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I love music as much as making them. And I love the gear that enables me to do so.

Gear Review: Strymon Mobius and Timeline

Gear Review: Strymon Mobius and Timeline

They say GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) never ends, and when it strikes, it strikes hard – deep in your pockets! The pedal board will never cease to evolve in search of the “perfect tone” as what satisfies the ears today might not be as satisfying tomorrow… Then again, it could just be GAS from watching too many gear videos on YouTube.

As a guitarist, I’m more of the Mike Einziger and John Fruciante type who leans more towards tone coloring effects and guitar textures rather than ala Paul Gilbert and Rhandy Rhodes who focus heavily on macho riffs and heavy shredding. Given my guitar influences, I’ve always relied heavily on delays and modulation effects in my playing. These effects are staples in how I think about writing music so much so that I could hardly think about making music over the naked guitar tone.

My pedal board has seen many changes and switch ups over the years since I’ve started using stomp boxes. I’ve always preferred the more simpler plug and play, set and go, analog pedals rather than the super sophisticated multi-effects with so many  knobs and buttons of what looks like something hung on Darth Vader’s chest. I just found the simplicity and sound of the analog effects much more appealing to me. Plus, I find satisfaction in looking at a board with differently colored little things, rather than just one big black machine with many buttons. I think that for stomp box fans such as myself, it’s also the art of collecting that’s part of the fun.

Hearing so much rave about Strymon pedals, I’ve recently developed a GAS for them. These digital pedals have been said to be at the top of the stomp box echelon in terms of both sound, performance, and of course, price. The first two are obviously what draws most guitarists, while the third makes a lot of them turn away. Their delay pedal, the Timeline, costs about $ 450 new. This is pretty steep considering it’s a digital pedal which only does delay sounds. You’ll have to shell out another $ 450 for the Mobius if you want modulation effects, and another $450 for the Big Sky for reverb. That would be about $ 1,350 getting all of them new. Compare that to just getting a top of the line multi effects such as the Line 6 Helix which already has distortion and amp simulations for almost the same amount of money.

But like any GAS inflicted guitarist, I just had to give in. As always, I lurked on eBay and Reverb for some good offers on used products, and was able to score a Mobius and Timeline for about $ 380 each. That’s still pretty hefty on the budget, so with fingers crossed, I decided to cash in on some of my rarely used beloved gear to cover for my recent purchases, hoping that it’s going to be a worthy tradeoff.

So they’ve arrived… The highly glorified Strymons! After carefully mapping out my board as to how and where to place them, it’s now time for the boy to play with his new toys! After a couple of times of using them both in a bedroom and band setting, I can finally share my thoughts and honest opinions about these pedals.

CONSTRUCTION AND AESTHETICS

Enclosed in a solid metal body, these pedals have the typical “built like a tank” construction. The controls, labels, and LED layouts look welcoming and un-intimidating. Colors and the beautiful matte finish does make these pedals aesthetically pleasing which is a plus. The only thing I’m not impressed with are the knobs which you press for toggling functions. Both these knobs on the Timeline and Mobius are already a bit wobbly when I got them, which should not be. This worries me as they may get wobblier in time due to constant use.

CONTROLS AND FUNCTIONS

One reason I stayed away from multi-effects is that I find them too sophisticated for simplicity. Having a lot of options and tweakability is great, but I’ve always found the control schemes for most multi-effects pedals a bit confusing and less user friendly. Some pedals require you to do advanced tweaking on the computer for best results, of which I certainly do not want to do at all.

Strymon’s interface is rather simple. Looking at its controls for the first time might be a little daunting, but it actually is very user friendly and has a very shallow learning curve. Everything is straightforward. The “type” knob lets you select the type of effect you want, or as they call, “machine”, while the other knobs are for general tweaking. Pressing the values knob lets you tweak even further, giving you more options and parameters to play around with. It’s very apparent that Strymon’s engineers have put a lot of thought to make sure all the features, flexibility, and customization, can be configured using such simple controls.

