Eventide H9 Review

I’ve been watching the Youtubes on the H9 for a while…and the demos have been cool but mostly gimmicky to me. I won’t bore you with what the H9 is…..essentially, it’s all of Eventide’s pedals in a single small enclosure. Those pedals include the Timefactor, Modfactor, Pitchfactor, Space, and a couple of H9 unique sounds. I’ve owned a Timefactor (replaced by an Strymon El Capistan) and thought the Timeline was an excellent delay regardless. The current board had an El Cap tape delay and a Flint trem/reverb but I wanted to make things even simpler but was GASing for other pedals. I figured the H9 should cover almost anything except dirt as I rarely use more than one effect at a time. So, I sold the Flint to partially fund it (kept the El Cap as it’s still my favorite delay pedal ever).

Out of the box, the H9 sounded wild as I expected. Flipping through the presets, I found them mostly over the top. 99 presets of stuff that was fun but not very usable for jamming or gigging. All the presets were mixed way too high with too much other “stuff” that showcased the capabilities of the algorithms.

I installed the iPad app to control the H9 and linked up via Bluetooth. It immediately and seamlessly downloaded and installed the latest H9 firmware. Using the iPad, I dragged tape delay, tremolo, and vibe patches into the first preset slots and got to work. Luckily, the app makes tweaking a breeze and within minutes I had tones that were more like my El Cap and Flint.

The important part first – the sound quality is jaw dropping. Really. Zeroing out any effect and A/Bing the H9 with a straight signal (in true bypass mode) shows that your tone is completely intact…no alternation whatsoever. Dialing up the mix on delay just adds the delayed notes but the straight signal is unaffected. Every effect is like that – your tone is still there and every nuance of the amp and guitar are preserved. It’s truly studio quality. Plugged into the JCM 800, Rivera-era Superchamp, and Swart STR….all sounded great. Surprisingly, the delays worked much better in front of the JCM 800’s lead channel than the El Cap. The H9 also solved one of the quirks of the Swart STR…at bedroom volume, the STR’s reverb is way too saturated….I just turned it off and used an H9 spring reverb effect.

As a stomp box, the interface is pretty simple. Moving from patch to patch is a quick – step on the up/down button and then hit the activate button. You set the range of patches that are cycled through….I picked 10. Patch changes are instantaneous – zero delay and no glitches. Once in a patch, you can bend down and adjust three of the most important parameters for the effect…..or more likely, just twist the H9’s giant knob that can change any of a number of parameters simultaneously (usually just mix). So, using the H9 live is really like using any other stomp box.

To add some fun, I pulled out an M-Audio expression pedal and plugged it in. I was able to quickly tweak the parameters that the expression pedal altered. Heel down, I set things to straight guitar signal…toe down the full effect but not over the top. That allowed a blend of any amount of effect as needed. On the tremolo and vibe, I set the expression pedal to adjust the speed. All very cool except that M-Audio pedal was too big for the Pedaltrain mini. I tried my tiny Nose expression knob but quickly realized it wouldn’t work as it had a mono ¼” plug rather than the required Tip-Ring-Sleeve stereo plug. A quick Google search showed that it was just a matter of swapping out the Nose’s jack for a stereo jack and pot for a 10K. Two minutes later with the soldering iron and the Nose was controlling the H9…and it fit on the PT mini.

Important H9 point: it *appears* that the H9 can only do one effect at a time….that’s not true. Many of the algorithms do multiple effects simultaneously. For example, there’s a ModEchoVerb that can do any mixture of chorus/flange+Delay+Reverb. Or…the TremoloVerb…or ModDelay. There’s a DynaVerb that has a studio quality compressor/limiter and a reverb – turn off the reverb and you have a compressor! Anyway, I hate to say “never” but because of the multi-effect algorithms I can see this as the last mod, delay, etc. pedal anyone would really need.

