If I’m honest, I spend a lot of time getting my pedalboard just right. The order of my signal chain, the spacing between and below each effect pedal, the perfect balance of tight-yet-not-tense cables, these are all things that keep me up at night. Yet as soon as I’ve crafted my masterpiece, I have a terrible habit of pulling two pedals out of the pristine board to see how the duo sounds on their own. At the best of times, the outcomes are a mathematical impossibility: somehow the sound of two well-picked pedals is more than the sum of its parts.
We all know there are some effects destined for a tag team, those classic pairs of sounds that have now become a staple in many builders’ catalogues. Down through the days of gear history and the admittedly limited lifespan of the humble guitar pedal, however, a few of these pairs stand out for their simple yet brilliant inception and impact on the industry. In no particular order, here’s my top three.
The Roger Mayer Octavia
Any rundown of dual effects must pay homage where it’s due. You’ve got to start across the pond, half a century ago. Even if you haven’t heard of Mayer, you’ve definitely heard his pedals. Starting in 1964, Mayer began building some sonic creations that would provide the tones of then-forward-thinking-now-classic rock. The UFO-like curvy exterior of his pedals were both unmistakable and equally matched the innovation lurking beneath.
Arguably, the most famous of Mayer’s designs was the Octavia, a fuzz and octave hybrid built in 1967 and embraced in short order by Jimi Hendrix. With a fully-formed analog fuzz in partnership with a responsive circuit mimicking the player’s every move an octave up, the Octavia is an essential element across the Hendrix anthology. From “Little Wing,” to “Machine Gun,” to “Purple Haze,” and more, the classic Hendrix sound is built with Mayer under foot.
The Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble
Boss is no stranger to creative thinking in a compact stompbox. Yet it all started back in 1976 with the Chorus CE-1, which was originally designed with keyboardists in mind. Apparently, guitarists had other plans. While its name champions the chorus effect that defined an era, the pedal is in fact a dynamic duo of yet another now classic effect combo: chorus and tremolo.
Now here’s the kicker. Since the two circuits rely on the same analog bucket brigade circuit you can’t actually deploy both sounds at the same time. By today’s standards this would be a major knock on the playability factor, yet keep in mind this was the first ever Boss effect, it was already a twofer, and went beyond by offering stereo outputs. If early reception and use of the pedal is any indicator of Boss’ breakthrough, just have a quick listen to a few Andy Summers riffs on Police albums and you’ll sense why the Chorus Ensemble was a smash hit.
The TC Electronic Chorus+ Pitch Modulator and Flanger
Chorus seems to play well with everybody. It’s distinct yet versatile, both subtle and pronounced. Perhaps that’s why it was the main ingredient in yet another first pedal for a now leader in the gear industry. Well before Tor and TonePrint, TC Electronic emerged with a simple black stompbox that tone chasers still pursue today.
The TC Electronic Chorus+ Pitch Modulator and Flanger covers every bit of tonal territory as its name suggests. The lush sounds of this pedal also hearken back to 1976 and represents an industry first. This little black box of mystery is not a set of twins, but triplets! With a simple switch, users could select which effect to engage (chorus, pitch modulation, or flanger) and then use a shared set of knobs to dial in the chosen effect. In a day of TC Electronic’s expanding effects empire, you know they’ve built a firm foundation when an iconic artist like Eric Johnson still features the original in his rig.
No matter what gear you’re rocking today—a solo stompbox, favorite tandem setup, or endless digital system—enjoy your six string and have a great #RiffCitySunday.