If you’ve followed TPS for any stretch of time, you’ll know that Dan has a special place in heart for his 1977 Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress Flanger. While the thought of getting rid of it hardly crossed his mind, the time has come to retire it from regular use. This means there’s a new spot on the team for a flange pedal. Will Dan be able to find one that lives up to the sound, quirks, quality, and character of the original?
As Dan described a few times in the episode, “this is very much a personal journey.” Yet in joining him along the way, there were insights into what flange is, why the Electric Mistress remains in a class all its own, and how to experiment with flangers of any kind.
Explaining Flange and Accounting for Similarities with Phasers and Choruses
Let’s start with the obvious question: what on earth is flange?
As Dan described, a flange effect is produced when the signal is doubled and then delayed slightly, generally in a shorter interval than a chorus, which works off the same principle. For the flanger, however, the time of delay is modulated back and forth. (Hence, that iconic swish and swoosh of your signal). As Dan noted, “the only difference between a flange and chorus is that delay time. The Electric Mistress, for example, has about 18 milliseconds, choruses generally have 25-30 milliseconds.” For this reason, it’s not uncommon to find a chorus pedal with a flanger switch. Flicking the switch shortens the delay time, resulting in an entirely different effect.
Phasers, on the other hand, are the result of a different interaction with the signal. Unlike chorus and flangers, which modulate time, phasers modulate the phase frequencies of the signal. As Dan noted, for analog effects, “phasers are a whole different ball game.”
So now that we know a little about what’s going on under the hold of the Electric Mistress, what is it about its sound that’s kept Dan captivated for decades?
Not All Imperfections are Problems, But Some Can Be Improved
Quirks are just part of the magic of vintage gear. These ticks and tells provide character yet can also distract when playing, writing, or recording with old school items. Not surprisingly, then, as remakes and fresh takes on classic effects appear, these wrinkles are often ironed out, for better or worse.
One of the quirks of Dan’s original Electric Mistress is clock noise. It’s that whir and whizz of the frequency range that can be heard particularly when the guitar is plugged in but not played. As Dan described, “other flangers don’t have that clock noise. The reason they don’t have it is because they filter it out. But what happens when you filter that clock noise out is that you inevitably get rid of some high end.” While the noise can be a bit distracting, this high-end character is largely what made the Electric Mistress sound like the Electric Mistress. So, while imperfect, it was, in a way, essential.
The second quirk of the Electric Mistress is harder to redeem. When engaged, the effect dropped the overall volume of the sound by about 20%. This is the sort of vintage quirk that should be addressed and improved. Of all the gear on the board, the Longamp Roxanne came closest in character to the Mistress while also obviating the unwanted dive in volume. Because of this Dan commented that, “For me, it’s fairly clear that the one that sounds most like the Mistress is the Longamp, by quite a long way. “
Experimenting with Flange Placement Pre or Post Gain
As with any effect, part of the flange sound is a product of its location in the chain. “I’ve always put [the flange] before overdrive,” commented Dan, which is contrary to “how most people do it.” To demonstrate the difference, Dan & Mick experimented with the sounds of Electric Mistress on either side of the T-Rex Mud Honey overdrive.
Dan demonstrated and described the reason for running the flanger first. “If I put the flanger into the overdrive, it doesn’t fundamentally change the sound of the overdrive. But if I put the flanger after it, it changes everything.” While the affect was subtle in cleaner and lighter sounds, as Mick commented, “Once your talking volume and gain, it’s not subtle at all.”
Here the lesson is simply, heed conventional wisdom about effect order, but be open to breaking with tradition. You just might find your favorite effect fits best when placed somewhere else.
No matter your flanger needs—old school or fresh take—head over to Riff City for full offering of all things modulation!
TPS Rig Rundown
Guitars:2017 Fender Custom Shop 1952 Heavy Relic Telecaster, Fender American Vintage 1962 Stratocaster, Duesenberg Julia.
Amps:Marshall 1987x head with 1960A cabinet and Celestion G12M Greenback speakers, Fender Super Reverb with Jensen P10R speakers.