Posted by
Nov 19, 2020

The project of an Englishman from Newcastle – and now based in Philadelphia – named Woolly, Champion Leccy has been churning out limited quantities of hand-made, fun-sounding (and looking!) pedals since 2017, which have earned the company the reputation of one of the most interesting DIY boutique pedal builders in the US.

Their new release, out at the end of November, is called The Kilter and it’s one of the most “out there” and unique effects in their roster.

In simple terms, I think this pedal can be described as a texture creation machine, but here’s how the manufacturer introduces it:

It is a modulation pedal with a single input, a single output, and two FX loops in parallel. The Kilter modulates your signal between the two FX loops. Basically, when one FX loop gets quieter, the other gets louder, and vice versa. So you experience a swing between whatever you have in those loops. It’s a swingswanger.

Let’s try to make sense of it…

  1. The input signal gets split and sent out to two effect loops.
  2. You can then feed the effect loops outputs to two separate chains of effects and re-route them back to the pedal through the separate loop ins
  3. The two input signals are then mixed together through a tap tempo controlled LFO (or tremolo) that alternates between the two channels
  4. The results is then routed out through the mono output

This is a very intriguing and creative design because it allows an infinite creation of textures by leveraging other pedals: experimenting with the effects in the effect loop chains opens up a literally infinite number of possible original sounds.

Check out the video below to get some examples of the creative potential of the Champion Leccy The Kilter – and read the builer’s notes at the bottom of this post for more info.

It is a modulation pedal with a single input, a single output, and two FX loops in parallel. The Kilter modulates your signal between the two FX loops. Basically, when one FX loop gets quieter, the other gets louder, and vice versa. So you experience a swing between whatever you have in those loops. It’s a swingswanger.

For those of you who are more curious, here’s a bit more detail.

How did the Kilter come about?

The Kilter is based on the skeleton of the Skitter (in kilter mode of course). For those not familiar with the Skitter, here’s a simple diagram of what’s going inside the pedal.

Your instrument’s signal gets split in two — half of it is unaffected, half is put through a Belton Brick for a 100% wet, reverb signal. The LFO then modulates the volume of the two signals. The LFO for the two signals is mirrored, so when the dry signal gets louder, the reverb signal gets quieter, and vice versa.

Around the time I was finishing up the Skitter design and getting ready for launch, I had a thought (because no design process is complete without filling yourself so full of doubt at the last second that you want to find a new profession): What if I had an option to bypass the reverb in the pedal so the user could use their own reverb? Which led very quickly to: What if I took the reverb out all together and just had a send/ return!? It would make the pedal a wee bit cheaper and give more flexibility to the user. Then everything snowballed. Hey! They wouldn’t have to use a reverb at all! They could use a delay, or wait… They could use anything, any kind of pedal could go in there!

When I realised that I could even have a second FX loop instead of a dedicated dry path allowing you to modulate between the first ‘whatever-you-like’ and a second ‘whatever-else-you-like’, I started on a prototype.

Here’s a block diagram of the Kilter. There’s a little more to it, but this is the basic path of your instrument’s signal.

The circuit inside is very similar to the Skitter, but there are a couple of small differences. I wanted to keep the Kilter as simple as possible. It’s already a very flexible tool, so the aim was to not overthink it, and just make sure it had all the controls necessary to do the thing it needs to do.

With every pedal I design, there’s a lot of thought that goes into balancing the simplicity of the signal path, complexity of the user interface, range and flexibility of functionality, and cost of the pedal.

The process of deciding where the balance lies ultimately dictates the character of the pedal. I’ll be writing a more in-depth article about pricing next month, so I won’t go too much further into it here. I wanted to keep this pedal simple, easy to use, fun, and as affordable as possible.

Just as a side note, before describing the workings — on the same day we are releasing the Kilter, we’re also releasing the ‘Canny’ Fettle Boost. The ‘canny’ version is an expanded, or deluxe, version of the original. We’ve already started on a ‘canny’ version of another Champion Leccy pedal that we’re planning to release in 2021. I can’t guarantee that every pedal will have an expanded version, but it’s always a possibility.

How does the Kilter work?

Let’s start with the LFO, because that’s the heart of any modulation pedal.

The Kilter uses the same Electric Druid LFO that we use in the Woozy and the Skitter, so there are eight different waveforms (including two random ones), a rate and a depth control, and of course a tap tempo.

The LFO in the Kilter is doing the same thing as it is in the Skitter. It’s powering an optical tremolo (volume modulation) by lighting an LED that is paired with an LDR (light dependent resistor). When the LED is lit, the signal is louder.