That said…..this pedal is an expensive investment. I used the Guitar Center $100 coupon to pick it up for $400. Yes, it can literally replace every pedal on your board other than the dirt. In the grand scheme of things, for a pedal hound, the H9 could save money. The unit comes with a ton of algorithms – enough to keep most people satisfied for quite a while. Eventide charges $20 a pop for the other algorithms in the catalog. While that may sound expensive to some, I think $20 is pretty cheap for a new “pedal”. With the app, you can also live demo all of the functions of any algorithm for five minutes to see if it’s worth buying. I ended up buying a couple of the Space algorithms (including ModEchoVerb) and the Univibe.

Is the H9 for everyone? No. If you aren’t a tweaker…this is NOT a pedal for you. Those that just want discrete knobs will find the H9 too complex. Also, without a computer or IOS device (Android is coming) tweaking would quickly become annoying. However, if you like effects and get GAS for different sounds….and can appreciate studio quality sound, the H9 is amazing.

Will the H9 replace any effect? I guess that depends. The Strymon El Capistan is kinda magical….it seems to blend into your tone in a way that allows you to use a fairly high mix without sounding over the top or getting in the way of your playing. I’m still working on getting the H9 to sound like the El Cap. It’s close but not there yet. But, the El Cap is pretty limited compared to the H9. On the Strymon Flint, the harmonic tremolo setting (like an early 60’s Fender) was amazing and reacted to pick attack. The trems on the H9 are amazing but there’s no algorithm for harmonic trems (yet?). It’s probably just a matter of time until Eventide comes out with algorithms that can do some of these sounds. BTW – they’re working on a H9 looper according to the support forums.

New Eventide H9 on the Pedaltrain Mini (with a modded Nose expression pedal)

Bass GAS

Caveat: Let me start off by saying “I am not a bass player”.  Try not to be too critical of the neophyte thoughts below.

I’ve been going through a little bit of a “bass thing” lately.  Maybe it’s been a desire for something different.  My wife has been learning bass as well and she is progressing quickly.   (I’ll do a review of her awesome Squier Jaguar Short Scale bass soon)

Basses look like a lot of fun to play and it’s clearly a very different instrument than it appears to be on the surface.  The more I listed to familiar music, the more I found that the bass was doing something I’d never really heard before as a guitar player.

I’ve been on a GAS quest for an inexpensive, non-Fender bass.  I’m familiar with Fender Jazz and Precision basses but wanted to see what other brands might have to offer.  Sterling/ Music Man and Ibanez had caught my eye.  These are very different types of basses…. apple vs. elephants.  After doing a ton of forum reading and YouTube watching, I thought that these basses might be right for me – but I needed to play them to see what I liked best

Tonight, I made a quick visit to Guitar Center and started pulling basses off the wall.  Lots of them.  Luckily, I was completely ignored by the sales help and free to explore.  I tried a few different Ibanez Sound Gear (SR300, SR500, SR700 series).  These had skinny necks but felt really nice to play and the fretwork was surprisingly good.  Unfortunately, as most gear is abused at Guitar Center, parts were loose, batteries dead, etc.  I ended up with one good battery that I moved from bass to bass.  There was a nice mahogany SR 500 with active electronics that sounded great….modern and very un-Fender.  There were a couple of sharp fret ends but nothing that a quick touch up with a file wouldn’t correct.  And it looked and felt REALLY sexy and balanced perfectly in my lap.

Then, over to the Sterlings/Music Mans.  Sterlings are the less expensive Indonesian versions of the American-made Music Man basses.  There were a handful of Sterling Sub 4 models with nice colors.  A surf green one with a maple neck stood out.  That’s my look!  Unfortunately, it had a nasty buff through on the back of the neck and sloppy fret ends.  A shame.  The plain black one with a maple neck sounding great and played the easiest.  With no obvious flaws…..it was right.  At $280 it was hard to beat the price.   No, it’s not as pretty as the Ibanez but seemed to have much more character to the tone.  This was a utilitarian instrument…it meant “Business”.

