Mike Matthews and the crew at Electro-Harmonix are never short on innovation. For decades, they’ve paved the way forward for stompbox innovation and proved that the best builds result from creative approaches to the gear business. Yet with a deep catalogue of countless hits—the Big Muff Fuzz, Memory Man Delay, and Electric Mistress leap to mind—some gear items were ahead of their time, misunderstood, or simply forgotten. This week, we’re cracking open the Electro Harmonix vault to explore all things rare, vintage, and funky.
The Axis Fuzz
Before we go into the great unknown with some builds below, let’s start with the paramount classic of the Electro Harmonix, well, and Guild fuzz catalogue. Back in 1968 when Matthews was kick-starting Electro Harmonix he built a fuzz pedal known as the Axis Fuzz. This simple two-knob design gave you exactly what you wanted to control, “volume” and “fuzz,” and aimed to capture the sought after sounds of the budding Jimi Hendrix. The circuitry and design, however, were also marketed and sold by Guild as the “Foxey Lady” fuzz. Apart from the change of script and branding on the face of the stompbox, the pedals are twins separated at birth.
The Domino Theory
It’s hard to think of what category to put this one in. The Domino Theory is a colored-translucent tube that is loaded with LED lights and a circuit that drives those LEDs to react to sound. The result is a flash, flicker, and flutter performance piece that responds to the noise of the outside world. While this idea never really caught on, Electro-Harmonix did rethink and relaunch a number of psychedelic light-sound products in its wake. These included a smaller version called the Pet-Lite, the Corona Concert plasma ball, and, my personal favorite, the 3-Phase Liner, which leveraged a similar sort of design in necklace form for the glitzy guitarist.
Way before Electro Harmonix launched the synth series of stompboxes that transform your guitar signal into the sounds of classic keyed instruments (Synth9, Key9, and Mel9), they dabbled in the world of analog synthesis. The Mini-Synthesizer is arguably one of the more sought after rarities on the used market from these forays. The metal-plastic build aimed to provide on-the-fly creativity in an ultra-portable package. It came with a 25-keyboard of membrane buttons with controls for a single oscillator, filters, and output for the sound of an onboard speaker. While the functionality of this synth had limits, the sound was genius. If you want to try your hand at this little EHX synth playground, there’s an app for that. So fire up your phone and give it a spin!
The Soul Kiss
In the universe of guitar effects, talk boxes are already on the fringes. Yet Matthew’s design of the Soul Kiss is arguably on the outer rim of even that part of the galaxy. Released as one of the few designs to come out under his company New Sensor Corporation in the early 1990s, the Soul Kiss blended the idea of talk box, sound of a frequency filter, and expressive qualities of light sensors. The effect unit could be worn belt-side or put in a pocket, which included a cord with an optic sensor that was placed in the mouth. By opening and pursing the lips, the sensor received different levels of light which controlled the movement of the filter. Just don’t swallow it mid gig!
The Space Drum
Electro Harmonix has taken a few runs at pedal format drum machines. These include the DRM 15, DRM 35 and the 22500 Stereo Looper. Few, however, were as brilliant and bizarre as the Space Drum. Originally released in 1979, the space drum looked like an oversized guitar pedal. Out front it had a large, circular reactive surface for receiving hits from the foot or a drum stick to trigger an analog controlled drum sound. With just three knobs up top, it was possible to engineer both traditional kick and toms sounds all the way to otherworldly blips and percussive bends. In recent years, Electro Harmonix revamped the design for improved interactivity and sound sculpting and released the Super Space Drum.
Among the greatest hits of Electro Harmonix it’s easy to forget some of the b-sides. Whether you’re playing vintage gear or the latest and greatest of Matthews’ creations, have a great #RiffCitySunday.