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This article was originally published in issue #45
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Ernie Ball explodes onto the FX market with a new take on the controllable pedal. Jamie Humphries puts them through their paces.
Ernie Ball has for decades been at the forefront of guitar string and accessory manufacturing, producing a wide variety of high-end products for a guitarist, and let's not forget that the company also owns the Music Man guitar brand! For a number of years Ernie Ball has produced its industry-standard volume pedal, in regular size and junior versions. This line also includes a wide variety of variation on the volume pedal including mono and stereo versions, volume pedal with panning, volume pedals for active and passive instruments, plus a volume pedal that will even function as a channel switcher. Ernie Ball has also dipped a toe into producing effects pedals based on the same rugged 'road worthy' design of the volume pedal. These include the “MVP”, a volume pedal with a variable boost control, ideal for driving an amp harder. For a short while EB also produced a wah pedal, which sadly was discontinued.
Now Ernie Ball has released a new line - the Expression series, including the Expression Overdrive and the Ambient Delay. Both of these pedals are based on the design of the popular volume pedal, but feature a visually stunning finish. Both pedals are constructed from aircraft grade aluminium, with a polished finish. The highest quality electrical components have been selected for these pedals, guaranteeing complete signal transparency in the zero position. The idea of these pedals is to be able to produce a much wider variety of tones, as well as having a much more 'organic' feel and control to the sound over a regular stomp box.
Ernie Ball Expression Overdrive
Sporting a stunning gold polished finish, the Ernie Ball Expression Pedal has to be one of the best looking on the market. The design is based around the volume pedal design, eliminating the standard on/off 'stomp' switch so that when the pedal in the up position, the effect is disengaged, while depressing the pedal engages the effect. The front panel of the pedal houses the input and output jacks, for connection to your guitar and amplifier, or adding the Expression Overdrive to an effects chain. There is also a 9 volt power socket, which is connected to the supplied power supply. The front panel also houses three controls, Drive, Tone and Boost. The Drive control is used to set the optimum amount of drive when the pedal is fully depressed - but here is where this pedal become particularly interesting because as we depress the pedal to the optimum set amount of drive, we achieve a gradual increase in drive, mean that you can set the drive from zero to your optimum chosen amount of drive on the fly during a performance. This is pretty much impossible to achieve with a regular stomp box, unless you adjust the drive control on the pedal with your foot (not the easiest thing to do during a performance!) or unless you use the guitar's volume control.
With the Ernie Ball Expression Overdrive you can go from clean, to mild crunch, to full blown tube-like saturation and everything in between, by simply depressing the pedal and gradually sweeping in the various degrees of drive. The pedal also boasts a Boost control, which can be set very much like the Drive control. By dialling in a desired amount of boost gain, by depressing the pedal you can send your tone into a searing lead sound, adding up to an additional 6db above the initial unity gain. This feature works great when going between crunch rhythms to some lead fills!
The tone of the pedal is rich and warm, and is very tube-like. If you’re looking for a heavy saturated pedal then this pedal isn’t for you - it has a more classic tone; think Gilmour to Bonamassa; rich Tube Driver tones.
The Tone control has a very usable and musical sweep, producing a warm rich dark tone to a more brittle and bright aggressive lead sound. The tonal drive possibilities of this pedal are endless, making this a fantastic pedal for both stage and studio.
Ernie Ball Expression Ambient Delay
The Ambient Delay features the same design as the Expression Overdrive, although the housing is a polished bronze finish. Once again the idea of this pedal is that you dial in the desired amount of delay or delay and reverb by gradually pressing down the expression pedal, rocking your foot back and forth. This is a really great way of applying delay to your guitar tone, something that has only been achieved with multi-effects units with an expression pedal, or by adding an expression pedal to a rack effects unit or if a stomp box has an additional expression pedal input.
This unit blends digital delay, 50 milliseconds to 1 second, with a lush plate reverb. The front panel houses the input, output and additional tap tempo socket. We also have three controls on the front panel including reverb Level, Delay Feedback, (how long the repeats will last), and Time, used to set the delay time, from short slap back delays, to longer ambient Gilmour like pads.
With the rocker pedal in the up position the effect is disengaged, and by pushing the pedal to the toe position will blend in the delay. Pressing the pedal only controls the delay level, but you have total control over the delay parameters with the controls on the front of the pedal.
You can also dial in how much reverb you want without delay - the level of the reverb is relative to the delay and is set with the reverb control on the front panel. This means you can have a very minimal amount of reverb blended in with your delay, or a large amount of reverb. As you press the pedal down the entire effected sound will increase with the overall reverb mix set with the reverb control.
For me, the Ambient Delay is a very welcome addition to a pedal board. I often use two delay pedals, one set for a generic solo/rhythm delay, the other a longer delay time for swelling pads; This is obviously now achievable with one pedal. Another great application is to back off the pedal while playing faster passages or runs, and then depress the pedal apply more ambient effect to the final bend. Steve Morse applies this approach to his rig, using Ernie Ball volume pedals to control the overall output of his stomp boxes; obviously having the Ambient Delay pedal makes this application a breeze!
I was able to achieve rhythmic repeating delays in the style of The Edge and David Gilmour, as well as turning off the reverb control to give me a tight echo for soloing. Increase the delay time, and dial in a healthy dose of reverb, and you can achieve Gilmour “pad” effects, that would sound at home on any Pink Floyd track.