Some pedals need no introduction, and this is one of those select few. Even if you’re not a fan of flange, you know it. The Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress at once set the bar for flange effects and stands in a league of its own. As it turns out, this stompbox not only was a landmark effect for the world of flange, it was also significant in the history of Mike Matthews growing empire of effects and served as the creative spark for some of David Gilmour’s most memorable riffs.
The story of Electro-Harmonix began in 1968 in New York. Right out of the gates Mike Matthews rocked the world with two smash hit effect releases: the LPB-1 Booster and the Big Muff Pi. Not unlike the uphill battle of nailing a follow-up album, Electro-Harmonix had to swing for the fences to show they were here to stay. This is where the mother of all flange comes in.
In 1975, Electro-Harmonix Dave Cockerell designed the circuitry of what became the original Electric Mistress. By 1976, the pedal went to market and the question was whether or not it would match the success of Matthews’ previous pair of overdrive designs.
One of the challenges of the Electric Mistress was communicating to potential buyers what this radical type of flange was. To put this in context, in the early 1970s modulation effects were really just starting to become a thing. In 1974, MXR had released the famed Phase 90, which won some quick fans and acclaim. In this same year, Eventide released the first ever flange pedal, which arguably came and went.
So how did Electro-Harmonix make a splash with what was mostly an unknown or unfamiliar sound? Make it simple, explain, explain, explain, and hope that the right rock star was captivated by the pedal.
The original stompbox was pretty stripped down in terms of parameters. This meant that even new comers could get a handle on how to manipulate the effect without getting lost in a manual. The three knobs—rate, range, and color—were intuitively set to govern the various filter parameters of the pedal. (If the housing and physical design look familiar, it’s because the original Electric Mistress pedals were housed in Big Muff sized boxes). Simplicity of design made sense for those players fortunate enough to have access to the pedal to play at a local shop, but how do you market the effect to those who were yet to lay hands on one?
This is where the perhaps over explanation of the effect comes in to play.
With the release of the Electric Mistress, Electro-Harmonix undertook media blitz with ads showcasing the effect rocketing through space with the caption “Made on Earth for Rising Stars.” About 1/3 of the lower portion of the ad space, however, was dedicated to dense copy explaining what flange was and how it could revolutionize pretty much anything.
The ad boasts that “flanging is like hundreds of phase shifters operating simultaneously” and how until now true flanging was only possible with “complicated multiple tape machine setups.” It promises to contend with or even replace the flange sounds of tape or digital units to offer “a prismatic spectrum of absolutely fascinating sounds” for any instrument or vocal performance.
It is difficult to gauge the impact and popularity of this effect among players in the mid-1970s. There’s one, however, that stands out and signifies the instant high level impact of the Electric Mistress. While the jet-plane sounds of flange might have been a tough sell to some, the effect proved to be a creative tool for Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. Images of his pedalboard from a 1976 tour in the UK show an Electro Harmonic Electric Mistress perched atop right next to a Big Muff.
Few pedals define entire typologies of effects to the degree that the Electric Mistress has. Whether you’re captivated or confused by flange, make no mistake, when you hear the Mistress calling, you know!