SOME OF THE MOST interesting new sounds to come from the minds at Marshall are encapsulated in these three new digital stomp boxes: the RF-1 Reflector reverb, the EH-1 Echohead delay and the RG-1 Regenerator modulation pedals. Having long ago established itself as a leader in amp design and manufacture, Jim Marshall and company have set their sights on building a line of effect pedals that deliver boutique tone at affordable prices. To that end, the Reflector, Echohead and Regenerator have features and tone that make them useful and welcome additions to the effect pedal market.
Each of these hefty beauties is built like a miniature tank and features top-quality polished jacks and tough switches that deliver a solid "click." Each pedal has six mdoes, dual output jacks, mono and stereo operation, passive bypass circuitry and a spillover circuit that prevents the effect "tail" from cutting off abruptly when the pedal is switched off. If I have one quibble, it's with the nine-volt battery compartment: in this age of easy access and advanced ergonomics, it's unfortunate that a screwdriver or coin is still required to open the boxes' battery doors.
PEDAL MANUFACTURERS COMPETE to create the most dramatic and deranged modulation effects, but not all players want their sound to be dominated by vertigo-inducing sonic mayhem. This is what makes Marshall's Regenerator unique. The tones in its six modes-Vintage Chorus, Multi-Chorus, Vintage Flanger, Phaser, Step Phaser and Vintage Vibe-are reserved at all but the most extreme settings. The pedal has controls for speed, depth and regen and an expression pedal input.
I particularly enjoyed the Vintage Chorus mode, which recalled the warmth and thick sparkle of the benchmark Boss CE-2 pedal. I was also intrigued and somewhat amused by the Step Phaser's bubbling and sometimes abrupt "crystal staircase" effect. Overall, though, Vintage Vibe was my favorite mode, with its combination of chorusing with a soft rotary-speaker pulse.
THE REFLECTOR'S REVERB effects are on par with some of the better rack units. The pedal has six reverbs on tap: Hall, Plate, Room, two Spring simulations and a wildly unique Reverse mode. The unit's time and level controls are standard fare, while the damping control lets you govern the amount of reflected high frequencies to produce everything from vibrant and sparkling ambience to creamy dark reverbs. An expression pedal input provides control over the decay time, a performance feature that let me sculpt dramatic ambient waves.
Tonally, the Reflector's simulations were comparable to my Victoria combo's tube-driven reverb unit, arguably the finest reverb of its type. The Reflector demonstrated an accurate decay that did not color the amp's tone. I especially enjoyed Reverse mode, in which the Reflector produced an alien amalgam of note rejection and regurgitated reverb that sounded as if the amp was throwing each sound back at me.
WHEN GUITARISTS USE the word "echo" to describe a delay effect, they're usually referring to a softer and more natural repeat, like those produced by a tape-driven delay unit. It's therefore appropriate that Marshall has dubbed this pedal the Echohead, because its delay tones are uniquely soft and lacking harsh digital edges, without affecting the accuracy of each repeat. Its has six modes-Hi-Fi, Analogue, Tape Echo, Multi-Tap, Reverse and Mod Filter-and controls for delay time, feedback and level. For players that are skilled enough to set a tap tempo, the Echohead's 1/4-inch foot pedal jack is compatible with most momentary switches.
Unlike so many other digital delay pedals, the Echohead's repeats seemed to meld organically with my existing tone, rather than force me to compensate for a loss of highs or unnatural sustain. The Hi-Fi mode produced a clear and colorless delay that was suitable for any application, but the Tape Echo setting was the most fun for me. Its relaxed repeats and pillowy bass response gave my Strat a calm and sweet demeanor that was great with fine blues and jazz tones.
THE BOTTOM LINE
MARSHALL'S NEW TRIO of six-mode pedals create truly fresh sounds. The EH-1 Echohead's digital delays can be particularly delicate, the RG-1 Regenerator's modulation tones are friendly rather than obnoxious, and the RF-1 Reflector produces the most realistic reverb I've heard yet from a pedal.