What does a phaser pedal do?
A phaser pedal modifies the signal coming out of the guitar in a number of ways depending on the stages the signal has to go through. It can alter the pitch, the frequency, the intensity, the resonance, and other elements of the sound. To do this, the phaser uses a series of all-pass filters that block different portions of the signal at varying times. The result is a sound with a sweeping, otherworldly feel to it.
The phaser is very similar to the flanger, another modulation effect with linearly-spaced notches. It’s easy to confuse the two, and if your ear is not trained, you may not tell the two apart when they’re used in a guitar. However, the main difference between them is that phasers are subtle and somewhat surreal, whereas flangers are more pronounced and natural-sounding.
What is better – analog or digital?
Whether analog phasers are better than digital phasers, or vice versa, is purely a matter of personal opinion. The important thing to note is that they both do the same thing. Only difference is that the analog phaser does sound more organic, while the digital phaser offers more versatility. If you’re aiming for a more natural sound, an analog phaser will deliver it to you. But if the quality of sound isn’t particularly important, you can consider a digital phaser, if nothing else, for its versatility.
You get more options with a digital phaser and there is more you can experiment with than in an analog phaser. Analog phasers are also simpler to use in a plug-and-play kind of way. With digital phasers, you’ll need to fiddle with multiple buttons more and adjust settings a few times to figure out which variables give the kind of effect you want.
Where a phaser shifter will come in handy?
As with any effect, the phaser isn’t to be used all the time. It’s also more suited for some types of music and not others. How do you tell which music will be enhanced by the use of a phaser? Generally, the phaser works great in slow music with few notes and clean channels with little distortion. The phaser won’t sound good in music with the fast tempo and lots of distortion, especially when used aggressively. Use this as a guide when deciding whether to use a phaser shifter and you’ll hardly make an error in judgment.
No effect will enhance a solo section better than a phaser. Use it to give personality to your solos and depth to the tone. When used in a clean chord progression, it enriches the tone, making it sound better than it does without the effect.
It’s also worth noting that your style of playing can affect how the phaser sounds. When starting out, use few variables and take note of the changes to the sound when you switch the variables. This will help you learn how to tune the phaser to match your playing style so that you don’t oversaturate your chords with effects and degrade your tone.
Tips on using a phaser pedal
The wave function in the phaser, made possible by the oscillator with filters, is what makes it possible to enjoy the sweeping effect on the sound. To get it right, you must time the phaser right so that the effect is activated in the signal at the right time. This is harder to achieve with analog phasers as you have to manually set the speed. Sometimes the timing will be near perfect; other times it will be slightly off. The more you use the phaser, the easier it becomes to get the timing right. Things are much easier with digital phasers, where you only have to set the desired speed using the tap tempo button.
The secret to great sound is in getting the phaser speed to match the tempo of the music you’re playing where possible or at least as close to it as possible. When getting started with using a phaser, try out different speeds by implementing small speed increments listening for how the phaser responds. Soon enough, you’ll find speed combinations that work for different music.
Regarding positioning, the phaser is typically positioned towards the back end of the pedal, but before any ambient effects you’re using. This would mean that the phaser effect applies to everything that’s placed before the phaser in the pedal. This isn’t set in stone, however, and you can move the phaser around as you play with different sounds until you find a positioning that works for you.
If you want the phaser effect to apply to the cleanest version of the signal, place the phaser in the effects loop of your amp.
Features to consider while choosing a phaser pedal
How well a phaser serves you may depend on a few things, which include size and features among other things. Let’s analyze the different features that make up the phaser so you’ll be in a better position to identify what counts and what doesn’t when you finally step out to buy one.
Phasers come in different sizes. Some are quite small while others are noticeably large. Many are in-between in size. You may have a small phaser that works better than a much bigger phaser. Having said that, there are some characteristics you ought to look out for when comparing any two phasers of different sizes. One, does the phaser turn noisy when you apply distortion or does it still sound great? Two, is one more natural sounding than the other? Three, does one give a bass-like tone and the other a higher treble-like tone? At the end of the day, these are some of the properties that affect your signal and they are what really matters in determining the kind of output you get. Even as you consider the size, consider these aspects more as they indicate the real worth of the phaser even more than its size.
The other angle to the size equation has to do with pedal arrangement and where to place your phaser in your rig. Due to limited space and depending on the kind of rig you use, you may be forced to opt for a small phaser. Even so, check all other features to ensure that the phaser will produce the kind of effect you desire before compromising on size.
