T-Rex is the Danish manufacturer that creates all sorts of effects that cater to innovative and original guitarists. Theiir latest crop of pedals includes releases in four separate categories: delay, ambience, modulation and distortion. The pedals all share the same dimensions, footswitch layout, and price--along with the basic placement of knobs (though there are variations for LEDs and toggle switches). But they differ in the way they shape your signal. While showing enough uniformity to make it easy for guitarists to switch among pedals without confusion, T-Rex infuses these effects with novel and unique ways for guitarists to approach them. And the sound? Awesome and anything but uniform. Let's take a tour of this quartet of compact tone-shapers.
Everyone knows what a delay is, but "ducking" might require a little explanation. Ducking describes lowering the volume of one source in favor of another simultaneously occurring one. Picture canned music playing at a supermarket when an announcement comes over the P.A. The music is ducked—still heard, but softer—so that the spoken voice is louder, and therefore more prominent and intelligible. First done manually by burying the fader controlling the music, electronic circuitry made ducking automatic, and in versatile and variable ways (e.g., how drastically the first signal got reduced, its recovery speed after the second source ceases or recedes, etc.).
Musically, ducking is very successful when brought to digital delay, where playing loudly (the input) ducks the delay effect, and playing quietly allows the effect to be heard more. It’s a remarkably useful effect, because ducking follows the way we hear things in the natural world, psycho-acoustically. Loud sounds are prominent, soft ones reveal more of their ambient setting (whether natural or artificial).
The Duck Tail accomplishes its ducking through the Duck mode, one of the three offered by the Duck Tail (the others are Tape and Classic). The Sensitivity knob determines how hard you strike the strings before the delay effect ramps down. I found the control to be quite smooth, and that I could hover in the “sweet spot,” where I only had to vary my pick attack slightly to control the amount of effect. In other words, the melody line was still clearly discernible, but the delay sound could be brought in and out at will just through subtle deviations in attacks. This proved very effective for ethereal and lyrically played lines, especially with the Feedback and Time levels set high.
The four other knobs function the same as in the Classic and Tape modes. Delay is the mix of delayed and straight signals; Feedback determines the number of times the discrete repeat is sounded—from once to infinite loop; Time is the delay rate, from 10ms to 1,000ms; and Level governs the overall output. As is common to the other pedals in this series, the tap tempo and bypass switch occupy the lower edge of the unit. On the side is an Input Gain control with an accompanying LED that allows you to trim your incoming signal so that it won’t overdrive the circuitry.
CUT: The player defines a volume threshold so that playing louder than a certain level ducks the effect, while playing under that volume threshold allows the effect to be heard more prominently.
Although reverb is a feature on many amps, creative guitarists prefer to have theirs on a dedicated pedal for maximum control. T-Rex previously released the tube-driven Room-Mate, and now offers its lower-priced offspring, Room-Mate Junior, which is functionally identical, except for the absence of a tube-driven stage. Even without the tube effect, T-Rex’s reverb sounds amazing. The main controls are Mix (the balance of straight and effected signal), Decay (the length of the “tail,” which simulates the size of the space), Level (overall output), and Mode (Spring, Room, Hall, and LFO). The Room-Mate Junior also includes a Hi-Cut knob (sometimes thought of as a low-pass filter), which lops off the top end of an effected signal, to better simulate the response of a reverb sound in nature (it’s especially useful for taming the sometimes harsh artifacts of a spring reverb). Also included is an Input Gain knob, to ensure optimal level matching and curbing distortion. You would set this control differently, depending on whether you plugged straight in to the Room-Mate Junior or used it in an effects loop.
The sound of the Modes are ultra-realistic and will please guitarists used to classic and vintage spring reverbs, as well as those who demand the higher fidelity from the more studio-like Rooms and Halls. The biggest surprise, though, is the LFO setting, which marries a “modulated” sound similar to a chorus into the reverb sound itself. If you want a more animated and swirly sound in your reverb—but don’t want to devote a whole other stage in your signal chain—the Room-Mate Junior’s LFO setting is the ticket.
