Fender The Pinwheel Rotary Speaker Emulator
By Phil O'Keefe |
Three spins for the price of one…
When Fender released their latest line of effects pedals in January of 2018 they created quite a stir. The overall impression among reviewers (including this reviewer) and musicians has been very positive, and this is arguably the best line of pedals Fender has ever made. And it just keeps getting better, because while I lamented the lack of certain pedal types from the original lineup in one of my previous reviews, Fender keeps expanding it and adding new pedals. No matter what kind of effect you're after, Fender probably now offers it. Case in point - the Fender Pinwheel under review here, which adds a rotary speaker emulator to the line. Let’s take one for a spin and see what it has to offer.
What You Need To Know
- The Fender Pinwheel is a rotary speaker simulator in guitar pedal format. It is also suitable for use with keyboards too; a small switch on the back of the pedal allows you to change the voicing for either instrument type.
- The Pinwheel is housed in a light green, anodized aluminum housing that measures 3.75” W x 2.5” H x 4.9” L and weighs 1.2 pounds.
- The input and output jacks are mounted on the sides of the pedal. On the input side you get both a mono (left) and right input, so you can feed The Pinwheel stereo signals or run it in mono, although like all rotary speaker simulations, it’s more impressive sounding when running in stereo.
- Also on the input side is a jack for connecting an expression pedal, or a remote switch. The function of this jack (EXP or FS) is controlled by a small switch on the back of the pedal. A TRS plug-equipped expression pedal can be used to control the rate of the pedal’s modulation, while using an external switch allows you to remotely trigger fast / slow speed switching.
- The output side of the pedal has two output jacks - use the left I/O jacks when running the pedal in mono.
- There are three Modes available which can be selected with a small toggle switch on the top of the Pinwheel - two Modes emulate the sound of Leslie® speakers - the classic Model 122 (Mode 1) and a Model 145 (Mode 2) with a bit less low end emphasis. You also get a emulation of Fender’s own single rotor (actually, a rotating styrofoam drum in front of a fixed speaker) Vibratone speaker cabinet.
- Like all of the pedals in Fender’s latest line, the Pinwheel has LED illuminated pointer indicators built into the top of each control knob. These can be turned off with a switch on the back of the pedal, but it’s such a cool and useful feature that I doubt many people will opt to do so.
- Speaking of knobs, with a total of seven, The Pinwheel is a fairly knob-heavy pedal, but not to worry - there’s a reason for each control, and everything is well laid out and makes sense from a user interface standpoint.
- The Drive knob is designed to give you some tube amp-like saturation, and it does a nice job of adding grit to the sound - which is an essential element of a real tube power amp-equipped rotating speaker cabinet. Turning it up higher gives you a more saturated sound.
- The Tone control also influences the tone of the virtual power amp, and works as you’d expect, offering darker timbres when turned down, and brighter sounds when turned up.
- The Level control adjusts the amount of Drive signal that is added to your instrument’s dry signal.
- The Pinwheel, like many rotary speaker cabinets, offers two user-selectable speeds. The Fast and Slow knobs set the rotary / modulation speeds for the simulation when running in fast and slow modes, respectively. A yellow-green Rate LED between the two knobs flashes at the current speed for whichever speed mode is currently selected.
- The Ramp knob controls the amount of time it takes the pedal to “ramp” (or speed up / down) between slow and fast (or fast and slow) speed settings.
- The last knob is labeled “SENS” (sensitivity) and this feature is something you won’t find on most rotary speaker emulators. It allows you to control the speed of the pedal’s modulation depending on how hard you play, without having to manually hit the speed footswitch. The SENS knob sets the threshold and determines how hard you need to play to trigger the speed switching.
- Turning this control fully counter-clockwise disables the dynamically-controlled rate feature. You can also disable the dynamics by using the Dynamics switch on the rear of the pedal. A red LED illuminates to indicate when the threshold has been hit, and once it is, the pedal will switch (using whatever Ramp settings you’ve selected) from Slow to Fast speeds, and then back to Slow again once the signal level falls below the threshold level set by the SENS knob.
- In addition to the four switches already mentioned for controlling the guitar / keyboard voicing, turning the knob LEDs on and off, turning the Dynamics feature on and off and for the footswitch type selection, you’ll also find the power input on the back of the pedal.
- The Pinwheel requires a user-supplied 9V DC adapter with a center-negative wired 5.5 mm x 2.1 mm plug for operation. The power jack is mounted on the rear of the pedal.
- The Pinwheel has two footswitches. The one on the left is a Bypass footswitch and turns the effect on and off. A Fender amp-style green jewel lamp lights up when the effect is active.
- The right footswitch allows you to switch between slow and fast modulation speeds. It also can be used as a “brake”, which can be useful when you want to have the modulation slow down and completely stop for brief periods without having to completely bypass the effect - just step on and hold down the Slow/Fast (Break) footswitch and the modulation will slow to a stop and remain stopped for as long as you continue to hold down the footswitch.
- Battery powering for The Pinwheel is not an option. To be fair, the power requirements for this pedal would eat batteries in next to no time, so this isn’t really a criticism - just something you need to be aware of. With the Pinwheel requiring 310 mA of 9V DC power, you’ll also need to make sure you have a power supply with enough amperage to properly power the pedal - your typical Boss or Ibanez-style power adapter may not be sufficient.
- The green jewel lamp that serves as the effect on / off indicator is really bright.
It’s great to see Fender finally offering a world-class line of effects pedals, and I’m happy to see them expanding the lineup with some of the modulation pedal types that were missing from the initial two or three batches of pedals that were released.
The Pinwheel is a really sweet pedal, and a worthy addition to the lineup. All three of the Modes are useful and sound good, and it will really come down to individual preference as to which one sounds “best” - but it’s certainly nice to have a few options. The Vibratone single-rotor emulation is particularly nice, and offers a distinctly different sound than the more commonly-encountered Leslie® emulations, both of which are also quite good - especially when running into a stereo amp setup. Similarly, the Drive, while not a substitute for your favorite dirt pedal, does give you a good approximation of some of the tube amp grit and drive you can get from a rotating speaker cabinet that’s being worked hard. While I found I generally preferred to leave the Dynamics function turned off and treat the pedal more like a traditional rotating speaker, there’s no doubt the feature will prove to be useful for some players, and it does a good job of providing dynamic responsiveness depending on how hard you play.
While nothing sounds quite like sitting in the room with a real rotating speaker cabinet, The Pinwheel is an effective and convincing emulation, and a pedal like this is certainly a lot easier to take with you than a large and heavy rotating speaker cabinet. Overall, I was very impressed with The Pinwheel, and it’s nice to see Fender continuing to offer new options in this very cool line of pedals. Take a Pinwheel for a spin yourself at your local Fender dealer and see if it impresses you too! -HC-
Want to discuss the Fender Pinwheel 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 Pinwheel Rotary Speaker Emulator ($269.99 "street")
Fender’s product web page.
You can purchase the Fender Pinwheel Rotary Speaker Emulator from:
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.