Sterling Sub Series Ray 4

 

 

 

 

Yet, my snobbery caught up with me.  What did the $1800-$2000 Music Mans play and sound like?  I pulled a few down and marveled at the fancy neck wood. These were boutique grade instruments in every way.  The necks, fretwork and finish were impeccable. (it should be at that price)  Yet, in my awkward guitar player hands, they didn’t sound much better.  The bottom end was tighter but other than that, not tonally very different. I’m clearly not at the level to make the most of a high-end Music Man.

With a half hour to closing, I figured I’d see what 5 string basses did.  There was no shortage of them…in fact, there were only a few 4 string non-Fender basses hanging up.  I pulled a 5 string Music Man down and started messing around.  First discovery….you don’t play the open B string.  It flapped around in an ugly, unmusical way.  (doh).  I could see how playing halfway up the neck on that extra big string did add some cool low end punch.  There was something to this extra fat string. The 5 stringer was a big instrument and the neck was heavy and wide.  It didn’t balance well and the headstock seemed to yearn for the floor. I tried an Ibanez 5 string…a Fender…a Gibson…same thing.  I guess 5 string basses are something that grows on you?  The 6, 7, and 8 string basses looked even more ungainly to me then.

So, a Sterling SUB 4 string might be in future. The right one – as only one out of the five I played seemed great.

Instead, I found a set of bass strings in the discount bin – $4.99.  I’ll put those strings on my 10 year old, Series 10 Chinese Precision Bass copy.  It’s butt ugly but it works.  I’ll learn how to play a bit more bass before taking that next step.

 

Six String Bliss Reviews the Book!

Wow! My favorite guitar podcasters, Pipes and PT of the Six String Bliss reviewed the book on the show this month.

If you haven’t been listening to this podcast – you’re missing out. The SSB is a podcast about all things guitar, discussed by guys that aren’t part of the music industry – they’re players. The podcast is an informal chat, just like you’d have with your guitar fanatic buddies in the basement after a jam over a cold one. The podcast has been running since 2005 and there’s a HUGE collection of shows to listen to on many subjects. (there’s even a forum)

Anyway – check it out – I’m sure you’ll become a fan. *Bliss On!*

EQ pedals….and the Fromel Shape EQ (mini review)

I’ve never been an EQ person.  Don’t they seem sort of superfluous as your guitar, amp, and other pedals already have tone controls?  A while back I added a Xotic EP Booster to the Pedaltrain Mini. Rather than use the EP for boost, I leave the gain on zero and just use it for that shimmer and clarity it adds back to the guitar signal’s high frequencies.  I started thinking – if the EP seems to do something special that my other tones controls can’t do….what could other EQ pedals do?

I first picked up a Danelectro Fish-n-Chips graphic EQ pedal.  Used, this was less than $40, is dead quiet, and does a great job. (I highly recommend the F-n-C for a budget EQ)  Primarily, I wanted something to put in the effects loop of the Budda Superdrive to take down the level for apartment practice.  The F-n-C is great for that purpose and lets you add back the bass frequencies that become attenuated when the volume levels are low.  I then tried using the F-n-C to tweak the Budda to dial in some of those upper-mid crunchies that my Marshall JCM 800 4210 does so well.  No dice.  It seems the discrete frequency sliders of the F-n-C are set too far apart to selectively boost the right frequencies for those tones.  I needed something more tweakable.

After much online reading, I settled on trying out the Fromel Shape EQ.  This is a very interesting pedal.  It’s a twist on a regular parametric EQ pedal where, in addition to selectively dialing in the mid frequencies, it also has bass and treble controls.  Like a standard parametric EQ, the mid controls allow you to select the mid frequency, adjust the width of the frequencies that will be affected, and pick the amount of boost or cut.  There’s no labels on the uniquely finished aged metal case. According to the designer, the controls are obvious and I agree.  It also has a switch to engage a high quality buffer or act in true bypass mode.  The buffer is exceptionally quiet.  I’ve also decided that this will be my single buffered pedal for the pedalboard (see the book’s chapter on True Bypass for more on the way to use true bypass pedals in your rig).

