Fender Effects Part 2
By Phil O'Keefe |
Fender Effects Pedals Part 2
In part two of this three-part review, we check out The Bends Compressor, Santa Ana Overdrive and Mirror Image Delay
by Phil O'Keefe
Effects might not be the very first thing you think of when someone mentions Fender - their long history of amplifier and guitar innovations have far overshadowed their admittedly inconsistent effects output, but Fender has announced plans to change that. They've released a new series of all-original pedal designs that they feel can go head to head with anything out there. In part one of this three part review we began by examining three of the new pedals in Fender's exciting new pedal line - the Level Set Buffer, Marine Layer Reverb and Pugilist Distortion. This time, we'll be looking at another three - The Bends Compressor, Santa Ana Overdrive and the Mirror Image Delay. Let's see if they're as cool as the other pedals from the new series that we checked out previously.
What You Need To Know
- All of the pedals in the new line feature original designs - they're not clones of anything. With the exception of the Santa Ana Overdrive (which was designed by amp design legend Alex Aguilar) the pedals in the new series were designed by Stan Cotey, Fender's VP of Product Innovation.
- As I mentioned in part one, all of the pedals in the new series have several features in common with each other, so instead of repeating myself, we'll look at those features first before digging in and looking at the specifics that are applicable to the individual pedals.
- All of the pedals are housed in anodized aluminum enclosures (red for the Santa Ana Overdrive, blue for the Mirror Image Delay and black for The Bends Compressor) that are both road-ready tough and yet still relatively light in weight. The Bends Compressor is in a smaller housing that measures 2.75" W x 2.5" H x 4.9" L and weights .9 lbs while the Santa Ana Overdrive and Mirror Image Delay are larger, measuring 3.75" W x 2.5" H x 4.9" L and weighing in at 1.2 lbs each.
- The input and output jacks are side mounted, and laid out in such a way that the plugs won't get in the way of the plugs of the pedals placed next to them, which lets you place them closer together for a tidier, more compact pedalboard layout. Input impedance is 1M Ohm for the entire line, while the output impedance is >10k Ohm for all of the pedals.
- The lamps that are used to indicate when the pedals are active are smaller versions of the classic Fender jewel lamps that have been used on their amps for decades, and each pedal uses a different colored lamp to make identifying them easier, even in the dark. The Santa Ana Overdrive has a red jewel lamp, while the lamp on the Mirror Image Delay is blue. The Bends Compressor has a two-color lamp (white and pink) and varies in the color it displays, depending on the pedal's current operating condition - with white being displayed when the pedal is active but isn't actually compressing, and pink showing when it is actively compressing. It can also turn red briefly when you first power it up.
- Each of the three pedals has illuminated indicators on the knobs so that you can always see how your controls are positioned, even on a pitch-black stage. These LEDs can be turned off with a switch on the rear of the pedals - this can be handy if you're using batteries to power the pedals and want to reduce the current draw and increase the battery's useful life.
- Speaking of power, you can use either a 9V battery or an external power supply. No battery or power supply is included, so you'll need to provide your own. All of the pedals feature industry-standard 2.1mm center-negative power receptacles on the rear.
- The battery compartment on all of the pedals is located right at the front end. It has a spring-loaded hinged door that's permanently attached (no parts to get lost!) and that magnetically latches - you don't need any tools, or even have to pull the pedals off of your pedalboard to install new batteries, which is a very cool feature.
- A red LED on the battery compartment door illuminates whenever the batteries are dying, so you get a visual indication of when they need to be changed - it's a small touch, but very helpful.
- The power requirements vary from pedal to pedal, and are noticeably lower if you disable the onboard LED indicators for the controls, as I mentioned earlier. The Santa Ana Overdrive needs a minimum of 120 mA @ 9V DC and 130 mA with the knob LEDs turned on, the Mirror Image Delay draws 72 mA @ 9V DC with 138 mA total current consumption, while The Bends Compressor draws 15 mA @ 9V DC, with a total current consumption of 60 mA. Make sure you unplug the input jack to turn off the battery when you're not using the pedal, and also consider turning those LEDs off if you're using a battery to power the pedal to maximize battery life.
- The Bends Compressor is a compressor that's equally well suited for use with both guitar and bass. It excels at leveling out your playing dynamics, increasing sustain, and can even be used for boosting the overall level of your guitar for clean solos.
- There are a total of four knobs on The Bends Compressor. Drive sets the amount of compression that will be applied to your signal. Higher settings on the Drive control make it easier to trigger the compression circuit, so you can also think of it as a threshold control.
- The jewel lamp color changes to indicate when compression is actually occurring, changing from white (pedal on) to pink (compression active) to give you a visual indication of what the compressor is doing. This also aids in setting the knob positions properly.
- The Recovery knob can be thought of as a release control - it sets the amount of time the compressor takes to return to a non-compression state once the signal has stopped and/or is no longer exceeding the threshold point where the compression kicks in.
