Category Archives: Video Demos

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Harmonisers and Pitch-Shifters: Tips and Tricks

Pitch-Shifters are not very common on pedal boards these days, possibly because there aren’t that many Pitch-Shifting pedals around. On the other hand, they are found in virtually every multi-effect units since the 90s, so chances are you have already come across one.

Apart from the obvious “Brian May harmonizing effect”, Pitch-Shifters are full of tricks and can be used to simulate a number of other effects, or even instruments, as I have attempted to show in the video below: octavers, octavias, 12 string guitar, chorus, etc.

Before we go into the settings used for the demo, let’s dive a bit into the history of Harmonizers and Pitch-Shifters.



As is often the case with effects, Pitch Shifters were invented to reproduce a very common musical practice: in this case, harmonising, very common in orchestras where one set of instruments plays a phrase while another set plays the same phrase but at a different pitch, say one fifth above for instance.

Guitarists have taken advantage of multi track recording techniques to record the same phrase at different pitches and thus obtaining that “harmonising” effect. Brian May, Queen’s guitarist in case you don’t know him (I suggest you pick up another instrument if that’s the case), is famous for his harmonised guitar parts, used on more Queen tracks that we can count. On live recordings, you can listen to his “Brighton Rock” solo piece where he uses long delays to “super impose” different guitar parts played at different pitches, brilliant stuff.

80s metal guitarists pushed harmonising to new levels. In Iron Maiden for instance, the two (now three) guitarists often play harmonised guitar parts, listen to “the seventh son of the seventh son” for a good example.

The Pitch Shifting Effect

The problem with harmonising is that you need at least two guitarists in live situations. Early analog “Pitch Effects” such as the Tycobrahe Octavia used by Hendrix were not really good enough to reproduce the sound of two or more instruments playing together, but they opened up new areas in tones. Analog Octavers like the Boss OC-2 allowed for an octave or two octaves down. Still limited but great for beefing up single note guitar lines.

A bit later, thanks to the advent of digital technologies, Pitch-Shifting effects which could actually “play” what you are playing at any pitch with good accuracy were invented. Eventide is probably one of the first brands to have solved the problem and Steve Vai made good use of their gear back in the 80s, on Passion and Warfare for instance (listen to Ballerina 12/24 for an extreme example).

And of course, let’s not forget the Digitech Whammy, now in its 5th incarnation. The red pedal took the guitar world by storm in the 90s as a pitch-shifting pedal geared towards “real time pitch effects”, thanks to its integrated expression pedal. I went to see Rage against the Machine in 1994 and the whammy was very prominent in Tom Morello’s rig, the sound was completely outlandish at the time.

Harmonizer or Pitch-Shifter

Although Harmonizer and Pitch-Shifter pretty much both means the same thing, there is a bit of an accepted rule that Harmonizers are more “intelligent”. What this means is that Harmonizers will Pitch-Shift by staying “within a scale” whereas Pitch-Shifters will always shift by the same amount of semitones. Let’s take an example. If you set an intelligent Harmonizer and a Pitch-Shifter to a third up, you will end up with the intervals shown on the following table:

Original Input C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B
“Intelligent” Harmonizer One 3rd Up E E F F# G A A B B C C# D
“Dumb” Pitch-Shifter One 3rd Up E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D#

The “dumb” Pitch-Shifter will always play 4 semitones up while an Intelligent harmonizer will modulate to stay within the scale, here C Major. Playing a D for instance, will trigger the “intelligent” Harmonizer to ‘ play’ an F over your D which is a minor 3rd (3 semitones), which stays within the C scale. Obviously, “intelligent” Harmonizers work on single note lines, not on chords but that is quite true of any Pitch-Shifter effect. The Boss PS-5 pedal that I demonstrate in the video below can act as a Pitch-Shifter or an intelligent Harmonizer depending on which mode is selected.

Tips and Tricks

The following video shows how to use a Pitch-Shifter/Harmonizer in a traditional way but also how to use it to “emulate” other effects, or even instruments. For this, I have used my trusty Boss PS-5 (now replaced by the PS-6 in the Boss line), one of the only full blown Harmonizers in compact pedal form.

In summary, the emulated tones I am showing in this video are:

  • Chorus: the detune mode of the PS-5 allows for a nice chorus emulation. Actually, a lot of big guitarists have been using a slightly detuned pitch-shifter as a chorus. Mike Stern comes to mind but also Eddie Van Halen in the 90s thanks to his Eventide H3000.
  • Octavia Emulation: pitch-shifter mode, one octave up (12 semitones) and mix quite high (past 12 o’clock) to have a lot of Pitch-Shifted signal. Sounds better with a distortion or fuzz before the pitch-shifter.
  • 12 String Emulation: almost the same setting as before but the mix is back down to around 10 o’clock to allow less pitch-shifted signal. It sounds better with a clean tone
  • Octaver emulation: Pitch-Shifter set one octave (12 semitones) down, mix around 12 o’clock. Sounds good with either a clean or distorted signal. Note that if you set the mix on maximum (only pitch-shifted signal), you can almost emulate a bass. The tracking can make it hard to use on fast licks
  • 2 Octave Octaver: same setting as before but with the pitch-shifter set 24 semitones down.


