Welcome to Effectrode!

GUITAR TONE IS ROCKET SCIENCE!—Vintage, high voltage, vacuum tube technology harnessed to create radical effects pedals!

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Can I use the Blackbird preamp for bass guitar?

You bet. The Blackbird works superbly for bass guitar, it’s extended low-frequency response and tonestack, which is an exact replica of the interactive 3-band BASS-MIDDLE-TREBLE eq found on Fender ‘Blackface’ amps (and is very similar to the ‘Bassman’ tone stack) ensure the power of the bass is retained and that the eq is very useable. For more detail on eq frequency response curves you might want to download Duncan Amps’s Tone Stack Calculator.

When using other effects (and when outputting to either an amp or for direct recording) where do you recommend placing the Blackbird in the signal chain?

We recommend placing dirt boxes (overdrive, distortion, fuzz and boost) before the Blackbird preamp when recording direct (or into an amp, for that matter). The same goes for wah and vibe effects, in fact many guitarists prefer to place these effects before dirt boxes so that they don’t mess up the equalisation and tone shaping too much. Compressor placement is dependent on the type of effect you want to achieve. Typically compressor pedals are placed before dirt boxes giving some boost to push the input stage for more drive, however you can also use compression post-dirt to smooth the overall sound of the guitar out. This technique was utilised a great deal in the 70s to limit the dynamic range of tracks before mastering to vinyl and the overall effect is to make the sound quality richer and smoother. You might want to check out ‘Moving Pictures’ album by RUSH to hear what this can do for distorted/overdriven guitar sound. Modulation effects such as flanger, chorus and tremolo should normally be placed after dirt boxes but before the Blackbird, however if you have stereo mod effects you can also place them after the Blackbird to split the output to feed two separate amps or record in stereo. The same goes for delay effects, which normally follow modulation effects and also for reverb, which normally follows delay.

Can both outputs on the Blackbird preamp be used at the same time?

Yes both outputs from the Blackbird can be used at the same time. In fact the Blackbird is designed to be used in this way. The idea behind this is to let guitarists retain the tone, response and feel of their guitar amp (because nothing beats the tone and feel of a real amp) when using the standard output on the Blackbird and then use the 600Ohm output to record direct without the hassle of having to mic up the amp and deal with poor room acoustics and ambient noise. Additionally, the 600Ohm output is transformer isolated, which completely eliminates the possibility of earth loop hum. The only thing to consider is, because the 600Ohm output is transformer isolated, the signal from this output is muted when the Blackbird is in bypass.

Tubes: N.O.S. verses new

Although a N.O.S. 12AX7 can typically cost anywhere from around $50 to $100 verses $10 to $20 for a modern tube, the quality of materials, reliability and tone make them worth the coin. The V1 position is the critical one to change in your Effectrode pedal (or guitar amp) as this is the first amplification stage and a good N.O.S. Mullard or Sylvania tube in there will work wonders ensuring low microphony, hiss and hum to give some desriable tonal improvements. There are many working guitarists who talk themselves out trying N.O.S. tubes as imagine they can’t afford them but that’s simply not always the case. Here’s my reasoning: the lifespan of N.O.S. preamp tubes can easily exceed 10,000 hours, which means even if you’re paying $100 a tube, that’s 1 cent for each hour of use – that’s a cheap ride by any measure – the expense of your guitar strings, beer or just lighting the room you’re playing in will far out exceed this. Don’t be put off by investing in a good tube – life’s too short!

Why Tubes?

Tube circuitry offers a clarity, richness and purity of tone beyond what is achievable with solid-state (silicon or germanium) transistors, FETs, opamps or even the latest digital modelling technologies. Solid-state gear often sounds overbright, clinical, even brittle sounding and is susceptible to transient overload, clipping in a harsh and unpleasant way. However, tubes are inherently linear, have immense headroom and produce beautiful soft-clipping when pushed out of their linear region. They’re the right tool for the job of audio signal processing! Also, on an historical note, the first commercially available transistors were used in the mass manufacture of portable radios and operational amplifiers were originally designed for use in analogue computers. These solid devices are a quick and cheap way of making audio circuits, but aren’t in the same class as tubes when it comes to tone.

Do the tubes operate at true amplifer plate voltages?

Yes, the tubes operate at 300 Volts D.C. All pedals incorporate a transformerless high voltage power supply which is fully regulated and smoothed to ensure low noise. There are some manufacturers operating tubes at voltages as low as 12 Volts. I guess this is for economic reasons or for lack of ability in power supply design. It’s certainly not for better tonal quality because low voltage operation (current starvation) of tubes sounds terrible. To avoid an electrifying experience, refer servicing to qualified personnel only. High D.C. voltages of over 300 Volts are present in the circuit. Whilst working on the power supply design for these pedals, I’ve experienced an electric shock or two and it’s not a pleasant experience. Beware!

