Despite the occasional panic attack about DJs supplanting “real” musicians, guitarists and turntable wizards seem to have settled into peaceful coexistence. Players such as Tom Morello and Buckethead have borrowed liberally from the DJ lexicon, and certain virtuoso DJs have appropriated theatrics and stompboxes from the 6-string side of the fence. Two new “guitar relevant” turntable tools from Electrix are likely to accelerate the crosstalk.
Because the Filter Factory Analog High Order Filter and MOFX Time Synchronized FX approach signal processing from a non-guitar perspective, they can create sounds you won’t get from any guitar processor. Both boxes are rack mountable, but they’re closer in spirit to stompboxes than standard rack effects. Neither unit is programmable–they’re meant to be played in real time, with the user entering tempos and tones on the fly. The key word is synchronization: These machines were devised to let DJs introduce complex effects that are zip-locked to dance beats, which makes them instantly intriguing for any guitarist seeking timed-to-tempo modulation, echoes, and filtering. Both boxes offer full MIDI implementation (all functions can be controlled in real time via a sequencer), but thanks to their ingenious tap-tempo features, you needn’t come within a mile of a MIDI cable to get synced effects.
Both units are approximately 4″ deep and have rugged metal housings. When not installed in a rack, they tilt back on rubber pads at a perfect angle for desktop (or amp-top) use. They sport built-in power supplies and big, comfortably spaced knobs and switches. Every button is illuminated, so it’s easy to discern settings at a glance and enter changes quickly. The rear panels include 1/4″ and RCA-style stereo inputs and outputs, on/off switches, MIDI jacks (In, Out, and Thru), and 1/4″ jacks for optional bypass footswitches. No additional footswitch control is provided–you must turn the effects on and off with your fingers.
For guitarists, the biggest problem with both boxes is their lack of input and output level controls. You’ll have no trouble connecting them to an effects send in your home studio, but placing them between a guitar and amp can be tricky, as the units weren’t designed for the relatively low output of guitar pickups. You can plug straight into the units, but the processing is little more dramatic and a lot less noisy when you boost your signal with a preamp or direct box. (Another solution is to use an amp that has a buffered effects loop.) Results vary from guitar to guitar, and you may need to experiment a bit to discover the best configuration for your particular setup.
Filter Factory Analog High Order Filter
In terms of complexity, the Filter Factory ($530) occupies an appealing middle ground between the powerful Sherman Filter Bank and lower-priced units such as the Big Briar Moogerfooger. The Filter Factory lacks the Sherman’s multiple oscillators, immense triggering options, and dual filter stages, but it is much easier to use. In fact, it may be even easier than the Moogerfooger–which is remarkable when you consider that the Moogerfooger is strictly a lowpass filter, while the Filter Factory lets you select between lowpass-, highpass-, bandpass-, and notchfilter options.
The multiple stereo filter options make it possible to get everything from fat retro-analog sweeps and ravishing notch-filtered phase shifting to Funkadelic farts and tweeter-shredding mayhem. Thanks to the sync-to-tempo LFO functions, it’s easy to make the Filter Factory throb, shimmer, or vomit in time to your tunes. Simply tap in a tempo, select one of four modulating waveforms, and dial in a ratio of pulsations-per-tap. (The ratios range from one pulsation every four beats to eight pulsations per beat.) You can also bypass the LFO section and use the Filter Factory as a Mu-Tron III-style envelope follower, with the filter contours tracking your picking dynamics.
Equally awesome is the Buzz section. Heard in isolation, the fuzz sound is undistinguished, but when you combine the distortion section with the multifaceted filter, stand back. Anyone who has ever paired a wah with a good fuzz has some idea of the magical ways distortion and filtering can interact. But if that’s as far as you’ve explored, prepare to be astonished.
So far, so great–but there’s more. A pair of momentary buttons activate the distortion and filter effects only as long as they’re pressed. They may not be much use onstage without a third hand, but they yield amazing sounds in the studio. Try playing a track back through the Filter Factory while tapping rhythms on the momentary switches. Once again, mind-bending results are almost guaranteed.
And there are even more goodies. An ingenious Singleshot switch transforms the sawtooth, inverse sawtooth, and triangle waveforms into triggerable envelopes–typically triggered via the device’s filter momentary switch–where you can control how many times the envelope will trigger and its decay time. Another extra is a 4-pole mono switch that intensifies the filter effects by summing the signals from the left and right inputs. (The unit’s default is a stereo, 2-pole-per-channel mode.) There are many cool, neo-retro filter units out there, but for guitarists, the Filter Factory is the coolest of them all.
MO-FX Time Synchronized FX
Think of the MO-FX ($550) as a string of non-programmable stompboxes (distortion, flange, tremolo, and delay) in fixed order. But several features make the MO-FX much more than a conveniently packaged bank of effects. The device lets you sync your flange, trem, and delay effects to one tapped-in tempo. As on the Filter Factory, you have a choice of modulation ratios, and you can set them independently for each modulation effect. You might, say, tap in a song’s quarter-note pulse, specifying an eighth-note tremolo throb, dotted-quarter-note delays, and a slow flange sweep that cycles around every two measures. Disable the sync for any effect and the rate knob works as on a conventional stompbox–meaning you can time your delays and trems precisely, and also program an asynchronous flange sweep.
There’s another feature likely to startle guitarists: Each of the three modulation effects has an independent bandwidth control that lets you apply the effect to only the low, mid, or high frequencies–or any combination thereof. That’s seven possible bandwidth settings per module! This feature unlocks many subtle processing shades: the desiccated crackle of high-band-only delays, the throaty edge of midrange-only trem, and the odd hollowness of “sans midrange” flanging. As on the Filter Factory, each module has a momentary switch. Again, this feature is probably most relevant for processing already recorded tracks in the studio, although it’s possible to trigger a delay or a flange sweep over a sustained chord while onstage.
While some players may even find the MOFX’s basic effects a bit bland, the band controls and coordinated synchronization more than make up for any perceived lack of character. The distortion section has little personality by itself, but it’s great for slamming the front end of an amp or exaggerating the impact of a favorite fuzzbox. There are no distortion tone controls per se, though you can route the effect through the band selectors of the other effects for weird, edgy tones.
The flanger delivers both subtle pulsation and howling sweeps. Most of the fun resides in the band control–flanging just the top frequencies produces a glassy shimmer and modulating only the lows and mids with modest regeneration yields a reasonable approximation of a Uni-Vibe. The tremolo is more mechanical and linear sounding than a tube trem, but it’s still musical. And while some stompbox trems have double-the-rate switches, none let you flick between so many pulse-to-tempo ratios as here. Furthermore, you get a choice of seven modulators–from gentle sine and triangle waves to choppier square waves of varying pulse widths. Extreme settings elicit a radical chopping akin to the “slicer” effect on current Boss multi-effectors.
The delay section offers mono and stereo ping-pong delays of up to 2.6 seconds. Again, the novelty resides in the band selector. Processing only the lows and mids creates a nice impersonation of a funky tape delay. Regenerating just the highs conjures a spooky sizzle.
Some players may pine for guitar-friendly features (such as adjustable input and output levels, an onboard noise gate, distortion EQ, and a post-effects EQ stage), but these Electrix boxes will reward the adventurous with thrilling new tones. If you prefer stompboxes to rack effects, but wish it were easier to get your tremolo and delay to sync to the beat, consider perching a MO-FX on your amp. And if you’re the sort of tone pervert who gets worked up over cruel and unusual distortion and filtering, just try keeping your sweaty hands off the Filter Factory. These Electrix boxes win high marks for fun, innovation, quality, and ease of use.