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The Best Phaser Pedal:

A Replete Buying Guide

 

by Bobby Kittleberger

(adapted by TEAM HC)

 

 

 

The best phaser pedal, if you go by popularity, might be the MXR Phase 90.

If you agree, then I’ve just confirmed your preference and saved you some time.

Otherwise, here’s a complete list of what we’ll recommend and review:

 

Best Phaser Pedal List

 

  1. Boss PH -3 Phase Shifter
  2. MXR Phase 90
  3. Red Witch Analog Deluxe Moon Phaser
  4. DigiTech SP-7 Stereo Phaser
  5. Empress Effects Phaser
  6. DOD Phasor 201
  7. MXR Phase 100
  8. Ibanez Tone-Lok PH7
  9. Keeley Phase 24
  10. TC Electronic Helix Phaser

 

We’ve chosen these phaser pedals because of reputation, features, and sound quality (without regard to price). Because there are fewer phasers on the market, price is less of a concern and not our focus.

Whether or not it’s wise to go with one of the more expensive options, truly depends on your situation and playing style; we’ll talk more about that later. But before we get there, I’ll go techie about what the phaser effect actually is and what makes one good or bad.

 

What is a phaser pedal?

A phaser, in its most basic form, is an electronic sound processor, or a filter, which takes an input (your guitar) and outputs a “wet” signal that’s characterized by a waveform made up of peaks and troughs.

If you go to the Wikipedia page, the image they use (the blue one) is typically how the waveform is represented.

Further, you can hear the ebb and flow of the effect when you listen to it, thus the peaks and troughs descriptor becomes obvious.

Here’s how it works.

 

How a phaser pedal actually works -

 

First, you play something on your guitar - perhaps, something “phaser-friendly.” The intro riff for “The Warmth” by Incubus will do nicely:

…go numb, but there’s a cold wind coming from…

 

Upon entering the pedal the signal splits into two parts:

  1. The first is treated with an all-pass filter or a “stage.”
  2. The other is left “dry” or unchanged

 

The original signal (from your guitar) gets divided into two parts.

 

For the signal that flows into the all-pass filter, there can be any number of stages, as shown in the following diagram:

 

The all-pass filter diagram for phasers, showing  number of stages.

 

At the end of the signal, where the two paths are rejoined, the frequencies that are out of phase (created by the all-pass filters) meet with the in-phase signal, which creates the effect output. By changing the mix, or the ratio of in-phase signal to out-of-phase signal, you can alter the effect's intensity.

 

Speed or “rate” is the primary control involved with any phaser pedal, which you might notice is the only control on the Phase 90:

A lonely speed knob on the MXR Phase 90. | Flickr Commons Image courtesy of Roadside Guitars

 

In fact, it’s not uncommon for phaser pedals to be limited to a speed knob and nothing else. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a low-quality pedal; other controls might include a level, wet/dry mix, or a depth knob. These are common characteristics of other modulation effects as well.

 

What about the number of filters?

 

The number of all-pass filters in a phaser circuit will vary widely.

In analog phaser pedals, you’ll typically have less than eight, while digital versions can simulate a much larger number of stages.

The correlation between the sound of the phaser and these stages can be mathematically defined as n/2, where n is equal to the number of stages in a circuit. This means that a phaser pedal with eight stages would pass through the circuit once and produce four troughs.

Digital phasers will often allow you to dial in the simulated number of stages via a control knob, like the Boss Phase Shifter:

Digital phaser pedals like the Boss PH-3 often allow you to dial in a simulated number of stages.

 

 

Does the “analog is better than digital” rule still apply?

 

In a word (and in my opinion), no. The “analog is better” rule applies to many guitar pedals, particularly delay because of the authenticity associated with the early tape delays. Phaser pedals are a bit different because the effect is more often associated with the digitized music era. Furthermore, digital phaser pedals will usually offer more customization options, while analog phasers are often limited to just a speed or rate knob.

Take the EHX Phase Shifter, for example:

The EHX Small Stone phaser pedal with a rate knob and color switch.

 

It’s a decent-sounding pedal but has only one control option aside from the color switch. That’s not to say there aren’t analog phaser pedals out there that give you more control (we’ll cover several), but they’re not the norm, and are often more expensive than their digital counterparts.

In total, I’d offer four general reasons for tolerating, or even preferring, digital phasers:

  1. More control options
  2. Sound quality is comparable to analog (in most cases)
  3. Popular in the “digital age”
  4. Often have tempo (tap) control options (like the PH-3)

 

How much should I spend for a good phaser pedal?