How often should I replace tubes in my effects pedal?

If operated well within their ratings, good quality signal tubes can last 100,000 hours or more; that’s well over 11 years of continuous use. To extend tube life, we recommend that the pedal is allowed to warm-up for at least one minute after being switched on. This is to allow the heater filament in the tube to heat the cathode, which is coated with a layer of barium and strontium oxide. This oxide layer gets torn off the cathode, a process known as cathode stripping, if the cathode has not reached it’s correct operating temperature, ultimately shortening tube life.

Can you recommend a tube manufacturer?

We recommend using JJ Tubes. In our experience these are the only modern manufacture tubes whose electrical performance (gain and noise) comes anywhere close to the that of western manufactured N.O.S. (new old stock) tubes which possess superior metallurgy, cathode coatings and superior construction to modern tubes.

How do I change tubes in my Effectrode pedal?

Swapping miniature tubes in Effectrode pedals is as quick and easy as changing a light-bulb. First disconnect the pedal from the mains power outlet. A tube can be removed by gently gripping and pulling the glass envelope whilst wiggling it in a circular motion. When replacing a tube make sure the pins are aligned correctly with the tube socket and gently push it into position. Never use excessive force to insert the tube as this may bend pins. Tubes in Effectrode subminiature pedals (PC-2A Compressor, Helios Fuzz and Fire Bottle boost) cannot be removed as these are soldered in position inside the pedal.

Can I use the Blackbird tube preamp with my guitar amp?

Absolutely – that’s what it was designed for. The Blackbird tube preamp is not only a versatile tool for recording full-bodied, rich guitar tones direct, it will also add multi-channel capability to vintage and boutique amps. Typically modulation effects such as chorus, delay and reverb should be placed after the output of the Blackbird and before the guitar amp input. Fuzz, compression and boost pedals work best before the Blackbird input. You can also place effects after the transformer DI out. In this case use an instrument cable with mono (TS) jack plugs and the balanced out signal level will drop 6dB to work at the same level as the standard output on the Blackbird. Think of the Blackbird outputs as a ‘send’ and your amp or desk input would be the ‘return’.

What is the difference between the Blackbird and Tube Drive pedals?

The Tube Drive and Blackbird both employ 4-stage tube clipping circuits to create overdrive and distortion. The clipping circuitry in the Tube Drive is optimised to produce more symmetrical clipping distortion, whereas the Blackbird is more asymmetric. In practice the Blackbird responds and operates like a typical tube amp. Another difference in the circuitry is in the tonestacks – the Blackbird has a traditional passive Fender tonestack. This tonestack was developed by Leo Fender back in the 1960s and used on his Deluxe and Twin Reverb tube amplifiers. Over the decades guitarists ears have unconciously become used (adapted?) to expecting this mid-scooped voicing as a standard reference eq as it is found in many other guitar amps including amps manufactured by Marshall, Soldano and Boogie.

The Tube Drive has my own custom designed active triode Baxandall tube tonestack. This has zero insertion loss and maintains mid frequencies and has a thick, powerful warm tone with an incredible amount of punch. This is especially useful when soloing or where you want the guitar to cut through the mix without sounding harsh or overbright.

Does the Blackbird sound like an American or British tube amp?

The short answer is “Yes”. This isn’t meant to be funny, it’s just that how do you define an American or British amp sound, let alone design a pedal to replicate it? For a start there’s a huge amount of variation in the designs of guitar amplifiers within America or in Britain. Differences such as circuit topologies, that is, is the amp class A or class AB. Differences in tube types, triodes, tetrodes and pentodes. Different size and type of loudspeakers and output transformers. There are literally dozens of variables even within amps from just one given manufacturer, let alone another manufacturer in another country.

Then there are American and British amp manufacturers that build amps of very similar design. For instance Jim Marshall based his early amps on Leo Fender’s Bassman amp design which he originally derived from the RCA Receiving Tube Manual. These amps are electronically identical and have more in common than, say a Fender ‘Champ’ and Fender ‘Twin Reverb’ amp. And they have more in common than a Vox AC30 and Laney head. So where does this essence of British or American tone reside? There’s nothing unique in the circuitry of all British (or American amps) that defines their sound. Could it be this classifcation of amp tone into British and American is just marketing flim-flam? More in-depth information on amplifier tone can be found on the Tales From the Tone Lounge website.

What’s the difference between the Effectrode Helios and Mercury fuzz pedals?

