We all know how it goes. We practice, learn scale runs, chords, songs etc... Then we start collecting gear that helps us get those sounds we have come to love from artists we admire. Take the Tube Screamer for example. Does it reside on everyone’s pedal board because it is the finest distortion pedal in the world? Not at all! It is so popular because many guitarists have created beautiful and catching music that was inspired by what that particular box adds to their playing. There are many other ’staple’ pedals that work their way into our rigs and the tendency begins to be "stick with what works, or what is comfortable.” Everybody has their set of pedals, their multi-effects, their amps and their favorite guitar. Recently, there has been storm of gear creations that continually point back to all those "classic" sounds. Amp and effect modelers pride themselves on perfectly modeling a tube screamer, or a classic amplifier. Software programs have made it so easy to stack and layer effects. It is not long before it becomes more about the gear and features and less about creating music. As a guitarist and gear addict myself, I struggle with the balance between spending hours on the internet reading about cool new gear, and throwing my computer out a second story window and spending time creating music.
Lately, I have had somewhat of a victory. I feel like I am starting to make a transition from gear acquisition to gear utilization. In other words, when I get my hands on a new toy, my first thoughts have been: What can this thing do to feed my creativity? What aspect of my playing can it help develop? How can I experiment with it in a way that is different than anything I’ve tried before? Above all, what does this piece of gear inspire me to create?
The opportunity to plug in to the Soundblox Multiwave Distortion pedal couldn’t have come at a better time to propel me further in to my quest for new and fresh sounds.
I have to admit, that when I first played through it, I tilted my head to one side and went "huh?" I went back to my rig, plugged in a bunch of other distortion pedals, played through those for a while and then came back to the Multiwave. After a good half hour of knob turning, ears ringing, and setting my need for the same old sound aside, a large grin started to develop on my face and I couldn’t put the pedal aside. This thing is cool. It doesn’t and can’t sound like a Tube Screamer, or a DS-1 or a Big Muff. It sounds like the Multiwave, and the Multiwave seems to have about 200 sounds that still don’t sound like anything else I’ve ever heard. After having the pedal in my possession for about a month, I started to look at getting tone differently. Sure, I still use my go-to sounds, but I feel much more comfortable playing around with something that I may have thrown out before. Asking myself the question, "What does the Multiwave inspire me to create?" Resulted in a series of recordings, rough sketches and ideas. I have compiled a demo of some of those recordings to show at least some of the sounds the Multiwave is capable of producing and what kinds of music the pedal inspired me to create. We’ll break down some of the specifics from different aspects of the track in a bit.
Here is the demo (Grab a trusted pair of headphones and give it a few listens. We’ll be referring back to it later on):
Every guitar sound in the above demo was created using the Multiwave. There were no other distortion or overdrive pedals used, and there was no amp distortion. I tested the pedal through a variety of amps including a Vox AC 30, Egnater Renegade, Peavey Classic 50, Vox AC 100, Egnater M4 (various modules) and a Peavey Classic 30. For the recordings I chose the Classic 30 for its road worn, punchy clean sound. It seemed to react the best to what the Multiwave had to offer.
I also spent time with a variety of guitars while getting to know the Multiwave. I tested the pedal with a Fender Deluxe Tele, a ’52 reissue Tele, a Gibson Les Paul, a Strat, and an Ibanez RG Prestige and an S Prestige. For the recording, I used only the Deluxe Tele for most of the rhythm guitars and the RG Prestige (with a kill switch) for most of the lead guitar sounds. There were no synths used. All of the sounds were generated with guitars, bass and [fake] drums. The Multiwave played nicely with all of my favorite effects boxes. I especially liked the sound of a wah pedal. Some of the settings on the Multiwave created some interesting harmonic qualities when used with the wah. I also found a volume pedal fun to use for some of the Multiwaves ’octave’ settings. In addition to volume and wah, I found myself using a delay and a flanger effect set to a rotary speaker-esque sound.
So, what exactly is the Multiwave? What makes it so different? While it does have some conventional distortion sounds (using custom designed distortion algorithms), it has the unique ability to divide a guitar signal in to different ’bands’ based on frequencies, apply distortion to each band individually, and then combine all of the different signals before going to your amp. The resulting sound is that of unmatched clarity, even at high gains.
When playing chords that include notes other than roots, 3rds or 5ths with a conventional distortion pedal, a phenomenon called ’intermodulation’ occurs. This means that the short distances between notes, when distorted all together, start to walk all over each other. If you’ve ever dialed your amp gain up to ’eleven’ and played a big fat Major 7th chord and felt like you just fed a lemon to your ears, you know exactly what intermodulation sounds like. But, if you were to record each one of the notes individually with that same amount of gain and listen back, there would be a clarity that was not there when all notes were distorted together.
The Multiwave’s algorithms don’t go as far as recording each note individually, but the effect is similar on some of the settings. Other settings make no apologies that they are ONLY for single note lead playing or power chord riffing. Once you figure out which settings work for certain types of playing, the fun begins!
The Multiwave also offers foldback (distortion stacked on distortion) and octave settings. Both of these sounds, as well as a more conventional distortion algorithm can be utilized in both multiband fashion as well as a more standard single band sound.
