Gear nerd post – Envelope filter pedals

The Mona Lisa

I loves me the envelope filters.  Oh, how I do!

Here’s some stuff about the ones I have, or have tried.  Remember–YMMV.

Couple of things I should mention first:

– I’m not going to go all nerdy on how these things work.  I do that too much. Heck, this is like, the fourth time I’ve written something like this. I’m just going to talk about what they are like to use.

– To that end, I am only going to talk about pedals, and in particular, pedals I have had enough time to really get to know–in most cases, with my own gear, at volume.  There are a couple here about which I note that this might not be the case, but I will not do the “I heard this was rilly gud on TalkBass and watched a YouTube demo” thing.

– I’ll add more pedals if/as/when I fiddle with them. I encourage you to do the same in the comments, or tell me what you like, or gimme links.  I love filters.  I’d love to hear more about them.

– On most envelope filter pedals, the “sensitivity” setting really determines two things–when the effect comes on (threshold), and how far up and down the envelope travels. So when I talk about a pedal’s “range of sensitivity” I’m really talking about both.  This also keeps me from getting too nerdy.

– I started life as a bay splayer. Still am, really, though I am only gigging on guitar lately.  If you do it carefully, you can use the same envelope filters for either.  It’s all in where the filter is tuned, and what you want to hear.  If the filter doesn’t let you fiddle with the center frequency and/or Q and/or sensitivity, you are pretty much trapped with using the pedal for the specific thing it does. I don’t like devices like that.  Oh dear me, that was very close to nerdy, wasn’t it?

– As an experiment, I’m not doing links to these pedals, because you can just as easily search for the ones you are interested in (usually by highlighting the name, right-clicking, and choosing whatever “search” option you see).  There aren’t any nice objective links to the old stuff.

– Of course, you want to put these things as early in the chain as you can, so that you get the best control by attack.  I put mine after my volume pedal AND after my compressor.

“WHAAAAAAT?!?” I hear you say  “Doesn’t that mean that, when the compressor is on, you get the same attack hitting the filter?”

“Yes.”  I replied, with a charming half-smile  “It does.  When the compressor is on.”

“Ah”  you say  “Silly old bear.”

  • Old Bass Balls – My favorite envelope pedal, on bass at least. Also, my nickname, according to someone who, for a few dollars, was very kind to me…

    This has TWO filters, and you can actually tune their frequencies by fiddling with two mini-pots inside the pedal…and you do this carefully, because the most consistent thing about old EH pedals is their inconsistent build quality and fragility.  There is a sensitivity knob on the outside of the pedal, and a fuzz switch that always seems like a good idea, but rarely is.   Because it is an old EH pedal, it breaks pretty much all the time, and mine has not really been functional since I started gigging on guitar.  If the new old-style pedals are more robust and sound as good, this might be your best choice.  Tuneability eliminates a lot of the problems that most people have with filters, but you have to know it’s there and tweak it.

    NOTE:  The green Russian-y BB pedals do not sound the same as my old one. Mostly, they are grainier, and the envelope doesn’t sound as wide (smaller Q)  You may be able to tune that out, I don’t know what they are like inside.  I owned one briefly, struggled with it, and in an uncharacteristic move, took it back and traded up to the Q-tron.