 

Like I said, we’re not discriminating against phaser pedals based on price. However, your specific situation and musical leanings should inform and determine what kind of phaser pedal you buy.

Let’s give our dilemma some context.

The PH-3 is usually around $100, while some of the other boutique and analog phasers go up to $200 and above. Because the phaser pedal is such a common and standardized effect, those who would consider themselves “casual” users should avoid going too much over the $100 mark.

 

 

I suppose you could be “phaser pedal poor.” | Flickr Commons Image via Fritz Ahlefeldt

 

On the other hand, someone who expects to use the phaser pedal a lot, making it an integral part of their sound, would be justified in spending $200 and beyond. However for most musicians, a phaser will be useful only in certain situations. While it’s a great effect to own, it’s not worth over-spending if you aren’t planning on using it a lot.

Let’s jump in with some of the obvious choices first:

 

1.  Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter:   $105

 

We’ve already covered a lot about the PH-3, the most notable being its ability to simulate different stages.

Here’s a full list of control options:

  1. Rate
  2. Depth
  3. Res (resonance)
  4. Stage Selector (with additional FALL, RISE and STEP modes)
  5. Expression pedal support
  6. Tempo setting ability

The RISE and FALL modes create a type of uni-directional phase effect, where you hear the sound going up over and over again or down over and over again, instead of the traditional sweeping pattern.

Here are a few settings from the PH-3’s manual:

Settings and suggestions for the Boss PH-3 from Roland’s official Boss effects guidebook. | Image via Roland

You can set the tempo via the tap functionality or use an expression pedal for real-time control of the unit’s speed.

Here’s a list of additional, compatible devices:

  1. AC Adapter (PSA Series) $24
  2. Expression Pedal (Roland EV-5) $67
  3. Footswitch (FS-5U) $29

Like most Boss pedals, this one comes with a five-year warranty and weighs less than a pound.

It’s also compatible with bass guitars.

The Boss PH-3 picks up the “Great for Bass” tag. | Image via Roland

 

This is the go-to phaser pedal.

The sound quality is exceptional and they give you the equivalent of a phaser Swiss army knife, all for $105 in a little green box.

Further, it’s an updated version of the Boss Super Phaser (PH-2), which Mike Einziger owns two of.

Need I say more?

Mike Einziger loves Boss phaser pedals enough to buy two of each.

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FEATURES: Stage Simulation / Expression Pedal Support / Tap Tempo

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2.  MRX Phase 90:  $80

 

MXR was founded in 1972 and furnished the Phase 90 shortly thereafter in 1974.

The trademark is now owned by Jim Dunlop.

Since buying the rights to MXR’s brand, Dunlop has released three different versions of the Phase 90:

  1. Original “script logo” version
  2. Block logo (primary) version with 9V adapter option and LED indicator
  3. EVH (Eddie Van Halen) signature model

When MXR originally produced the pedal, there was no LED indicator or power option - you had to use a battery. Maybe that’s why they went bankrupt before being bought by Dunlop; it’s got to be tough to sell pedals without those features.

 

The Current MXR Phase 90

Today’s version of the pedal is still fairly basic, with only a speed knob and the engage button.

Here’s a quick look from the owner’s manual:

Sample settings for one knob? | Image via Jim Dunlop

 

I can’t help but find it a bit comical that they include a list of sample settings where the last one is labeled YOUR SETTING with a blank white circle. So yes, it’s simple, but the analog circuits give off a warmth and richness to the tone which has been used on a number of recordings over the years.

Some of the most notable artists include the following:

  • Eddie Van Halen (of course)
  • Jerry Cantrell
  • Slash (Saul Hudson)

At one point, Slash used the script version (a Jim Dunlop reissue) of the Phase 90, which can be seen on his board via the guitar.com rig diagram:

A shot of Slash’s pedalboard back in 2011. | Image via Guitar.com

 

In Moshcam’s interview of Ace (Slash’s guitar tech) he mentions that Slash uses the effect only in a few situations.

Ace showing us Slash’s pedalboard and the MXR Phase 90.

 

It also looks as though Slash has abandoned the script logo reissue in favor of the generic “block” logo version.

 

What does it sound like?

 

Jim Dunlop’s “formal” demo video is fantastic, and does a great job of presenting and exploring the pedal’s sound and tonal spectrum.

