Sunday, June 7, 2009

Roger Mayer's Voodoo 1 and the Virtues of Bi-Amping

I purchased a Roger Mayer Voodoo-1 pedal about 10 years ago. I stuck it on my pedalboard as the last pedal in the chain for its signal buffering qualities and set it for a slightly gritty boost and left it 'on' always -- volume at 3 o'clock, tone at 10 o'clock and gain at 9 o'clock. I liked the gritty boost because it sounded like a clean amp set to LOUD and on the verge of breakup.

For the uninitiated, Roger Mayer designed and built some of the pedals Hendrix used, most notably the Octavia which created the random octave generating effect heard on Purple Haze. It's no small feat coming up with a whole new category of pedal like Mayer did with his Octavia, and have it become a sort of cult classic.

But after a few months, for some reason or another, I relegated the Voodoo to the dark recesses of my pedal closet.

To my ears my Ibanez Tube Screamer or Boss Blues Driver sounded better -- particularly the Blues Driver for its clarity of tone.

With its design pedigree, the Voodoo 1 was a 'semi-boutique' pedal, with its more reasonable price being the only factor in its not qualifying for full-boutique status. Bear in mind that around this period of time, boutique pedals hadn't yet taken off to the degree they have today. And the ones that were out there were seriously over-priced and generally sounded like 'carefully executed farts' -- to quote bassist Michael Anthony. Damn germanium transistors..

Of the better known boutique overdrive pedals of note 10 years ago, the Klon Centaur and Fulltone Full Drive were high on the tone list. But I didn't think they were very good despite the hype and hoopla. I dislike pedals that color the basic guitar tone too much, or make everything sound like you're playing through a vintage Fender Bassman -- that dark, thick, clunky, fat for fat's sake tone.

I'll say it again -- the Tube Screamer and Blues Driver sound pretty good. Still do.

Getting to the point of this story (finally) -- I recently got out the ol' Voodoo 1 again to explore the dual buffered outputs of the pedal. I got it out totally on a whim prompted by a sudden recollection of the bi-amp possibilities of this pedal.

I fired up my Marshall TSL amp and Fender Stage 160. The tube TSL100 has really nice classic Marshall tones while the solid-state Stage 160 does a half-way decent job of replicating a clean Twin Reverb. The words 'fired up' when applied to tube amps always makes me feel uneasy..

Combined together via the Voodoo 1 set to the cleanest setting, I was amazed at the complexity of sound, even at the relatively lower (for me) volume I was playing at. Setting the Fender on a very mild overdrive and with the Marshall's preamp channel pumped, I got a clear singing tone and great note separation on diads and 3-note chords.

Playing around with the guitar's volume pot yielded a whole spectrum of colors. Single notes had definition and character and were easily nuanced by changing pick attack. Feedback also seemed so easily attainable at certain notes on the guitar, particularly on the upper frets on the second string.

If you ask me, bi-amping is the way to go -- it truly is 'the secret' as tonemeisters Lukather, Landau and Thompson will attest. And we haven't even scratched the surface of the stereo reverb/delay possibilities.

The Voodoo 1 might have a little voodoo in it after all.

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