I’ve been following Oriol and his El Garatge devices on Instagram for a while now, and have been aware of his smart Expression Knob in particular for a fair few months. Oriol is a desktop synth specialist and engineer who happens to own three of my favourite synths - the Teenage Engineering OP-1 (which is the only one I own), Korg Minilogue XD, and Access Virus. He’s one of those innovative musician engineers who is always looking to improve and innovate his environment - and each of his products delivers significant benefits for its application/s.
I have acquired three of Oriol’s most recent products to showcase here - in reverse chronological order of introduction. First the Automatone Magnetic Dust Cover, then the Expression Knob, and finally the Echo Knob - as follows :
"As a piano player I'm still surprised that I ended up being surrounded by guitar pedals. It was when I discovered Chase Bliss Audio pedals that I started to think that many devices could benefit from having more controls, sometimes functions that even the pedal builder didn't think of, so expression and midi inputs are great ways to expand pedals - and my first target when creating a new device."
"Despite the fact that my inspiration originally came from using Chase Bliss Audio pedals, my intent is that some of my devices can be used with as many pedals as possible, and help to make things more easy in some cases with the Expression Knob, or even more complicated if the user wants to, like using the Echo Knob on devices which are already somewhat complicated enough."
"The catalyst to creating and building each of my devices came from necessity, where I felt the user experience could be significantly improved, a process simplified, or just the ability to expand the prowess of a device with too few controls. Even the CXM/Preamp cover was a necessity for me, because when I connected the Echo Knob for the first time, I understood that any cover that wasn't detachable wouldn't allow the connection of my devices. Creating devices that I would personally like to use and actually need has been a key facet to bear in mind during my first year as a small-scale devices inventor."
I was one of those who missed out on the initial small batch of official CBA FaderShield Automatone Dust Covers - and it turns out that was actually a blessing in disguise - as I really prefer the innovations in Oriol's take on his Automatone Dust Cover. It has super powerful but tiny Neodymium Magnetic Hinges - which allow the Dust Cover to be both lowered / raised and easily snapped off as required.
The Dust cover is a slightly warm semi-opaque frosted 3D-Printed HD-PLA construction in two parts - it can be easily fixed in seconds and attached and removed via its magnetic hinges in and instant. If you flip it back with more than gentle force it can wobbly a little on those hinges - which otherwise remain firmly magnetically attached / connected.
For my liking this is a superior version of dust cover - with slightly more utility - and it's moreover much better value at €28 ($33) vs $80 (€67) for the FaderShield.
To my knowledge this is the smallest Expression Controller currently available anywhere - it has lots of smart applications, while there is a significant difference between Device Compatibility / Application, and 'Suitability' as I will endeavour to explain.
It works much the same as any expression controller - where you assign different parameter settings at the 2 extremes of its range - which equate to the Heel and Toe positions of a traditional treadle-style see-saw expression controller. Some Expression Controllers are more binary - while with the Expression Knob you get the full range of in-between granularity here right along the sweep. In many ways this can sort of work as a pseudo 2=Preset selector - where you have quite different settings on either side of the divide as it were.
When Oriol and I were trawling the universe for compatible pedals - the Alexander Pedals initially looked like a good fit - where the Expression jack can control 6 parameters simultaneously. While all of Alexander's Neo Series pedals already have a second Ramping / Neomorph footswitch which allows you to flip between relative Heel and Toe positions as such. Thus the Alexander Pedals are highly Applicable and Compatible - but where the Expression Knob doesn't necessarily give you the most benefit. You do still have the advantage of granularity though - if you want to target those in-between positions.
So our ambassador pedal for the Expression Knob changed from the Alexander Sugarcube to the Walrus Audio Julianna Deluxe Chorus - which does not offer as much Parameter Control as the Alexander Pedals - but as the Julianna has no second ramping or Neomorph footswitch - there the Expression Knob delivers more benefit. In specific you can control both Depth and Rate simultaneously - so less parameters than a lot of those pedals, but certainly more suitable.
It seems that the most suitable pedals turn out to be those with Digital Control Layers - where you can typically apply up to 6 Parameter Controls Simultaneously. By contrast we scanned though a number of Boss pedals - and while the Expression Knob is absolutely 'Compatible', it is entirely 'Not-Suitable' as Boss is only allowing control of a single Parameter at a time - which setting/s already has a dedicated Knob - so in such a scenario the Expression Knob is totally void of any real benefits. This takes out most analogue pedals - as those typically only have single parameter expression control!
Oriol has actually just updated the Expression Knob - where the plastic part is now elegantly textured and with an El Garatge 'G' ident stamped into its side - from a distance though it looks pretty much identical to its predecessor - all dimensions and tolerance remain the same.
We have a sort of rolling list of Compatible and Suitable [*] pedals - which is likely to get added to over time - here are your typical most likely runners and riders :
Brand / Pedals | (^X) Max Parameters | Suitability [*]
Generally pedals with digital control layers are more suitable - do let us know if you find additional 'Suitable' and beneficial candidates.
The Echo Knob is really a dual-mode LFO Modulator add-on / plugin which you plug into a suitable pedal's Expression socket to add oscillation to your pedal output. For the first LFO SHAPE MODE - you can select between 3 different Waveforms - Triangle, Square and Random and their relative degree of depth - where at the start of the shape the Depth is at Max intensity, and at the end of the Shape sweep it dimities to Minimal impact - per the following infographic :
So when you first plug the Echo Knob in - it is default set to LFO / Shape Mode - where you press the Red Button to Start/Stop the LFO modulation and the Knob adjusts the LFO Rate - where the LED pulses in time with the rate set.