You can really hear the warmth in the peaks and troughs. There’s also a clear and distinct “swooshing” sound that you can hear through the thickness of the effect. It’s a basic modulation tone, but it’s done right and at $70, it’s easily one of your best and most straightforward choices.

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FEATURES: Speed Knob / Analog Circuitry

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3.  Red Witch Analog Deluxe Moon Phaser: $230

 

 

While it’s pricey, the Moon Phaser from Red Witch does give you some added control to an analog phaser pedal by mixing a typical phase effect with a type of tremolo.

Allow me to decrypt the oddly-named control knobs:

  • Velocity (phase speed)
  • Trajectory (depth or wave form shape)
  • Cosmology (six-way switch - three different phasers, two tremophase modes and one for just tremolo)

So a more accurate way to describe this pedal would be a two-in-one phaser and tremolo pedal, which the reviewer from GuitarProShop.com is calling “tremophase.”

If you go to the Moon Phaser’s home page, you can actually control the pedal knobs and sample all the sounds.

You can demo all the pedal’s functionality on the Red Witch website. | Image via Red Witch

 

Other Features

The pedal supports stereo use with a second output and gifts you with a true bypass circuit, which you’d expect at the high price tag.

 

But should I spend this much?

There are some features here that you don’t get elsewhere. If they’re high on your list of “must-haves” they might make the $230 worth it. Here’s what should really matter to you when it comes to this pedal:

 

1: True bypass

Many phaser pedals don’t come with true bypass, which is a hallmark of most boutique guitar pedals.

If this is high on your priority list, the Moon Phaser is one of just a few options that will satisfy.

 

2: Analog with more control

Again, I can’t tell a significant difference between the analog and digital phasers. If you can, and you want the added control, it might be Moon Phaser or bust.

 

3: The tremolo add-in

The tremolo add-in is a part of the cost increase, simply because Red Witch can market it as a two-in-one unit. If that aspect doesn’t interest you, the high price tag starts to look especially gloomy.

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FEATURES: Tremolo add-in / Analog Circuitry / True bypass

 

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4. DigiTech SP-7 Stereo Phaser: $230

 

 

The setup here is similar to that of the PH-3: a digital phaser with three controls and a total of seven phaser types. The controls are:

  1. Speed
  2. Depth
  3. Modify

The depth knob is essentially a wet control, allowing you to adjust the mix between the effect and clean signal.

The Modify knob has different functionalities depending on what phaser type you’ve selected.

Here’s a shot of the modify knob controls for each one, per the user manual:

 

Knob functionality chart for the DigiTech SP-7. | Image via DigiTech

Those types include the following:

  1. 2 Stage and 4 Stage
  2. 10 Stage
  3. Modern
  4. Boutique
  5. Envelope
  6. Dynamic

 

Number 1: 2 Stage and 4 Stage

The 2 Stage setting is really subtle, more ideal for faint melody and rhythm playing than anything else.

In fact, there’s little motion in either the 2 or 4 Stage setting.

They both sound vintage and subtle.

 

Number 2: Modern

The modern knob is basically the 4 Stage type with more defined sweeps, similar to what you hear on a lot of Incubus tracks.

 

Number 3: Boutique

This mode is a vintage mimic, similar to the Phase 90.

Cuts and sweeps are more intense, though can still be mellowed out by the rate knob and feedback control.

 

Number 4: 10 Stage

Ten Stage is a heavy phaser effect with deep sweeps.

More depth means that the feedback from the Modify knob becomes a lot more pronounced.

Turning the Modify knob up almost give it a tremolo-like quality.

 

Number 5: Envelope

Envelope adds a sweep effect over what sounds like a wah pedal locked in the middle position.

The Modify knob controls the sensitivity of the sweeps.

 

Number 6: Dynamic

This mode is similar to the 10 Stage sound, though in this case you have control over the sensitivity. To my ear, the difference wasn’t terribly significant, especially during routine, melodic picking patterns.

The sensitivity control shows through a bit more on rhythmic strumming patterns.

 

Other Features

DigiTech throws in true bypass and stereo outputs to sweeten the deal.

If it’s between this and the PH-3, I’d say go with the PH-3 for a few bucks less unless you’re really crazy about a few extra modes you get with the SP-7.