Notable Feature for the Mobius

One notable feature I like on the Mobius is the “pre/post” option. This function lets you change the position of the Mobius either before, or after the pedal you chose to pair it with, without having to physically reposition and rewire anything. I paired the Mobius with the Timeline. That way I can choose either to have the modulation go before the delay, or the delay go before the modulation. This is very useful for stacking effects like phasers and delays if you find it very significant having a choice between repeating sweeps versus sweeping repeats.

Notable Feature for the Timeline

A notable feature for the Timeline is the feedback loop. Attaching another pedal to the Timeline and enabling the feedback loop option lets you add the attached pedals effect to the Timeline’s wet signal. This lets you stack a chain of pedals on the Timeline to expand the variety of tonal characteristics of your wet signal. I don’t really use this feature as of now, but I think this is a cool feature I might use in the future.

SOUND QUALITY

Good looks and great features would mean nothing unless the sound quality is superb. And in this area, the Strymon delivers, and it delivers so well! The usual apprehension that analog purists have towards going digital is that digitals pedals tend to sound inorganic. To illustrate, it’s like comparing a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade versus a juice concentrate. The concentrate can come close to tasting like the real thing, but it’s still not the real thing! Typical digital pedals sound processed, as compared to the pristine and natural sound that analog pedals deliver. But over the years, refinements and advances in technology have been bridging that sonic gap, and Strymon has secured itself well in this position. I’m certainly no tone connoisseur, but to my ears, I can confidently place my bet on the Strymons when it comes to tone.

I stack them together with my Jekyll & Hyde overdrive/distortion and my Neunaber Wet reverb. With proper mixing, notes are clearly defined and playing dynamics remain accentuated. Even under a thick band mix, my guitar tone can still cut through with every “swoosh” and “wuaoh” from the Mobius riding the repeats of the Timeline. It’s really just that good.

SAVING

Both the Timeline and the Mobius have one hundred banks which allow you to save up to two presets for each bank. That’s a total of two hundred customized presets which you can name using using a maximum of sixteen characters. That’s more than enough space anyone could ever need. However, you can only use one effect at a time for each pedal.

EXTERNAL CONTROLLERS

Scrolling through the banks is done by pressing two of the three foot switches simultaneously. While this is the best way to do it given the Strymon’s physical layout, it can be a bit of a nuance when you want to get to a preset that is banks away. Since I assign one bank per song syncing both pedals in my band, this means that I have to scroll on each pedal every time for every song change. Good thing the Timeline and Mobius are compatible with third party foot switches. There are programmable midi based ones which allows you to control bank switching and even give you more space to save presets such as the ones made by Disaster Area and American Loopers. There are also simpler TRS based foot switches for just bank scrolling. I got a TRS based one from Analog Endeavors which I had custom made to be able to scroll across bank simultaneously on both devices. Here’s a video review / demo of the Analog Endeavors auxiliary foot switch in case you want to check it out. —>

CONCLUSION

The Timeline and Mobius definitely live up to the hype. Strymon has maximized technological advances to deliver flexibility and incredible customizability that can only be done through digital pedals, while delivering clear and pristine tones sought after from analog pedals. The wide array of tweakability you can do per machine gives you almost endless customization allowing you to make your own unique personalized sound, while the intuitive and straightforward controls let anyone easily become their own boutique pedal builder. The ability to be able to adapt to third party manufacturers for expandability is also huge bonus. The price may be steep, but serious tone aficionados who constantly seek after the best tone money can buy will surely find the Timeline and the Mobius a worthy investment, and a staple in pedals boards for the long haul.

 

Gear Review: ZT Club

Gear Review: ZT Club

Bringing an amplifier to gigs is a great way to be able to get a consistent sound wherever you play. But the hassles of lugging them around from room, to car, to bar, isn’t half as enjoyable as hearing them sound. I’ve been using a  50 watt tube amp which is already relatively light, but still considerably hefty.  While I really dig the way it sounds, I find the back breaking lifts quite a nuance.

