21 December, 2011

It's about goddamned time there was an equipment review here.

First Act MX530 Delay Pedal
For Xmas, my Secret Santa sent me the First Act Delay pedal. At first, I was a little excited because I'd been looking at pulling the trigger on a Malekko 616 (another delay pedal). And then there was the second reaction: First Act? I'm sure if you've been in a Target or Walmart at any point in the past ten years, you've seen the brand and you've probably wondered about the quality of a fifty dollar guitar from a store where you can also buy a futon and a can of baked beans, just like I have.
But then I got over my snobbery for three reasons:
   1. Matt Pike plays a First Act.
   2. Back in the day, we're talking back around the time of the steam engine, there were no guitar shops. But there were general stores. There, you were serviced by a guy in a visor and apron who would pull a pickle out of a jar for you and wrap it in wax paper, sell you a pouch of tobacco and a twenty pound bag of flour, some cocaine elixir for your teething baby, and, yes, a guitar.
   3. It was a gift, stop being a dick.
So, I took a quick break from work and sauntered down to my quarters and popped in a fresh Eveready.
Shit wasn't working; it made a staticky squeal and the LED wouldn't come on. I checked all my connections. I unplugged and replugged in the cables. I unplugged and replugged in the battery. So I consulted the manual for trouble shooting and it said something about batteries blah blah blah and I remembered that, despite this battery being fresh from the pack, I had bought these 9Vs for cheap at Target probably three or four years ago (you'd be surprised at how long a 9V lasts in a Big Muff π, I can squeeze nine months to a year out of one) and there was that one episode of Gilligan's Island where the batteries in the radio died and the castaways were trying to figure out how to - I don't know, power the radio without batteries or some dumb shit like that when the Skipper comes racing up to the Professor, excitedly exclaiming that he found these batteries that hadn't even been used and the Professor said something to the effect of batteries being able to lose power even by simply sitting on a shelf. And don't fuck with me on my GI knowledge, motherfucker; I grew up on that show and I watched all three seasons marathon style this past September.
So I popped out a 9V from the office desk drawer, a 9V meant for the smoke detectors that I bought last summer, and bingo bango, the LED lit up.
That's what brings me to this. You may notice that my pedal, pictured above, has a piece of gaffer's tape over the LED. That's because the LED on this thing is blinding. For real, it hurt my eyes. It took me maybe four or five tries at adjusting a knob with my thumb over the LED before I said, Screw it, and put a square of tape over the offending eye of Sauron.
So, how does this thing sound?
First, let me say that I'd been looking at the Malekko 616 and, after a recommendation, an MXR Carbon Copy, both of which are analog delays. Both also have modulation features that I don't need. So while they feature the exact same controls as the MX530 - level, time, and feedback (never labeled the same from one manufacturer to the next) - they have some other goofy shit that is precisely more than I need. In fact, the only reason I was going to go with the Malekko was because the controls for the modulation circuit are on the outside of the pedal. I'm going to infer that you inferred from that statement that the modulation controls on the MXR are inside the pedal, meaning you have to open the bugger up if you want to make any changes to the modulation. Something I don't need and I have to open the goddamned puzzle box from Hellraiser to get to it.
So, staring at the MX530 and its three controls (not too mention nice, simple graphics silk screened onto a hard metal case), one can easily figure out what's going on, just level, time (up to 500ms) (in the future, I will find out it's closer to 582.5ms) , and feedback (here labeled "delay"), and start playing with it once it's out of the box and in the signal chain, unlike any number of Memory _____s put out by Electro-Harmonix over the past decade with shitful graphic designs and way too many fucking knobs.

And, Jesus, look at the lights.
I set up and began twisting knobs, dialing in different flavors, immediately coming up with "favorite" settings. One minute, I was playing stoner/psych bullshit whatever and, the next minute, I was playing "Deep in the Woods". After a few minutes, I took a look at the manual again, noting the "presets" they provide in the manual. After trying these out, it turns out that their "bathtub" preset isn't that far off from the "Deep in the Woods" sound.
The feedback, when dimed, doesn't get out of control, meaning you can set this parameter to fairly high levels. Set to zero, you get a nice, single repeat. Successive repeats get a little dirtier or lower in fidelity as they go on, which has caused speculation as to whether this pedal is analog or digital. One forum I read revealed that a particular chip employed in the pedal's circuit made it digital. The other forum simply showed a picture of the circuit board and said it's analog. If it's not analog, it certainly does a nice job of emulating it.
Lately, I've been going back through some KRAKOA songs and trying to figure out where this effect will fit in. So far, its best application has been on "Forest of Treachery" set to the "Deep in the Woods" sound; while that song was recorded in a big empty room employing the Bowie-"Heroes" trick (gated ambient mics for those who can't be arsed to click that link), the guitar never got an echo I was happy with. I'm not saying I'm going to go back and rerecord it, I'm saying I'm going to go back and rerecord it. I'll make my mind up eventually.
Pros: Straightforward design without inessential features meaning that you can pull this thing out of the box and get right to point. You can achieve both clean sounds (at more conservative settings) and lo-fi sounds (at more liberal settings). I love the graphic design on this pedal, too. It can be picked up at department stores and Toys'R'Us if you can believe that for something stupid like US$40 and under. I can get the "Deep in the Woods" sound out of it.
Cons: The LED is way too fucking bright but that's a non-con as you can just remedy that with a piece of tape. Also, as with food, you pay for quality; other users have been suspicious about the quality of the parts.
Mehs: Metal casing seems to be a plus with other users. However, I have two pedals in plastic casings that I've used for years and I've not used them gingerly in that time. They still work and the cosmetic blemishes that they've sustained are no different from the pedals I have in metal casings.

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