Much like my recent coverage on Flangers, and despite the fact that the Compact Enclosure is my favourite format, most of the Rotary action tends to be from the mid-size enclosure pedals featured here. I feel that for a proper Rotary sound - then Stereo output is a must - otherwise you don’t get the full spatial effect. I also look for pedals that give you the essential functional footswitch combinations for Fast, Slow, Brake, and Stop - which typically has dual footswitches as all here do.
I generally prefer full stereo ins and outs, while some here are mono-in > stereo-out - and the RotoChoir for instance makes use of a Y-split TRS cable on the output.
Back in the day when I first did my first research on this category - the final competition for me was between the bottom-right trio of Neo Instruments Mini Vent II, Strymon Lex, and Tech 21 NYC RotoChoir. For a variety of reasons I settled on the RotoChoir in the end as that seemed to have the most range and spatial dimension to it. Overall the Lex was probably the strongest candidate in terms of controllability - while I had issues with the Mini Vent for how you tweaked settings - using just the 2 footswitches and rear A-B voicing / Presets switch.
As my pedal-chain expanded I took to using the Josh Smith Rotary settings on the Eventide H9 - which is currently my Rotary effect of choice - and I weirdly use the H9 mostly for that one flavour! Since then we’ve seen a new RotoSpin from DLS Effects - more compact than before, a great new rotary from Fender - The Pinwheel, and the really clever Roctary from Nux Effects.
The EHX Lester K and Hammond Leslie G are still worthwhile contenders - while the Leslie G seems to have disappeared somewhat from UK dealers, but I note that it’s still available from Sweetwater. In the interim also the Tech 21 RotoChoir has alas been discontinued - where I was hoping for an updated version which tackled some of its weaknesses.
For my own preferences a state of the art Rotary pedal should really have the following controls and parameters :
You can go more advanced with separate speed, direction and Baxandall tone controls for both Horn and Drum - but that’s going somewhat outside the box. As I am though I still want to be able to exercise maximum control over the Horn and Drum, and their combined output - across the stereo spectrum. For me the proper vernacular is Horn and Drum, but some call them Tweeter and Rotor / Bass Rotor and other less precise terms.
Pedals are listed in alphabetical order by brand as usual :
DLS shrunk down its RotoSim to RotoSpin format - but maintained all the same controls as far as I am aware - just a more convenient medium-size form-factor. This actually happened 4 years ago, while to me it seems quite recent - funny how time flies!
The slimmed-down RotoSpin now contains 7 controls :
The pedal operates Fast/Slow modes via left-hand footswitch, right-hand footswitch is simply Bypass / On/Off.
The pedal has a single mono input, and two outputs for stereo effect - OUTB is the Brighter / Tweeter sound, while OUTA is largely the Thicker Bass Rotor / Drum sound.
A decent candidate which is though missing a couple of the essentials - but still sounds pretty decent regardless.
The EHX Lester-K is the smaller of its two Rotary offerings. This comes with full stereo ins and outs, while it only has 5 controls :
Right-hand footswitch is Bypass, while the left covers Slow/Fast Speed, and hold for Brake - as all should really!
This is a decent take, but obviously with slimmed-down controls. Bonus points for the functional 3/4 quadfecta on the left-footswitch, and the proper full stereo ins and outs.
I can't recall whether the Josh Smith Rotary Settings where instrumental in influencing my H9 Max acquisition, while they have certainly been influential in how I mostly use this pedal - which I believe I actually acquired for its Delays, Reverbs and Harmonising Effects primarily. In any case it suited my purposes to shed the Tech 21 RotoChoir from the chain - and take up use of the more versatile H9 Max instead - albeit at a different place in the chain.
The H9 Max is of course a full stereo ins and outs unit, but I have always found the on-pedal interface substandard without the 3rd party Barn3 OX9 snap-on frame. In fact I also use a Barn3 Tesla Single Auxiliary Switch for the Rotary Control - Fast/Slow, and hold for Brake.
You have 12 parameters to control - which Josh sets up as follows :
In some ways I would prefer a few more control parameters - per my above wishlist, but this sounds pretty stellar regardless and has most of what you would want - of course, and as ever, there is room for improvement - but this is for sure a great voicing - and the H9 Max has so much more to offer.
I've been comparing it of late to the Rotary on the Boss GT-1000 Core - which alas has no Brake function, but sounds almost as good - the H9 for me still very slightly has the edge for this particular algorithm.
This featured fairly recently in my coverage of Steve Mac's immense wall-of-sound pedalboard. And if gear-god Steve has it in his setup - you can be sure it's pretty decent. This is another full stereo ins/outs model - with expression jack too. It has 8 elegant controls :
Bypass is on the left-footswitch, while the right footswitch covers Slow / Fast / Hold for Brake. This is no doubt another worthy contender, but functionality-wise I'm not sure it has enough to be in the top echelon - very close though!
This has all but disappeared from UK dealers and in fact is now out of stock at Sweetwater too. There is also the larger Hammond Leslie pedal - which too seems to be out of stock - possibly these are discontinued now. We do have single mono input though and stereo outs.
There's only 5 controls on this pedal :
Left Effect footswitch is the On/Bypass, while the right-hand footswitch alternates Speed from Slow to Fast. This is really quite a streamlined variety - where much of the versatility comes though the different Cabinet / Mode selections. It's a cool and unusual take, and perfect for those who don't like too many controls - I personally would probably take the EHX variety over this - which offers more traditional controls - and includes the Brake function.