To adjust the Wave Shape and Depth you press and hold the Red Button, while moving the Knob to the appropriate position for the required Wave Shape and Degree of Depth / Intensity. As per the diagram - start of the shape is Max Depth, end of the shape is Minimum Depth.
So in short at default the Red Button is Start/Stop, Knob is Adjust Speed, then Press/Hold Button and Move Knob for Shape and Depth!
To switch between the two Echo Knob Modes you rapidly double-press the Red Button.
The Second 'Echo' Mode effectively allows you to create your own LFO Pattern - you do this by Pressing and Holding the Red Button while moving the Knob appropriately - over a maximum recording time of 10 seconds.
One you let go of the Red Button the recording / pattern sequence ends - and you then use single Presses on the Red Button to Start/Stop - and in playback mode the Knob controls the Rate Speed.
Double pressing the Red Button flips the mode back over two the default LFO / Shape variety.
The Echo Knob, as well as covering those different LFO Modes, also can be utilised as a straight forward 'Expression Knob' - where you can simply deploy it in Heel and Toe positions - using the main knob - exactly like on the smaller device.
So in short the Echo Knob covers both its own specific more advanced LFO functions - as well as what the Expression Knob does - meaning that if you acquire the larger version - you have the best of both essentially!
Oriol has done an extreme amount of Echo Knob testing on Chase Bliss Audio pedals - including the Blooper, Thermae, and CXM 1978 in particular.
Use of the Echo Knob is largely more nuanced than the simpler Expression Knob as you need to determine when and where it is useful to add a modulation to a pedal's output. On occasions you might determine that said effect is only suitable where there is no LFO / Oscillator within that pedal's circuit - and you can add some really cool dynamic movement.
While at other times where you're feeling more experimental you might deliberately add a second LFO Modulation on top of a previously existing one.
So while a lot of the Brand and Pedal candidates are the same - per the above Expression Knob List - there is actually a somewhat more refined selection of applying the Echo Knob for maximum utility and usefulness.
Depending on the positions of your Pedals' Expression Sockets - the Echo Knob may not always be a suitable fit - to which ends Oriol also has a 'Female' version of the same - which you can connect with a TRS Patch Cable.
I'm still in the middle of some interesting TremStortion experiments with the Strymon Sunset - I will post back later findings and results of the same.
A cool pattern to recreate is what I call the bouncing ball effect - similar to what the Alexander Pedals Superball Kinetic Modulator - where you replicate the increasingly shorter bounce back of the ball - which sort of ends in an LFO trill. So slow languid spaced out movements initially with increasing rapid and smaller to-and-fro or left.right movements ending in a sort of crescendo.
In the meantime we would be very interested to hear of your own usage scenarios for the Echo Knob which pedals and how you deploy it, and if you've created any cool and interesting patterns? Most of its testing to date has been very much carried out on Chase Bliss Audio Pedals as referenced!
"I was already into 3D design and printing when I decided to get into musical devices, but I still had a lot to learn regarding material use - in order to build what became my eventual main product - the Expression Knob. The normal PLA plastic didn't have the look I wanted so I switched to SLA photosensitive resin, which consists of a process in two phases (printing and curing) that ended up consuming a lot of my time, and the reason why I finally decided to outsource that part of the production process - which is now a more rugged and textured take made with nylon, which I personally find beautiful and really tactile."
"As a software developer the programming of the Echo Knob wasn't a big challenge, but trying to add as many options without losing a good user experience took some months, in addition to the research and prototypes I did to ensure that it was compatible with both digital and analog pedals."
"One of my favorite ways to use the Expression Knob is with CBA Condor for example, adding the possibility to change frequency, LPF and mids value at once, drive engaged and sounds with long sustain while I play with the knob position. For the Echo Knob, one obvious choice would be to use it with a pedal that does not provide an LFO to get some tremolo sounds, but sometimes I use the Echo mode (recording) to change the pitch intervals of my Thermae only once in a while, by recording no motion except for a brief moment in which I set an interval. That way, most of the time it behaves like a normal delay with "sparkles" of other intervals sometimes."
I have ordered these devices / enhancements in order of complexity - with the easy bolt-on and snap-on Automatone Magnetic Dust Cover First, then the simple Expression Knob, and finally the slightly more complex LFO/Repeater Echo Knob.
The application of each becomes increasingly nuanced too - as the Dust Cover is an absolute and assured dead cert add-on for the CBA Automatone Pedals. Where for the Expression Knob - you need to define Suitability and Usefulness / Utility vs merely Compatibility - in terms of where you will get the most benefit.
For the Echo Knob you need also to let your imagination run wild for where you can cleverly apply the LFO Modulation to a pedal's output. So there will be lots of instances where you can - in terms of compatibility - where the bigger question is really fi you should - and how!
These devices generally haven't been in the wild for long - so they're still in a formative phase of acquiring specific patterns of use.
We have found that pedals with digital control layers tend to be more suitable candidates for the Knob devices - as you typically gave more parameters to control. While there's no point in deploying the Expression Knob on an analogue pedal which has only a single control parameter at a given time - like most of the Boss pedals.
There is already a community of users shaping up - while few have posted substantial examples of their usage scenarios yet. We are incredibly interested in seeing how that community adapts to those devices - and which end up as their favourite applications. If you have insights - don't hesitate to share them with us!
Of course all 3 devices are usually readily available via the El Garatge website - don't hesitate to connect with Oriol - and tell him Stefan sends his regards!