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Project ‘X’ a.k.a. the Ultimate Leveling Amplifier… in a Pedal!

The Ultimate Leveling Amplifier

We’ve secretly been developing a vacuum tube leveling amplifier pedal which is now in production. The driving force behind this project has been customer requests for a four knob version of our legendary PC-2A photo-optical tube compressor to include attack and knee knobs. We also wanted to add some other really cool features, these include balanced transformer isolated output, gain pad, tube boost, dynamic equaliser and parallel tube input stage (4 triode tube gain stages in parallel) for hyper-quiet operation. This is technically the quiestest pedal or studio levelling amplifier ever made, enabling musicians to extract every last nuance from a performance, possibly the finest leveling amplifier you can buy… and it just so happens to be an Effectrode pedal! If you’d like to be added to the waiting list please email us direct.

26 comments

  1. Douglas Robertson says:

    Very exciting to see this, Phil!
    What stage/tube is involved in the Boost? I’m guessing one half of the AT7?

  2. Ian Hamilton says:

    Can the tube boost function be attenuated or even turned off in this new pedal? I do get that there may inherently be some “boost” with signal levellin/compression, but it would be nice to keep the actual boost minimized for some tones as it is nice to let the amp break up naturally, or alternatively to maintain a clean tone. Thanks so much!

  3. Thibaut says:

    Looks wonderful! What would be the designated location in the signal path for this pedal? Same use as a PC-2A or has it a different purpose? Thanks!

  4. Thibaut Revel says:

    Hi,

    It looks wonderful! Where would you typically place this pedal in the signal path? Has it the same purpose as a PC-2A or is it meant to be used differently? Thanks!

    • Phil says:

      Hi Thiabut, In practically all cases I recommend placing the Leveling Amplifier first in the signal chain. This is because the tube circuitry is extremely quiet and will boost the guitar signal whlist keeping noise and hum to an absolute minimum. Best, Phil

  5. Justin says:

    Must say I am proud owner of LA-1A #001
    I’m definitely bragging here :)
    Phil, this pedal screams Effectrode quality and musicality.
    Was awaiting this release for awhile and the wait was worth it.

    • Phil says:

      Thanks Justin – delighted to hear project ‘X’ has hit the mark for you. :)

      • Ben says:

        While I missed out on S/N #001, I was lucky enough to get the S/N that corresponds to a famous British Secret Agent who likes his martinis shaken, not stirred!

        Yes, Phil, you’ve done it again. Truly amazing pedal.

        I received it yesterday and as soon as I plugged it in, my Fender amp decided to blow a fuse (no fault of the LA-1A). After tracking down the culprit (a bad power tube), I was back up and running and have really been exploring the LA-1A.

        Dead quiet and it seems to offer even more clear sustain than the excellent PC-2A when the gain knob is cranked fully clockwise and operating as a compressor (“knee” knob fully CCW). Is this correct, Phil, or am I imagining it?

        Also, I’ve been running it today 2nd in my chain, behind a FB-1A Fire Bottle to get the interaction with my strat’s single coil pickups (still pretty darn quiet). What are your thoughts on this arrangement, Phil or would you still recommend putting the LA-1A first?

        Thanks yet again!

        - Ben

        • Amanda Catherine says:

          Wow, this is amazing! Splashdown in good ‘ol PDX Complete! What a nice surprise Project X has been, and here I have been, pining and pining for a certain bronze chassis to come into my life… Someday.
          I thought I was on the verge of getting a #13 tattoo, but mine is actually number 18! Yay! I thought the chassis was going to be white, but they are a beautiful gunship grey!
          Thank you again, Phil, for sculpting such wonders.

          On a more technical note, it seems as though a leveling amplifier (THAT circuit style) is a little different from other compressors. Should one still consider the PC-2A as well, or are all needs for a funky squish now fullfilled?

          • Phil says:

            Hi Amanda, The Leveling Amplifier should do everything the PC-2A does. That said, there may be some some subtleties I’m not aware of that someone with more finelt tuned ears can discern, but in principle it should cover the range of the PC-2A. Thanks for letting me know it landed safely over there. Best, Phil

        • Phil says:

          Hi Ben, No, I don’t think you’re imagining it at all – putting tubes in parallel reduces noise and does seem to improve clarity. I’m not sure what it happening techincally to cause this but it could be something related to the tubes sharing the the work and improved electron emission.

