I meant to share this article sooner, but my schedule and commitments for last week kind of filled up particularly quickly - there’s just so much going on at the moment with lots of new pedal releases - that I’m a little late with this one. It has however given me time to do some further analysis on the pedal and hopefully provide some more useful insights to those still on the fence about acquiring one of these.
This pedal is very much at the opposite end of the scale to the recently featured Strymon NightSky Reverb - that one being highly complex to use with 18 overall controls and some 4 additional secondary functions - plus of course an 8-step Reverb Tail Sequencer. By contrast the Albie - named after Grant’s cat Albert - is the very picture of simplicity - where its 2 controls actually conceal a tonne of underlying complexity and intricacy. The pedal is very much designed as an instantly gratifying plug-and-play style device - where the only things you need to decide on is which preset you deploy, and at what level of blend.
We were first exposed to the Albie back at the 2019 Summer NAMM - per my below roundup visual from that time. Where for me the Albie was one of the stars of the show. Grant and his team of collaborators thought they had near perfected the pedal then, but much like for the Wampler Terraform - it took a year of calibration and refinement to get the pedal to its actual final perfect version - and boy did all that extra work pay off!
The original pedal concept was originally proposed by Joe McCaffrey - long-term friend and collaborator of Grant's. It was initially intended to encompass the sounds of the late 70's and 80's (Post-Punk, New Wave and Jangle Pop) with just a single algorithm and Blend knob.
This organically evolved to Joe and Grant selecting their favourite bands and tones from that era - obviously with a fair smattering of Chorus and Reverb in a lot of cases - and the favourites from that overview were then distilled down to 8 favourite effects chains / presets. My most obvious frame of reference here is The Cure - as for me the Albie is a perfect encapsulation of many of The Cure's core celebrated sounds in particular!
Grant and Joe needed someone to programme those sounds for them and so got in touch with Ryan of Dr Scientist who sort of volunteered his own chief digital engineer / programmer Neil Graham. And Neil has done an outstanding job here - not just in the composition and balance of those effects-chains / tone-clusters / effects-stacks - but how each of the separate elements balances over the sweep of the Blend dial. This could have gone wrong in so many ways - and could have been executed in so many different shades of distinction - but Neil seems to have got the formula pretty much spot on - with maintaining an incredible balance and musicality throughout the range - and with different component parts of the effects mix becoming more evident at different levels of Blend - just really clever next-level stuff.
I've tried to discern each of the algorithms by ear below - to the best of my ability - so do note that these are rather approximate values of the key standout elements that I'm able to pick up on, and I may be overlooking one or two elements in places which I'm simply not able to distinguish sufficiently clearly - like subtle use of Compression for instance. I feel that by and large I've captured most of the more significant / key elements in each mix - but there are some subtle nuances I'm likely overlooking - so don't take this as gospel. In fact I think the whole approach here is not to detail or fully reference what's in each effects stack - as the intention is for you to simply play by ear and select whichever mode best appeals to you at the time.
And while there are 8 modes clearly visible on the pedal, each of those has an alternative 'Neil Mode' which is typically a little more full-on, and usually accentuates and maxes out one of the elements in the effects mix or else adds another distinctive complementary flavour. So for an example the 'Neil Alternative Mode' for #6 is a sort of full-on almost crunchy Uni-Vibe sounding effect. The Neil Alternative Modes are engaged by holding down the footswitch while in the relevant core Mode. By default the Neil Modes are applied in Momentary fashion - for as long as you hold down the footswitch, but if you press-hold on power-up, you can switch to 'Ultra Neil Mode' which enables latching deployment of each of those Neil Modes.
These therefore are the key elements of the 8 core modes as far as I can discern :
In effect you could classify this as a type of Reverb pedal to a larger degree with additional modulations - as that is what most of the algorithms seems to be about. Like I said above though - I think the point is not to think to much about what each 'Recipe' as such consists of, but just to let each Mode inspire a different style of playing - where the only things you really need to decide on is which Mode, Core or Neil, and at what degree of Blend.
This is one of those classic inspiration machine style pedals which just sounds great immediately out of the box - and which takes no effort at all to get stuck into. It's price tag of $199 is very fair for all the variety and quality it delivers - and this is for sure something I will be adding to the collection fairly soon. I'm not sure where it actually fits in within my complex pedal-chain, but I feel I would just rotate this in - in place of one of my existing core analog modulations most likely - whichever feels most appropriate at the time.
Big Ear Pedals is another great Husband and Wife team in the mould of so many other great builders - including of course Ryan and Tanya of Dr Scientist. Grant Wilson is the chief pedal-junky / wrangler, and his designer partner Karen Schierhorn is responsible for the look and feel, or stylised typographic aspect of these pedals. Big Ear was initially Big Ear NYC, but since being decamped to Nashville is now simply Big Ear Pedals.
Most, including me, know Big Ear best for its exemplary WoodCutter ProCo Rat sort of clone, while the range is typically fairly streamlined. Several of the former Big Ear Pedals have been discontinued (Bean, Chaka, Frank, Lucky, Shake, Z-Delay etc.), and there are now just 5 pedals essentially in the core range - with the Betty White and Black Betty Mini Fuzzes just being colour-variations of the same circuit - which I believe is based on the One Knob Colorsound Fuzz. The Elle is a really elegant Reverb, and the Loaf is more of a classic / vintage fuzz but with a significantly beefed up bottom-end.
I'm obviously a major fuzz fan - and I've already highlighted the WoodCutter in my recent Rat-Style pedal roundup. I would imagine that I would eventually acquire most of these pedals. Generally I like my Reverbs to be stereo - so the Elle doesn't hold as much appeal for me - but all the others here are very much fair game. I'm really hoping we will have a UK Big Ear Dealer in place fairly soon to give some more access to this brand on this side of the pond. Big Ear Pedals are typically in short supply - with little or nothing available on Ebay or Reverb.com. Meaning you need to go direct to the Big Ear Web Store for now.
The Albie is certainly a really unique proposition and actually a really smart and quite brilliant execution overall - I have a feeling it will do rather well for Big Ear.