The circuitry of the ‘Mercury’ fuzz is very similar to the ‘Helios’ fuzz, however the N.O.S. blackplate Philips 6112 tube in the Mercury is a much more efficient emitter of electrons than the 6N17 in the Helios. This is undoubtedly because of the huge engineering resources Philips/Mullard put into researching and developing the cathode coating materials in their tubes – their reputation for quality is legendary. What this means in terms of use is that this tube gives fatter, more robust sounding fuzz and some very nice tubey tones ideal for blues. I would put this little pedal against any top of of the range tube amp – it really sounds that good!

What’s the difference between the Effectrode Tube Drive and other manufacturers tube overdrive pedals?

The Tube Drive has an all tube signal path based on three dual triode tubes, 4 gain stages, plus an active tube boost where the tubes operate at amp plate voltages. This gives a much richer, more dynamic and amp-like tone in than pedals that utilise only a single tube driven with solid-state transistor or op-amp gain-stages.

What’s the difference between the Helios fuzz and Tube Drive pedals?

The drive character of both pedals is completely different as clipping is performed by germanium point contact diodes in the Helios fuzz and by driving tubes into their non-linear region in the Tube Drive. There is some first order low-pass filtering in the Tube Drive to tame the higher order harmonics to give it a smoother, more musical tone. There is also some high frequency premphasis before the first clipping stage. With the Helios there is similar premphasis but no capacitive low-pass filtering. The Tube Drive has an active Baxandall tone control which can reinstate the high-end so can sound crunchy and bight as well as devastatingly smooth and creamy.

Can you modify the Blackbird?

Sorry, the short answer is no. There’s absolutely no space inside the Blackbird to make any modifications as it’s jam-packed with components. Inside there are three tubes with high voltage circuitry, four relays, nine pots for two independent channels, an output transformer and quite a lot of electronics. Just pick it up and feel the weight – it like a brick!

How does the PC-2A compressor compare with ‘Brand-X’ stompbox compressor?

There are quite a few so called ’boutique’ compressors cloned from the Japanese Ross op-amp circuit – an excellent compressor for its time, but simply repackaging it and marking up it’s price isn’t really bringing anything new to the table. The Effectrode PC-2A compressor, on the other hand, is an original design that draws inspiration from the Teletronix LA-2A studio compressor manufactured in the U.S.A. during the 1950s. It’s in a totally different league. The signal path is based on a N.O.S. tube and photo-optical gain attenuator and the tone quality is something very special – check out our sound clips and videos.

I want an Effectrode pedal with an extra knob/footswitch/CV jack. Can you do that?

Effectrode pedal designs are jam-packed with tubes, high voltage conversion and other circuitry which takes up most or all of the available space within the enclosure, leaving very little room for additional circuitry. Because of this, custom modification is usually not possible.

Can I power my Effectrode pedal with ‘Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus’, ‘Cioks’ or other power supply?

For the Effectrode pedals with 3 tubes, such as Tube-Drive, Phaseomatic, etc the short answer is, ‘No’. The Voodoo Labs, ‘Cioks’, ‘Flatliner’ and ‘Trex Fuel Tank’ power supplies are designed or low-power transistor/opamp pedals and simply cannot supply enough juice for real vacuum tube gear. Effectrode pedals are more like tube amplifiers in their power supply requirements and demand high currents and voltages to operate correctly. A typical transistor pedal will use in the order of just a few milliamps, Effectrode pedals require a minimum of 1200mA.

However the PC-2A compressor, Mercury fuzz, Fire Bottle boost and Glass-A require around 350mA and it is possible to utilise some of the above power supplies to power them. Please make sure you check the specs to make sure the power supply can output a minimum of 350mA and do check the polarity is correct (center positive) otherwise you will damage your pedal.

What is the difference between the Tube-Vibe and Vibralux pedals?

The Vibralux has it’s phase-shift sections custom tuned for a spacious, more ethereal sound than the Tube-Vibe. The designers of the original Uni-Vibe adapted it’s sinewave L.F.O. (low frequency oscillator) circuitry so that it would generate a more ‘squared-off’ waveform at higher speed (modulation) settings for more pronounced, throbby in character. I designed the Vibralux with a view to create more shimmery and lighter chorusing sounds – you could say the Vibralux is more feminine in character. Additionally the Vibralux has dual LFOs so the sweeps are more complex, subtle and randomised – again, more feminine! (I know I’mn goingto get into trouble for saying that!). It really is a different creature from the Tube-Vibe. That said, on some settings there may be a little crossover in the character of the pedals, especially if the Tube-Vibe is set to ‘smooth’ mode. Technically these pedals do similar things, however like overdrive and distortion pedals, the differences in implementation yield essential in tone and ‘feel’ of the pedal when playing through it.

Are Effectrode pedals true bypass?

