With the recent launch of the superb and innovative Dark World Reverb Joel Korte’s Chase Bliss Audio can now provide you with a full pedalboard’s complement of stompboxes. It’s with some sadness that I bemoan the retirement of the still superb Spectre BKM Flanger - it obviously wasn’t shifting enough units to keep its place in the lineup - but I still love and support it!
I really don’t think that the Dark World will ever experience similar issues - who’s sizeable first batch sold out within the first 24 hours. To date, the Tonal Recall Delay pedals have been Joel’s biggest sellers, followed by the Brothers Analog Gainstage as far as I understand. The recent Thermae has gained some degree of a following too, while its high price is likely to put some potential customers off or at least reduce overall numbers sold.
To date I have amassed 5 Chase Bliss Pedals - the Brothers Analog Gainstage, Warped Vinyl MKII (White), Spectre BKM Flanger, Wombtone Phaser MKII and Gravitas Tremolo. You could say I have a 6th Chase Bliss Pedal - courtesy of the Abracadabra Audio Ayahuasca Trem-Fuzz.
In terms of Delay and Reverb effect, these are very much part of my Stereo soundstage - which means that these mono variants just don’t fit in - although I really like the Thermae and the Dark World and what they deliver. I was initially confused by exactly what sort of pedal the Condor was and how best deployed, but I can see this as a possible replacement for my Jackson Audio Prism - with the ThorpyFX Team Medic as another potential alternative.
Once you get into Chase Bliss Pedals you really don’t like to have to use anything else - sure they have a learning curve, and the dip-switches are fiddly. But if you persevere, you find that the knowledge of one pedal can pretty much be applied to any of these - as the control topology is identical throughout - even though the parameters will vary.
I’ve always run a dual set of modulations - first analogue and then digital - and even though there are now more capable alternatives for many of these - there is something about their functional idiosyncrasies which are just enduringly endearing. And while the Tonal Recall RKM edition cannot really compete with my Empress EchoSystem, the Thermae Pitch-Shifting Delay is another story entirely.
I still have three of these on my wishlist - the Condor, Thermae and Dark World - with the latest mentioned the most likely acquisition to happen. I still feel that said Reverb would still be an understudy to my current principal one - the Ventris - and I of course have the RV-500 and BigSky as alternative backups - I would have to be clever how I included each of these three pedals - possibly utilising in place of my Tech 21 NYC Roto Choir slot - then into the Stereo finale section.
That’s probably the most likely scenario - but it will be tricky to fit any of the time-based mono effects within the stereo portion of the rig - unless I mix things up more seriously and have a duplicate or parallel path for mono and stereo effects. Here’s hoping it’s no too long until Joel starts making stereo versions - or at least collaborating with others who do.
I’ve listed / pictured the pedals in rough pedalboard / pedal-chain order:
I'm not sure the benefits or ideal positioning of this pedal were communicated adequately when it was first launched. I soon enough figured out though that it would make a pretty decent alternative to my Jackson Audio Prism Buffer / Boost / EQ / PreAmp if I ever decided to make the switch. With the Ramp, Bounce and Filter Settings you can make this pedal into a tremolo or sort of Auto Wah even - there are all manner of possibilities here. It's not necessarily a better pedal than my Jackson Audio one - it just does slightly different things. In any case I can't decide if I would prefer to try this or the ThorpyFX Team Medic as sometime alternative - so I'm sticking with the Prism for now - but this one is definitely on my radar - and I would use it near the start of my chain as I do the Prism.
I was caught in two minds between this one and the at least somewhat superficially similar Strymon Sunset Dual Drive. On that occasion I acquired the Sunset first - and it occupies a semi permanent slot in my chain, but I actually use the Brothers more as one of my principal Fuzz pedals - always running with at least one dominant fuzz-side on the two channels. The Brothers is one of four Fuzz slots in my pedal-chain - and it is usually accompanied by the other permanent fuzz - the Frazz Dazzler, as well as the most likely principals - the Abracadabra Ayahuasca and Spaceman Sputnik I. It's another pedal that requires something of a dedicated shift in the discovery process - experimenting with serial and parallel stacking to find your preferred tones - but if you persevere here you'll find a whole lot to like - several players use this as their sole dirt pedal - while I prefer a little more variety in my chain.