Pitch-Shifters are a lot of fun and can actually be used to generate a variety of tones and effects, not jus the classical “Brian May” effect. As always, experimentation is the key, there are hours of fun to be had.

Small Selection of Pitch-Shifting/Harmonizing Pedals

As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a huge array of Pitch-Shifting pedals to choose from, the most notables are:

  • Boss PS-6 Harmonist: the latest in the PS series, does pitch-shifting, intelligent harmonising, detune and more in the classic compact boss form factor
  • Boss OC-3 Super Octave: will only do one and/or two octaves down, perfect to fatten any line.
  • Eventide Pitch Factor: not cheap but this is the real deal from the inventors of Harmonisers
  • Digitech Whammy: although not a “regular” pitch-shifter, the whammy is a classic
  • Electro-Harmonix has a full range of pitch-shifting products from the small Micro-POG to the insane HOG2. Although they rather fall in the octaver or synth categories, they are nonetheless interesting. The super fat tone in the intro to “Super Colossal” by Joe Satriani was made with the original POG.
  • Most multi-effect units will carry a Pitch-Shifter and some of them are small enough to fit on a pedal board.

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Boss DS-1X and OD-1X

The Boss DS-1X and OD-1X pedals were presented at NAMM last January and they have created quite a buzz since then. Thanks to Roland Australia, I have been able to test them and, well, the buzz is justified!


Based on Boss’s MDP technology (for Multi-Dimensional Processing), they are modern digital re-creations of the über classic DS-1 distortion and OD-1 overdrive pedals, the very first of their kind in the Boss line, both released in the late 70s. The DNA of those seminal stompboxes can be heard in those ‘X’ versions, but they go much further in terms of gain and EQ capabilities, these are 2014 pedals, not some sort of vintage simulations (and this is a good thing).

I will cut to the chase, here is where I think they shine and this applies to both of them:

– At full blast, they offer more gain that most Distortion or Overdrive pedals while retaining an excellent articulation. My Stratocaster has Kinman noiseless pickups which are not very hot (by design, it’s the blues set) and I often feel the need to use an overdrive to boost my distortion pedals. Not with the DS1-X or even the OD1-X, there is plenty of gain and sustain on tap, even with “vintage output” pickups.
– They clean up quite well when rolling off the volume on the guitar, except maybe at the highest gain settings with the DS-1X but that is to be expected. I have tried to demonstrate this in my videos.
– They have a very efficient 2 band EQ with a Low and a High knob, a plus compared to a lot of overdrive or distortion stompboxes which only have a tone knob.
– The tonal characteristics of the guitar still go through. I have tested them with a Fender Strat and a Gibson SG 61 Reissue, they clearly sounded different, even on high gain settings
– There was a time when mentioning “digital” and “distortion” or “overdrive” in the same sentence would make guitarists having instant fits but I suspect we will get none of that with the new Boss offering.

As I mentioned earlier, the remarks above apply to both models I think, let me go into what differentiates them.


Yellow Boss pedals are usually overdrives, the OD-1X is no exception, with a hint of sparkly finish. It sport four knobs: level for the output volume, low and high for EQ and drive for the amount of overdrive.

The drive is quite progressive going from a gritty not-so-clean tone to an all out nearly Van Halen-esque big rock tone. I find that with the gain at 3 o’clock (i.e 75 % or so), there is a sweet spot between clarity and sustain, it’s a very pleasing lead tone. Coupled with the aforementioned efficient 2-band EQ and a good dose of volume boost under tap, the OD-1X is a very versatile overdrive.

Tonewise, it is definitely related to the OD-3/SD-1/etc., it’s a Boss overdrive so if you are looking for something totally different, you might be disappointed (although it wouldn’t hurt to try it would it?). Apart from that, it is a top notch overdrive and it is hard to believe it is digital.


The sparkly orange DS-1X recalls the DS-1, the first distortion released by Boss and adopted by people like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Gary Moore (his early 80s strat Marshall tone was boosted by a DS-1), Kurt Cobain, etc.

It has four knobs: level for the output volume, low and high for EQ and dist to change the amount of distortion. And distortion there is, believe me, this would almost qualify as a metal pedal.