Basing its vintage tone signature on the original Tremster, the T-Rex Tapster add tap-tempo functionality—just the thing for varying the tremolo rate in a hands-free setting. The control layout here is simplified—three rotary knobs instead of the usual four—and it makes employing the Tapster a more visceral, performance-oriented experience. Set the Rate (speed, or frequency, of the trem), Depth (how intense, or the difference between the loudest and softest parts of the signal), and Volume for each song. Then you just step on the On/Off switch to bring the effect in and out. The Tap switch determines the tempo based on any two foot taps by the player. All of that is fairly standard on a tremolo pedal, and the Tapster employs them with straightforward logic and intelligence.
What is not standard, and a welcome plus, is the employments of a rhythmic subdivision mode, in the form of a three-way toggle switch. This determines whether the repeats are in quarter notes (one repeat per beat, or foot tap), eighth notes (two per tap), or eighth note triplets (three per tap). Shorter rhythms, such as 16th notes or 16-note triplets, can be obtained simply by tapping the switch twice per beat. I wish the Tapster, being a guitar pedal, included the dotted-eighth subdivision, which would allow for the famous “cascade” effect made popular by Van Halen, Albert Lee, and others. But having rhythmic subdivisions in a compact pedal format is as welcome as it is unusual, allowing for complex arpeggio and percussive patterns in your music.
I believe tremolo is under-utilized by guitarists, and the Tapster—with its musical tone—should be tried and heard by all guitarists looking for a new arrow in their modulation quiver. Setting the Depth at about 11:00 and the Rate at about 2:00 produces a warm, Leslie-like sound, owing to the Tapster’s lushly vintage processing. Turn up the Depth to about 1:00 and employ the Tap Tempo switch to give any rhythm guitar parts or sustained pads more motion, whether you seek a subtle pulsating or driving arpeggiation.
For a dual-distortion pedal, the Mean Machine is as about as straightforward as it gets in its controls: Two vertically oriented channels with three parameters each: Level, Drive, and Tone. The top-to-bottom arrangement makes perfect sense (it’s easiest to change the top-most Level control with a toe, if necessary, which is exactly right), and each distortion circuit has its own footswitch. The channels are mutually exclusive, which means you can have either Channel 1 active or Channel 2 active, but not both. Stepping on a bypassed channel while the other is active immediately switches to the new channel, allowing for instantaneous transitions between channels (as well as instant on/off for either of the two channels). The tone controls double as LED status light.
Tone quality in a distortion pedal is largely subjective, but a good clue here is found in the name itself: Mean Machine. This box is definitely voiced toward the harder edge of music, even when its controls are set mid-way. With Drive at about 11:00 or 12:00 and the Tone to anywhere below 12:00, you get a nice throaty sound that’s perfect for power chords and single-note riffs in the low register. Moving the Drive and Tone past 12:00, there’s plenty of increased grit, but with enough definition in three- and four-note chords to hear the middle voices speak clearly. Crank the Drive, put the Tone to about 2:00 or 3:00, and you’ve got that more modern triple rectifier sound for searing lead work. No matter how radically I separated the two channels in their settings, a certain organic quality tied them together. This made transitions—both sonically and from a performance aspect very smooth—and it usually meant my amp settings could be set-and-forget. It meant I could derive everything from bluesy rhythm crunch to face-melting leads with just the settings on the Mean Machine.
T-Rex’s top priority is delivering excellent sound, in a way that is both classic and new. In this new series, the sounds retain their excellent signature, but are packaged in novel and musical ways, all in a useful and compact format. Use any one of the Duck Tail, Room-Mate Junior, Tapster, and Mean Machine and you’ll augment your sound. But when used in combination, you get the benefit of a consistent interface across multiple pedals, and the cumulative effect of the T-Rex sound, which is well more than the sum of its parts.
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).