Exploring and Positioning Univibe Type Pedals on Your Pedalboard

This week on TPS, Dan & Mick channeled a little Hendrix by doing a long-awaited follow up on their detour into Univibe-type pedals from their first year on the air. If vibe is new to you or something you’ve struggled with making work on your board, here’s a crash course that will help you get more mileage out of your gear.

What is Vibe?

You probably know the sound of the Univibe—just think the Hendrix rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock—but what is it? Vibe pedals are easily confused with a few other effects, but the way the sound is created at the circuit board level makes them entirely unique.

Similar to a chorus, a vibe pedal will split the signal and then modulate one part of that signal before blending it all back together. However, unlike a chorus which modulates frequency, a vibe will modulate the phase relationship. This also puts vibe in a different ballpark from tremolo, which modulates amplitude. Where things get really interesting, is how analog vibe pedals achieve this under the hood.

Within the vibe is a flashing bulb—a veritable heartbeat—that dims and throbs. This pulsing light is picked up by an LDR (light dependent resistor), which then perceives phase variations at intervals which are mixed back in with the main signal before it is ejected out into your guitar amp. In this way, the way vibe pedals work makes them a close cousin to phaser pedals. 

So that’s the tiny story on the inner workings of vibe, but where does it fit in the big picture of your pedalboard?

Where Should I Place Vibe on My Board?

In a way, vibe presents both problems and prospects for sorting out where and when to place it in your signal chain. Do you treat it like a tremolo, which might come late given their origins in amp circuits? Do you play it closer to the front end depending on the (mis)behavior of a favorite fuzz? As Dan & Mick explored, the key decision is where to locate your vibe source in relation to gain sources.

Dan made the key observation that when running the vibe going into the overdrive, the sound “didn’t have anywhere near as much attack.” As the vibe controls the rise, fall, and swirl of the incoming signal, it creates something of an EQ-rollercoaster for the overdrive. As a result, the gain also had to ride along. However, as Mick pointed out, “this is a bit easier to play and a bit more forgiving under the fingers.” As always, this isn’t a better-or-worse decision, it’s about preference. Mick concluded, “I could very well be a convert to running vibe before a drive in some settings.”

When it came to fuzz, the before and after question was equally open. Here Mick noted that when the vibe ran into the fuzz, “the fuzz gets softer and the piercing high-end is lessened when the vibe is first… it’s very different than [the reverse] and will probably depend a lot on your fuzz pedal.”

The verdict on position of vibe at the end was entirely open-ended. Mick noted, “it’s totally worth experimenting with your own overdrive pedals and amp to see what works best.” 

What Modern Options Should I consider for Vibe?

So let’s say you’re sold on the sound of vibe but don’t where to start. Dan & Mick dialed in a series of stellar sounds from the Fulltone Deja Vibe, Drybell Vibe Machine, and Jam Pedals Retro Vibe. Other options that go from classic to modern sounds include, the JHS Unicorn V2, MXR M68 Uni-Vibe, and TC Electronic Viscous Vibe. One of the items of gear on the TPS board this week that brought the classic sound of vibe into the new millennium was the Boss MD-500.

After doing a bit of A/B comparison with other analog pedals, Mick noted “that MD-500 didn’t fair badly at all. It was chewier than the Deja Vibe and retained that high-end thing.” For Dan the advantage of this pedal was that the Boss effect excelled especially in the lower intensity pulses of vibe. Of course, another major advantage of the Boss MD-500 is its potential for deep yet accessible customization through digital menus. If you love finding your way down a rabbit hole of parameters to develop a signature sound, nothing compares to the Boss 500 series. 

Whether you’re a seasoned Hendrix-vibe aficionado or newbie to the world of the rise and fall of Univibe-type sounds, head over to Riff City for a huge selection of modulation pedals to build some intensity into your rig.

TPS Rig Rundown: 

Guitars:Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63, Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335, Nik Huber Krautster II.

Pedals: Sonic Research ST-300 Turbo Tuner Mini, Chase Tone ’68 Red Velvet Fuzz, Fulltone Full-Drive FD-1, Drybell Vibe Machine, Sweet Sound Mojo Vibe, Fulltone Mini Deja Vibe, Boss MD-500, JAM Pedals Retro Vibe, Walrus Audio ARP-87, Neo Instruments Mini Vent II, Supro Tremolo.

Amps: Fender ’65 Super Reverb (reissue) with 4×10 Jensen P10R speakers, Marshall 1987x (reissue) with 4×12 Celestion G12M Greenback speakers.

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