At low distortion (as shown in videos scattered around this post), it is already quite grittier than the OD-1X. At 3 o’clock, it’s already in the realm of high sustain, searing leads. At full blast, it’s very distorted which makes it a very versatile little beast. The EQ section is very efficient and my little Fender Champ has never been capable of generating so much bass!

Despite the amount of distortion on tap, I found that a Strat remained a Strat and a Gibson remained a Gibson. It also cleans up quite well depending on your guitar and pickups, akin to a good amp. The tone is reminiscent of the DS-1 but with more body and a more amp-like quality (rather British if you follow my drift). As such, this is quite a different beast and you might like it a lot better than its venerable ancestor.


I was reasonably impressed with the pedals released by Boss in the last few years (especially the BC-2) but not entirely enthralled. Well, they definitely have their mojo back with the DS-1X and the OD-1X, it pains me to have to give them back! Even if the vast majority of boutique stuff is analog nowadays, a few companies have started pushing the digital envelope a bit further recently, and I must say that Boss has just joined them in a spectacular fashion.

TC Electronic Flashback X4 Delay: Toneprints at the Power of 4

TC Electronic has done it again! Last year, they brought to the world the concept of “Toneprints”: pedals that could be “reconfigured” to sound like other pedals by uploading new profiles from your computer. Then they improved on the system by allowing musicians to upload toneprints directly from their phone to their pedals through their guitar pickups.

I have reviewed and demoed the Flashback Delay and like a lot of other guys (and girls), it got me thinking about how this pedal could be even better. It seems TC Electronic has been thinking about it too and the result is the Flashback X4 which is like a Flashback Delay on steroids. It has absolutely killer tones and is packed with control options: 4 footswitches, MIDI input and thru to integrate into complex systems and expression pedal input to control several parameters.

The Flashback X4 sports big knobs and four foot switches

It also comes with a lot of different delay modes and a few are new compared to the original Flashback: the 2290 + Modulation mode justifies the price of the pedal in itself, it’s properly amazing. There is also a Roland Space Echo simulation as well as a tube delay simulation, and others that I will list later. As always, I have prepared a video demo and without further ado, here it is:

Presets and 4 Toneprints

The Flashback X4 is fairly big, kind of like 4 Flashback delays put together. It comes with its own power supply but can also be powered by a regular BOSS style adapter. The Gator 8 supply that comes with my pedal board could power it without issues.

The X4 has got 5 big rotary knobs: Delay, Level, Feedback, Mode and Looper level. The first three are the usual suspects found in a delay pedal. The second one selects the mode while the last one is dedicated to the looper mode. A mini switch toggles between delay and looper mode. Before you ask, the delay can stay on when you switch to looper mode, and that’s really cool.  Another toggle switch allows for straight repetitions, 8th or dotted eighth (A.K.A. the U2 delay). It’s got mono and stereo inputs and outputs but can operate in mono of course.

Foot switches and Control Options

The 4 foot switches have different functions whether the X4 is in delay mode or looper mode:

  • In delay mode the first three are for switching between different presets. To memorize the current delay settings into one of the three presets, just hold a footswitch down for a few seconds. Very handy to keep three of your favorite delay settings. The fourth switch is a Tap Tempo switch which will set the delay time according to how fast you tap on it.
  • In Looper mode, the first footswitch activates/deactivates the recording, the second one plays/pauses the current loop, the third one plays the current loop once and the fourth one acts as an undo/redo pedal for the last recording
Using the expression pedal input, you can control the delay time, feedback level or delay level. There is also a MIDI in and a MIDI thru, handy for tempo synchronization with other MIDI devices (or a sequencer) as well as preset selection.
Because TC is full of surprises, you will find two small switches (aka “dip” switches) if you remove the back-plate of the X4. You can use those to go from “Tru Bypass” to “Buffered Bypass” or even have no dry signal at all.
The back of the Flashback X4: stereo inputs and out puts, expression pedal input, power supply input, USB port to upload Tone Prints, MIDI in and thru

The Flashback X4 offers the following delay modes, each with its own “tone” profile:

  • Tape: a tape delay effect, really well done, you can hear the flutter of the tape
  • Tube: a tube based echo tone
  • Space: a Roland Space Echo simulation, ah reminds me of the 80s!
  • Analog: an analog delay simulation where repetitions are distinctively darker than the direct signal
  • Analog + modulation: same as the previous one but enhanced by some chorus-y modulation
  • Reverse: the classic “Hendrix” effect where the delayed signal is played backwards. It might sound like a gimmick but it is actually quite effective to get a thick tone (see my video demo above)
  • Dynamic: in this mode, the delay is only heard when you stop playing. The idea is that if you play a fast lick, you might not want the delay to interfere. It might seems strange but it can be really useful.
  • 2290: no need to present what was TC’s flagship rack delay unit used by The Edge or Robben Ford. It’s very clean and digital (but in a good way)
  • 2290 + mod: same as the previous one but enhanced by a gorgeous chorus, I absolutely love this mode
  • Slap: a mode dedicated to Slap Echos (or Slapback delays). It’s a short delay loved by country guitarists but also by early rock guitarists to fatten their tone. It’s still effective today and I love this mode too
  • Lofi: it’s a mode where the repetitions are really dirty if this is your kind of thing.
  • 4 toneprints: there are four toneprint settings for which you can download “profiles” through your phone or from the TC Electronic Website.