Even with so many settings, sounds and options, the Multiwave is easy to use. It features a center knob with LEDs indicating which of the 21 distortion settings in selected. It also has a drive, a sustain and an output knob. The sustain knob is placed before the drive in the chain acting very much like a simple compressor with fixed threshold, ratio and attack/release settings. The output knob is used primarily to match the active level to the bypass (dry, unaffected) amp level. Because the sustain and drive knobs have so much range, Source Audio recommends using the sustain knob in moderation with higher gain settings, but they have created a pedal with such range for a reason. It is meant to be experimented with!
Early on in my relationship with the Multiwave, I came up with a minute-long single guitar demonstration, dialed in a bunch of settings on the pedal, and recorded a number of passes. This demonstration features power chords, complex chords, single picked lines and sustained notes. Because I played the same thing over all the different sounds, it becomes very apparent which settings are designed for rhythm playing, comfortable with chord extensions, and which ones are meant for smooth or dirty lead guitar.
As you’re listening to the samples, pay careful attention to how chord tones sound on the single band sounds versus the multiband settings. There is a defined ring and a unique emphasis on harmonics with some of the multiband sounds. Keep in mind, that with some of foldback settings, the idea is to be messy and brash sounding. Used tastefully, these types of effects can add unique variety to your playing. For these samples, I have included the effect number as well as a drive and sustain setting for each. The drive and sustain settings are communicated in an "o’clock" fashion, so when you see "Drive-2" it means that the knob position was at 2 o’clock.Here are the samples:
#1 Single 15 Drive-12 Sus-off
#2 Single 16 Drive-9 Sus-off
#3 Single 16 Drive-2 Sus-11
#4 Single 19 Drive-12 Sus-off
#5 Single 20 Drive-1 Sus-8
#6 Multi 01 Drive-12 Sus-off
#7 Multi 03 Drive-3 Sus-9
#8 Multi 06 Drive-full Sus-off
#9 Multi 9 Drive-3 Sus-9
#10 Multi 11 Drive-3 Sus-9
#11 Multi 13 Drive-1 Sus-off
Take a moment to refer back to the demonstration track earlier in the article. Some of the more obscure sounds from the above examples were the first to find their way in to my creative pallet. The sound of Sample 004 was combined with a wah to create the riff in the first part of the full band demonstration track. The foldback distortion brought out some cool harmonics when I positioned the wah just right. I’d never heard anything quite like it. Almost all of the chord rhythms played in the full band track were some instantiation of the multiband settings 1-3 which are the more conventional distortion algorithms but still divide the signal in to different frequency bands.
The octave settings are found in the 3rd and 4th sections of the full band demonstration track. In the 3rd example, the multiband octave setting 13 was combined with a pre-drive volume pedal and a delay set roughly to quarter note repeats. The multiband octave sound is far more distinct than the single band sound and almost sounds like the guitar is being run through a harmonizer. In the 4th full band example, the same setting is paired with a slow wah effect. Notice how harmonics are brought out as the wah moves from toe to heal. The strange synth/loop-like sound in the 3rd section was created using a multiband foldback setting and manipulating a kill switch on the guitar to create the rhythmic gaps in the sound. Having an unconventional distortion sound paired with the somewhat unconventional sound of the kill switch made for a great combination. If you want to create trippy guitar sounds, this pedal could be one of your best friends!
While recording the first section of the track, I unplugged my guitar from the rig to switch guitars without muting my signal first. When I picked up the guitar cable, I got the typical loud buzz that reminded me I had not muted the line. I had been on a high gain, multiband foldback setting, and it did something to the sound of that buzz. It was strangely musical, so I hit record and rhythmically tapped on the end of the guitar cable for one of the guitar parts.
The high gain rhythms in the 2nd section of the track utilize much more gain than I would normally play with a full, 6-string chord, but with the multiband sound, it seemed to be much more tolerable. The lead at the end of this same section was dialed in with hardly any gain, but had the sustain knob cranked to about 3 o’clock.
Overall, I am quite impressed with the Multiwave. I have never seen so much variety packed in to one distortion pedal. It encouraged me to come up with new musical ideas, and I don’t feel like I am done with finding new ways to use it. It is one of those pedals that you get to add to your current sound, but does not replace anything you might already have. The pedal feels quite different to play through than most I have used. Even on high gain sounds, it plays like it almost has a gate in place after the distortion. It makes for a quiet playing experience, but is difficult to get used to when your trying to milk a note for all its worth. I preferred the sound and feel of the pedal with single coil pickups over humbuckers except on the multiband octave settings. It seemed to carry more depth and character. Humbuckers reacted very well with the pseudo ebow/harmonizer delay sounds.
The pedal looks cool, doesn’t have any annoying lights that blind you when you look down at your pedal board, and it is easy to navigate. I like that it has a distinct look to go along with its distinct sound. I was surprised to find out that it runs on 4 AA batteries to generate its 9v power but that’s neither here nor there. It worked well, (no change in sound quality) with my Furman SPB-8 pedal board/power conditioner. For all it does, it didn’t seem to eat batteries either.
I’m not sure I would try to pigeonhole this pedal into a particular niche or genre. It all depends on what you use with it. Because of the versatile nature of it, I can hear it fitting in to just about any song to add spice and strangely musical flavors. I found it to really excel at the "is that really guitar?" sounds but I also couldn’t get enough of being able to strum big, multi-extension chords without my head imploding.
The Soundblox Multiwave distortion pedal has a street price of about $120 and is available from a number of online retailers including Amazon and Sam Ash. Source Audio also offers unique modulation and wah effects pedals that share the same ’way different and think outside the box’ design approach. An optional power source can be purchased for $18. Be sure to visit their website at www.sourceaudio.net.