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9 of the Best Lo-fi Modulation Pedals

Bitcrushing and Lo-FiCaroline Guitar CompanyChampion LeccyChase Bliss AudioChorus and VibratoEarthQuaker DevicesFairfield CircuitryHungry Robot EffectsModulationParadox EffectsRaygun FXZvex+-
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This article was inspired by the recent launch of the Caroline Guitar Co. Somersault Lo-fi Modulator which is really a sort of Chorus - which all these others are indeed near enough all too at least to a degree. In fact Josh Scott of JHS fame kind of beat me to the punch on this with his last Thursday’s YouTube video - which I share in Final Thoughts below. Yet I had already drawn up my own shortlist of 9 in advance of that and Josh and I only overlap on 4 - the Somersault obviously, Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl, EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine and the Zvex Instant LoFi Junky. I feel my selection is somewhat more robust in any case - but you be the judge of that.

 

One thing that Josh reminded me of was that Joel Korte used to work at Zvex back in the day - and the Instant LoFi Junky was one of his earlier pedal designs - a sort of early forerunner to the Warped Vinyl therefore you could surmise. I actually own none of these pedals listed - although I have an earlier version of the Warped Vinyl HiFi - which is essentially the MKIII - while I have the white MKII - that pedal has gone from black to white, to orange and back to black again! I’ve also had the Paradox Futura on my wishlist for a while - but said pedal is notoriously difficult to get hold of in Europe - so that hasn’t happened yet. I also have all the remaining Vertical Zvex pedals that I don’t yet have on my wishlist - so that includes the Instant LoFi Junky too. There are some real heavy-hitters in this category - including the perennial favourite Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water, Earthquaker Devices Rainbow Machine and Hungry Robot Wardenclyffe - while I feel the Champion Leccy Woozy is a modern classic in the making. The roundup is completed by the simplest pedal of the bunch - the UK-made Raygun FX Ghosty which has actually quite an extensive range of tones onboard via only 3 dials - Depth | Mix | Speed and single Shape toggle-switch.

 

I’m sure there are a couple more I may have overlooked here - but I’m very happy with this balanced selection - which I feel offers something for everyone. I am familiar with most of these pedals and around half of them have been featured on this site before. I feel pretty certain that I will add the Paradox Futura some day soon, but not sure which of these others is likely to follow suit - we’ll see once I complete the overview!

 

Pedals are listed individually by brand as usual:


Caroline Guitar Co. Somersault Lo-fi Modulator - £209

So the pedal that inspired this article is actually a pretty versatile and woozy chorus/vibrato with 4 controls - Mix |Offset | Depth | Speed, 2 toggle-switches a Bright/Dark (Hi-Cut) Tone switch and Triangle/Square Wafeform selector, we also have a second right-hand 'Havoc' footswtich which momentarily maces out the Speed/Rate for a cool sort of flutter. I'm always bemused by Caroline's choice of icons as I don't always feel they are the most intuitive - but on this pedal they are pretty much spot on - and you really don't need a manual to visually figure out what's going on here. Anyone who's used a Warped Vinyl will be used to the parameters engaged here and you can get a huge variety of tones from those 6 overall controls. I've always questioned the need for Caroline to do all medium enclosure pedals - but as I've said before, I feel dual footswitches sort of justifies it! This is a worthy entry into this field and it has been well received thus far - albeit I believe there are others that are more to my liking here.


Champion Leccy The Woozy Lo-fi Modulation and Warped Tape Echo - c£175 equivalent on Reverb.com

Champion Leccy is the very definition of 'boutique' with strange otherworldly graphics and very unique takes for its pedals. The Woozy has some odd labelling too - but is all kind of makes sense if you're prepared to engage with it properly. There are 7 knobs at your disposal here - Sway (Depth) | Tide (LFO Speed) | Love (Volume) | Waveform Selector x 8 | Hangover (Delay time) | Backwash (Repeats/Shimmer) | Cheer (Mix) and a Dregs (Lo Pass Filter) toggle-switch. You then have dual footswitches - ByPass (Left) and Tap-Tempo (Right) and away you go! Champion describe this as a primarily modulation pedal with built-in echo rather than the other way around - it's principal roll is always as a woozy/warbly modulation - just a really cool take on the genre as I've already said - I'm considering this for sure - but processed it 100& yet!


Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi Analog Vibrato/Chorus - £349

This is still just about my favourite every chorus - and it's been featured numerous times on this site - mostly in the MKII variety which I own. The HiFi is essentially a brighter take on the MKII - where that in turn was a brighter take on the MKI. The main thing about the HiFi is that the top central Volume knob has been replaced by a 'Lag' control - which is great for fine-tuning in those woozy textures, but breaks one of my cardinal rules for modulation which is 'Must Have Volume Control'. So for now I've chose to stick with the MKII for sake of the Volume Control instead of the Lag, and while I could probably do with a bit more brightness I'm very happy generally with the MKII WV. It has the usual standard Chase Bliss topology of 6 knobs, 4 toggle switches including 2 presets, dual footswitches including tap-tempo, and 16 dip-switches for controlling Ramping and Bounce on most of those parameters. Were I new to this category today - this is still the first one I would pick out - I've long said that Chase Bliss has long been at the forefront of innovation, format and hi-fidelity. It's somewhat ironic that we're discussing a Lo-fi genre and the principal option is 'HiFi' - but that refers solely to the added brightness the MKIII brings! Still my number on choice for Chorus!


EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine Polyphonic Pitch Mesmerizer - £225

This is a slightly different modulation - being more of a pitch-warping primary element with some degree of chorus as a secondary ingredient - which all swirls up and mixes together via 6 control knobs - Primary (Volume of Polyphonic Harmony) | Pitch (Frequency of Polyphonic Pitched Harmony) | Secondary (<12 Octave Down/=12 Chorus/>12 Chorus Up) | Magic (Regeneration/Aliasing/Feedback) | Tone (Treble roll-off) | Tracking (Lag time between Wet and Dry Signal). The pedal had dual footswitches - Activate and Magic - were the second footswitch sends the 'Magic'/Feedback parameter into overload - similar to how a Havoc switch typically works on a Caroline Guitar Co. pedal. This is a Fuzz Factory type pedal with 6 highly interactive dials which you tweak in concert for some truly weird and wonderful chorusey pitch-warping effects - this pedal is really one for properly experimental players and can be frustrating if you don't have the patience to dial it in properly - capable of some fantastic tones and textures though.


Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water - £299

Shallow Water is Fairfield Circuitry's most celebrated pedal - described as "Based on a traditional analogue chorus/vibrato circuit, the Shallow Water varies the delay and filtration created in relation to the input signal, simultaneously giving an old-tape-like warmth and sporadic flutters of pitch and modulation." It has legions of fans who love its organic nature - where control is effects courtesy of 6 mostly self-explanatory knobs - Rate | LPG (Low Pass Gate / Envelope) | Damp (Random Step Lag) | Mix | Depth | Vol. The two elements that need explaining are the LPD Envelope Follower and Recovery Filter along with the Digital Pseudo Random Step Generation of the second delay line - and controlled by the Damp function - which sculpts the organically variable nature of the chorus. There's some very clever DSP going on here which is central to the appeal and effectiveness of this effect which can sound beautifully organic yet otherworldly at times too.


Hungry Robot Pedals The Wardenclyffe Lo-fi Ambient Modulator - £219

'Knobs' seems to have a liking for these slightly more oddball choruses - as here is the 3rd quirky video in a row. The Wardenclyffe is supposed to emulate the sound of early audio recording with all those analog and organic 'noise' artefacts. It does his via a combination of 8 most self-explanatory controls - Depth | Wet (Level) | Dry (Level) | LFO/Glitch Switch / mode | Filter (clean / filtered signal blend) | Speed (Rate) | HP/LP (Hi-Pass/Lo-Pass Filters) | Pad (Below-the-mix ambient reverb). So you start by setting either LFO or Glitch Mode - faithful Sine Wave vs Warbly Sine Wave and then adjust other parameters to taste to warp and woosy the output signal and add some really pleasant near infinite sustain Reverb via Pad switch!


