Though not as well known for their pedals as they are for their guitars and basses, Fender has been making classic pedals for more than 50 years. Following the recent re-issue of the Fender Blender Custom pedal, Fender decided to launch a range of new classic-inspired stompboxes with some vintage tones and looks. Let’s take a closer look….
User reviews on Dynamic or volume pedal products
Two-Stage Noise Reduction (Carl Martin - Noise Terminator)
By MGR/Brian Johnston, 29/12/2018
The Noise Terminator is a great tool when you want to remove unwanted background noise from your gear. The effect from this pedal can range from very subtle to a near complete blockage of the signal (not just the noise, but a guitar’s signal, as well). This means being able to adjust and dial in small increments until you no longer can hear what you don’t want to hear, and I did this under exaggerated conditions. In the accompanying video I hooked up two high-gain pedals, one considered ‘modern,’ being the Friedman BE-OD Deluxe, and the other ‘vintage-modern’ (it’s a current pedal, but based on a 1960s-1970s design and sound), being the Buzz Tone by Jext Telez. With the gain at 2-o’clock on the second channel of the Friedman there was some hum, but nothing extreme, although extreme enough to engage the Hard Gate on the Noise Terminator to a 2-o’clock position as well and in order to completely remove any slight hum or hiss. Next, I linked the Jext Telez at full gain into the first channel of the Friedman (its gain at 12-noon) to create significant and exaggerated amount of background noise – within an environment that is not usual (not many people would put a fuzz/distortion up full and into a high-gain pedal). The Noise Terminator’s High Gate had to be increased to about 95% to completely eradicate any background noise, but it did so and without affecting the original tone. As a bonus, you don’t hear the clicking of the footswitch when engaged or disengaged.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Carl Martin’s Noise Terminator is a precision Gate that allows you to customize the degree of noise to be removed from a signal; that humming, hissing or crackling that messes with a great tone. A small amount of noise is forgivable in a live setting, which likely will go unnoticed unless the entire band and audience is absolutely quiet, but is an annoyance in studio recording conditions. The Noise Terminator allows two levels of artifact control, with a Soft Gate for very minor sounds and a Hard Gate for those high-gain and noisy fuzz pedal situations. For $165 USD the Noise Terminator is a fair price, considering you can switch between two Gate levels, which means keeping your signal quiet while playing clean or with some crunch and then stepping on the footswitch to engage greater line silence during more intense and higher-gain moments. As well, being able to activate the unit via MIDI with its Remote Jack, that you don’t hear any clicking noise from the footswitch and that it doesn’t mess with your original tone are definite features that make the Noise Terminator worth investigating.
GENERAL USE: With your gear powered on, the Noise Terminator’s Soft Gate engages automatically. If you want to have no Gated effect, simply keep the Soft Gate turned down completely. However, even when turned up to 12-noon the Soft Gate is very modest and would not interfere with softer playing. The unit shows power received with either a battery (with a guitar plugged in) or via the power adapter and by way of a green LED light located directly below the Soft Gate knob. If you require a more powerful gate, then the Hard Gate can be engaged via the footswitch that shows a red LED light located directly below the Hard Gate knob. If your signal noise is significant, you likely will require the Hard Gate activated, although you can begin by turning up the Soft Gate to determine how much noise can be removed with that control. If still requiring the Hard Gate, activate via the footswitch and begin turning up the Hard Gate until you notice very little or no noise interference. Turning up the Hard Gate to its fullest will result in some of the desired guitar signal being truncated. In regard to proper positioning of the Gate, I find it appropriate to place it after any noisy pedals and likely best to place it before any reverb or delay as their tails and trails could be cut off. However, that may be a desired effect worth exploring. Another option is to place the Noise Terminator within your amplifier’s effect loop. An added feature of the Noise Terminator is the Remote Jack, which allows you to connect the pedal to an external MIDI switching system. In doing so, you can go between the Soft and Hard settings without the need of using the Noise Terminator’s footswitch.
OTHER DETAILS: Weighing 250g (12.34 oz) and measuring in at 120 (w) x 95 (D) x 56 (H) mm (4.72 x 3.74 x 2.2 inches), the Carl Martin Noise Terminator has a steel chassis and quality paint job. It has a signal-to-noise ratio of 87dB, input of 20K Ohm and output of 50 Ohm. The Noise Terminator can work on a 9V battery or a standard 9V DC (regulated) 2.1 mm female plug that provides a minimum 50mA power supply (while consuming maximum 12 mA). The power input is located in the back of the pedal, whereas the cable input and outputs are located along the sides. The footswitch has a solid click in feel, yet produces no audio signal when engaged or disengaged. Both knobs and LED lights are situated far enough from the footswitch to prevent any damage or mishaps while stomping. The knobs have a very solid and smooth feel – they are not stiff to turn, but they do require good tension when turning (which means they stay in place once in place).