- The Level control sets the overall output level of the pedal and allows you to compensate for the compression circuit's gain reduction using the make-up gain from this control. It can also be used to boost the overall signal level beyond unity gain when the pedal is active, which can be useful for giving your clean solos not only more sustain, but a level boost too.
- Finally a Blend knob lets you get the benefits of parallel compression by allowing you to mix in some of your dry / uncompressed signal along with the compression. This allows some of your unprocessed signal to be audible along with the compressed signal, giving you back the sound of some of the pick attack, and provides you with a much more natural sound than using the fully compressed signal exclusively. The inclusion of a Blend knob is a very useful feature that vastly increases the utility of any compressor, and it's nice to see that Fender included one with The Bends.
- The Bends Compressor uses true bypass switching.
- The Santa Ana Overdrive is the one pedal of the six under review in this two-part write-up that wasn't designed by Stan Cotey - this versatile overdrive was designed by Alex Aguilar. You might associate his name more with bass-related products, but he's also a guitarist, and well-respected designer, and he's come up with a real winner here.
- The Santa Ana Overdrive uses a FET-based overdrive circuit, and it benefits from their more tube-like characteristics. The overdrive is sweet and very touch sensitive - the pedal cleans up readily with adjustments of your guitar's volume control. Lightly overdriven to very heavy crunch is possible with this pedal.
- While the Santa Ana Overdrive is powered by a 9V battery or external power supply, an internal charge pump increases the internal operating voltage and stabilizes it, which according to Fender gives better performance from the FETs, and a more tube-like sound.
- There are two footswitches on the Santa Ana Overdrive. The one on the left is for bypassing the effect.
- Speaking of bypass, you have two options - either a buffered bypass or a relay based true bypass. These can be selected using a small switch on the back end of the pedal, near the power jack.
- The second footswitch activates the Santa Ana Overdrive's built in boost circuit. This can be set for either pre-overdrive boost, or post-overdrive boost, with pre-drive boost giving you more grit and distortion, while the post-overdrive option gives you about a 6dB boost in volume level, which can be useful for solos.
- The pre/post overdrive boost options are also selected with a small switch on the back of the pedal. Very bright LEDs on the top of the unit light up when the boost is engaged, with separate LEDs for pre (Drive) and post (Level) boost, so you can tell which one is selected without having to look at the switch on the back of the pedal.
- When the Boost footswitch is activated, the appropriate Boost LED will remain lit up, even when the main bypass itself is engaged, so you'll always know the status of the boost.
- The Santa Ana Overdrive is a knob-rich dirt pedal. You get the expected Drive and Level controls to set the amount of overdrive and the pedal's output level, and these operate as you'd expect, with a wide range of dirt and output levels available.
- Where most dirt pedals typically offer a single tone control, the Santa Ana Overdrive gives you four knobs, including individual bass, midrange, treble and presence controls. All of these controls work as you'd hope, and it's very easy to dial up just the sound you're after.
- Ever notice how some amps seem to work better with effects pedals than others? Fender did too, and so they've included a nifty Voice toggle switch. In the A setting it works great with classic American amps such as my beloved Princetons, while the B setting offers an alternative voicing that many will find more suitable for use with British amps. I definitely preferred the B voice option with my Marshall Class 5 and Vox AC15 amps.
- The Mirror Image Delay is a digital delay, but don't tell it that. It thinks it's an analog delay, or a tape delay… or a doubler.
- There are three main delay algorithms. These can be selected with a toggle switch. There are also A and B Variations of each (selected with a second toggle), giving you a total of six different algorithms. You get two analog BBD style delays with modulation; one has inverted polarity on the modulation for more flange-like warbles on the echoes. You also get two tape style delays (one more heavily bandpassed and distorted than the other) and two digital delays, including a straight ahead digital delay and a cool doubler / double track emulator. All of the options sound very good.
- Maximum delay time is algorithm-dependent, but to give you an idea of the Mirror Image Delay's capabilities, Digital, Variation 1 offers a range from 20 ms to about 900 ms.
- A third toggle switch gives you Dotted 1/8th Note delays. When it's engaged a second delay is added that kicks in with a delay time that's roughly 75% of the main delay time setting.
- There are a total of five knobs. Time sets the delay time, and again, the range depends on which delay algorithm you have dialed up.
- The Level knob controls the volume of the delays themselves, and how much of it is blended in with your dry signal. When it's fully counter-clockwise you won't hear any delay at all. When dimed, this gives you a roughly 50/50 mix of dry signal and delays, with both being roughly equal in volume… at least until the delays start fading out.
- Speaking of fading out, you can set how quickly that happens with the Feedback control, which lets you set the number of echo repeats from one (with the knob fully counter-clockwise) or two (if you're using the Dotted 1/8th switch) to a long trail of them at the highest Feedback settings.
