Fixed Income FX

The cute designs, whimsical ’50s-diner names, and absurdly low prices promise cheap stompbox thrills, but do Danelectro‘s new Mini Effects manage to deliver big sounds for little money? Absolutely. Are some of them cool enough to convert lo-fi fiends who can afford costlier alternatives? Yes again. All ten of these Chinese-made pedals list for less than $50. They have an irrepressibly fun vibe, even though the plastic housings (which measure approximately 4″x 3″x 1″) and tiny, pot-metal knobs, and switches don’t exactly instill long-term confidence. All models run on 9-volt batteries or AC adapters (not included). The battery compartment is secured with a recessed, non-detachable screw that’s a cinch to open with a coin or screwdriver, but difficult to grasp with bare fingers.

I tested the Mini Effects using a ’63 Fender Strat, a G&L ASAT, and a Hamer 25th Anniversary. Amps included an old Fender Deluxe and a Yamaha DG100, and direct-recording tones were auditioned with a SansAmp PSA-1.

BLT Slap Echo

The BLT ($39) shines at short, rockabilly-style delay. The effect has the funky ambiance of an older solid-state echo–a bit metallic and tanky, though not in a bad way. The only controls are Mix and Repeat, and the maximum delay time is a mere fraction of a second. Cranking the Repeat knob generates a deliciously spooky quasi-reverb ambience–think early-’70s Italian horror movie. If you delight in cheap, edgy attitude, this pedal is a one-of-a-kind bargain.

Corned Beef Reverb

The Corned Beef ($49) bears no sonic resemblance to other digital reverb pedals. With its loud, early reflections and bouncing-marbles regenerations, it sounds more like a cross between a best spring reverb and a short delay with the repeats turned up. The only controls are Mix and Hi-Cut, so you can’t adjust the predelay or reverb decay time. The Corned Beef is a great choice for players seeking surf-approved splash without draining their wallets.

Grilled Cheese Distortion

Think of the smoothest, creamiest, most tube-like distortion you’ve ever heard. Now imagine the exact opposite–that’s the sizzle of the Grilled Cheese ($49), a potent squawk-box that hearkens back to some of the nastier fuzz pedals of the ’60s. Actually, it’s a combination distortion/filter effect with no gain control–just Level and Resonance. The latter adjusts the pitch of the pedal’s jagged filter peak. Lower settings elicit hollow, boxy-in-a-cool-way fuzz, and higher numbers can unleash white-noise squalls of eardrum-lacerating violence. Cool. The closest equivalents to this bold effect might be a notched wah pedal feeding an aggressive fuzz, or certain extinct filter-fuzzes such as the Systech Harmonic Energizer. Few players are likely to use this noise bomb as their principal overdrive, but it’s a great weapon to have in your armory.

Hash Browns Flanger

Though its tones veer more toward lo-fi funkiness than analog-tape warmth or digital precision, the Hash Browns Flanger ($39) gets high marks for personality. There’s lots of texture here, and it’s easy to get lost in the deep, shifting modulation. The high-regeneration settings are strong and colorful, even if they don’t match the swoop of, say, an old ADA unit. High-speed settings have a drunken wobble that reminds me of an old Morley “oil can” Rotating Wah. You could get a contact high from the Hash Browns’ woozy, circa-’71 sweeps.

Milkshake Chorus

To my ear, the Milkshake ($49) is the runt of the litter. All the Dano modulation pedals incline toward clangy and metallic sounds. But while the others manage to create coolness within their lo-fi specs, the Milkshake nails neither the richness of a quality chorus, nor the funkiness of a primitive one. The effect sounds clumpy, and the detuning strikes me as sour–regardless of the Rate and Depth settings.

Pastrami Overdrive

The Pastrami ($29) is noisy, trashy, and limited –but, man, what an attitude! It’s the epitome of cheap, solid-state distortion. Anyone who has discovered, say, the joys of recording through a battery-operated micro-amp will be in heaven here. These snotty, aggressive sounds have a strong, ’60s-punk flavor (think early Kinks). The tones don’t have much low-end muscle, but they’re, superb for old-school trash and raging psycho-blues. The Pastrami is also surprisingly responsive to performance dynamics. When I backed off the volume knob on my Strat, the pedal picked up tons of detail–not to mention an exceptionally clear AM radio broadcast of Billy Joel singing “Just the Way You Are.” Excellent!

Pepperoni Phaser

There’s nothing subtle about the Pepperoni ($49), which sounds like a low-rent, solid-state unit from the early ’70s. You can’t set the effect depth, mix, or regeneration–a Speed knob is the only control. The phasing effect is chewy and tactile, with a little pitch-bend seasickness thrown in at no extra charge. I love the Pepperoni’s crunchy bite (it actually distorts slightly when you play aggressively), and faster settings have a deliciously sleazy home-organ vibe. High marks for texture and personality.

Surf & Turf Compressor

The Surf & Turf ($49) is a lo-fi limiter in the down-and-dirty tradition of the MXR Dyna Comp and Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. The beauty of such units lies in the less-than-subtle way they squash your signal. For example, the tubby attack of a cheap compressor can increase the cluck factor of chicken-pickin’, or smooth out slide-guitar dynamics without total loss of transient attack. That’s why many guitarists who can afford quality compressors pledge their allegiance to cheapies, and the Surf & Turf is sure to win its share of such adherents. The controls are minimal–just Output and Sensitivity. It retains its punch even when maxed out, and it excels at the “gulping” attack players usually seek from low-cost squeeze boxes.

T-Bone Distortion

The T-Bone ($49) matches the aggression and slice of the Pastrami Overdrive, but with more low-end mass. Still, its flavor is closer to ’60s fuzz than modern metal. Like the Pastrami, it boasts ridiculous amounts of gain, yet it’s surprisingly adept at lightly toasted sounds. Maxed-out, the T-Bone delivers a fat distortion with a pleasing, square-wave-type hollowness. With my guitar’s tone control rolled back, I could get lard-assed fuzz evocative of early Cream tracks or the super-saturated solo from the Doors’ “When the Music’s Over.” Yet for all the smooth compression, the tones retain their transient edge. Nice.

Tuna Melt Tremolo

The Tuna Melt ($49) is one of the prides of the Mini pack. This retro-flavored trem holds its own against rivals costing two or three times as much. Besides the obligatory Speed and Depth controls, a toggle lets you switch between smooth triangle-wave modulation and a choppier square-wave effect. The results aren’t quite as creamy and 3-dimensional as on, say, an old Fender amp, but they’re more than serviceable for stage and studio. The effect is pretty, bordering on the mild–don’t expect violent, helicopter-style chop. Unlike most of the other Mini Effects, there’s nothing cheesy about the Tuna Melt. It’s a classy, classic effect

Snapshot

Cute, compact, and incredibly inexpensive, Danelectro’s ten Mini Effects (priced from $29 to $49) will appeal to noisemakers of all ages. Editors’ Pick Awards go to the BLT Slap Echo, Grilled Cheese Distortion, Pastrami Overdrive, T-Bone Distortion, and Tuna Melt Tremolo.

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