The big surprise is that the Shape is a lot like the Xotic EP in that it seems to magically pop exactly the right frequencies to clear up your tone.  While the EP does this for the highs, the Shape works its magic on the mids.  It’s incredibly easy to use.  I’ve used parametric EQs before and they can be frustrating as their effect is very surgical…they only affect a selectable, band of frequencies.  The Shape does the same thing but also lets you push/cut the bass and treble frequencies of your guitar’s tone.  Like the EP, the result is that turned on…your guitar tone pops!….turned off, it sounds dull….on-pop….off-dull.

With the shape, I’ve been able to tweak the Budda’s mids for a JCM 800 crunch, adjust the mids on my Rivera-era Fender SuperChamp for a thicker lead tone, fatten up the single coils on my tele, or even thin down the humbuckers on my Les Paul for a nice clean tone.  The number of ways this pedal can be used are infinite and it would be a great addition to almost any rig.

Fromel Shape EQ

Ditto…..and about my love of loopers

I’ve been a long time fan of phrase loopers. Not only are they a great practice tool, they can add an entirely new dimension to a jam session with friends or a live band setting. Most importantly, they are fun. My first looper was an original Boomerang. This was a monster-size device that was designed to be completely controlled with the feet. I still consider it to be a great looper. After the Boomerang, I’ve tried different versions of Digitech Jammans and Boss RC loopers. While fun and capable, I never quite bonded with either the Digitech and Boss loopers even though they were clearly technically superior to the Boomerang. Finally, I purchased a Boomerang 3. I was in heaven. The Boomerang 3 is clearly the easiest and most powerful looper on the market; however, it is limited by not having the ability to store loops, play prerecorded samples or drum patters. As I’ve never found the need to store loops, I’ve never considered this to be a negative.

Recently, TC Electronic released their entry into the looper market, the Ditto. This one knob, one button, tiny pedal is the smallest, simplest looper on the market. Because of its small size, it can be easily fit on any pedal board. Best of all, the Ditto is completely transparent sounding. Even though I had the Boomerang 3, I felt compelled to try the Ditto. After living with it for three weeks, I highly recommend the Ditto for any guitarist that wants to dabble in looping. With only a single foot switch and a volume knob, any player should be able to come up to speed in no time. My intention was to attach the Ditto to my Pedaltrain Mini as an always available looper.

After the three weeks, I’ve decided to return the Ditto. There’s nothing wrong with the Ditto, it’s just that the Boomerang 3 has features that I considered essential. With the Ditto, you can create a single loop and you can overdub on top of that loop almost infinitely (or until the loop is just a sonic smear). With the Boomerang’s three independent loops, you can easily add, delete, and layer loops. The Boomerang has the unique ability to record a single measure rhythm and then automatically multiply/expand the single measure as you add layers. Also. the Boomerang has an adjustable decay so that your earlier loops fade away are you add new layers of loops. Other than the fact that both the Ditto and Boomerang both allow you to create loops, they are hardly comparable. The Ditto is analogous to a one shot Derringer and the Boomerang is like a revolver.

While any looper is a fun and useful tool, unless you’re willing to shell out the coin for a Boomerang 3, the Ditto is probably a great best bet and value for most players.


Cool Axe Alert – Epiphone Limited Edition Swingster Royale

On the way home from a little guitar jam visit at a work friend’s place I stopped at Guitar Center.  I didn’t have long before closing so I looked for something I hadn’t played before.  Low and behold the “Epiphone Limited Edition Swingster Royale”.  A very cool axe with a too long name.  The finish was in a dark gray/black sparkle and silver sparkle bindings.  It’s a mixture of elegant and tacky all in one!  Regardless, the finish was perfectly applied – no ripples, orange peel, or buff throughs anywhere.  The inner edges of the “F” holes even got the silver sparkle details.  I’ll have to admit it – Epiphone is getting better at finishes. The guitar was fitted with a Bigsby and roller bridge and had the cylindrical handle for another touch of class. The pickups were Epiphone’s take on something between a Dearmond and Filtertron ….growly like a Dearmond with a little Filtertron twang.  Each pickup had push/pull series/parallel switch.  I really couldn’t tell which I liked better…both were cool but different.  They were a touch dark but worked well enough – nothing that a little amp EQ didn’t compensate for.  As usual, Guitar Center put the guitar out without bothering to stretch the strings. At first, I thought there might be tuning issues but once I started to work the strings in, everything settled down and the Bigsby stayed true with no tuner slippage either.  Frets were typical of a guitar in this price range – very playable but hardly bling PRS.  The neck felt comfortable with enough shoulder to fill the hand well.  Probably the best way to describe this guitar is Epiphone’s take on a Gretsch Electromatic 5120…with my nod going to the Epi for the slick paint job and added touches like the roller bridge, handle, and pickup switching.