  • Old Dr.Q (I have not tried the new ones) – Simple envelope filter with one knob to tune the filter frequency, and no easy way to tune sensitivity.  It was very useful for one application when I was playing bass, because I would tune the thing with my toes while I played.  If you just want a mild effect in a small range, or you have prehensile toes, it is extremely useful.  If you want a stomp-and-go bwucka pedal, you will probably not be happy with this.
  • Q-Tron – Oh!  How much fun this thing is! A ton of sound possibilities!  Great tweakability!  I got one shortly after they came out, and I literally ended up sitting cross-legged on the floor drooling.  One of my favorite pedals, and sooo useful. I used to have two!So why, you might ask, is it not in my pedalboard?  There are three problems:  You can only tune the filter to high-pass, band-pass, and low-pass, and I like a bit tighter control; it is friggin’ huge; and it takes a 24 volt adapter.  It is not easy to find a 24V adapter in 5 minutes, and I don’t like being one drunk cowboy boot away from no filter.  If you love this pedal, look into the Mini format and see if it works instead.  I should have got the Q-tron+, which has a loop in it, though I probably would have drowned in my own drool
  • DOD FX25 – I don’t own one, but a lot of people love ’em. I’ve tried ’em, and think they are OK, but it doesn’t do anything that the stuff I already have doesn’t.   If you just want a simple plug ‘n’ go bwucka box, finding one of these used might be the best way to go. It’s not my favorite, but they can be had inexpensively.  If you like it, it is a great deal.
  • Any Boss product that says “Auto-Wah” or has an “AW..” model number is terrible. Seriously.  It will respond wrong, it will sound wrong, you will hate it.  I tried, man.  I tried.  They comprehensively suck.  Excellent doorstops though, if you leave the rubber on the bottom of them.
  • MXR Auto Q (new one) – I really hope that everything I say about this is unfair, because the only time I tried one of these, I tried two.  One broke after about five minutes (fresh out of the box), and started squealing and fuzzing and generally making its unhappiness known.  The other one was thin, reedy, and utterly lacking in anything useful. I spent a lot of time with it, and couldn’t get anything useful to happen.   I think the shop just got a bad batch or something, and I really hope this is the case, because otherwise this whole pedal was a huge mistake.
  • Maxon AF- 9 – I was SO excited about this pedal!  And SO happy that I didn’t have to spend the money once I heard it!  Thin, reedy, terrible sound.  Those stupid sliders are terrible to use, make it hard to dial stuff in, and WILL break or get scratchy pretty fast.  Sometimes old designs are just..old.
  • Boss FT-2 – This is what I actually use in my board.  It is not the thickest, deepest filter, but it’s very, very useful.  I used to think it was a lot more of a compromise–I put it in the board because it covers everything I need, is tough as nails, takes a standard adapter, and wouldn’t break my heart if something happened to it.  Over time, I’ve realized that it’s just a really good pedal on its own merits.  Good range of sensitivity, really tuneable (separate frequency and width controls!).  I really really like this pedal on guitar.  Does not do over-the-top stuff as well as the Q-tron or BassBalls.Highly recommended as a daily driver.
  • Korg Mr. Multi – Oh! So sweet!  The only time-based auto-wah I’ve ever liked. In one mode, you get a fixed frequency and Q auto-wah, on which you can adjust the rate (speed) of the wah with a rocker. I didn’t think I would like that, but I really do.  AND IT DOES THE SAME WITH DOUBLE-WAH!  SQUEEEE!  I should mention that I waited a decade to get one of these things and I am building a new pedalboard just so I have room for this.  This thing will get you from 0 to WTF in one stomp, but if you are looking for a sensible, tweakable filter for guitar, without having to go through a freaking Indiana Jones movie to get it, I’d probably stick with the FT-2.

Here are some other filter pedals I would like to actually try. Really try.  Not read about on the 1nt4rw33bs, but really seriously mess around with:

  • Chunk Systems Agent 00Funk – OMG!  The name is awesome, it’s purple, and lookit all them NAWBS!  Also, I have heard very good things.  The problem with trying this is that I’m pretty sure I’d suddenly have to own one.
  • An actual, real, no-foolin’ old Mutron in good shape but not tweaked.  This is surprisingly hard to do.  I’ve briefly messed with a couple in places where I couldn’t really do much, at far too low a volume, with instruments I didn’t know well. That’s not the same thing. Also, the two pedals didn’t sound the same, and I don’t know if that’s down to different aging, old-school build inconsistencies, modding/repair, or what.I’m not really interested in having an expensive, rare, finicky pedal on my working pedalboard, but it would be nice to really see what a Mu-tron is really like. Like a lot of mythical gear, many people who have never heard one use this as a benchmark.
  • Emma DiscomBOBulator. I have no idea why I haven’t tried one.  There’s a place in town that sells them.  I must be getting lazy.
  • Frostwave Funk -a-Duck – The name!  The NAWBS!  the color!  The reviews!  Oh I simply MUST.

Please let me know if there are any filters you think I should try in the comments.

Spam sez “The best work from home–stop stuffing envelopes!

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