Here’s a full list technical specs, including battery life and I/O summary, straight from DigiTech’s website:

InputSeparate                        Left and Right ¼” Unbalanced             (Tip-Sleeve)

Input Impedance                  1 MOhms (stereo), 500 kOhms (mono) --  Effect on

Output                                        Separate Left and Right ¼”           Unbalanced (Tip-Sleeve)

Output Impedance              1 kOhm -- effect on

Controls                                     Speed, Depth, Modify, and Effect Type              knobs

Switches                                   On/Off foot switch

Power Supply                         9 VDC, 630mW consumption, 70mA                 draw

Battery Type                          Single 9 VDC

Battery Life                            5.25 hours

Power Supply                        120 VAC, 60 Hz           Adapter: PS200R - 120

     (US and Canada)

Power Supply                        100 VAC, 50/60 Hz Adapter: PS200R - 100

     (Japan)

Power Supply                         230 VAC, 50 Hz Adapter: PS200R - 230

     (Europe)

Power Supply                         240 VAC, 50 Hz Adapter: PS200R - 240

         (UK)

Dimensions                             3.5″ Width x 5.5″ Length x 2.25″ Height

Unit Weight                            1.3 lbs

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FEATURES: Seven different phaser modes / Analog circuitry / True bypass

 

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5.  Empress Effects Phaser: $350

 

 

Before we get into the gory details of all the different sounds this pedal is capable of, let’s take a look at the highlight reel.

Our favorite features include:

  • All-analog circuitry that’s controlled by a digital microprocessor (best of both worlds)
  • Expression, MIDI, and external audio controllable
  • Eight selectable waveforms
  • Tap tempo

It is one of the most expensive phaser pedals I’ve seen at $350.

 

Power Input                                     Voltage 9 - 18 V DC (Negative tip)

Power Input Connector            2.1 mm barrel connector (Negative tip)

Power Consumption                   ~120 mA

Enclosure Material                       Die Cast Aluminum

Input connector                              1/4″ Jack

Output connector                         1/4″ Jack

However, I'd conclude that the price is justified when you consider its capabilities.

The biggest selling point would have to be the analog circuit that’s digitally controlled, which makes room for all the control, unique tones, and tap tempo inclusion.

This is also one of the few phaser pedals where I could really hear the analog circuits making a big difference. It just sounds better, more warm and sleek than the others on this list.

 

The Eight Waveforms

If you look on the front of the pedal (right beneath the bypass and tap switches), you can see details on all eight waveforms:

Detail of the waveforms and modes for the Empress phaser. | Image via Empress Effects

 

You get a predictable blend control for adjusting the overall wet/dry mix of whatever effect you’re using, a stage selector (2, 3 or 4 stages), and a gain knob.

 

 

The Mode Switch

If you look at the top, right-hand side of the pedal, you’ll see a mode switch with three options:

 

The mode switch options on the Empress phaser. | Image via Empress Effects

 

  1. Tap
  2. Knob (speed/ratio)
  3. Auto

The Tap and Knob options (predictably) allow you to control the tempo of the pedal by using either the tap button or the speed knob, which is also pictured above.

Auto mode reacts to your picking pattern, which is one of the unique ways to use this pedal. Whenever you pick a note, the phase peak will run until you hit the string again at which point it will drop down and then start back over. It’s like an Auto Wah, expect with a phaser swirl.

There’s an additional switch to control resonance with the following options:

  1. Little
  2. None
  3. Lots

Empress even throws in a convenient control for setting the functionality of an expression pedal, should you choose to use one.

 

 

Square Wave Mode

While the tonal scope of this pedal is far too wide to address here (check the Empress homepage for demos and sound clips), I do want to mention the square wave mode.

Square wave mode can be selected by turning the waveform knob to either the seventh or eighth spot.

The square waveforms on the Empress phaser are numbers seven and eight on the waveform knob. | Image via Empress Effects

This causes the phase sweep to go into a hard stop before beginning again, thus you get a square wave shape instead of the typical series of parabolas.

The result is an almost delay-like phaser sound that can be controlled by the tap tempo.

You can hear it at about 5:45 of the ProGuitarShop demo video.

They aptly describe it as a “percussive” sound, due to its rhythmic and delay-like quality.

While there are plenty of more conventional sounds to be sampled here, I liked the square waveform because it’s a unique, yet useful mode that you wouldn’t expect to find in a phaser pedal. I’m also a bit of a delay junkie.

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FEATURES: Eight waveforms / Tons of control / True bypass / Knob, tap or auto mode

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6.  DOD Phasor 201 Analog: $50

 

 

I’ve always appreciated the old DOD pedals, like the envelope filter and EQ boxes they used to make. The Phasor 201 is a newer generation model from DOD (now a DigiTech-affiliated brand) and a handsome alternative to the more expensive options on this list. It’s similar to the Phase 90 in setup.