More than a Treble Booster - a Virtual Tone Shaper! (KMA Audio Machines - Strokkur)
By MGR/Brian Johnston, 17/05/2019
Unless you have dark pickups/amp/cab you may be wondering “why do I want to boost the treble in my signal.”
Strokkur produces surprising sound results and is not so simple as being merely a ‘treble booster.’ It sounds superior in the treble department than just upping your Treble via a guitar’s tone pot or through your amp (they sound ‘thin’ in comparison). First, Strokkur is a Germanium Booster and this makes the sound smooth, fuller and not harsh or brittle. Second, you can cut or boost either Treble or Bass to better suit your tone – the range of each (either cut or boost) has a very usable range that is not overly dramatic (you don’t hear large bass or treble drops or increases). Third, there is a Range that you can accentuate the Treble; when turned low you get a smooth glassy result, but as you crank the Range you get a broader width of sound that is meatier and with a tighter low end (sounds fantastic with high-gain chugging). Fourth, and this is the clincher, what Strokkur does is make the highs or Treble very clear in the mix – taking out any ‘thinness’ of the high-end and fattening it up. I matched Strokkur with various preamps and distortion pedals and it was complimentary in every instance – and in every instance the high-end became more distinct and thicker with a lot more harmonics. It certainly makes leads stand out, but when added to rhythms (setting from 9-o’clock to 12-noon) the crunch became even crunchier.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: This pedal derives its name from the mythical country of Iceland and its famous geyser, Strokkur. Hand-built in Germany, Strokkur is an investment at 199 Euro, but what it does to a guitar tone makes it a worthy investment. Leads sing better and crunch tones become nastier as the high-end frequency thickens and cuts through the mix. Strokkur was designed though inspiration of the Dallas Arbiter Rangemaster, known for how it pushed tube amps to the edge of breakup with enriched harmonics. Strokkur does the same exceptionally well. With 17dB of available Boost, the ability to sculpt your tone with the Treble and Bass controls, and even define the incoming bandwidth via the Range knob to determine the nature of the Treble you’re boosting, and Strokkur is pedal destined to remain on pedalboards and out of the forum emporiums. Even if you don’t want to Boost your signal for leads or for any other purpose, Strokkur is a fantastic tone shaper and should not be categorized simply as a ‘Treble Booster.’
GENERAL USE: You control the output or volume via the Boost knob, giving upward of 17dB of germanium boost for a smooth rich texture (which is why this Treble Booster does not sound brittle or harsh). The Range knob controls the incoming bandwidth – when turned up low (about 9-o’clock) you get a modest glassy type of finish to your tone, and as you increase the Range the sound becomes more broad and full (as harmonics increase). At higher ranges I tend to like it around 12-noon or slightly greater (depending on whether the signal is clean, crunchy or high-gain) to add more aggression or bite and depending on how full-bodied I want the higher frequencies while tightening up the lower frequencies. There are two EQ knobs, one for Treble and one for Bass. The Bass knob obviously cuts the low frequencies (2.4kHz), which takes out that sharp or piercing high-end and makes the higher-frequencies sound smoother while still allowing for the harmonics to pop through. When first powering up I suggest putting the two EQs at 12-noon, and the Range and Boost at 9-o’clock, and then adjust to taste.
OTHER DETAILS: A regular-sized pedal, Strokkur measures about 112 mm (L) x 60mm (W) x 50mm (H) with knobs (4.4 x 2.4 x 1.97 inches). The heavy-duty powder coated die-cast enclosure is silkscreened and hand-numbered after an inspection and testing process. The image (and name) of the Strokkur geyser clearly suggests that your tone is going to explode with this pedal, which it does. KMA Machines uses double-sided PCBs that are designed, tested and assembled by the KMA engineers, to ensure a high-quality standard. Strokkur also has hand-selected NOS AC125 Tungsram transistors to remain true to the original inspiration of this pedal, the Dallas Arbiter Rangemaster. The two larger knobs (Range and Boost) are aluminum and will withstand normal use and abuse. The smaller Treble and Bass knobs also feel aluminum. All knobs have exceptional quality pots (smooth and very solid when turned). The footswitch (on/off) produces a solid click when engaged or disengaged. The cable input/output are located on the sides, whereas the power input is located in the back. Strokkur includes an internal DC converter to work with any 9VDC supply. It does not run on batteries and requires a 9VDC power supply while requiring 12mA of power.
