not smooth. There is a definite emphasis on the mids and high-mids with the CE-2, which is probably why it didn’t sound very good with my Plexi-style amps, plus the fact that I was using Alnico speakers which tended to be bright. So the added brightness was just not too pleasing at the time. Mind you, that was for my live sound. I could always get a good recorded sound by simply positioning my mic in the right place.

So there it is. I’m glad I’ve found a great use for my CE-2. Not sure what I’m going to do with the THC. It too is a great chorus… I’ll probably keep it for awhile or put it up on CraigsList…

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Homebrew Electronics Three Hound Chorus

Summary: All-analog, thick and rich chorus capable of produce subtle to dripping wet chorus to organ-like leslie tones.

Pros: Warm, rich chorus tones – never gets bright, so it might not be for everyone, but I LOVE IT! Width knob is the “secret sauce” of the pedal that physically alters the width between the wave forms.

Cons: None.

Features:

  • Depth – Controls the depth or wetness of the signal
  • Speed – Connected to the LED indicator light which flashes with the rate of the chorus – very helpful.
  • Width – As mentioned above, controls the width between the wave forms. The effect is subtle, but provides another dimension for tweaking.
  • All Homebrew pedals feature true-bypass switching, heavy duty metal enclosures, chassis-mounted switches and pots.
  • All pedals are hand-built. Even the enclosures are drilled by an actual person, not a machine.
  • Lifetime warranty

Price: ~$189 – $200 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I’m blown away by this chorus! It has such a beautiful tone! I was looking for a chorus to use with my acoustic rig, but this pedal has so much versatility, that I will be using it for a variety of settings (though it’ll mainly be used for my acoustic rig).

I Love Surprises…

Actually, saying I was surprised by the THC is actually an understatement. I needed a chorus pedal to go with my acoustic rig yesterday, because I was tired of using my BOSS CE-2 on both my electric and acoustic boards. Plus, the CE-2, at least for me, has always sounded better with electric because of the gain boost which I dig with my electric rig. But for acoustic, I just want something that turns on, doesn’t give me a jump in volume, and doesn’t add any brightness. So when I auditioned a couple of chorus pedals yesterday – the other was an MXR Micro Chorus – I could not believe how absolutely SWEET the THC sounded!

Mind you, the Micro Chorus sounded killer to me, but it was much closer in character to the CE-2 as it is a fairly bright chorus. For acoustic, I needed a much thicker tone, and I found that in the THC. I will mention that I was going to also audition the Red Witch Empress Chorus, which is hailed as just about the best chorus on the market today. But at $400, there was absolutely no way I was going to get it, so I didn’t bother auditioning it. Also, the Red Witch has 4 knobs and two toggles. I didn’t need that kind of tweak-ability. I know, it’s also a Vibrato, but I just wanted a chorus.

Fit and Finish

All Homebrew Electronics (HBE) pedals are hand-built: And this means all the components, drilling and even the painting are done at the Homebrew shop. But the cool thing is that HBE. My experience with them has been that they’re built like tanks, and the THC is no exception. The pedal feels solid. There’s nothing loose. I also absolutely dig the bright green paint job. Reminds me of a Granny Smith apple! 🙂

Ease of Use (read: How easy is it to dial in great tone)

This is where the THC really shines. What’s very helpful in this regard is the LED, which flashes with the according to how the Rate knob is set. I found myself setting this knob first, then setting the Depth knob for the wetness, then setting the width, which I mentioned is a very subtle feature, but it changes the character of the chorus, which is really cool. Note that it’s not something that I can’t really explain because at least to me, the change is more felt than heard.

How It Sounds

As with all gear that I give 5 Tone Bones, the THC sounds AMAZING! With a high rating like this, the tone really has to move me emotionally. Other gear that gets a lower rating, even gear with a 4.75 sounds great, but there’s something that “bugs” me. Not so with the THC. It’s one of those pedals where I can close my eyes, put a smile on my face, and just let my fingers do the talking. It’s that good!