          Regarding pedal order: if you put the Leveling Amplifier first you’ll obtain the best possible signal to noise ratio as the LA-1A is the quietest pedal we make. In ths scenario the Vari-Z on the Fire Bottle won’t have any effect though as it is buffered from interacting with the guitar pickup. If you place the Fire Bottle first the Vari-Z will function, however the LA-1A will be compressing the boosted signal from the Fire Bottle. In this scenario the boost capability is literally being limited by the LA-1A. The ‘best’ order of these effects really depends on what works for you. My preference would be Leveling Amplifier first. All the best, Phil

  6. Fabian says:

    #28 checking in: This IS a very nice pedal.. if I mention that it put my tone into another STRATosphere would that be bad?lol Great work, I even love the Jangle option I hadn’t been expecting. Dunno if it will do any duty off the pedal board but good to know just how quiet/useful it could be if needed. Thanks again!

  7. Lindsay Stirton says:

    I am excited by this. Will definitely order one soon. Re: your advice on pedal order. I have been using a Fire Bottle as my main gain pedal, pretty much always on, though I play with the boost know quite a lot from completely off to all the way on. That said, I have a Buffalo fx Evolution distortion pedal that gets occasional use when I want some heavy distortion. I play in Church, and much as I try to find opportunities to make the hymns rock out, I can’t just play everything on 11. The Evolution sounded awful as long as it came after the Fire Bottle, so if I wanted some distortion, I had to turn the Firebottle off. I now have the Evolution first in the chain (but bear in mind it is usually off, and it is a true bypass pedal). That is a gorgeous, luscious, rich OD/distortion sound. Just saying that the conventional wisdom doesn’t always work.

    • Phil says:

      Hi Lindsay, You’re right: conventional wisdom doesn’t always work. Effects pedal placement depends on the effect you’re trying to achieve. For example, you can place a compressor pedal pre- or post-distortion or both. Rules are there to be broken, but you have to know what the rules are in the first place if you’re going to break them! Best, Phil

  8. Juan Casas-Rigall says:

    Hi, Phil. I suppose the Leveling Amplifier is already in production, because it’s on Reverb. Let us know, please.

  9. Troy says:

    Please excuse the following comment length, hopefully fellow Effectrode enthusiasts will find some of it helpful (I’d love to read your findings too):

    The LA-1A is an incredible accomplishment, surpassing the tonalities & capabilities of the PC-2A to manifest what is surely the finest sonic compression & limiting guitar tool in pedal form (or in any form) that has ever been on the market.

    For those above who have enquired about the “best” signal chain placement (Thibaut, Ben & Lindsay) & whether or not it makes having a PC-2A redundant (Amanda) I will have to respectfully disagree with you Phil on both counts (which I will qualify):

    I already have the PC-2A & that is staying put on my board(s). The LA-1A definitely complements the PC-2A. If one had to only have one of these pedal then no doubt the LA-1A would be the one. In that case one might opt to have it earlier in the chain (pre-dirt/drive). But having the PC-2A as well frees the LA-1A up significantly in terms of placement.

    Here’s my tuppence worth:

    I was already placing the Mercury first (to allow for unimpeded interaction with the guitar’s volume knob (although I should note I don’t use fuzz as an “always on” pedal as some do), followed by the Fire Bottle booster (placed early in the chain to utilise the Vari-Z when needed – though I normally don’t use it as I have guitars with a variety of pickups – it should however be noted that the Vari-Z is a fantastic feature to minimise the need to guitar), then followed by the PC-2A (which is mostly set subtly allowing level boosts from the Mercury & Fire Bottle to come through – just adjust to taste).

    Having the Glass-A buffer (which is always on as it has no bypass switch) after these (although I could place it just before the PC-2A) allows for the signal strength to maintained (some use the Fire Bottle or PC-2A as “always on” pedals for this reason). This then feeds into the Tube-Vibe, the Tube Drive & then the Blackbird (though I’m musing about experimenting with the Tube-Drive after, though it sounds brilliant where it is).