Simple to Use, Ultra Quiet & Superior Compression (Doc Music Station - Ruby II)
By MGR/Brian Johnston, 14/06/2019
This is one of the best compressors I have used, up there with the famous Keeley compressor. Sound-wise there are a few things that stand out with Ruby II.
First, it is so easy to dial in some compression, to balance out the loudness and to even produce added sustain and boldness. Second, even when turned up full the degree of squishiness is minimal. Any compressor will add some element of squishiness, and several I have tried also produce a somewhat sterile effect, as though the tone loses life. With Ruby II, even with the compression turned up full the signal maintains a majority of its life, insofar as harmonics and quality (obviously there is some drop in dynamics and evenness of the notes, which is the point of a compressor). The included demo video goes through several clean, slightly dirty and very dirty signals, and although the audible differences may be minimal in some instances (due to YouTube compression), the effect of Ruby II becomes obvious with amps that have a lot of headroom. In the last part of the demo I have Ruby II going into the Sheriff V4 Preamp (by Victory Amps), which produces a Plexi-style sound with some good headroom and dynamics, and it is with that example compression is most noticeable. Two final points about the sound is that the compression is ‘soft’ (making it more pleasant and less harsh to the ear, which is why there’s less sterility and squishiness) and that it is super quiet – no hissing or added noise, even with the compression and volume up.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Ruby II is not an inexpensive pedal at 189 Euro, but an excellent buy if you’re looking for an easy to use compressor that produces a phenomenal outcome. The Ruby II was designed based on different studio models using optical technology (optocoupler). This VTL5C3 optocoupler provides a soft compression, making it more pleasant to the ear by limiting that highly-squishy and somewhat sterile sound you get from inferior compressors. As well, the integrated OPA2134 integrated circuit is one of the best input circuits dedicated to audio, with the result being an extremely quiet pedal. While other compressors add some noise to the signal as compression and volume increases that is not the case with the Ruby II. As a definite bonus, Ruby II is super easy to use and dial into the right amount of compression – all you need to worry about is how much compression and how much volume for perfect results every time.
GENERAL USE: The Ruby II is surprisingly easy to use, whether working with cleans or distorted signals. Tastes will vary, but I find clean sounds work very well with the Compression around 9-12 o’clock, depending if you want a hint of tightness or more control over the dynamics and overall loudness. Of course, if you want a very tight snap to the notes, e.g., Funk guitar, you can push the envelope upward to full Compression and still retail much of the tone’s character without added noise or sterility. When working with higher-gain signals, the amount of compression (for my liking) does vary. For crunch rhythms I prefer 9-12 o’clock – just enough to have some tightness and to make certain all notes have a more even output. With lead I tend to prefer Compression closer to 1-2 o’clock, since doing so adds to the sustain and boldness of each note (ideal for long-held soulful playing, but also hammering on/off and finger-tapping). The Level (volume) control is not overly finicky. Generally I can keep it around 1-2 o’clock with my current gear set-up, while needing to reduce level/volume slightly only once Compression exceeds 1-o’clock.
OTHER DETAILS: Ruby II is a standard-sized pedal measuring about 113 mm (L) x 67mm (W) x 48mm (H) or 4.4 x 2.5 x 1.88 inches, and weighing 230g/8oz. The heavy-duty metal chassis is powder coated red with dark red/brown graphics, white lettering and black knobs. The two knobs (Compression and Level) are heavy plastic and will withstand normal use and abuse. Both knobs have exceptional quality pots (smooth and very solid when turned without any static or noise). The footswitch (on/off) produces a solid click when engaged or disengaged without any unusual popping or noise. The chassis is a Hammond 159B aluminum case that provides shielding of the electronic card. Under the cover is an OPA2134 input circuit, reputed to be one of the best in audio engineering, making it a very quiet pedal. As well, Ruby II also includes high-end audio components (carbon resistors and Panasonic, Wima and Silver Mica capacitors), true-bypass Neutrik jacks, Alpha 16mm faders, and is protected against overvoltage and reverse polarity. The cable input/output and power supply all are located along the sides, and so some modest care is to be taken when used (to prevent foot slippage and possible chord input/output/power output damage). Ruby II does not run on batteries and requires a 9VDC power supply.