The smaller, simpler and more cost effective variety of what's probably still considered the best Rotary pedal out there - the £354 equivalent large original Ventilator with its multiple footswitches and controls. In contrast the Mini Vent dispenses with all controls bar an A-B Mode switch on the rear of the pedal, and just two footswitches on the surface - the left of which is the Bypass, the right is the Slow/Fast trigger, and you stomp on both to grind the effect to a Stop.
Mick Taylor of That Pedal Show loves this one, while he's rather using harmonic trem more of late for his swirly modulation - this is perfect for the plug-and-play brigade. The A-B switch by the way alternates between two programmable settings.
There are further modes of play / options available, but via a fairly tortuous route. You need to hold down the Slow/Fast switch on power-up to enter configuration mode - the two right-hand LEDs will alternate every 10 seconds to indicate that you're in configuration / presets / edit mode. You first select A or B bank via the rear button - and then essentially page through the different options using the two footswitches Slow/Fast moves you between options within a category, and Bypass moves you between the categories - Speed, Balance, Drive, Distance and Mode. Each option has a different mores-code of blinking lights - all rather too confusing if you ask me. I would have though this would best be handled by a blue-tooth interface - which would give you maximum configurability and ease thereof, while the pedal could still be very minimalist and entirely plug-and-play.
So this sound great and is incredibly simple if you're intending to operate from factory settings, but is rather clunky if you ever want to / need to change anything! I've been frustrated by similar clunky interfaces, and it sort of put me off this variety - even though it sounds amazing!
This is a really rather neat pedal which combines both Rotary and Octave Up and Down Effects - for the ultimate in barrel organ sounds! I've actually had my eye on this relatively inexpensive pedal for a while - while I really don't need another Octave pedal, and there are obviously better featured Rotary pedals in this selection. But this combination is still somewhat compelling. You have 9 controls here :
The left footswitch is the On/Off Bypass, while the right is the Fast/Slow mode trigger. Press down both to activate Brake effect.
I'm fairly hot and cold on this pedal - I've come very close to snapping one up, but have then gotten cold feet and walked away. This is still regularly on my wishlist, but certainly no major priority at the moment - a sort of nice to have.
his was actually funnily the first ever Strymon pedal on my wishlist - and has to be one of the longest standing ones that I've yet to hit the trigger on. This does nearly everything right - while it doesn't sound quite as rich and dynamic to me as the Tech 21 RotoChoir - I will probably get one of these eventually any way - as I'm so attuned to the Strymon way of doing things, I can instinctly get the very best out of those pedals. I also think I've pretty much tuned into Pete Celi's signature sound - so I typically know what to expect to a degree. This is a properly fully featured pedal with stereo ins and out, courtesy of TRS cable on the input, while the pedal actually has 8 controls, via secondary functions on its 4 knobs :
The left-footswitch is your Slow/Fast and Hold for Brake, while the righ-footswitch is the effect Bypass.
I really like this pedal as I like almost every Strymon - and this will likely be added at some stage - just not any time soon - not really a priority for me nowdadays!
This is certainly not exactly the perfect Rotary Speaker emulator, as it has several quirks as such - while I found it generated the most atmospherically stereo-dynamic output of all those I tried, and deliver quite a lot of additional range, while it did have certain shortfalls in other areas which might discount it for other players. I always hoped that Tech 21 would do an update where they sorted out some of those quirks - there's certainly space on the device for a couple/few extra controls to tackle the shortfall. This is understandably an acquired taste for some, while I always loved my unit - and it's still in the collection, while it doesn't get much of a rotation nowadays as such.
The pedal has 8 panel controls - 6-knobs, and 2 push-buttons, including a proper Baxandall Active EQ :
The two aspects that most annoy some users are he inability to set Slow Speed and Ramp Time - while I would also like to see a knob for balance - to the addition of 3 more controls - Slow Speed, Ramp Time and Horn/Drum Balance. I'm also kind of missing he Brake and Stop effects here - where we just have Fast/Slow on the right-hand footswitch. I would have wanted to have seen an enhanced and improved version of this pedal with the full quadfecta of footswitch control, 3 added parameter controls, and full stereo ins and outs. Stereo output here is achieved via TRS Y-Split cable, while it doesn't accommodate such on the input - unlike the Strymon Lex.
This is still in many ways my favourite here - despite its glitches and shortcomings - its full-fat Rotary flavour is just immense when you dial it in just right!
I still feel that pedal builders have some work to do here - and I feel that there is still an all-conquering giant to arrive on the scene one of theses days. And while many of these sound fantastic - each is also flawed to varying degrees.
And I still really like my RotoChoir, even though I don't use it much. I will probably snap up a Roctary at some stage, while the two strongest overall candidates here with every characteristic considered - are probably the Fender Pinwheel and Strymon Lex.
As I'm something of Strymon fan - and the fact that the Lex is the my longest standing wishlist entry still unfulfilled - I would hazard a guess that would land next - just ahead fo the the Pinwheel. The Mini Vent has lots of fans - while I'm a little OCD about my control interfaces - which also means that without the Bluetooth App and Barn3 OX9 frame - the H9 would be something of a usability dud for me/ In fact I only warmed up to the H9 after I saw some of my favourite players adopt the Barn3 framework.
There's obviously a range of prices and availability here - but I still believe there are 3 or 4 frontrunners here which will be the ones most gravitate towards.
Do you have a favourite proper stereo Rotary pedal?