There are myriad ways you can modulate a guitar signal: shift between high and low volume with tremolo, change the pitch with vibrato, change the tone with a phaser, add multiple voices with chorus, and so on until your altered sound gradually fades off into faint breaths of reverb or delay. Lumped together, these diverse signal shifts are all types of modulation. Use them just right and you’ve got a veritable smorgasbord of multi-layered voices on top of each other, as simultaneously synced and dissonant from each other as a vocal choir.
The origins of modulation effects are incredibly varied. Many old Fender amps had onboard tremolo, phase shifts were originally produced with rotating speakers, and flanging may have accidentally come about when ‘60s audio engineers would lightly press moving magnetic tape with their fingers. Chorus was a late-comer, first arriving onboard the Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus amp in 1975, before BOSS released the CE-1 stompbox featuring the same components the following year. The effect quickly became strongly associated with jazz fusion, and later ‘80s rock.
Many of the units we’ll look at here are multi-modulators, giving you a full spread of these effects to switch and combine. Others are more specific chorus, tremolo, or flanging units. What kind of modulators do you need this year? We’re running through the best and wildest of 2019’s modulators right here!
Right in the middle of this lineup of multi-modulation effects, Spanish company Ananashead has released the Optotrem, which does one specific type of modulation really well: pulsing, psychedelic tremolo. This pedal’s fully analog optical tremolo does just a tiny bit more than classic Fenders have onboard because it’s got knobs for Rate, Depth, and a Wave control that controls the symmetry of tremolodic pulses.
This pedal is incredibly warm, organic, and at a great price for a boutique pedal. Grab one and start belting out “Crimson and Clover!”
Like the rest of BOSS’s 200 series pedals, the MD-200 occupies a middle ground between basic stompboxes and their more “deep dive” multi-function 500 series for a balance between versatility and simplicity. Its chorus modes will satisfy anyone looking for the classic Roland/BOSS chorus; it even has a unique setting for the CE-1 sound. In addition to two choruses, the mode knob also features ten other modulation settings including flange, phase, vibrato, tremolo, auto-wah, and a Leslie rotary speaker simulation for those Hammond organ sounds.
Throw in the ability to tap all these modulations to tempo, pull up multiple presets via its 32-bit processor, and stereo input/output, and you’ve got a very powerful modulator at your disposal. You’ll just have to wait until September 2019 to get yours.
Flower Pedals Dandelion Tremolo V2
Like the Optotrem, Flower Pedals’ Dandelion is a tremolo-specific unit, but with just a bit more versatility. You can switch between a “Harmonic” setting, which produces a warm vintage tremolo with a hint of vibrato, or the “Standard” setting for more textbook tremolo that strictly modulates your signal’s volume up and down. It also has versatile controls for Depth, Shape, Speed, and Voice.
New for 2019, v2 of the Dandelion adds tap divisions, an input for tap or expression pedals, and a unique Dual function that combines two different speeds of tremolo.
JHS Space Commander
Technically, JHS’s Space Commander is new for 2019. It’s a re-named and re-branded version of their Ryan Adams VCR, which was discontinued on account of sexual misconduct allegations against the artist. This issue aside, the Space Commander is unique in the lineup here. It’s a multifunction pedal, yet very simple to use with just three control knobs, three on/off switches, and a single bypass button.
Furthermore, unlike many other multifunction pedals here, this is not a modulation pedal per se. Rather, it combines a subtle drive/boost, digital hall reverb, and best of all, an excellent ‘80s analog-style chorus. Despite only one control knob, the chorus can definitely hold its own. It features a slight flange at lower settings, and goes up to a dizzying vibrato when turned up. If you’re looking for a relatively clean country sound and want minimal pedals between your Tele and Princeton, the Space Commander fits the bill.
Mad Professor Double Moon
If you’re looking for straightforward analog that is still very much a chorus-plus-modulation pedal, the Mad Professor Double Moon is for you. Like any basic chorus pedal, it has knobs controlling depth, speed, wet/dry mix, and even tone. But like more complex units such as the BOSS, the Double Moon features a mode dial that brings up different vibratos, flanges, rotating speakers, and even doublers for certain modulations.
From easy-to-dial vintage modulations to the cold shimmers of ‘80s metal’s cleaner sound, the Double Moon delivers boutique quality with more versatility than you’d expect.
Meris has pretty much packed a full rack into a small package with the analog/digital hybrid Hedra. As a three-voice pitch shifter with various delay and modulation controls, it can deliver chorus-like effects in a sweeping stereo spread. But it can go beyond this into key-dependent or chromatic harmonizing, octave doubling, and even auto-tune for your guitar if you’re into that sort of thing.
The potential of the Hedra for anything from light chorus to warping synth sounds extends beyond just guitar. Meris recommends its use in fattening up keyboards, vocals, and even snare drums in the studio.
True to their name, Retro-Sonic has taken original analog Bucket Brigade Device (BBD) circuitry from the original “Electric Mistress” flanger of the late ‘70s and added a few improvements. The result is the versatile Retro-Sonic Flanger that recreates the sounds of Pink Floyd and The Police, without the background noise and signal loss that plagued the original devices.
In addition to the classic “sweep” of a flanger’s Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO), which can be switched on or off, the Retro-Sonic’s controls for Range, Color, and Rate can be set for chorus and vibrato effects by themselves. An all-analog boutique device like this does not get much better at the price.
ThorpyFX Deep Oggin
Like Mad Professor, ThorpyFX has produced a highly versatile, analog pedal with the Deep Oggin. This is not a modulation pedal with multiple flange and phase options. Rather, the Deep Oggin gives you incredible control over chorus and vibrato. When really dimed out, the depth and rate controls will extend the delay time and bend the signal to the point of SciFi ray-gun sounds.
There’s also a treble control for EQ and a wet/dry blend knob that controls the mix at levels that most other pedals do not approach. The dual wet/dry outputs also begin the level at unity gain, making this a great pedal for those who prefer to move away from the clean roots of chorus and mix the effect with gritty, overdriven gain. Whether with swirling chorused distortion or more subtle clean vibratos in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan, analog chorus and vibrato does not get better than the Deep Oggin.
All these pedals present an astonishing diversity in modulation features. Do you just need a bit of body for clean single-note solos in your power trio? Synthy dated shimmer for your Joy Division cover tribute band? Cascading waterfalls of tone and pitch as you strum the opening chords to Alice in Chains’ “Rooster?” These pedals can do it all.
For a full quiver of modulation effects, go with the BOSS or Wampler. If you want more specific pitch modulation, choose the Meris.
Elegant simplicity with great effects up front? Check out the ThorpyFX or JHS, the Dandelion for tremolo, or the Retro-Sonic for flange.
Multi-modulation in a small package without too many bells and whistles? Definitely the Mad Professor.