Paradox Effects Futura Multiparametric Envelope Chorus - €249

I'm a big fan of Mexican Pedal Builder Paradox Effects - in particular there Terran Low-End Re-Voicing Overdrive and Futura Multiparametric Envelope Chorus as featured here - both of those have been on by wishlist for the longest time but they're nigh on impossible to get on this side of the pond - frequently out of stock or otherwise accompanied by very considerable shipping fees - so I've not yet got my hands on either - but I'll stalk Spain's Mutan Monkey and Denmark's Fuzz Monster until I manage to get one - it's not right at the top of my wishlist, it actually currently sits after the Boss DC-2w for rotation duties for the Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl. The Futura adds an Envelope filter into the mix and some clever options for controlling the application of Rate and Depth along with swell direction - but more of that later. There are 8 controls here - 5 easy-to-understand knobs - Blend | Sensitivity (Filter) | Level | Rate | Depth - and then 3 toggle switches R|R+D|D (Rate/Depth), R Up/Down and D Up/Down (Swell direction). There are two footswitches - where the second one activates/disables the Envelope. It's not a huge change to the standard chorus/vibrato but it has significant impact here. I really like this one and will most definitely be adding it to the collection - but probably after I get a Boss Dimension C.


Raygun FX Ghosty Lo-fi Modulation - £89

The lowest cost and simplest option in this listing - as mentioned in the intro - you have just 4 controls at your disposal here : Depth | Speed | Mix knobs and a 2-way Shape Toggle (Sine/Square or Triangle/Square I assume). It is described as a Chorus/Vibrato/Tape Warble modulation - and that is precisely what it does - it obviously has none of the bells and whistles as such of these other ones here - but it sounds pretty great regardless. It's surprisingly versatile with those few controls and does a very good 'Come as You Are' per the above demo!


Zvex Instant Lo-fi Junky Vertical - £169

I keep forgetting that Chase Bliss Joel Korte worked at Zvex and that he was the author of the Instant Lo-Fi Junky - which is surely a precursor to his later Warped Vinyl pedal. This is obviously not quite so complex with 6 controls - Volume | Speed | Compression/Lo-fi | Tone | Depth - and 3-way shape toggle-switch Sinewave/Triangle/Square. The middle Comp/Lo-fi dial is the secret sauce here really which separates this one out - and it's another great sounding pedal of its kind. Considering what Chase Bliss, Paradox and Zvex are able to do with the compact format - I'm often at a loss why so many feel the need to go with the larger enclosure sizes. This one is not right up on the priority list - but as I mentioned, I really like all the Zvex vertical pedals and have made my mind up to pick those off one by one - so this will happen some day soon - but it will likely come behind the Warped Vinyl, Boss DC-2w, and Paradox Futura in the pecking order - still a fantastic pedal though.


Final Thoughts

Josh Scott's video featured here above - which is actually a really cool insight into this genre - even though I feel he is missing a few of the essential ones. My readers will know that I obviously have a preference for compact format pedals - so in this listing the most likely ones for me to acquire are the Warped Vinyl HiFi, Paradox Futura and Zvex Instant LoFi Junky.

 

I've already said that I'm more than happy with my MKII Warped Vinyl - so I won't be adding a HiFi version anytime soon - but if I find the Futura or LoFi Junky at decent prices I would likely swing for either or both of those - with a slight preferences towards the Futura - which is also going to cost me more though.

 

Of these others I've kind of been considering the Rainbow Machine for the longest time - it has never become a priority for me yet but it does hover around the wishlist quite frequently - so it may happen some day, just not any day soon. I've also always liked the sound of the Fairfield Shallow Water, but don't really like that form factor - don't know why they can't make it a vertical enclosure - or better still fit the circuit into a compact format. Finally, I also find the Champion Leccy Woozy an intriguing proposition - it's reasonably priced, but made in quite small batches and usually out of stock - so difficult to get hold of.

 

As always price and availability are significant factors in acquisition - and price can include things like shipping and customs charges - so the mathematics of each acquisition is significant. My likeliest additions here are still the Paradox Futura and Zvex LoFi Junky - which one do you readers like the look of?

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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