Aug 10, 2012

Electro Harmonix‘s latest creation, the Superego pedal is a sustain and synth engine stomp box. It follows in the footsteps of their beloved Freeze sound retainer pedal. The Freeze pedal itself is a very innovative sustain pedal. It is essentially a very short duration sampler and looper. You could also think of it as an infinite delay pedal (though it never feeds back into itself like analog delays). The Super Ego takes that same concept, but WAY to another level, letting you blend and transform your sustained notes in a number of ways – therefore earning without any doubt the “synth engine” attribute.

The Super Ego has three very distinct modes of operation.

The simplest is the ‘Momentary’ mode, which is essentially keyboard-like sustain; at the instant you step down on the pedal, the note or chord you are playing sustains indefinitely, with no decay, until you remove your foot from the pedal. Something you CAN’T do with a keyboard’s pedal, though, is to sustain one note or chord indefinitely, and continue to play other notes unaffected. This lets you create a drone-like effect which guitarist into psychedelic genres will find interesting. For example, you could ‘freeze’ your high E string, and then play a lick over this drone, on the same string! You could play a nice full chord, and solo over it, then play and sample a new chord, and solo over that one! It really is one of the most viable and simple ways to self accompany I’ve seen. The first knob on the pedal is called “layer” or “speed”. In momentary mode, it’s a ‘speed’ knob, controlling the attack and decay time simultaneously. The decay is very obvious, but you’ll feel the attack times more with a wetter signal. The Super Ego has two output knobs; one for wet and one for dry. This is so far superior to pedals with just a ‘mix’ knob. You don’t have to worry about your signal not matching level with your bypassed signal, and you have total control over your wet/dry mix. Another thing I love about Electro-Harmonix, is that they always let the knobs go a little further than you think they ‘need’ to! In other words, if you crank up the dry output (with or without the wet) you can actually get a good amount of boost from the pedal as well!

Once you’ve mastered the ‘momentary’ mode, it’s time to move on to ‘Latch’ mode. In latch, you don’t need to hold down the pedal indefinitely, you play a note and tap the pedal; it will sustain forever, or at least until you freeze another note. I already mentioned that the ‘frozen’ sample can be monophonic or polyphonic. But now you can start layering your sampled notes/ chords on top of each other! You make that decision with the first two knobs on the pedal. The first, as I mentioned, is called ‘layer’ or ‘speed’. In latch, we’ll consider it a ‘layer’ knob. Again, play a chord, and tap the pedals footswitch.. it sustains indefinitely. With this layer knob all the way counter-clockwise, when you play/freeze a new note/chord, the previous decays away quickly, creating more of a ‘monophonic’ effect. Turn the ‘layer’ knob up, and your original note continues to sustain under the new one. With the ‘layer’ all the way up, you have infinite sustain for every new note you freeze, and you can keep freezing more notes indefinitely. It can get pretty epic, sounding like a big church organ with all the stops pulled out! Personally, I liked the ‘layer’ set a bit below half way. I found there you could get a four note chord singing away, and with each new note after that, the first one dies away. In that way, you can slowly transition to new chords with common tones.

But now, on to the ‘gliss’ knob. Keyboard players will be familiar with glissando; it’s the time a monophonic synth takes to bend its pitch from one note to the next (say C to E). if the Gliss know is down you hear 2 separate notes as usual. Turn glissando all the way up, and play a C then an E. The pitch slowly bends from C to E. The same principle applies here (but remember, your frozen sample can be a full chord). Still in latch mode, with the layer knob turned down, turn up the ‘gliss” knob half way. Sample note after note, and hear them slowly bend from one to the next. If you have an even mix of wet and dry, you can get this wild resolving dissonance, hearing the beats of the two notes slowly resolving to unison (it sounds a bit like tuning up a string). When you turn the dry all the way off, you find yourself in full blown synth territory, far away from your standard guitar tone. You could pull off anything from a Steve Miller intro, to some other-worldly Steve Vai action, even some tones that would make Jonny Greenwood’s ears peak up!

Ok, freaked out yet? We haven’t even tried the ‘Auto’ mode yet! This one is nice if you want to run around a bit, and not have to spend as much time stepping and sampling. The auto mode well, auto-detects notes coming in, and samples and holds them as such. It has an interesting threshold, play very lightly and it mostly ignores you, dig in, and that note will freeze and sustain. The length of sustain is determined by that ‘layer/speed’ knob we used in latch mode. Here, it’s a speed control. Counter-clockwise, your notes sustain for a short period of time, sounding like a short delay or reverb. Crank it completely clockwise, and you have the infinite sustain of latch mode, until you hit a new note to trigger the freeze. Remember, I told you you can play under the threshold by being just quiet enough? So you can get a reasonable version of the latch mode y controlling your attack mode. Oh, and by the way.. you can still tap and hold to manually sustain (just like in momentary mode) in auto.

Finally, let’s take it to yet another level: the effects loop! I’ve seen pedals with effects loops before, and thought, “why not just put it next in the chain?” Well, with the superego, the effects loop effects only the wet signal. Due to the nature of this pedal, this is huge! I recommend something modulatory, like a tremolo (see the EXH site for an example) or a phase or flanger pedal. What this means, is that you can sample a chord with the superego, kick on your wiggler, and get an amazing soupy bed to play over. BUT, the part you are playing live (your dry signal) can stay completely clean and uneffected by either pedal! Even better, I liked playing a chord clean, freezing it, then adding some modulation. Next, I put a fuzz box before the superego, and play some crunchy leads over the dreamy pad I just created.

I always try to be objective in my reviews, and point out the pros and cons of pedals, but this thing is 100% fun. It creates the kind of unique sounds that you want to write a song around. (Like Johnny Marr did with tremolo, or the Edge did with delay!) It’s quite low profile, especially for something with this much functionality, and it even works with your standard 9V power supply. Electro- Harmonix has really done it again, and shown that they continue to make the most innovative and creative tools musicians can step on anywhere! – Matt Rocker

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