 

Dimensions                    4.68” x 2.63”x 2.25” (L x W x H)

Weight                              ~0.62 lbs. / 0.281 kgs.

Input                                 (1) ¼” Instrument

Input/Impedance       470k Ohm

Output                             (1) ¼” Instrument

Chassis                             All Metal

Power Supply               9V Alkaline Dry Battery; PS0913DC power supply

 

Analog circuitry and the lone speed knob make an appearance here, but for $30 less than the MXR Phase 90.

In Sweetwater’s demo video, Matt Calder makes the observation that the pedal is highly usable at all speed points, which I would agree with.

 

 

Even with the knob cranked or dropped all the way down, the phaser effect produced is warm and doesn’t sound too hectic or overtly warbled.

It’s a simple, low-cost solution, perhaps ideal for someone who uses a phaser sparingly or only in a few spots of a set list. DOD throws in true bypass as a nice bonus.

 

The 201 or the Phase 90?

To be honest, I can’t tell a bit of difference between the two in terms of sound quality.

They’re both analog with one speed control, so technically-speaking there should not be a lot of discrepancy.

It’s possible that DOD is just willing to take a smaller profit margin than MXR, which would make sense, considering MXR’s long-standing popularity and the success of the Phase 90.

My bet is that it’s like the generic brand of acetaminophen compared to Tylenol; they both accomplish the exact same thing with the same level of effectiveness. Yet, one costs less.

If you want a low-cost, basic phaser to use here and there, the 201 will do just fine and you’ll save $30.

 

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FEATURES: Speed knob / Analog / True bypass

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7.  MXR M-107 Phase 100: $120

 

 

The “big brother” of the Phase 90 also happens to be far less popular. It’s intended to make up for the lack of control the Phase 90 offers, which is done by adding an intensity knob next to the familiar speed control. The intensity knob is a four-position rotary switch, allowing you to select four different waveforms.

Here are a few sample settings from the manual:

 

Setting recommendations from the Phase 100 manual. | Image via Jim Dunlop

 

Notice there’s no empty white circle for “your setting.”

Good move, Dunlop.

The circles you see on the pedal itself represent the depth of modulation, while the arrow represents the width of sweep frequency:

 

Circles equal depth and arrows equal width. | Image via Jim Dunlop

 

The amount of flexibility this creates is surprisingly broad. You can go from deep warbling effects to smooth peaks and cuts, none of which can be as clearly defined in the Phase 90. The thicker circles can almost give off a vibrato effect if you turn the speed up, similar to what you can achieve on the Empress and Red Witch phasers.

 

This or the Phase 90?

 

The Phase 100 is middle ground between the Phase 90/DOD 201 and the Empress/Red Witch boutique phasers. If you’re happy with a speed knob and don’t envy the more advanced controls, don’t bother with the Phase 100. On the other hand, if you like the detail and flexibility of the more expensive phaser pedals but don’t want to unload $200 or $300, the Phase 100 could be a nice compromise at $120.

 

A Couple FYIs

 

From what I can tell, the Phase 100 is not true bypass and is run off digital processors instead of analog circuits.

I wasn’t able to find any information one way or the other.

  1. No true bypass
  2. No analog circuit (all digital)

What that usually means is that they’ve gone with the less popular of each variable, non-true bypass and digital signal processing.

While these aren’t deal-breakers (at least not for me) they might be a disappointment, especially when all you really get (compared to the Phase 90) is the four intensity knob modes.

 

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FEATURES: Intensity selector / Speed knob

 

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8.  Ibanez Tone-Lok PH7: $70

 

 

The main problem I have reviewing these Ibanez pedals is that Ibanez no longer makes the Ton Lok series. In fact, they’ve been off the formal market for a long time, having survived on used sales. That said, though, you can still get your hands on them easily via Amazon, eBay, Reverb or even Musician's Friend in some cases.

Let’s start with the basics first. For controls, you have the following four knobs:

  1. Speed
  2. Depth
  3. Feedback
  4. Level

 

There's also a mode switch simply marked “1 and 2.” Without being able to consult a manual, the difference between these two modes seems to be one of effect depth or thickness, where mode two is just a much heavier phaser, almost like an added wet/dry mix knob or an additional stage. In the first mode, most of the controls have a more subtle impact and don’t change the signal drastically from one extreme to the other.

You can dial in the typical classic phase or the warbling effects, depending on how you’ve set the speed and depth.

