Lofi Pedals and Electro Nostalgia: Why Do We Love It So?
Picture the scene: School holidays 1989, I'm 9 years old. A few buddies have ridden their BMX bikes over to my place, my mum has baked treats, we've spread bean bags and mattresses out on the rumpus room floor, and a well loved 'Return of the Jedi' VHS is playing.
Luke Skywalker is on the Endor forest detritus, ignited lightsaber in hand. A Speederbike mounted Scout Trooper races towards him. The tension of the score increases as the distance between them dissolves. At the last second Skywalker side steps and swings down...
All of a sudden the videotape hits a spot of trouble. 'What's happening?!' one mate yells. The visuals slow down and the audio gets garbled, lousy with pitch modulation and stuttering.
We grip our hair and wail in horror! Has this VHS Cassette finally reached its limit? Was the 467th watch the final straw? The scene continues this way for 30 seconds or more, accompanied with a sea of static... and then, like a record player starting up, it whirs back to normality, our little faces plastered with the same relief as our hero who successfully evaded the attack.
Anyone within a decade of my age will have similar memories, whether it be the warp and crackle of a dusty, bent record, or the skipping and stuttering of a Sony Discman, or the abused VHS artefacts described above. But how is it, that something, which in the moment was a nuisance and source of frustration, now is loaded with reverie and fondness when we recall it. There has been a growing trend over the last decade, and that trend is the sound of nostalgic media. Think worn out, malfunctioning, old timey, audio equipment of yesteryear, fraught with vinyl warble, tape crinkle, hiss and white noise... it's a lo-fi revolution.
Back when Strymon released the first few sample sounds for the El Capistan I remember being blown away. I instantly associated those characteristics with cassettes and VHS tapes from my childhood and knew I HAD to have one. The 'tape crinkle' and 'wow & flutter' effects available really appealed to a huge audience, and helped kick start the next generation of delay pedals to include lo-fi and warping elements. Likewise, the Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl caused a big splash. The first version of the Warped Vinyl was the debut release for Chase Bliss and was incredibly well received. Joel from CBA actually fully realised this circuit after his days working at Zvex. There he developed the Lo-Fi Loop Junky, which itself is definitely a progenitor to the era of nostalgic pedals we now find ourselves in.
5 NOSTALGIC PEDALS IN PRODUCTION
Today we're going to highlight five pedals that capture this feel and vibe, and maybe delve into why an ever growing community of artist and musicians are gravitating towards a 'less than perfect' sonic palette.
TEFI VINTAGE LAB - GOLDEN ERA REAL-TIME LO-FI MACHINE
Tefi Vintage Lab, from L'Aquila, Italy, had their beginnings in vintage keyboard repair and have slowly but surely built into a noteworthy brand. Emanuele from TVL worked incredibly hard to produce one of the nicest sounding pedals in this category. Where as other builders have pushed harder into the really 'broken' elements of yesteryear's equipment, bordering on and sometimes beyond the limit of what would actually happen, TVL have rounded out an era-traversing sound set that sounds believable, even at the extreme ends of its modulation.
Golden Era has a unique sound palette evoking the textures of phonograph and compact cassettes. With adjustable 'mechanical' noise and scratch, a filter that tops and tails your signal in a vintage-voiced bandwidth, and some waveforms that faithfully reflect the wear from a bygone time. Golden Era is definitely sitting in a niche of its own and is far from just a chorus with a few extra tweaks.
We hope to get another batch of these in store sometime in the coming months, as long as parts shortages don’t slow the TVL crew down!
DEMEDASH - T-60 ANALOG MODULATOR
Demedash Effects could easily have multiple pedals in the list but I’m opting for the recently released T-60 Analog Modulator. This pedal comes hot off the heels of the wildly successful T-120 and T-120 DLX Videotape Delay pedals from Steve Demedash. Those pedals have a truly wide and expressive modulation palette for ambience, but somehow Steve has managed to add more elements of destruction and wobble into the T-60.
Everything from lo-fi resonant flanging to slow true pitch vibrato and chorus are available, though with the addition of ‘CHOP’, ’LAG’ and the Hi/Low shelving EQ (that can be applied to just the chorus signal or also the dry signal), you can craft some truly strange and beautiful textures that can sound so beyond repair but also endearing at the same time. ‘Random’ mode gives some truly unpredictable jolts and tugs on the pitch of your playing, resulting in a real and organic sounding modulation. T-60 is also the only pedal in this bunch that sports a TRS stereo output for some ultra-wide, all-surrounding warble.
Solidgoldfx have been releasing pedals like mad over the last year or two, one of which is the NU33 Vinyl Engine. Amongst the company of other pedals on this list the NU-33 probably has the widest conventional palette of effects. Chorus, Vibrato, subtle Flange, and Lo-Fi filtering can be dialled into to mimic or supersede a plethora of other mod pedals. But where NU-33 is in a league of its own is when you incorporate the ‘Hiss’ and ‘Crackle’ effects to a high pass sine wave… simply put, an absolutely sentimental wonder.
But the surprises with NU-33 don’t end there… You can stand on the right foot switch at any time and sample a short snippet of your playing which will repeat ad nauseam, evoking a skipping CD or badly scratched vinyl record effect. Brilliant from top to bottom.
CAROLINE GC - SOMERSAULT LO-FI MODULATOR
Philippe from Caroline Guitar Company has a real knack for taking a relatively simple and much-trodden path, and making something uniquely and undeniably his own. Somersault has a far more pristine tonality to it than other pedals in this list, but that’s only with a partial mix of the effect. Go fully wet and flick the tone switch to ‘Dark’ for some murky modulation that hits you right in the homesickness button. The familiar Caroline ‘Havoc’ switch is used to jump from slow modulation rates to real quick trills, allowing you to simulate Leslie speaker sounds or slow vibrato waves to seasick shakiness.
Somersault stays north of the garbled tape and broken equipment sounds that the other pedals here are emulating, which makes it a great choice for someone who wants some old-time pining, but without the risk of falling into extreme disrepair.
FAIRFIELD CIRCUITRY - SHALLOW WATER K-FIELD MODULATOR
Fairfield Circuitry never shy away from the bizarre and aleatoric sound spectrum, and they're definitely not the only Canadians who do so. Their ever popular Shallow Water is a grand example of this. While Shallow Water does harbour a bunch of lo-fi quirks, it has a heavy focus on filtering and offers up some olden-day sounds by way of a Low Pass Gate and BBD circuit that offer unpredictable fluctuations in tone. The LPG along with the ‘Damp’ control combine in this weird way that sometimes makes a guitar note sound more like a faulty Mellotron under a pile of blankets… never thought that would be a tonal description I would be seeking out…
Shallow Water is best described, in nostalgic media terms, as a tape recorder in dire straits. It adds this ‘dubbed too many times’ character that is more of an homage to the warn out media transport than it is to the mechanical artefacts of unkempt vintage units. A positively unique pedal that isn’t something for everyone, but will be everything to someone!
That about wraps it for this discussion. We hope you enjoyed this little exposé on some of our favourite nostalgia boxes, and we hope that, if you’re so inclined, that this has inspired you to branch out into some not-so-perfect, not-so-in-tune, not-so-desirable sounds, and find ways of incorporating them into your playing and tunes! Remember, I always like to say that there are no bad sounds, you just haven’t found a place for them yet. Peace and love, my friends.