The looper mode is highly effective thanks to the four footswitches. Press the left one and recording begins, press again and what you have just recorded will start looping. You can press again (and again) on “record” to layer recordings. It you don’t like your last recording, just press the fourth footswitch in order to undo it.

The second switch will stop the loop and let it resume whereas the third switch will play the loop just once (quite handy to do a nice ending for instance).

All about tone

What struck me when I plugged the X4 is the sound quality: it is outstanding. Not just “clean digital” in a cold way but really hi-fi in a good way. It totally respects the tone of your guitar and your amp, adding a beautiful effect to it. To me, the control capabilities, the presets or the four footswitches are really cool bonuses but really, the tones coming out of this delay are enough to justify owning it. DId I mention I could play with the 2290+Mod for ever?

So what’s next for TC Electronic? I don’t know but it sure will be exciting!

Digitech Bad Monkey Overdrive: Cheap but not Cheap Sounding

I have featured a number of expensive and less expensive Tube Screamer alternatives over the past year and I thought the Bad Monkey’s turn was long overdue.

It is not really a secret: the Digitech Bad Monkey is an excellent overdrive used by a number of pros, check out Phil X’s videos and you will hear it in action quite often.

As always, I have recorded two videos showing the Bad Monkey in action (see below). They will show how you the beast fares with Single Coil pickups as well as Humbuckers, acting as main overdrive against a clean amp, or as a boost against a distortion pedal.


But before watching the videos, let’s introduce the Bad Monkey. It is a green pedal featuring one input and two outputs. It is not stereo though: one output features the unfiltered sound of the overdrive while the second one features an emulated speaker cabinet output so that you can plug the pedal directly into a mixing desk or a sound interface. It is actually a common feature on Digitech pedals and you can hear a quick demo of the MIXER output after the videos, at the end of this post.

Clearly inspired by the Ibanez Tube Screamer in terms of overall tone, the Bad Monkey features a Gain and a Level setting. But it also features something that most overdrive or distortion pedals desperately need: a 2-band EQ. Instead of the measly Tone control often found on other pedals, the Bad Monkey allows you to tune the Bass and the Treble frequency of your tone. This is a big plus and the only overdrive pedals to feature an effective EQ (that I know of) are the Xotic models such as the BB Preamp.


For this first video, I have used my Stratocaster. This shows how the Bad Monkey sounds against my reference overdrive, an Analogman modded TS9. After comparing the two pedals, I show how the 2-Band EQ can give some “body” to the tone. I found the bass control surprisingly effective with my little Fender Champ which only has an 8″ speaker. At the end of the video, I show how the Bad Monkey can be effectively used to boost a distortion pedal, a good old Pro Co RAT 2:

In this second video, I have used my Gibson SG 61 Reissue, equipped with the stock Classic 57 Pickups. Again, the Analogman TS9 was used as a reference:

Note that for these two videos, I had a Boss RV-3 plugged after the overdrive pedals. It was set on a short Room Reverb (mode Room 2). The amp was my trusty 74 Fender Champ miked by a RODE NT-4.

Direct use

I could not resist and tried the Bad Monkey directly plugged into my Boss Micro-BR.

Here is the reference tone of Strat plugged directly into the “line” input (not the guitar input):

Audio MP3

And now, here is the Bad Monkey with its normal output plugged into the line input of the Micro-BR:

Audio MP3

Pretty bad!! That is what you get when you plug a distortion/overdrive directly into a board.

And now, here is how the MIXER output of the Bad Monkey sounds like (the settings were Gain on Full, Bass and Treble at 2, Level at 1o’clock):

Audio MP3

It is actually not bad at all, I was pretty surprised in a sense that it is usable although a bit dark sounding, but it is definitely not just a gadget. It sounds quite good with the gain on minimum as well, it gets you a usable Jazz/Blues type of tone.


The Digitech Bad Monkey is a great alternative to a Tube Screamer. Actually, more than an alternative, I think it can complement a Tube Screamer really well. I don’t think it sounds quite as smooth as my Analogman TS9 but the 2-Band EQ and the Mixer output makes it really versatile. It is also excellent used as a booster. The best thing is its price, just check it out!

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