For ambient guitarists, the endless search for new tonal inspiration can be a long and (sometimes) empty road. Months, if not years, go by where sonic discovery is stuck in a rut. Browsing the same online guitar stores and message boards brings no solution. A multitude of reverbs, delays and loopers with slightly different functions ends up sounding…just like everything you’ve already heard. One must break out of the typical and into the unknown in order to create new guitar soundscapes. To help, we’ll provide a push in the right direction by bringing to your attention to this collection of weird, rare, strange and creatively unique guitar pedals that you most likely have never heard of…but will break down the walls of your current ambient guitar boundaries.
We’ve all heard of multi-stage phasers, but how about a multi-stage sequenced delay machine? That’s exactly what the Skychord Cloudbuster is, and it will immediately chop up anything you play and repeat it in a strangely organized, yet chaotic, fashion. This pedal essentially takes a modified lo-fi delay unit and warps the repeats, feedback and time-based modulations in ways that you simply don’t hear in any other delay pedal on the market. While this machine (made in the UK) is popular with electronic musicians and DJs, it’s also an incredibly creative and inspirational device for ambient guitar players who are searching beyond the boundaries of the boutique tape machine and modulated delay units being offered today. You must watch this video to get a sense of what it’s capable of. Price: $375. More Info.
Video Demo of the Skychord Cloudbuster
Count to Five (Montreal Assembly)
For guitarists into looping, the Count to 5 from Montreal Assembly will spark new creativity in an instant. The looping applications of the Boomerang III, JamMan and other common phrase samplers only go so far before guitarists reach the limits of exploration. The Count to Five breaks through those limits and takes looping into obscurity. Although it is technically a delay machine (a sampler, to be precise), the Count to 5 acts more like the rare Digitech PDS800 or vintage Electro Harmonix 16-Second Delay in that it records medium length portions of your playing and then repeats them in creatively divisible ways.
Building upon its predecessor (the Goodbye 24), the Count to Five offers 3 modes to slice and sample your guitar riffs in different ways. The first mode is like the standard Goodbye 24, which “recycles data in a buffer like a delay” (according to their website) and offers some unique arpeggiated/delayed/pitch modulated tones that are so weird you won’t leave your jam room. The second mode allows guitarists to sample a clip (by holding the stompswitch and playing) then randomly play it back in smaller slices of the original riff with variable (yet controllable) speed and direction. The third mode also allows you to sample a clip, but offers 3 playback heads which can each have their own direction and speed independently controlled. If it sounds strange, it’s because it is…and probably best to watch the video to hear how it sounds. Price: $200. More info.
Video Demo #1 of the Montreal Assembly Count to Five
Video Demo #2 of the Montreal Assembly Count to Five
BONUS VIDEO: Hear the Count to 5 + Cloudbuster Together
Tracer City (Snazzy FX)
Snazzy FX has created an incredibly innovative pedal that is popular with electronic musicians, yet very capable of delivering exploratory guitar tones and riffs. It’s essentially the tone shaping portion of an analog synth, broken down into four sections. The first section offers input gain, input range (for instrument or line level signal) and output volume. The second section offers a low frequency oscillator (similar to a tremolo) with controls for depth, speed, and wave control (triangle or square). The third section offers a somewhat random oscillator that generates an irregular modulation. The fourth section offers a dynamic envelope filter. There’s also a control voltage section that allows you to send an external control voltage source into the pedal (you can input either one or two external CV signals). Price: $499. More info.
Video Demo of the Snazzy FX Tracer City
The Judder (MWFX)
The Judder (from MWFX) is essentially a stutter, glitch and freeze effect that uses a momentary sampler to loop your guitar signal when the stomp switch is pressed. Similar to the vintage Electro Harmonix 16-Second Delay, it’s always recording your signal and ready to stutter and glitch at any given time. The pedal offers a range of 10-200ms but can be slowed down further for extra glitch, clicks and beeps. The Judder is an analog delay device of sorts, so it can also produce the sought-after warm artifacts (common with analog delays) when the delay is slowed down and the stomp switch held long enough. It uses a JFET buffer and splits your signal into both a dry and effected signal path, each kept analog the entire way through. There is a smaller version with only a rate knob, but this larger version offers so much more versatility, such as the ability to react to your playing in automatic fashion. There’s much more packed into this unique pedal, so be sure to watch the video to explore the Judder’s full functionality and hear how it sounds. Price: $279 (made in the UK). More Info.
Video Demo of the MWFX Judder
We will update this blog post as we discover more unique guitar pedals to expand your ambient tonal horizons. Are you aware of others? Suggest them in the comments.