 

The Locking Controls

 

The most popular trademark of the Ton Lok pedal series is what they’re named after.

If you press down any of the control knobs, they actually drop into the pedal and lock into place, meaning you can set your dials and then keep them from getting bumped or moved.

 

 

The PH7 knobs locked into position. | Image via Skifmusic.ru

 

While I like these pedals for the price (they’ve always been decently affordable) the knob-lock feature has always seemed a bit gimmicky to me. Perhaps the knobs on my other pedals just don’t change on their own.

Is that a real problem? I guess it depends on who you ask.

 

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FEATURES: Locking controls / Two phaser modes

 

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9. Keeley Phase 24: $180

 

 

From Robert Keeley himself:

 

“The Keeley phaser is for players that like delicate nuances.”

 

The Phase 24 is a boutique-style analog pedal that uses two JFET transistors to create two and four-stage phasing. Keeley is able to market the pedal as a “nuanced” phaser, primarily because of how subtle it is in the two-stage mode. It’s meant to steer away from the heaviness that often comes with modulation effects and replace it with a more airy and ambient tone.

 

 

The guts of the Keeley Phase 24, exposing the dual FET transistors. | Image via Keeley

 

You have three ways to adjust the pedal:

  1. The stage switch (2-stage or 4-stage selector)
  2. Depth control
  3. Rate control

The depth control knob is a bit deceptively named, since it controls the pedal's wet/dry mix.

Hiking the rate knob, particularly in the 4-stage mode, is reminiscent of the Phase 90, in as much as it provides a lot more warmth and definition.

 

The Phase 24 picture on Robert Keeley’s website. | Image via Keeley

 

Using the two-stage mode with the two knobs at 12 o’clock definitely embellishes the “nuanced” aspect of this pedal as it can, at times, be difficult to discern whether you’re hearing the phaser effect at all.

Personally, I find this to be a fantastic feature. A lot of times my clean tone just needs something and I find myself falling back on a digital phase effect to add some thickness. And while not all other phasers are “over-saturated,” it’s nice to see one that’s made specifically for people who want to use a phaser in this manner.

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FEATURES: 2 and 4 Stage Phaser / Analog / True Bypass

 

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10:  TC Electronic Helix Phaser: $120

 

 

While the Helix is capable of subtlety, it’s a far more dynamic phaser than the Keeley offering. There are no stages listed, but you do have three modes to choose from:

  1. Vintage
  2. TonePrint
  3. Smooth

Vintage mode is the most nuanced, which reminds me of the analog sounds of the Phase 90 and the Keeley 24. Bumping up the mix and feedback knobs creates a deeper and more intense effect. The feedback knob in particular is more sensitive than what you typically see on other phaser pedals.

TonePrint mode allows you to control the pedal from the TonePrint app or engage the settings that you have stored to the pedal (more on that below).

Smooth was my personal favorite. In this third mode, the depth you get from each peak almost has a flanger-like quality, which can be heard even with the knob at a lower depth setting. This is gives the Helix a unique phaser tone, before you even get to the Tone Print shaping features.

 

TonePrint Enabled

 

TonePrint is an interface built by TC Electronic that allows you to manipulate the tone and settings of your pedal from a computer program that’s PC, Mac and iOS compatible.

The main selling point of TonePrint is input from a number of popular guitar players, allowing you to use “their” tones. Among them are John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert, and Devin Townsend.

While the idea isn’t bad, the outcome gives off more of a marketing scent than any kind of practical usefulness.

 

The TonePrint interface allows you to connect your pedal via USB to a tone-shaping application. | Image via TC Electronic

 

Plus, I think there is such a thing as too many options.

TonePrint is another level of control over your settings which allows you to, in a sense, control what the knobs on your pedal actually do.

Here’s a lengthy video of the interface if you want to checkout the details:

 

 

It’s unique, for sure. Yet, I haven’t ever felt like I needed more control over a phaser pedal with four knobs and three different modes. So, I wouldn’t rate the value of this pedal based on TonePrint. I’d be more interested in it with a delay or distortion pedal.

 

On the phaser, it’s a cool feature, but one that I think most players would be unlikely to use all that often. Since the Helix pedal itself is so good, the TonePrint additive is a moot point.

 

A couple other features worth noting are true bypass and stereo I/O.

 

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FEATURES: Unique and usable tone / TonePrint enables / True bypass

 

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Bands and guitar players that use these phaser pedals

 

At some point the phaser went from being an Eddie Van Halen classic sound, to a favorite of guys like Einziger and Marcos Curiel. There’s nothing “vintage” about those dudes.