- You also get Rate and Depth controls. For most of the algorithms and variations these function as controls for modulation, although with Digital Variation 2 (the doubler), the Depth knob instead controls the amount of randomization for the delay, making for a more realistic and less static, artificial and predictable sounding double-track effect.
- For players who want to run the Mirror Image in a parallel effects loop, a rear panel Dry Kill switch removes the dry signal from the output entirely, leaving only the sound of the repeats.
- The Mirror Image Delay uses buffered bypass switching, which has the advantage of not abruptly stopping your decaying echoes artificially when you bypass the pedal. Any delays that are happening when you hit the bypass switch will finish decaying naturally.
- I wish that the Mirror Image Delay had a second output for stereo. Many guitarists don't bother running stereo rigs - especially live - so this won't be a major concern for many players, but for people like me who love stereo, it would be a really nice addition.
- There's no tap tempo function on the Mirror Image Delay either, although the dotted 1/8 switch's inclusion almost makes up for it.
- The Mirror Image isn't capable of runaway feedback, so while it's bound to be a very popular delay with many musicians, it does leave the more experimental and noise-oriented players out; if you want to play the delay as a instrument itself, you'll probably want to look elsewhere.
- The LEDs are very bright - even the secondary LEDs on the Santa Ana Overdrive are really bright. Fender says they've corrected this, and new units that are going out to dealers have dimmer LEDs.
- You can get a bit of hiss when you dime the Presence, Treble and Drive knobs on the Santa Ana Overdrive, but if you're doing that, you should expect to get some hiss!
- I wish The Bends Compressor also had an attack control to let me dial in the exact attack time I'd like, but hey, that's just the recording engineer in me talking. The Blend control is the next best thing since it does allow you to blend in some of your uncompressed signal for more attack when you want it.
- You can get a bit of chatter and distortion with the fastest Recovery settings on The Bends, but Fender points this out in the manual and it's considered normal behavior.
The Bends Compressor has a couple of features that are somewhat uncommon on guitar and bass compressor pedals. I really like how the LED changes color to give users a visual cue as to when the threshold is exceeded and compression is active. This feature makes it a lot easier for users who are less familiar with compressors to dive in and use The Bends. The Drive control lets you determine how gently or hard you want to hit the compressor, and although you don't get an attack control, the Blend knob lets you adjust the balance of unprocessed guitar mixed in with the compression, so it never has to sound heavily squashed - unless you want it to.
I like the Santa Ana Overdrive's richness and detailed sound, and the EQ section goes way beyond what you'll find on most other pedals, giving you a lot of flexibility in shaping the tone. Kudos to Fender for including the useful boost; even better - giving users the ability to put it before the overdrive for more grindage, or after the overdrive for a volume boost. It's also cool that you get a choice of buffered or true bypass switching. The LEDs are wicked-bright, but that's really the only complaint I can make make about this otherwise outstanding overdrive.
The main criticisms that I have about the Mirror Image Delay will probably only bother a small percentage of other players because not everyone needs tap tempo, not that many guitarists run stereo rigs, and many players would actually prefer a delay pedal that can't be accidentally set in such a way as to cause it to feed back. Outside of that, the Mirror Image is a sweet sounding digital delay pedal that also does very credible analog BBD and tape delay emulations.The doubler algorithm (Digital, Variation 2), complete with its user-variable amount of delay randomizations using the Depth knob, is an uncommon yet interesting and useful sounding option too. I love the way the modulation section offers some variations from algorithm to algorithm, and having six different types of delay algorithms gives you a nice selection to choose from. The dotted 1/8 switch will no doubt be very popular as well.
All of the pedals in the new lineup from Fender that I've tried seem to be sturdy and well-built, and should withstand the knocks and bumps that musicians can occasionally dish out. Best of all, these are not "me too" clones or poorly designed circuits - they're great sounding all-original pedals that do their intended jobs very well. The other thoughtful features, such as the magnetic battery door with the low battery power LED, the staggered output and input jacks and the lighted LED indicators on the knobs are just cool bonuses that show that Fender really put some thought into the needs of players. Fender's really on to something here with this new line of pedals, and I suspect we'll not only see these pedals sticking around for a while but that we'll also see the line continue to grow. I can't wait to see what they come up with next! In fact, they just released three new pedals to the lineup, which we will be covering soon in part three - stay tuned! -HC-
Want to discuss Fender's new line of effects pedals, or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Effects forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Fender The Bends Compressor ($129.99 "street")
Fender Mirror Image Delay ($149.99 "street")
Fender Santa Ana Overdrive ($199.99 "street")
Fender The Bends Compressor product web page
Fender Mirror Image Delay product web page
Fender Santa Ana Overdrive product web page
You can purchase the Fender The Bends Compressor from:
You can purchase the Fender Mirror Image Delay from:
You can purchase the Fender Santa Ana Overdrive from:
Fender Demo Videos
Santa Ana Overdrive
Mirror Image Delay
The Bends Compressor
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.