I had meant to do this article a lot sooner as Banana Effects have been on my radar for a while - back to a time when they were much more difficult to get a hold of. Nowadays though they’ve struck up a distribution deal with Amazon.com and they are available via Amazon in most countries - all priced at the equivalent of $199 / £189. So price-wise these are definitely smack bang in the middle of boutique territory - yet their diminutive form factor belies a true richness of features.
There are currently 4 pedals in Banana Effects’ mini pedals range - the Abracadabra Shimmer Reverb, Aurora Pitch Shift Delay, Mandala Glitch Pedal, and Matryoshka Bass Synth. All of these have multiple modes - that number 8, and they can have as many as 9 controls on each pedal - which would most definitely have been inconceivable in all but the very recent past.
Of course these pedals undoubtedly use SMD and DSP technologies to cram all the functionality onto the PCB - and are as fully-featured as pedals many times their size. I’m not sure how well the Matryoshka functions with standard guitar output - but I will definitely be acquiring each of the other 3 ones - starting with the Mandala, as this is my ’Year of Glitch’ after all!
I obviously have options on my rig already for Shimmer Reverbs and Pitch Shifted Delays - so those would play far more incidental roles - while I feel the Mandala could feature a little more often. I tend to have just one or two ’Glitch’ pedals in my chain at any time (frequently none!), and these are by no means permanent fixtures - rather on the sometime rotation level. As with much of this ilk, I don’t necessarily find every single one of the modes provided essential, or fully usable even for my preferences, but the majority here comport themselves just fine.
The time has long-since passed when we would expect mini pedals to be mostly cheaper knock-offs. Nowadays there is some real next-level innovation going on at this form factor, and for certain categories - the mini equivalent is my preferred option! We are seeing an increasing amount of mini pedals nowadays made with the very best components - including custom enclosures and milled metal knobs - alongside still full THT construction.
Pedals are listed alphabetically by name :
A cool alternative to something like the Chase Bliss Audio Dark World (though not the same!) - with a series of otherworldly reverbs on-tap here, and clever icon-based control topology to connect appropriate variable parameter back to Mode. Really clever pedal-design here - both internal workings and control-topology / interface. Some really unusual but actually mostly very usable tones here :
9 Controls - 3 toggle-switches : Unlatch | Tail | Kill Dry; and then 6 mini knobs : CTRL1 Harmonix/Rate | Mode | CTRL2 Reverb / Depth / Feedback | CTRL3 Filter / Depth / Decay | Volume | CTRL4 Sensitivity / Octave
In the Pitch Delay stakes I was eyeing up the Chase Bliss Audio Thermae for the longest time before I settled on Meris' recent Hedra - largely because of that one's stereo abilities. In fact my Red Panda Particle V2 does really decent pitch-shifting as do my Drolo Molecular Disruptor, Pladask Elektrisk Fabrikat and Tomkat Cloudy - and chances are I will still probably get a Thermae in the end too - I'm just too big a fan of Chase Bliss Audio not to.
For a more diminutive version of those aforementioned ingenious pitch-shifters - the Aurora makes for a very tempting proposition. Again it's tiny dimension hide a grand scope of 8 handy pitch-shifting effects. It ovbiously does not have quite as many controls as my other pitch-shifters, but it still stands up pretty well in that company.
6 Controls - one toggle-switch : Tail On/Off; 5 mini knobs - Repeat | Mode | Time | Function | Volume
2019 was / is my declared 'Year of Glitch' albeit I'm such an eclectic that I get easily distracted by other equally shiny innovative pedals - and I'm still continuing my explorations into fuzz - a somewhat significant hangover form that '2018 Year of Fuzz'. In any case the Mandala is and has been one of my target Glitch pedals for the year - while other eventualities have conspired to push other preferences forward - so this pedal and at least a couple more of Banana Effects will most definitely extend that run into 2020.
My Glitch pedal quotient currently stands at 11 - as you will see in a forthcoming article on the subject. I have identified 5 further targets to round-up that particular selection - including the Mandala and a number of particularly hard to get rarities and limited editions. My big takeaway form the glitch format is that what most of them are missing is 'Presets' as it can take hours of patience to dial in a sweetspot - and sensitive knob ranges and tapers make it very difficult to dial in those perfect settings a second time!
6 Controls - two toggle-switches : Unlatch | Kill Dry; 4 mini knobs - Function | Mode | Time | Volume
And finally the Bass Synth edition - with its dual output mix feature - for interesting tonalities and textures in the lower register. And while there are a number of Bass Synth pedals that work admirably with regular guitar - in fact the recent EHX Bass 9 was specifically developed to deliver electronic bass sounds to regular guitars - several other bass effects are rather optimised for the lower frequency output of bass guitars and don't work so well with regular guitars. I am though familiar with a number of bass effects that actually work admirably well for guitars - various bass fuzzes in particular.
On this occasion I'm going to need to do a little more research on the subject - I also need to check out DSM Noiseworks' Sub Atomic CMOS Mini Bass Drive - depending on prevailing mood, current priorities, price and availability as always - I may just take a punt on one of these - and courtesy of Amazon - the Banana Effects are certainly easier to get a hold of!
8 Controls - 8 mini knobs : Mode | Sensitivity | Octave | Resonance | CTRL | Clean | Output 1 | Output 2
There are many out there that find mini pedals flimsy and inconsequential even - and some understandably can struggle with the tiny knobs and the very fine margins on the range and taper of those knobs. I've already mentioned that there are various remedies for the stability issues of minis - including the StompTrap pedal cradle and even Temple Audio's ingenious Templeboard pedalboards - which solidly fix and fasten pedals of any size.
I actually genuinely admire and value mini pedals for their often surprising 'large-pedal' prowess within those tiny confines. As a 'Pedal Tweaker' I am generally a fan of extended range - and banks of dials and switches - and the Compact form factor is my all-time favourite - particularly in Chase Bliss Audio's chosen format - although I believe even that can be optimised.
These particular Banana Effects challenge pedals of any size really - they might not have quite the alt / secondary functions of a Meris or Strymon, or Chase Bliss Audio's dip-switches - but they have feature sets far in advance of most other pedals of any size.
I've previously said that most players really love and already use mini boosts, compressors, distortions, fuzzes, loopers, overdrives and tuners in particular - while the Banana Effects would certainly be something of an acquired taste and challenge for some. My own favourite pedal enclosures top 3 probably go Compact > Mini > Vertical Medium - and as I've mentioned I have several favourite mini pedals - which are my preferred option in that category. With clever engineering there is almost no pedal that cannot be engineered into a mini enclosure - of course you can't fit in dual footswitches - so tap-tempo and and clever live playback control is problematic - while more clever footswitch control actions - latching, momentary, multi-press can give you extended range on the go.
Many will view these Banana Effects as something of a novelty - but they are fully relevant and valid wholly regardless of their size - more players need to be brave enough to take the leap!