Today, the effect is most often used as a way to decorate short guitar fills and melody lines.

And while you may hear the sound on an album, it doesn’t always mean that the guitarist goes around with a phaser on their pedalboard. In many cases, a phaser effect will be added in production. But, for pedalboard inspiration, here are a few guys that keep (or used to keep) a phaser with plenty of velcro:

 

Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter

 

Stephen Carpenter drops an MXR EVH Phase 90 near the end of a complex pedal circuit:

 

Part of Stephen Carpenter’s pedalboard from 2011. | Image via Guitar.com

 

Carpenter eventually switched out his entire pedalboard for a patch system, which you can see in Premier Guitar’s rig rundown:

 

Stephen Carpenter’s patch system that replaced the full, analog pedalboard. | Image via Premier Guitar

 

So he no longer travels with a full complement of pedals like you see in the diagram, favoring instead to have everything patched in.

 

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood

 

Back in 1997, near Radiohead’s heyday, guitarist Jonny Greenwood ran an EHX Small Stone analog phaser pedal at the front of a second pedalboard.

 

Jonny Greenwood’s second pedalboard back in 1997. | Image via Guitar.com

 

The many Radiohead sounds come from a variety of sources, though Jonny’s guitars and gear have remained relatively unchanged through the years. In the diagram, the Small Stone phaser is the first stop for his guitar’s signal.

 

Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl

 

Back in 2000, Dave Grohl used an MXR Phase 90 on a simple pedalboard which went straight into an amp selector.

 

A look at Dave Grohl’s fairly simple pedalboard from 2000. | Image via Guitar.com

 

Not much has changed as you can still spot his phaser, old Boss delay, and Whirlwind A/B selector.

 

Grohl’s board has remained relatively unchanged over the years. | Image via PMTOnline

 

He’s not known for heavy effects use or for making many changes to his rig. Perhaps he’s learned from the guy he used to play drums for.

 

 

Where to place a phaser pedal in your effects chain

 

Let’s chat about phaser pedal placement:

Before we look at conventions, we should first understand that there are no “rules” when it comes to your effects chain. There are best practices and good advice (which I’ll give you), but there’s never a set-in-stone method.

Now, our conventional wisdom:

The phaser, which is classified as a modulation effect, is typically placed near the back of effects pedal chains, close to the amplifier. In this example from Boss, the Flanger serves as the de facto modulation box, representing phasers and chorus pedals as well:

 

Boss places modulation effects (phasers) near the back of the chain, but before delay. | Image via BossUS

 

Personally, I would move the Compressor, EQ ,and Noise Suppressor to the back of the line, with a chain that looks like this:

AMP / Noise / EQ / Comp. / Delay / Modulation / Distortion / Wah / GUITAR

This of course assumes a typical guitar - pedal - amp rig diagram and doesn’t take into account the possibility of a rack-mounted processor, dual signal chains, and effects loops.

The phaser effect (and modulation in general) is subtle enough to fit anywhere on your board.

Keep it behind the distortion and wah.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry.

 

Phaser Pedal Settings and Best Practices

We’ve already seen a few settings examples from the manuals.

I’d like to post a few more ideas to help establish some phaser pedal settings conventions and best practices. Let’s start by revisiting the MXR Phase 90:

 

 

On most of the analog phasers we can simply cut speed back for a more classic vibe. I would add that low speed settings are also good for a subtle covering over just about any melodic run.

Here’s another look at the settings we listed earlier for the Boss Phase Shifter:

 

 

Vintage settings here show a low stage count (4) and a high depth knob with a variable (to taste) rate settings. I’d still advise keeping the rate low, since the faster speeds tend to sound overtly chaotic on most phasers.

Let’s look at the quick-start settings for the Empress phaser:

 

Quick start settings for the Empress phaser. | Image via Empress Effects

 

You might call these the “garden-variety” settings for the Empress phaser.

It’s going to be a classic-style phase, with speed and width both moved past 12 o’clock.

Here’s a shot of the sample settings for the Phase 100 from MXR:

 

 

The Phase 100 gives us a variety of ways to utilize speed at low, medium, and high settings.

As always, phaser pedal settings are a matter of taste.

However, these can give you some places to start and help direct you towards helpful conventions.

 

Phase Pedal Use: Considerations before you buy

In a lot of situations, your use for a phaser will be limited unless you just really like the phaser sound.

As I’ve explained, a lot of modern guitar players use it as a subtle additive, particularly when the note-count of a lick is low.