I actually still have and like the White MKII version which has the top centre dial as a Volume control rather than the Sag of the latest version. The latest version also has a somewhat refined circuit for even more high end frequency response - while I really like what my MKII delivers and don't currently have any inclination to swap. This pedal initially started as black as a MKI, then changed to white for the MKII, then a metallic orangey copper for the HiFi or MKIII - which alas led to too many blemished versions through uneven paint finish - so Joel switched it back to the original black again. The MKII was sweetened somewhat over the original, and I'm not sure I require any more sweetener per the MKIII - I really like the chorus and vibrato effects that I get out of this pedal. I do though intend to get one of the new Boss Dimension C Waza Craft editions for sometime rotation - otherwise this pedal is pretty safe in the chain and will likely retain its place long-term.
It's a real shame that this warbly whale-sounding wonder has been discontinued - I still really rather like it - even in the face of much stiffer competition from something like the recent EQD Pyramids Stereo Flanger. I had already made a determination that I would be getting the Pyramids pedal for some time rotation - possibly even for that one to assume primary pedal slot position. But the Spectre is still hanging on in there. It's somewhat ironic too that there was quite a number of new Flangers launched this year while Joel thought it necessary to retire this one - I guess its low sales numbers did not justify its continued existence in the range - for me though this is still one of the best flangers at this size.
Another really cool pedal of its type and still ahead of most of the chasing pack at this enclosure size. Even thought the recent Vibrophase from Zvex offers some degree of competition - it still does not have quite the feature set of the Wombtone - in fact only the Red House Midnight Phaser has a separate tap-tempo footswitch too at this size. I still feel that overall though the Wombtone is still the most usable and versatile phaser for its enclosure size, and although there is a lot of competition at the medium enclosure level - I feel this one is still my preferred option.
This was my very first Chase Bliss Audio pedal - and I'm still very much a fan of the tremolo effect category - with the Gravitas actually my joint favourite with Stone Deaf's Tremotron. The Gravitas still retains its principal slot status though even in the face of increased competition. There are now a quite a few compact tremolos which have a second tap-tempo footswitch and a couple even with Harmonic Tremolo options. None though have the full feature set - with the Ramp and Bounce etc. to get you into that really interesting Gravitas territory - although the dual simultaneous tremolos of the Tremotron offer a very decent alternative. I had also been considering the Swindler Effects Red Mountain - with is the only tremolo to offer stereo ins and outs at this size.
The rare Bucket Brigade Device chips in this pedal - also the RKM (Red Knob Mod) version of the Tonal Recall are what cause the price to be quite so high here. This one has been on my wishlist for a while though as the Tonal Recall can't really compete with my Empress EchoSystem, but the Thermae offers a whole other kind of effect which is not easily replicated by other means. I initially thought that this might be too fiddly as the octave knobs aren't notched as such - and I figured they would be tricky to dial in accurately - but this does not appear to be the case. It retains much of the same functionality as the Tonal Recall Delay - but with an entirely new pitch-shifting algorithm on top for all manner of satisfyingly odd cascading tonal effects. I would likely sill defer to the Empress EchoSystem for core delay use and utilise this for somewhat different effects - a really cool pedal all-round, and genuinely something pretty unique.
The key difference between this and the Blue Knob original is that this has twice the number of MN3005 BBD chips (4) for 1100 milliseconds of delay. Otherwise you get all the usual Chase Bliss goodies - separate tap-tempo footswitch, options for Short, Long and Both delay modes - with divisions and the usual trio of wave shapes. Obviously the dip-switches, Ramp and Bounce features give you a whole load extra beyond a typical analog style delay pedal. Really impressive for its type, but as reported - it cannot compete overall with the Empress EchoSystem which has a lot more on offer overall - albeit in a digital format.