The casing of the phaser is usually made with metal. Some manufacturers use die-cast metal for durability. When choosing a phaser, check the grade of metal used and confirm if any additional treatment has been done on it to boost its strength and prevent rusting. The stronger the metal is, the longer it will last without denting, corroding, or tearing. Phaser knobs can be made from aluminum or have a hard plastic cover. The interior of the phaser is filled with electronic components like resistors, capacitors, transistors, and potentiometers.
The input cable of your phaser connects to the guitar, while the output cable connects to the amp. Check whether the amp comes with cables when buying. In case connection cables aren’t included, you’ll need to buy these separately. They use standard in-out cables, so compatibility will not be a problem. Most phasers come with batteries and don’t need to be connected to a power source them during use as long as the batteries are fully charged. Others can be powered via the power supply.
There are different controls that can be used to give your signal the swirling effect that’s unique to phasers. Here are the most common of these controls:
Also referred to as rate, speed determines how close or far apart the filters arrange themselves. When you set the speed to slow, you get fewer spikes and dips and less swirling. Likewise, at high speed, you get lots of peaks and dips, with greater swirling levels. But be cautious as very high speeds can sound chaotic in fast signals or signals with many notes.
This controls the extent of peaks and dips. The greater the depth, the more warped the signal will be.
This determines how much effect is applied to the signal. The lower the level you choose, the less the amount of effect applied. When setting the level, it’s important to remember that at high levels, the effect can fully distort your signal instead of enhancing it as it should.
Also known as feedback, this refers to the amount of output signal that’s transferred back to the input. When applied in moderation, it can create a captivating effect. But when used excessively, it can give undesired, chaotic overtones that completely distort the signal.
Stages indicate the number of all-pass filters in the phaser. Analog phasers generally have fewer stages than digital phasers, which can have as many as 12 stages or more. The more stages a phaser has, the more intense the effect can be and the more swirling you can have in the output.
Tap tempo controls
These give precise BPM selection, where you can select the exact speed you’d like for the song you’re playing.
These allow you to control the Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO) speed by playing the strings at varying speeds. They’re also responsible for speeding up and slowing down the phaser pedal at different speeds. As an example, just listen to the Pigtronix EP2 Envelope Phaser effects produced with it.
Typically, the phaser gives a steady, up and down waveform. With advanced waveform controls, however, you control the speed and shape of waveform for an even more unique sound.
The phaser works as an oscillator with all-pass filters. The number of filters in the phaser determines how much the signal can be altered. Digital phasers have more all-pass filters than analog filters. The number of filters is better identified as stages. Phasers with more stages have more filters, and vice versa. If you’re looking for a phaser with greater versatility, this is an important factor to consider. The level of customization you can do will be limited if the filters are few.
Most phaser pedals will have either true bypass or buffered bypass. True bypass is where the on/off switch of the phaser pedal directly connects the input jack to the output jack, so that the input signal and output signal is the same. Buffered bypass is where buffers are used to literally block any distortion or interference.
True bypass advantages
The biggest advantage in using true bypass is that the quality of signal is largely retained. This is assuming that nothing interferes with the signal as it moves from the input jack to the output jack.
True bypass disadvantages
In case you’re using a lot of pedals or many long cables, each pedal or cable will introduce some resistance to the signal, thus interfering with the quality of signal reaching the output.
Again, with true bypass, you don’t enjoy the benefit of sound decay since the effect is cut off as soon as you disconnect the circuit.
Another major disadvantage is that many true bypass pedals produce plenty of noise when turning them on or off.
Buffered bypass advantages
The benefit of sound decay is fully registered on the effect as it’s not abruptly cut off when you switch off the circuit.
The buffers keep out interferences that may alter the sound quality, in this way keeping the signal clean. Also, you don’t get additional noise when you switch the pedal on and off.
Buffered bypass disadvantages
The absence of a direct connection between input jack and output jack exposes the signal to all kinds of interferences. If poor quality buffers are used, these interferences find their way into the signal and cause distortion.
Always choose a phaser pedal with a warranty where possible. Should you experience problems with the phaser, you’ll have assurance of getting help from the manufacturer.
Sometimes though, you’ll come across what seems to be a good phaser going for a ridiculously low price, the only downside being that it has no warranty. If everything else about the product checks out, you can throw caution to the wind and buy it.