Having an effect makes simpler melodies seem more full and interesting. Otherwise, it’s not an effect that you’ll likely use for long stretches.

Before you decide how much money you want to spend, it would be wise to think about how and when you might actually use a phaser. If it’s the typical "here and there," you’re better off not spending too much - go with one of the phaser pedals under (or near) $100.

If you plan to use it all the time, a heftier investment like the Empress or Red Witch offering might be in the cards. Just plan ahead so you don’t end up with a $300 investment that, for the most part, collects dust on your pedalboard.

 

Your Thoughts

 

Do you have thoughts about our best phaser pedal list?

How about inclusions or exclusions?

Let us know what you think about it in this thread at Harmony Central

 

Could you use more gear help?

 

Producing “great tone” is a worthy pursuit, but not always an obvious one.

We all own a unique collection of gear that seems to sound different all the time. That’s normal, but still something we need to learn to deal with. We need to learn our gear.

If you want to access some resources that will help dealing with a specific tonal pursuit, piece of gear or other questions related to your rig, I’d recommend giving Guitar Tricks 14-day free trial a test run - there’s no obligation and you have nothing to lose - except two free weeks of one of the most comprehensive and thorough guitar education websites in existence.

For a full rundown of the membership benefits and plenty of screenshots, checkout Guitar Chalk's  Guitar Tricks review.

 

Resources

 

Jim Dunlop. Jim Dunlop USA. Web. 22 Mar. 2016. <http://www.jimdunlop.com/files/manuals/M101_man_WEB.pdf>. 

“MXR.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MXR>. 

“MXR Phase 90.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MXR_Phase_90#cite_note-2>. 

“Deluxe Moon Phaser.” Deluxe Moon Phaser. Red Witch Pedals, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2016. <http://www.redwitchpedals.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13&Itemid=22>. 

“Hardwire SP-7 Stereo Phase Owner’s Manual.” STEREO PHASER (2008): n. pag. Harmanpro.com. DigiTech. Web. 22 Mar. 2016. <http://rdn.harmanpro.com/product_documents/documents/284_1349992803/SP-7_Manual_5024341-B_original.pdf>. 

“Phaser.” Empress Effects. Empress Effects Inc., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://empresseffects.com/products/phaser>. 

“DigiTech Phasor/201 (2013).” DigiTech Guitar Effects. DigiTech, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://digitech.com/en-US/products/phasor-201-2013#artists>. 

“Jonny Greenwood’s Rig.” The King of Gear. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2016. <http://thekingofgear.com/jonny>. 

“How To Sound Like Dave Grohl: Gear Guide & Tips.” PMT Online. Professional Music Technology, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2016. <http://www.pmtonline.co.uk/blog/2014/11/18/how-to-sound-like-dave-grohl-gear-guide-tips/>. 

Taylor, Phil. “History of Delay.” Effectrode. N.p., 06 Jan. 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <http://www.effectrode.com/echorec-3/history-of-delay/>. 

Stafford, Sadie. “Music in the Digital Age.” The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications • Vol. 1, No. 2 • Fall 2010 Music in the Digital Age: The Emergence of Digital Music and Its Repercussions on the Music Industry (n.d.): n. pag. Elon. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/academics/communications/research/vol1no2/09staffordejfall10.pdf>. 

“Dunlop Blog » MXR 40th Anniversary: A Short History.” Dunlop Blog MXR 40th Anniversary A Short History Comments. Jim Dunlop USA, 5 Mar. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <http://www.jimdunlop.com/blog/mxr-40th-anniversary-a-short-history/>. 

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Aaron H. Warren

 
 To Buy Phaser Pedals Go To:
 
 
 

 Guitar Center

 

Used with the express written permission of Guitar Chalk

 

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Bobby Kittleberger is Guitar Chalk's founder, CEO and a staff writer for Guitar Tricks. You can hit him up on Twitter or shoot him an email to get in touch.

 
 
 
 
 
 
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alex_becky  |  December 29, 2016 at 12:55 am
Great List!
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jbreher  |  April 25, 2016 at 3:24 pm
Poking fun at an early-'70s' pedal design for lack of LED nor power jack is kinda misguided. Power jacks on pedals were a rarity, and LEDs were unheard of.And unless the Phase 100 has undergone a complete redesign since its heyday (also the '70's, though I guess the complete redesign is not altogether too unlikely in the years hence), it would be 100% analog. Digital was unobtainium back in the day.
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