Nov 27, 2017

Of all the effects for guitar out there, the ring modulator might as well rank among the least popular. Why on earth would you want your guitar to sound like this? The answer, in most cases, is: “because I’m an experimental kind of guy.”

First introduced in the ’30s in telephone circuits and adopted by synthesizers in the early ’70s, the ring modulator is despised by most tone purists (I doubt any blues guitarist ever even entertained the idea of buying one). But the adventurous musician might find that this effect’s quirky and unpredictable tendency to drastically alter the instrument’s expected response can produce creative ways to “force” happy accidents. And if atonality and dissonance are your friends, you really can’t do without one.

To get you familiar with its sound, here are some examples of bands using a ring modulated electric guitar: Ex Models – Cursive – Sonic Youth.

WHAT DOES A RING MODULATOR DO?

To quote the Synthesizer Academy,

Schematic diagram of a ring modulator, showing ring of diodes (source: Wikipedia)

A ring modulator multiplies two signals together to create two brand-new frequencies which are the sum and difference of the input frequencies.

Things can get rather technical on that page, but, in simple terms, in your common ring mod pedal, one of the signals mentioned above is the input (your guitar), while the other is what is commonly defined as “the carrier.” The latter is normally a very fast oscillating wave that creates its own pitch according to its speed (that setting is normally called frequency or range). If you slow that wave down below the range of human hearing you’ll get something similar to a tremolo.

The resulting effect you get out of this combination is often dissonant because it includes two different pitches: the original guitar pitch and the carrier’s pitch, which will sound dissonant with the majority of notes played by the guitar.

At extreme settings, it doesn’t really matter what kind of signal you feed into a ring modulator, the result is and will always be weird and grating, but when used with subtlety it can add character and a unique texture, and the few options in this list featuring pitch tracking can actually sound quite musical.

This being said, the ring modulator is undeniably a one trick pony kind of effect. That’s why often this circuit is featured in conjunction with other ones that integrate it and enrich it.

THE FIRST RING MODULATOR PEDALS

 

An early version of Electro Harmonix’s EH-5000 Frequency Analizer Ring Modulator pedal

Electro Harmonix was one of the first companies to put a ring modulator inside a stompbox, with the EH-5000 Frequency Analyzer, released in 1977 (Mike Matthews says there was another unit before this one manufactured by CMI). Devo famously used the pedal in their cover of “Satisfaction” and other songs from their groundbreaking debut album (see it strapped to Mark Mothersbaugh’s guitar here at minute 0.14). The effect was redesigned in the late aughts in a smaller (but still not compact) case and simply renamed Frequency Analyzer. That model is now discontinued because the new Ring Thing features a mode that replicates it.

Here are some relevant notes about the Frequency Analyzer directly from the manufacturer:

The Frequency Analyzer has controllable high order filters that reduce cross distortions and enhance the variations. The course and fine control let the user set a single frequency that will then be both added and subtracted from the original note or chord. Blend control lets you mix the new notes with the original.

Since 1977, a relatively small number of pedal companies gave the ring modulator circuit a go; the first version of the DOD Gonculator (20 years later!) was one of the early followers, while BOSS, believe it or not, hasn’t released a dedicated one yet!

This article’s goal is to gather all the ring mod stompboxes on the market to facilitate your comparative shopping – the models in this list are organized, as usual, in order of “perceived popularity.” Clicking on the thumbnails will open a demo video!

P.S. Multi-effect pedals that feature a ring modulator mode/engine are not included in this list.

SIMPLE RING MODULATORS

Here’s a list of basic ring modulator pedals available on the market. These stompboxes only feature a ring mod circuit, nothing else.

Electro-Harmonix Frequency Analyzer – $147.80
An updated version of the first popular ring modulator pedal with a smaller footprint. Pretty basic, it features Blend, Shift and Fine knobs and both a direct and Effect out.

Moog Minifooger MF Ring V2 – $149
An analog ring modulator based on the expansive Moogerfooger MF-102. An expression pedal in lets you control the pedal’s frequency ratio for pitch shifting, key control, and outright noise insanity.

Copilot FX The Android Modulator – $93 used
An affordable, basic ring modulator with expression pedal out and a two-way toggle mode switch for a wider range of sounds.

Recovery Effects Motormatic Granular Ring Modulator – $149
A rather basic ring modulator with volume and frequency knobs and two toggle switches to control the relationship between the original sound source and the carrier frequency.

Burford Electronics Robot ($N/A)
(Discontinued) A two knob, two switches ring modulator. The “Accent” knob (on the back of the pedal) slightly changes the sound’s character, while the Range switch changes the speed range of the oscillation.