So I thought that I needed something lighter and smaller, but at the same time, can give an uncompromised roar during live performance. Searching the web for some leads, I found out about the ZT Club. It’s a small solid state amp, 14″ x 15″ x 9.25″ in dimensions, and weighs only 22 lbs. ZT claims this little guy to be really loud, as concurred with by the few reviews I’ve read online. It got my interest. However, despite gaining a handful of following, the amp has been discontinued by ZT in favor of their smaller Lunchbox model.

I’ve searched around local distributors, but since it’s a discontinued model, availability has been a problem. Determined to get the amp, I turned to the used market via eBay and Reverb.com, lurking regularly for the chance that something might just pop up. Persistency paid off when I was able to score a Club for about $ 400. The cosmetics were far from top notch, but the function was superb. Besides, amps are made to rock; a treat for the ears rather than the eyes.

So it arrived, and it was time to test it out. I live in a 36 sqm flat, and with the volume and gain knobs at just about 8 ‘o clock, it was enough to be loudly and clearly heard in every corner of my condo unit. I couldn’t pump it more than that so as to not disturb the neighbors. I had to wait for band rehearsals in a studio to be able to gauge the true potential of this amp.

Come band rehearsals, bringing it along was a breeze. The size and weight was so convenient for transport, saving my now grateful vertebrae. I plugged it in with my pedal board and my PRS Paul’s Guitar. The drummer and bassist played to their usual levels as I dialed in the knobs to get the sound I wanted. First thing I adjusted were the volume and gain controls. I was able to match the levels of the band with the volume knob at 9, and the gain knob at 10.

The volume and gain knobs work just like with any other amps with this type of feature, but the application here is rather different. With the Club, the gain knob gives the amp more of a tubelike push, rather than a real distortion. Turning the gain knob past 9 is where the convincing “tubey” character begins. It’s got the distinct voice, push, and density we look for in tube amps, and it is seriously convincing. Pushing it past 12 is like using a tube screamer for a clean boost. Going past 2 and maxing it to 5 gives it a little over driven grit. I’ve found my perfect mix to have the gain at 10, just enough for a tubelike character, and the volume at 9, just enough to level with the rest of the band.

The rest of the mixing is for the tone controls. The Club only has knobs for treble and bass. Dialing the tone knobs is very responsive and super excellent for tone shaping. With both knobs at 12, the Club sounds very fat and beefy on the low and midrange.  I set my treble to 3 and bass to 11, giving me a brighter sound, while still maintaining some of the fat. The amp also responds well to stomp boxes. I got the perfect crunch I wanted from the Jekyll & Hyde, and the delays and modulation effects sounded crystal clear. Turning the volume knob a little more further pushes my levels beyond the rest of the band even with the drummer not holding back. Going past 12 would probably be enough to shatter glass. This thing is really loud! It also has reverb, but I didn’t find any use for it since all of my reverb comes from my pedals.

Convinced of its tonal prowess, I was confident enough to take it to its first gig, so I unleashed it at a local bar. The place was about 60 sqm in size with full band set up and acoustics for ear bleeding rock and roll. I didn’t mic the Club as to have all my sound be heard from the amp itself. I found myself adjusting the volume knob between 9 and 10, depending on how pronounced I had to be. With gain fixed at 10, I never went past 11 for volume as it would be too loud for the audience already. The size of the Club’s speaker was also enough to push air giving a good sonic distribution allover the place. It clearly stood up at par, if not better, against the in-house tube amps there. Given my first gigging experience, I’m confident that the club can definitely handle much bigger venues without a problem.

There are limitations to consider though. Its reverb is just on the mediocre side, and those who prefer built-in amp distortions should definitely look elsewhere. But for guitarists like me who get all those from pedals, the Club’s limitations are non-issues.

All in all, I am very pleased with the ZT Club. Its size is perfect for transport without compromising tone and output power. The bass and treble controls’ responsiveness allows for flexible tone shaping, making it very adaptable to various musical situations. And its tubelike sound is highly convincing despite being a solid state. It is not without question that there are so much better sounding, real tube amps out there. But considering the Club’s portability, price, and overall great sound, this thing can definitely be a serious go-to amp for both the bedroom and the gigging musician.