JAM Pedals RetroVibe MKII
By Chris Loeffler |
JAM Pedals RetroVibe MKII
For flower power jammin' ...
by Chris Loeffler
The Univibe, like fuzz, is one of the earliest effects to hit the electric guitar market and is closely associated with classic rock, being one of the original modulation effects (being surpassed only by tremolo) to be utilized to create movement or general psychedelia to a part. Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, David Gilmour… all names associated with making the Univibe sound part of the electric guitar lexicon.
Jam Pedals originally released the RetroVibe almost a decade ago and originally created buzz with their claim of 100%-to-spec recreation of the original Univibe. Players like J. Mascis and Andy Timmons provided pull-quotes stating the RetroVibe was their modern replacement for their vintage Shin-E units, and the forums went wild. Small niggles like the missing Chorus/Vibe switch were all that kept the RetroVibe from being a dead-on contender, and the upgrade of the pedal this year (MKII) added this feature, erasing any perceived difference. The Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII features controls for Speed, Depth, Chorus/Vibe, and expression pedal in, true-bypass switching, and is powered by a standard, center-negative 9v power supply.
What You Need to Know
The RetroVibe MKII claims to be a circuit-perfect recreation of the original Shin-E Univibe, up to utilizing the same original NOS 2SC828 transistors and carbon comp resistors. The vibe effect, which is technically a phase shifting effect, is created by four light-sensitive sensors surrounding a bulb that brightens and dims, creating the shape of the modulation. Unlike op-amp driven phasers, the audio signal in general becomes more harmonically rich with soft distortion and a slightly uneven shape that pulses. Adding to the authenticity in internal step-voltage to get the unit to run on an identical 15V via a traditional 9V power supply, increasing headroom and clarity.
The Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII features controls for Speed and Depth that, when compared with settings on an original, carry about the same swing, from bar-spanning slowness to Leslie-like machinegun with a slightly underwater feel. The Depth control dictates the range of the effect, with barely-noticeable sweetening on the shallowest settings and engulfing throbs all the way up. The Chrous/Vibrato switch jumps between two pre-determined mix settings, with Chorus being about 50/50 wet/dry and Vibrato being 100% wet for rotating speaker sounds and edging on perceived pitch shifting.
The buzz around the Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII has been around how much thicker, fuller, and more authentic it sounds than the standard Univibe clone, and my experience with a half-dozen or so (including the awesome FoxRox Captain Coconut 2) is that they are all slightly different, despite sharing a similar heritage. There’s something about simple circuits that really makes every component and decision matter. I won’t knock others down, but I can say I was surprised by how accurate the RetroVibe MKII was to the sounds of Hendrix and Trower. The shape, depth, and general tonal sculpt was just there.
It has a more robust low-end than many of the more affordable clones that lends itself to a chewier tone but doesn’t get flabby or boomy. It distorts when hit with a hot signal, but not unpleasantly. It certainly seems to walk the line of slight distortion without ever sounding obviously “clippy”, and it has a satisfyingly subtle sag that responds to signal spikes.
The expression input allows for control of the speed via their EXP4 expression pedal or identically spec’d pedals. It follows the same high and low points of the Speed control, so it doesn’t exactly unlock new sounds, but manually speeding up or slowing down the rate is the ticket to true-to-life rotating speaker simulation or even more expressive solos.
No battery option.
I walked into the Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII with an unhealthy amount of skepticism because the early buzz and artist endorsements felt a bit heavy in the marketing side of thing. This isn’t the best way to approach a review, but I’m only human. What I experienced, however, completely affirmed all the praise I has been suspicious of. The Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII is a thick, throbbing effect that is one of the most visceral “that’s EXACTLY the sound I heard on the album” moments I have had upon my initial dive into a review. It doesn’t do anything dramatically different than other Univibe clones, but it does what it does so damned well that it doesn’t need to. - HC -
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.