    So having the option of moving the PC-2A to another board or keeping it where it is (& using it differently to the LA-1A, although sometimes in combination) I opted for the latter for the following reasons:

    The PC-2A is now freed up to be used in a more nuanced way with the drive pedals after it. Lower the drive on those & maintain the sustain with the PC-2A for “cleaner” sustaining lead tones for example – or to use it to accent certain selections of notes even. Also use it pre-drive to allow for switching between different intensities of drive from the dirt pedals following it for rhythm tones. An “always on” compressor placed pre-drive simply removes these sonic options.

    The LA-1A is then freed up to be placed post-drive where (if used wisely) it can enhance all tone tools before it. Having it placed here it can be “always on” & the boost feature can raise just the level for load tones – or to have two different levels of dirt tones without changing gain intensities (the Fire Bottle & the PC-2A taking care of the latter superbly). Also: having the pre-dirt PC-2A off & the post-dirt LA-1A on allows for guitar volume knob control of intensity of drive when desired (yet still maintaining more volume level than would be the case if it wasn’t there.

    This placement with the set-up allow for certain tones to be achieved while playing in “realtime” that would otherwise just be the preserve of post-recording production. These tones are too good to lose by placing drives after the LA-1A which would just mask it’s radiant beauty (& no I don’t think that that is hyperbole!)

    Then there is the ability of being able to feed the PC-2A into the LA-1A for a special treat (with “jangle” optionally activated on the latter’s switch). Fantastic!

  10. Troy says:

    Just correcting two typos from my post above:

    Discussing the Fire Bottle:

    “the Vari-Z is a fantastic feature to minimise the need to guitar” should read: “the Vari-Z is a fantastic feature to minimise the need to swap guitars”

    Discussing the LA-1A:

    “the boost feature can raise just the level for load tones” should read: should read: “the boost feature can raise just the level for lead tones”

    Late night typing!

  11. Troy says:

    Thanks Phil.

    I will also add that having the LA-1A post-drive can add some of the tone & feel of a cranked up master volume or cranked non-master volume amp at lower levels. Useful for both home jamming & in those live situations when stage volume is limited by venue or sound man’s dictates. Also for recording purposes.

    This is also informing my plan to experiment with the Tube Drive after the Blackbird on both the clean channel & the blue channel (with the LA-1A following the Blackbird) to see if I can dial in the Tube Drive to emulate a driven power amp tone. The fact that the sound of the LA-1A after the Blackbird evoked a more highly cranked amp has led me to this idea.

    While that particular application stands an equal chance of not working I nevertheless feel that this way of thinking can help one reach the most optimal signal chain placement for the Effectrode pedals which are so incredibly beautifully interactive. Thoughtful experimentation combined with contemplation really yields the best outcome in tone(as) as in life.

    As you wrote – following your initial suggestions – above Phil: “conventional wisdom doesn’t always work. Effects pedal placement depends on the effect you’re trying to achieve. … Rules are there to be broken, but you have to know what the rules are in the first place if you’re going to break them!”

    Having the PC-2A pre-drive & the LA-1A post-drive is – for me, at the moment – really “the best of all worlds” in terms of tones involving compression/limiting. Sounds that I had only before heard in some of my favourite recordings that I know involved some skilful post-recording application of compression & limiting now jump out of my (already wonderful sounding) amp speakers further enhanced. LA-1A after Mercury > Blackbird blue channel for example: It’s like having a virtual Eddie Kramer tweaking inside the amp!

    My suggestion Phil & Sam for the website: A user forum to share & swap tips to get the most out of individual & combined Effectrode tone tools. For example: Im considering placing an LA-1A in the loop of my amp, Normally I send everything through the front end but I can see a possibility that the LA-1A could help balance the often quite large volume jump when I kick in the extra pre-amp valve in my Marshall Vintage Modern amp heads. To be able to share findings & exchange tips with fellow users could be of great benefit to all Effectrode users I am sure.

    The LA-1A after my drives is the missing tonal link that I didn’t realise that was missing until I heard it. Sure, when cranking the amp it might be less useful in that position, but for recording & for lower SPL’s it can really help one to get the most out of even a 100-watt amp.

    My amps have Post-Phase Inverter Master Volume’s (PPIMV’s) so I am thinking of experimenting with placing the LA-1A in the loop with the Boost on & then adjust the volume to match unity (when boost is on -so as not to overly drive the PPIMV) & then switch the boost off (but have the “jangle” engaged) for a rhythm level.

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