Yes. Signal is switched using an audio relay with gold plated contacts. A nice feature of Effectrode pedals is that they will default to bypass if power is lost to the pedal, ensrung that you can continue to play. These relays are designed specifically for routing audio signals whilst maintaining high integrity. Unlike multi-pole footswitches, which fail easily and were not originally intended for either constant use or audio signals, but for switching high voltages, hence their large size. This relay will outlast the three pole true bypass switches found other pedals. The realy also shortens the signal path, since it is mounted on the circuit board. In bypass, the signal is not routed through any internal wiring which prevents noise from getting into the signal. Remember: True bypass means that when the effect is disengaged, there will be absolutely no loss of tone from your guitar to your amp.

Which expression pedals are compatible with the Tube-Vibe.

I’ve tested the Roland EV-5 (and more robust EV-7) expression pedal with the Tube-Vibe and it works very well. There’s also a knob on the EV-5 which allows fine-tuning of the range of travel which is usful. One of our dealers also confirmed compatibility with the Moog EP-2 Expression Pedal and it should also be compatible with the Mission Engineering EP-1.

What kind of service warranty does Effectrode offer?

We provide a 7-Day 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. If you are not completely satisfied with our pedals for any reason, return it for a full refund of the purchase price, full credit, or exchange of your choice. We give you 7 days from receipt of the pedal. Should you find it necessary to return a pedal, it must be shipped within this 7-day guarantee period. All returned items must include a Return Authorization Number, be in the original packaging complete with the power supply, warranty card and owner’s manual, and show no signs of wear or abuse otherwise the return will either be refused or subject to a 25% restocking fee. Should you decide to return your pedal, please obtain a Return Authorization Number from us by email. Paypal payments will be refunded directly through Paypal. Refunds are made for product value only, excluding shipping and handling charges. All returns must:

  1. Include a return authorization number
  2. Be in the original packaging complete with power supply, warranty cards and manual.
  3. Be in brand-new condition, showing no signs of wear or use such as scuffs, dings, or scrapes on the pedal or collateral materials.

Additionally, all our pedals are covered by a five year parts and labour warranty excluding tubes. The tubes are warranted for a period of ninety days from the date of purchase. If you need to return your pedal for warranty repair, please contact Effectrode for Return Authorisation and information.

What methods of payment do you accept?

Our preferred method of payment is bank transfer, however we also accept PayPal payments. Contact us for bank details and to arrange payment.

I can hear a low-frequency hum from my guitar amplifier with the pedal connected.

If you can hear a low frequency hum or buzz from your amp when using pedals this could be the result of external hum pickup or earth loops. It can frustrating just figuring out the exact cause of such noise issues let alone figuring out how to completely eradicate them. In fact, they’re such a nuisance professional studio engineers will go to enormous lengths to avoid them. They’ll consider the layout of the studio very carefully before and during installation – mains cables are shielded and routed to avoid proximity to signal cables and certain kinds of pro-audio equipment. Often the expertise of specialist consultants is sought to advise on the installation. It’s a real challenge creating a perfectly electrically quiet recording environment – one could write a book about it, but we’re just going to take a quick look at external hum pickup and earth loops here.

Guitar pickups are not only sensitive to the movement of a guitar string but will in fact pickup any external electromagnetic signal. Any unwanted signal is noise and this electrical noise is all pervading – it’s all around us. Any kind of gain pedal, such as a booster, overdrive, distortion, fuzz, etc effectively puts these noise problems under the microscope and makes them even more apparent. Potential sources include radio frequency (RF) noise from wirless phones and compact fluorescent bulbs and other electromagnetic interference (EMI), such as 50/60Hz mains hum. A guitar pickup or poorly screened cable will act as an aerial and pick up this noise. Single coil pickups are the most susceptible to electromagnetic interference, however even humbucking (noise cancelling) pickups are prone to it too, albeit it to a lesser extent. Screening the internal cavities of an electric guitar with conductive screening spray or copper foil will give some reduction in ambient noise pickup but isn’t a complete solution as guitar pickups by their very nature are designed to pickup electromagnetic signals and the shielding cannot go over the poles of the pickup otherwise the pickup won’t be able to sense string movement.

Earth loops can be a common cause of audio noise problems in setups using more than one item of mains operated equipment. If you are experiencing low-frequency hum from your guitar amplifier loudspeaker, then a likely cause is multiple return paths or loops to earth. The solution to this is fairly straight forward – the loops must be broken. This can be achieved by one of two methods. Either by lifting (removing) the earth on your guitar amplifier or tube effects pedal. Or removing the earth (shield) on the lead between the pedal and the amplifier. The second method is safer – note that the earth should feed forward i.e. the break in the shield is near the amplifier. In my experience best results have been obtained by lifting the earth on the guitar amplifier. However extreme caution must be exercised, as your amplifier will only be grounded through the input lead feeding it. Unless you are confident in what you are doing, seek advice from a qualified engineer.