I recorded a few clips of the pedal to demonstrate how it sounds. All clips were recorded with my trusty Squier CV Tele 50’s (middle pickup position) into my Aracom VRX22 and a 1 X 12 with a Jensen Jet Falcon:

All controls dead-center

Subtle: Depth at about 10am, Rate at 12pm, Width at 10am (added a touch of reverb)

Leslie: Depth at 2pm, Rate cranked, Width about 2pm

Heavy: Depth at 4pm, Rate at 1pm, Width 11am

With this clip I wanted to see how well it played with both delay and reverb, and it plays quite nicely. 🙂

Overall Impression

This is one of those pedals that I actually had never seen before. I’d heard of it, but went into the audition completely cold. If you have a dealer near you that carries these pedals, I encourage you to check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

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If you’ve read this blog with any regularity, you’d know that I’ve lamented trading away my original BOSS CE-2 Chorus for a Multi-function DigiTech pedal. Hey! I didn’t know better at the time. The CE-2 was cheap when I got it new back in the early 80’s, and so I figured, what would be the harm in trading a cheap pedal for another cheap pedal, especially if the new cheap pedal was all-digital! Oh well, I’ve redeemed myself. I finally got a CE-2, and for a GREAT deal on EBay!

To me, THIS chorus sound is the chorus sound that defines the entire gamut of chorus pedals. Say what you want about the others. While they’re all good – and I’ve heard and played many – the CE-2 chorus is the sound I grew up with as a young guitarist. To me, nothing matches its warmth and the liquidity of its tones. This is pure analog Chorus goodness.

I did some really quick demos about fifteen minutes ago. All clips were played clean with my Squier CV Tele 50’s running into my pedal board and into my Aracom VRX22. Excuse the 60Hz hum from my Tele and the ambient background noise of my fridge. 🙂 Each clip starts with a dry version then the CE-2 is engaged.

First up is a little clean blues groove. The chorus, when engaged is set to 3pm on both Rate and Depth to get a sort of vibey effect:

Next up is a simple chord progression done finger style. The CE-2 has both Rate and Depth set to noon:

Finally, the last clip demonstrates how well the CE-2 plays with other modulation effects. It first starts out with my VOX Time Machine and Hardwire RV-7 Reverb. When I play it over with the CE-2, the CE-2 is set to my favorite setting, with Rate at noon, and depth at 2pm (some things are just etched in your memory):

Of course I realize that appreciation of tone is an entirely subjective matter. But even after all these years, I just can’t get over how much I love this chorus sound and thick and liquid it can get, but still be crystal clear and articulate. My CE-5 did a great job for real subtle chorus, but cranked up, it was unusable. But with the CE-2, there are usable tones, no matter where you set it!

I have to admit that I am absolutely emotional right now. I’ve got all these memories flooding through my head from almost 30 years ago when I first bought it: Memories of watching a young Michael Hedges work his magic on his acoustic; trying to cop Andy Summer’s tone; late nights in my parents’ house plucking away at my guitar; lots of memories, both good and bad. Wow!

This pedal will NEVER leave my board again!

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Awhile back, I wrote a fairly quick review of this pedal. That was back in October of 2007. I bought it because I was tired of using modelers and software chorus in my recordings, and also wanted to use a chorus live, which I hadn’t done much of since I had sold my Line 6 Flextone III which has it built in.

At the time, I figured it couldn’t be a bad investment, especially since I paid something like $79 for it. So, after a couple of years, what’s the verdict? It’s a solid pedal, and there’s a reason I haven’t removed it from my board yet (I’m currently looking to get a vintage CE-2): I love the Roland chorus sound!

I suppose you use what you’re used to. For me, using chorus started with the old Roland JC-120. What a great amp, and the stereo chorus was to die for! It was thick and lush, yet ringy and vibrant. Since I didn’t have access to that amp all the time (it was my brother’s), I settled on the CE-2, which I kept into the mid-90’s when I traded it for a DigiTech multifunction pedal – big mistake. Oh well…

In any case, after awhile I needed to get a chorus pedal for my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. I didn’t even think about it what pedal I’d get. I knew it had to be a Boss. My thought was: How different could it be compared to my trusty old CE-2 which, after all, was a pretty cheap pedal when I bought it, and besides that, Roland chorus was the standard for me. I’d heard some great chorus sounds, but to me, the Roland chorus was where it was at, so I went to my local music store and purchased a CE-5