All the LFO controls are on the left-hand side, including the tap tempo. We broke with the traditional formula on a couple of layout items here.

Firstly, the LFO speed control (time) is the left-most control. This is so it is directly above the tap tempo footswitch, which just felt a bit more natural.

Secondly, we moved the modulation indicator LED. On both the Woozy and Skitter, it’s placed next to the tap tempo. It made more sense to have two indicator LEDs on the Kilter, one for each loop. Which leads us to the other three controls.

Both FX loops have a simple volume control above their indicator LED. The last control is a very simple, but important, addition when you have two circuits in parallel. It’s a phase switch, so you can flip the phase of one of the signals.

JUST TO BE CLEAR IT DOES NOT FLIP THE PHASE OF THE LFO!

It is not the same as the kilter switch on the Skitter. The modulation of the two FX loops is ALWAYS mirrored or ‘off kilter’. If you want things to modulate effects at the same time, just put them in the same FX loop.

So what is this switch!? Thankfully, most of the time you won’t even need to think about it. Just try it in both positions and see which sounds best. If you have the same signal going through both FX loops in parallel, and both signals are IN PHASE, then you have no problem — but if the two signals are OUT OF PHASE, then they will cancel each other out.

This is important because if you have some amount of the same signal in both FX loops, you could experience volume drop or just cancelation of certain frequencies, making the whole thing a huge pain in the arse. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s better to have the option of flipping the phase than not.

If you have the same dry signal going through both loops at the same volume, try flicking the phase switch. When they are in phase, you should hear no modulation. When they are out of phase, you will hear a weird cross-modulation tremolo as the signals overlap. It’s pretty cool actually, but might not be what you’re after.

So what can I do with it?

Well, really there are unlimited possibilities and textures you can explore. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie — you do need other effects pedals to put in the FX loops.

Actually, that’s another wee lie! If you don’t have any other effects pedals, you can use it as a pretty broad-ranging tremolo by simply patching the send and return of FX loop A, and turning the volume of FX loop B to zero.

You can use it in the same way as you’d use the Skitter, by modulating between a dry and wet signal path, or between two wet paths!

But as the two FX loops are in parallel, there are also a couple of very practical uses for it.

If you turn the speed (time) and depth (space) of the LFO to zero, it is no longer modulating between the two parallel loops, so you can use it to put any pedals (or complex strings of pedals) in parallel. Which means two things:

First off, you can simply patch one of the FX loops and use it as a clean blend for whatever crazy distortion/ fuzz you’re already enjoying, but needs more clarity. Want to take it a step further? Try putting an EQ in loop A instead of a patch cable. Now you can shape your clean sound to your heart’s content, so it fits in perfectly with that dirt you loved, but just couldn’t tame!

Secondly, and this is off the back of the same concept, you can put two different gain pedals in the loops and use the respective volumes to blend between the different voicings until you have your own custom parallel fuzz-stortion distort-o-fuzz.

If you want to take that a step further, why not bring that modulation back? You could have a dirt section that swings nicely between two textures! You could even set the waveform to random, so you have this constant uneasy grinding of dirt!

Why not put an octave pedal in one loop and set the LFO to square wave at maximum depth? So you have a signal that flicks up (or down) an octave at the rate of tap tempo!

I’m going to stop there. I’m sure you get the idea and have plenty of ideas of your own.

Who is the Kilter for?

If you’re into the kinds of things we do, then you’ll probably enjoy this. It goes as far as your imagination.

If you’re just after a tremolo pedal, and you don’t need the FX loop functionality, by all means get one, but there are probably a couple of better options for you that take up less board space.

If you’re into making fun soundscapes and experimentation, then you’ll probably get a lot out of it. It’s a fun one that will make you think of your instrument and signal chain in a different way.

If you work in a studio, or you’re a session musician, it’s a pretty nifty and flexible tool. Essentially it’s a utility pedal, but it’s definitely not a one-trick pony.

Again, just be aware that to get the most out of the Kilter, you’re going to need something to put into the FX loops. The more options you have, the more the possibilities multiply. I’m not saying don’t buy a Kilter unless you have a closet filled with obscure boutique pedals, but I do recognise that all pedals cost money, and we always want our customers to enjoy their purchases and get as much satisfaction out of them as possible. An informed purchase is always a better purchase.

If you have any questions about the Kilter (or any of our pedals), please shoot us a message on instagram or through the contact form.