Review: TC Electronic Helix and Viscous Vibe Pedals — Video


Back in the heady days of heavy rock and roll, phase shifting effects were all the rage. These weren’t today’s run-of-the-mill, milquetoast sweeps and whooshes, but instead deliciously thick, swirling sounds with fat, chewy texture and a particular voice-like midrange that almost made the guitar seem to talk.

Phasing effects of this nature first appeared during the late Sixties with Jimi Hendrix and were heard throughout the Seventies on records by guitarists like David Gilmour, Frank Marino, Pat Travers, Robin Trower, and even early Cheap Trick (“The Ballad of TV Violence,” “Hot Love,” or any other track on their debut album), but vanished about the same time as the ten dollar Thai stick.

Over the last few decades, pedal designers have tried to recapture the gnarly sounds of these early phaser effects by using the same or similar obsolete lo-fi analog parts that gave those effects so much of their character, producing pedals in limited amounts with eyebrow-raising prices.

Most attempts to duplicate these effects in the digital realm were underwhelming, but the engineers at TC Electronic finally cracked the code, as is evident in their new Helix Phaser and Viscous Vibe TonePrint pedals. Best of all, these pedals are affordably priced—you can buy both for less than one boutique or vintage pedal.

FEATURES: While the Helix and Viscous Vibe are both TC TonePrint pedals, each pedal takes a different approach to its phase shift and vibe effects, respectively. The Viscous Vibe is a modern digital recreation of the original Shin-Ei Uni-Vibe, while the Helix is a multi-personality phaser that is not based on any specific effect but can dial in accurate reproductions of numerous classic phasers with a few careful twists of its knobs.

Like the original Uni-Vibe, the Viscous Vibe provides intensity and volume controls, an oversized speed knob, and a switch with separate chorus and vibrato settings. The switch also includes a TonePrint setting that stores downloaded TonePrint vibe effects from TC’s artist library or your own modified preset.

The Helix’s mini toggle features a TonePrint setting as well, plus vintage (thick and swirly similar to early Mu-Tron and Electro-Harmonix phasers) and smooth (more like an MXR Phase 90) settings. Controls on the Helix include speed, depth, feedback, and mix, which allow users to dial in a surprisingly wide variety of awesome phase shifting effects.

Both pedals offer stereo inputs and outputs, true-bypass switching, and analog dry through circuitry that always passes your guitar’s unprocessed dry tone, whether the pedal is engaged or not, with zero latency and full dynamic response. The pedals operate with either a nine-volt battery or optional external nine-volt 100mA power source. A mini USB jack is provided for downloading updates or TonePrints created with TC’s TonePrint Editor software for Mac and PC.

PERFORMANCE: Most digital phasers and vibe effects I’ve tried were somewhat flat sounding and underwhelming, but the Helix and Viscous Vibe instantly blew me away with their expressive character and dynamic responsiveness.

The Viscous Vibe’s chorus effect is the same thick, swirling, psychedelic Uni-Vibe effect guitarists have loved since Jimi played “Machine Gun,” and its vibrato effect is spot on as well. Players who want to go beyond the limitations of the original can do so via the TonePrint Editor software. The Helix absolutely nails almost every classic phaser.

The vintage setting delivers thick, growling swirls with throbbing bass, while the smooth setting produces a more subtle midrange-dominated shift that erupts in the background. The speed ranges from flowing molasses throbs to mosquito wing flutters. The only “vintage” aspect missing from both pedals is the noise, but most players will welcome that vast improvement.

LIST PRICE: $149.99 (each)

CHEAT SHEET:The Viscous Vibe is an accurate modern recreation of the legendary and unique phase shifting effects of the Shin-Ei Uni-Vibe introduced in the Sixties.

The Helix reproduces a wide variety of classic phase shifting effects thanks to its versatile controls and vintage and smooth settings.

THE BOTTOM LINE: TC Electronic’s Helix and Viscous Vibe pedals are certain to please vintage effect connoisseurs with their classic sounds that deliver all the character, expressiveness, and vibe of original phasers from the Sixties and Seventies.

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Chris Gill, Video by Paul Riario

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.