Well, to make a long story short, once I played around with the pedal, I realized that while it had that Roland chorus tone, the digital version was almost too perfect, and not nearly as warm as I remembered the CE-2 being. It seemed a little sterile. But I kept at the tweaking and was finally able to dial in some very nice, rich tones that came close to what I remembered. After all this time, here’s what I’ve come to observe about the CE-5:

  • The CE-5 doesn’t do extreme settings very well. In fact, they can be downright ugly; especially if you crank up the rate and depth knobs. But as they say, do things in moderation, and with moderate settings, the CE-5 can produce wonderful tones! The best operating range I’ve found for Level, Rate and Depth are no less than 9am and no greater than 2:30. At the high-end, you can get some very cool leslie effects by upping the depth, reducing the rate and upping the level. In general though, I don’t tend to stray too far away from 10 to 2 on the sweep.
  • All the knobs interact well with each other – almost too well – as minute changes on one knob really effect the others, making you have to compensate to keep the tone under control.
  • The Hi/Lo cut combo knob is killer – something I wish the CE-2 had. What they do is subtle, but very useful.
  • Even for as simple as it is, you really have to play with the settings before you find the right tones. I’ve had a few years with this pedal now, so I know where to set the knobs for the effect I want. But it did take time.

Given all that, don’t take it as a negative. My feeling is that hard work is rewarded, if you’re willing to do it. I took the time, and now that I’ve got the tones dialed in, I really like the pedal, which is why I’m not in a real big rush to replace it.

Here’s a clip I recorded with different settings. There are three sets of recordings, starting with my dry signal, then activating the chorus. The chorus sounds go from moderate-heavy to moderate to light in the final chord progression. I used my Gibson Nighthawk 2009 into an Aracom VRX22 amp. Here’s the clip:

I recorded the guitar completely dry, with the mic (e609) about 1/2″ from the grille cloth.

Granted, the Roland chorus sound isn’t for everyone. There are so many great ones out there, but for me, I’ll stick to the familiar. Rock on!

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You know… For the most part, I have few regrets about my life. Yeah, I’ve made my share of mistakes, and have learned from them, but there are some things that just seem to stick in my craw, especially when I reminisce about gear that I’ve had.

Back in the 80’s, I was a big Michael Hedges fan, and must’ve seen him play live more than 50 times. I remember the day I saw him and he had added chorus to his chain. Mind you, he was an acoustic guitarist, and before he became widely known, it had always been Michael and his guitar, straight into the PA. Then he added a rather sophisticated EQ. But what struck me the hardest was when he added a chorus. For as much of a fan that I was, I don’t know which one he had. But when he came out with “Breakfast In the Field” in 1981, and used the chorus to amazing effect on songs such as “The Magic Farmer” and “Rickover’s Dream” which, incidentally, I had already heard live before the album came out, I knew I had to get a chorus!

At the time, I didn’t know an amp from a refrigerator. I was your classic folk acoustic player who happened to know cowboy chords. Be that as it may, I saved some money and went down to Guitar Center where I bought a cheap in-hole pickup for my guitar (which I still have 30 years later – it’s a Yamaha FG-335), a Roland 25 amp, and a Boss CE-2.

Even through all that cheap equipment, there was something special about the CE-2. It had just two knobs: Rate and Depth, and you could dial up incredible chorus tones with it! I can recall the warmth of the tone, and the magical way notes danced in the air. Hey! I sucked at the time, but I remember the feeling I got. Perhaps part of it was due to the satisfaction that I could cop some similar tones to Michael Hedges (though I could never play like him). Who knows? But that was one special pedal. And I traded it back in the late 80’s for some DigiTech multi-function reverb/flange/chorus pedal that I thought was “neat.”

Okay, hindsight is 20/20. Who could’ve known at the time that a cheap $79 pedal could define the chorus tone. I don’t care what other people say about other choruses that have since come out. I recall someone “correcting” me in the early days of this blog about the TC Electronic chorus being more of a standard. I was pretty new to the blog scene and didn’t want to piss anyone off at the time, so I didn’t really come back with anything. But had I more balls at the time I would’ve said, there’s a reason why people are paying for the MIJ green and black label choruses for over twice the price of the original. There was something extremely special about that Roland JC-120 chorus circuit. Everyone else who followed with their own version just did a tweak. Mind you, there are some GREAT choruses out there. But in my mind, the CE-2 had the goods!

EBay here I come!!!

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