And so really to saving the best til last in many ways. This first all-round digital pedal from Chase Bliss Audio is a 3-way collaboration between Joel, Tom Majeski of Cooper FX, and Robert Keeley of Keeley Engineering. Tom is famously the author of the really cool warbly video-tape style effect that is the 'Generation Loss' pedal, and there's a version of that effect on his 'Dark'-side 'Mod' effect. He further contributes the other 2 Dark-side flavours - 'Shim' : a sort of infinite decay freeze sample loop octave reverb or a very otherworldly icy shimmer; while with the final 'Black' Mode you get a slightly different lower register sample freeze which sort of sounds like a phantom following cellist. On the 'World' site Robert Keeley delivers three really sparkly classic modes - Hall, Plate and Spring. The magic of this pedal is really the interplay between the two channel sites of the pedal and the various stacking options - serial and parallel. You also have all the usual Ramp and Bounce dip-switch options as usual to play with. The high concept of interplay between separate classic and otherworldly reverb effects channels makes for a pretty innovative pedal design, and although the Mooer Ocean Machine sort of does something similar - this is still very much a game-changer for this pedal type, and particularly this enclosure size. Both sides of the pedal are exceptional, but its really the Tom Majeski algorithms that make this one extra special. This is easily the most accessible of the Chase Bliss Audio pedals - and even though users will still need to get used to the usual Chase Bliss Audio quirks - the rapid sell-out of the first batch shows just how popular this pedal will be - I fully expect it to become Chase Bliss's best selling pedal by some margin - it pretty much knocks all those other slightly unusual reverbs out of the ballpark!
Albeit not associated with the main range, this pedal collaboration is still very much a Chase Bliss Audio product - and arrives suitably in one of those classic Chase Bliss Audio wooden boxes etc. This kind of starts off as a Gravitas Tremolo pedal, but adds a very unique and pretty fierce actually Fuzz Face style silicon fuzz on top. Specifically a variation of the 70's Os Mutantes style fuzz - for some brilliantly raw sounding fuzz modulation. This is one of a quarted of my all-time favourite fuzzes alongside the Chase Bliss Audio Brothers, Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler, and Spaceman Effects Sputnik I. It's quite hard to get hold of, and was only fairly recently opened up for international orders - which is how I got mine. These are very small-batch productions and are invite-only. You need to sign up on the Abracadabra Audio site and be officially approved before you are invited to buy one - noting that production batches are very few and far between.
Make no mistake that overall Chase Bliss Audio pedals are an acquired taste - and very much a 'Tweakers' Pedal' - meaning that some significant time investment is required to get the most out of these. That said - once you get the knack of one of these - all the others pretty much fall easily in line - but you do need to give these pedals a lot of patience to start off with. If you're anything like me - once you've been won over by one of these you're really not going to want anything else really - these pedals really are a class apart overall.
I usually reserve all the fiddly stuff to the two onboard presets - Bouncing and Ramping etc. - and then the main active console settings are just tweaked on the face of the pedal. When it comes time to updating the presets - you always need to invest a significant part of yourself into the process as you can easily loose a day in fun experimentation.
Some of these are obviously easier to understand and get along with than others, and some more inherently quirky and idosyncratic. While the last Dark World Reverb should appeal to just about everyone who likes to have fun with that effect type. The unique and unusual combination of algorithms is not readily available elsewhere and should do wonders to further solidify the viability of the whole range. You will always likely have star performers, and the Delay and Reverb pedals are likely to remain the best-selling pedals here - while I really love the modulation types.
In terms of where I am with the range - I have five of the core range already, and as explained am unlikely to ever want to or need to acquire a Tonal Recall Delay. I do still have the Condor, Dark World and Thermae on my radar - I would really prefer the latter two to be stereo capable as I will struggle to fit them into my stereo rig - but I so like them that I will likely persevere in some way. For the Condor it's a question as to whether I choose to stick with the Jackson Audio Prism - or rotate that with either the Chase Bliss Condor, or possibly even the ThorpyFX Team Medic.
I for one though am never disappointed with a Chase Bliss Audio pedal - as far as I'm concerned and even with all their quirks and learning curves - they never fail to delight! In terms of where can Joel Korte go next - he still has plenty of scope here for a Compressor, Ring Modulator and further Fuzzes and Drives - I would be rather receptive to all of those.