Through the Marshall DSL15’s clean channel with a gobs of reverb, this guitar sounded very retro Gretchey-twangy-Setzery (lots of “eys” eh?).  I wanted to plug it into a reverb-equiped Fender but time ran out.  In the mid $700, this is a great stage guitar for anyone that wants to Rock This Town.  It begs for dirt and reverb.  A blast to play.

http://www.amazon.com/Epiphone-Limited-Edition-Swingster-Electric/dp/B007L56OIE

Here’s a couple of shots including a close up of the sparkle finish and binding.

Royale-2 Royale-1

 

 

Pedal Tape

Here’s an interesting product…a dual sided tape to secure effect pedals to the pedal board. Velcro is the usual method but unfortunately can pull stickers and paint off the back of a pedal. This tape sticks and then releases with a twist. The tape is part of a Kickstarter project for Blackbird’s new Stealth pedalboard design.

Link to the Blackbird Kickstarter project:
Link to the project

Tape video
Pedal board tape

Conceptually, this is a good idea. I believe the assumption is that you’d use this with a flat board rather than a slotted Pedaltrain design. It might work with a Pedaltrain design if there is enough contact area. Probably the biggest advantage is that this tape would work great with the typical do-it-yourself pedalboard made from a sheet of plywood.

Cleartone Strings

The Godin guitar came with 12s. They sounded great acoustically but were a bear to bend. Yeah…I know – it’s a jazz guitar – stop being a wimp. Anyway, Guitar Center was blowing out Cleartone stings and I picked up an 11 gauge pack. In short – I like them! I’ve used Elixers in the past and while they do last a long time, you really feel the coating. The Cleartone strings feel normal to me. (Kudos – they also came in an eco-friendly package)

The 11s feel perfect on the Godin – not quite as acoustically loud but will be much nicer to play.

Recommended!


New Guitar – Godin Kingpin 2 w/2x P-90s

I’ve been looking for something hollow. I sold a Sheraton 2 recently that I really liked to pay for another purchase. It seemed to be the best bet after auditioning a number of 335 style guitars. But, I was missing those tones.

On a recent trip to Guitar Center, I was trying every hollow/semi-hollow guitar on the rack. I tried $3K Gibsons to $300 Dots…and ran into the Godin Kingpin. (reviewed in a recent post) I’ve never tried one but heard that they were quality guitars. The one I played had a burst which was nicely done and a single P90. The burst color was a little odd but attractive. It sounded so much better than anything else. The fit and finish were impeccable and it sounded amazing through a Princeton and Hot Rod III. Very bluesy and also could work as an acoustic. I thought…”too bad it doesn’t come with two P90s”. After a little research I saw it was available with two P90 or even two humbuckers. Better yet, Amazon was selling them for not much more than the price that GC wanted for the single pickup model…and a couple of hundred less that other dealers.

It arrived yesterday and it’s been impossible to put down. The playability is excellent for this style guitar. What I mean by that is that it’s an archtop and not for crazy soloing or bending. But, it sounds great for blues, jazzy tones and acoustic style strumming. I tried it with some dirt pedals and it can cover heavier tones using the bridge pickup but I suspect it could feed back if I got the volume up too high with that sort of gain. I’ll experiment with string gauges although I suspect it’s going to like heavy ones.

Anyway, great instrument, amazing value, perfect setup, and versatile.

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