By Craig Anderton
The story so far: There’s this guy at Guitar Center named Barry Mitchell who is an effect fanatic (not fan, fanatic). Somehow, he ended up getting the “keys” to TC Electronic’s TonePrint “car,” and went to Denmark to collaborate on four pedals. Because he was able to dig pretty deep into the code that does the processing, the results were different from TC’s other pedals—so his pedal designs were created to be sold exclusively through Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend.
One of them, the Transition Delay, has already been released and as Phil O’Keefe is sometimes quicker at raising his hand than I am, he got to review it. But he’s also a nice guy, so he let me raise my hand first on Gravy, the second pedal in the series.
Gravy is based on TC’s TriChorus, so you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the chorus is great. But it also has vibrato, which really piqued my interest. I’ve been a fan of vibrato since I first played through a Magnatone amp (just think, if only they’d summed the straight signal with the vibrato signal, they could have invented the phase shifter!). Yet few effects seem to get it right—usually I have to adapt a chorus effect to get the kind of vibrato I want. (Here’s a tip for those who use plug-ins: run a dry signal in parallel with a chorus, and throw the dry signal out of phase. That cancels the chorus’s straight signal, and if you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a good vibrato sound.)
Okay, back to the pedal. We'll start with a QuickTake video for an overview; the soundtrack is all a single guitar through Gravy, with no other effects.
Gravy is a compact digital pedal with a small footprint. It runs off a 9V battery or an “Ibanez/Boss” type adapter (2.1mm, 9V, negative tip), but I highly recommend an adapter as the pedal draws about 85mA when active. There are three basic modes: TriChorus, TonePrint, and Vibrato, as selected with a small three-way toggle switch.
The bottom plate unscrews easily with any size coin (Fig. 1), allowing quick access to the battery; you can’t lose the screw, as a retainer prevents it from coming out all the way.
Fig. 1: Gravy with the bottom plate removed.
Gravy also has two pedalboard-friendly features, as embodied by two DIP switches that you also access by removing the bottom plate (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: The two DIP switches. The battery compartment is at the opposite end of the case bottom.
One selects between true bypass or a buffered output, while the other turns dry kill on or off for use in parallel effect configurations.
There are four controls: Speed, Depth, FX Level, and Tone (Fig. 3). These have different functionality for the Chorus and Vibrato options.
Fig. 3: The complement of controls includes four knobs and a three-way toggle switch.
Speed is the most similar in the two modes as controls the modulation rate, but its lower and higher limits are faster in Vibrato mode, which is as it should be.
For chorusing, FX Level controls the wet/dry balance. Depth controls the amount of modulation applied to the delay. The effect of the Tone control is subtle, but when turned up, gives a subjectively more pronounced chorus effect. I’m assuming that the term “TriChorus” refers to a chorus with three voices, which helps to explain the lush, rich character of the chorusing. Fewer voices give a less lush sound, while more voices tend to reduce the clarity of the chorus effect.
With Vibrato, FX Level controls the level of the processed sound only, so as you turn it down, the overall level becomes lower. Depth controls the amount of modulation, but unless my ears deceive me, it also offsets the available voices somewhat when turned up.
Tone seems to be about adding feedback. So for example if you want the most “vintage amp” vibrato sound, you’d turn down Tone, and turn up Depth until you hear the sound you want. For more of a rotating speaker effect, a moderate amount of Tone and pulling back on Depth does the trick.
Gravy does mono in/stereo out, stereo in/stereo out, and stereo in/mono out (Fig. 4); the stereo is true stereo, not something that sums the stereo inputs to mono and then generates a stereo field (although of course if you plug into only the mono input, the circuit does generate a stereo field to provide the stereo output).
Fig. 4: Gravy does true stereo in and out, but also works as a mono in or out effect.
However, Vibrato works a little differently. While still true stereo in and out, when you plug into the mono input the output remains centered in the stereo field. In other words, it’s not a stereo vibrato effect but does maintain imaging with a stereo sound source. For example, if you have auto-pan in front of Gravy, the mono vibrato effect will nonetheless pan in stereo.
I’m going to be lazy here, and cut and paste what Phil wrote about TonePrints for the Transition Delay review—besides, it’s an explanation that nails it.
TonePrints are customized presets, consisting of deep level edits to various effects parameters that would otherwise be set to a predetermined value or range by the pedal’s designer. These custom patches—many of which were created by famous players—can then be loaded into the pedal via its built-in USB jack (Fig. 5), or with the use of an Android or Apple smartphone, and completely change the pedal’s character. A delay pedal won't suddenly turn into a distortion pedal, but any TonePrints that are created for that particular pedal model can be easily loaded to change the .
Fig. 5: TonePrints from your favorite artists can be loaded through Gravy’s USB port via Windows or Mac computers.
One way to load a TonePrint into your pedal involves going to the TC Electronic website, downloading a small file, patching your computer to the pedal with the included USB cable (or any other USB cable—there’s nothing proprietary about the one included with the pedal), then opening the downloaded file. This creates an applet that lets you upload the TonePrint to the pedal, as well as compare the two most recently-loaded TonePrints. The other method is very Star Trek—you can “beam” the TonePrint through your guitar (or bass) pickups by using a free Android or iPhone app, patching the guitar into the pedal, initiating a transfer, and holding the phone’s speaker up to the pickups. You gotta love it.
Here’s what: TC’s architecture allows a huge number of under-the-hood variations, and the controls on Gravy are more like macros that control multiple parameters over different ranges. As a result, there are many more distinct sounds available from Gravy than from typical chorus/vibrato effects.
Furthermore, the controls interact (particularly Depth and Tone, but also Speed) so that slight changes in one control can produce a very different sound due to the interaction with other controls. While that may sound like it would make setting controls a touchy process, in reality the same technology that allows these variations allows tailoring the knob response to cover useful ranges. So for example, if you increase the Chorus speed, you don’t have to run to reduce the Depth control to avoid the “seasick/out of tune” effect. As someone who’s designed a lot of analog effects in my time, I would have loved that kind of flexibility during the design phase!
My two main impressions of Gravy are clean sound and ease of use. The chorus sound quality is what you’ve come to expect from TC; if you don’t know what to expect, watch the embedded QuickTake video—the soundtrack is various Gravy sounds with no other processing. But also note that those sounds are just a fraction of the available options, including some “out there” options if you try hard enough.
There are a lot of “sweet spots” with the various controls, and I also appreciate the true stereo in/out. That feature makes Gravy suitable for applications like insertion in a reverb bus to help “animate” the reverb (although that’s not the primary intention, so you’ll probably need to do some level-matching).
Gravy is an impressive pedal, and I can be pretty picky about pedal sounds. Although it’s conceptually simpler than a pedal like the Transition Delay, the reward is in the sound—which I would consider studio-quality in a compact pedal. Sure, the chorus is great, and I’m sure many people will get Gravy specifically for that sound. But don’t overlook the vibrato, either; it’s flexible and musically speaking, very smooth.
So now I’m curious what the next pedal in the series is going to be. I guess Phil and I need to be fair and let Jon Chappell check it out, but if he doesn’t raise his hand fast enough . . . that’s his problem, not mine.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.