Expanding on the sound of your synthesiser with effect pedals can be incredibly fun, but also a little tricky. As most are primarily designed for use with electric guitar, putting a line level signal through some pedals can sometimes result in clipping. If you’re running your synthesiser with stereo outputs it slims your choices down further too — stereo inputs on a pedal is not a particularly standard feature. However, there’s certainly some good choices out there, here’s a few classic combos and suggestions of our own.
ProCo Rat 2
The Rat is a distortion/fuzz/overdrive pedal that works a treat on bringing some grit and muscle to your bass and lead sounds — particular with analogue synths. The filter control lets you roll off any unwanted high-end fizz and really dial-in the low-end beef. Old school Acid House music nuts will know this pedal as it was commonly found on the end of a Roland TB-303 Bass Synth/Sequencer, pushing those squelchy lead sounds to their screaming resonant limit, but you’d also find plenty of use for this pedal in industrial rock ala Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately it’s only mono, so keep in mind you’ll need a reverb or delay to expand this sound into stereo.
There’s a number of reverb pedals out there that sound epic with synths, the Eventide Space and Strymon Big Sky are two incredibly powerful units that come up a lot, but their price point puts them out of reach for many casual musicians. The Digitech Polara is, in our opinion, criminally overlooked. It features 7 Lexicon reverb algorithms, including a shimmering effect called halo that octave shifts the reverb tails into cascading sonic washes of goodness. Trust us, it sounds bananas on synths. The Polara also crams stereo I/O into the compact case, runs on a standard 9v PSU and comes in around AUD$300.
Boss RE-20 Space Echo
Very few of us are lucky enough to own a real tape echo, prices for the original Roland RE-201 units have skyrocketed, plus they’re notoriously fickle and difficult to maintain. Fortunately back in 2007, Roland/Boss released the RE-20, a digital emulation of their famed vintage unit and it’s become a classic, especially with synth players and producers. It features a warm, saturated tape style delay, a simple reverb and self-oscillates and re-pitches in a really wonderful and true-to-tape way. Ideal for dub music and just about anything else really.
Strymon Ola Chorus/Vibrato
There are very few stereo chorus units out there but fortunately the ones that do exist are pretty damn good. Strymon have made a name for themselves creating high quality vintage inspired effects utilising modern DSP computing power and packaging it in a traditional looking stompbox. The Ola is no exception, the A/D D/A converters operate at 24bit 96khz for ultra high resolution sound – indiscernible from a true analogue effect. The single and Multi modes add an incredibly lush width to your sound with a variety of options and of course stereo I/O. Strymon gear does occupy a fairly high price point, for a more budget friendly option, check out the Digitech Nautila which has a few unique tricks of its own.
Electro Harmonix SuperEgo+ Synth/Multi FX
It’s hard to sum up in words what this bizarre pedal does, part freeze-sustainer, part multi-fx unit, part synth pedal, part a bunch of other pedals. But one thing’s for sure, it’s a lot of fun. If you’re interested in making soundscapes and ambient music, this pedal is you new best mate. That said, there’s a lot you can do with this unit — It’s far from traditional and endlessly creative. Check out Loopop’s in depth demo. >>>