Montreal Assembly – Puhzing ($N/A)
Very basic but great sounding ring modulator with just Frequency selector, Dry and Wet knobs

RING MOD EVOLUTIONS

The stompboxes in this list also feature nothing but a ring modulator circuit, but take the effect to new places thanks to unique designs. We call them “ring mod evolutions.”

Subdecay Vitruvian Mod – $199
Features optional tracking mode which, through pitch detection, lets you avoid the dissonance. It also works as a regular ring modulator. Entropy mode lets you further simplify the carrier’s steps to the key of your choice.

Frantone Glacier (around $300 used)
(Discontinued) Ring modulator with a selectable carrier (including 3 LFO waves and external in!)

Last Gasp Art Labs Sick Pitch King Jr. – $248

A basic ring mod with a quirk: you can set the motion form of the carrier’s frequencies sweep to be “smooth” or in “steps”. The internal oscillator sound can also be output.

Wilson Effects Mycelium – $180
A unique ring modulator with a sensitivity knob that, when set on the lower settings, bypasses low volume parts, blending in the effected signal at louder volumes (depending on the setting). Internal trim pots let you control noise level and volume.

RING MODULATORS WITH ADDED DISTORTION

As previously mentioned, many ring mod stompboxes come with other embedded circuits, in an effort to widen the effect’s limited palette. Distortion is one of the most common – here are the pedals that marry the two.

DigiTech DOD Gonkulator – $149.95
A popular reissue of the vintage DOD ring modulator featuring an aggressive distortion circuit. The carrier rate knob (Freq) at lower settings is slow enough to give you slightly-skewed modulation.

HEXE GE – The Carrier – $900
A true “beast” of a pedal (also very rare and expensive) blending an analog octaver, a massive fuzz and an ultra-versatile ring modulator with 6 carrier waves, LFO and a ton of other options.

Lastgasp Art Laboratories Toxic Plant – $221
A rather basic but plenty gnarly ring mod + distortion with added CV/expression pedal input.

F-Pedals RobotHolic Ring Modulator – $119
Probably the only ring modulator hosted in a mini case, the RobotHolic adds also a Drive knob and a Lo-Fi switch for extra grittiness and sonic flavor.

RING MODULATORS WITH STEP SEQUENCER

Step sequencers applied to stompboxes can be a lot of fun, and ZVex has somewhat specialized in this department, releasing a series of pedals in this vein. Ring modulation lends itself well to this kind of approach because it’s rather unpredictable to edit on the fly, and the step sequencer allows the player to program the variations in advance.

ZVEX Ringtone TT – $185+ (used)
(Discontinued) Tap-tempo sequenced ring modulator with 8 separate “steps” assignable to the carrier’s rate that can be triggered in sequence, randomly or through a footswitch (step mode). Internal trim pot sets the mix of ring-modulated sound versus direct guitar.

ZVEX Effects Super Ringtone – $369
An expanded version of the Ringtone with 16 step instead of 8, MIDI sync, tap tempo control, tap tempo sync, expression pedal control of speed or glissando, individual step glissando, 8 user programmable memory locations, and delta speed control.

RING MODS WITH EXTRA EFFECTS AND FEATURES

Here are some ring modulators enriched with other effects, you’ll find here some of the most popular pedals in this article.

Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing – $221

Built on upon the original EHX Frequency Analyzer (recreated here in RM mode), this pedal goes above and beyond the original unit, adding 4 different modes – 3 are ring mod based and one is a pitch shifter. Other features include selectable carrier waveforms, a sweepable filter, presets and ample external control options. Holding the left footswitch tunes the carrier to the input’s note.

Moog MF-102 Moogerfooger – $259
A fully featured ring mod by the legendary synth manufacturer, featuring also a great sounding LFO circuit (modulation) and a not too aggressive Drive knob. The Mix knob lets you moderate the effect by reintegrating some of the clean signal. Stereo output and expression pedal input round up the features.

Fairfield Circuitry – Randy’s Revenge – $280
The extra effect here is a low-pass filter, which, together with the Mix knob, helps tame the ring modulation’s grating edge. Features expanded control voltage (CV) capabilities.

Way-Huge-Ringworm – $235 used
(Discontinued) Adds to the regular ring modulator a Low Frequency Oscillator (modulation) featuring five different waves for a richer and more flexible sound. An expression input lets you control the Frequency knob through an expression pedal.

Dwarfcraft Devices HAX – $140 used
(Discontinued) An original ring modulator with added power starve effect for extra grit, and expression pedal input controlling the tune (carrier’s frequency) knob. Hi/Low footswitch allows quick switches between tones.

Lovetone Ring Stinger – $900+
An incredibly flexible (and expensive) ring modulator + octaver + VCO with tons of sonic options and connections for external control.

RELEVANT VIDEOS ABOUT RING MODULATOR PEDALS

 

 

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