10 Dark, Bizarre Relics from the History of Ibanez

It’s kind of hard to believe that the company whose bread and butter is the Tube Screamer could have a past that birthed a medley of bizarre effects, but I am here to tell you that it is absolutely true. As a connoisseur of bizarre effects, it didn’t strike me as particularly odd that Ibanez had so many proverbial skeletons in its closet—Japanese pedal manufacturers often created several downright head-scratchers before the silicon road between Japan and the States opened up in the mid ‘70s. Even after this cargo corridor opened up, Ibanez spent a spell designing some of the wackiest items in pedal history. Some of them are bizarre in name, some in function, and some in both, and what follows is the cream of the curious crop:

OD-850 Overdrive

From Ibanez’s early “Hrgney logo” days comes the mysterious Overdrive OD-850. While the concept of a pedal simply labeled “Overdrive” in that awesome “futuristic computer” font from the ‘70s isn’t all that strange, what lies under the hood is pretty interesting. The Overdrive actually isn’t an overdrive at all; it’s actually one of the earliest Big Muff clones out there, released only a scant half-decade after the original left the office of Mike Matthews and company. Of course, the circuit is slightly modified, with an altered tone stack and filtering capacitors that helps emphasize more high frequencies. All in all, this was “overdrive” before a lot of people knew what “overdrive” meant.

FL-305 Flanger

Back when folks knew they wanted a tape flanger and didn’t care how they got it, several companies released huge flanger pedals with circuit boards that looked straight out of a UNIVAC I. Before “rate” and “regen” controls dominated the flanger control template, nobody really knew what they wanted. DOD released the 670 that included a Manual control, and the A/DA Flanger with a Harmonics control among others. The Ibanez FL305 looks like a Fisher-Price “My First Flanger” but the graphics were just as unconventional as the idea of a full-featured flanger pedal in the mid-‘70s. There was a knob to shift the delay time of the effected signal, which was a pretty unique feature at the time.

FP-777 Flying Pan

When talking turkey about strange Ibanez effects, the chatter normally begins and ends with the Flying Pan, a casualty of translation. From the top to the bottom, the Flying Pan is decidedly confusing for all involved parties. What is it? A phaser? An auto-panner? It’s both, replete with weirdness, from the end cheeks to the downright bizarre graphic of a hand with butterfly wings. Its peculiarity has given way to its value (which has gone down as of late), and in 2007, Ibanez actually reissued them. The reissue sold quickly, and it too is now valuable. As the model number suggests, the reissue was limited to 777 pieces, so the dilution wasn’t as widespread as most reissues.

JL-70 Jetlyzer

Many players searching for a pedal that sounds like an actual jet airplane often turn to the flanger. Before this was the convention, however, two pedals—the JL-70 Jetlyzer and the Roland AP7 Jet Phaser—tried very hard to convince us that “jet noises” were instead made by phasers. Both pedals accomplished this by integrating some sort of distortion circuit, and this is where the similarities ended. The Jetlyzer incorporated a strange frequency boost that wasn’t so much a distortion (Ibanez actually called it “Jet”) as it was an “enhancer.” There’s an accompanying Tone control that switches the range it boosts, and it sounds eerie similar to an actual jet engine.

EC Series

Personally speaking, the EC series might be the worst designed pedals I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Look at this picture, and tell me otherwise. You might say, “That’s no pedal, it’s some sort of half-rack unit.” False. It’s actually a pedal with the knobs on the side. There’s a huge unwieldy footswitch on top, and all the inputs and outputs are on the left side. The recessed knobs are on the right. This is a recipe for a terrible design. To top it all off, there are four models in this series, and all of them are named after animals: the Shark Distortion, Elephant Comp, Canary Chorus and Parrot Box. In my opinion, the ghastly design and puzzling names put the entire near the apex of the most perplexing Ibanez offerings.

Blubber Wah

Maxon Blubber Crying Baby Machine

One simply has to wonder about some of these pedal names; let’s take the Jetlyzer for example. Many would be right to believe that the name is just a name, a fancy portmanteau meant to lure players to it. There’s no way that guitarists are looking to actually replicate a jet engine, are they? Then, one hears the pedal, and nobody knows what to think anymore. Let us use this as an introduction to the Ibanez Blubber Wah, also known as the Maxon Blubber Crying Baby Machine. Were guitarists of this era actually looking to make their axes sound like crying babies, or was the name just a riff on the popular Cry Baby pedal? The sound of the Blubber is much like a normal wah, except it has a distinct emphasis in the lower mids, lending it an unusual vocal quality that sounds—you guessed it—like a colicky child. Hats off, Ibanez.

ST-800 Stereo Box

It seems as if a pedal called “Stereo Box” is an open and shut case with regards to functionality. There’s an input jack and two output jacks—seems the mystery is over, the Stereo Box is an old school Y-splitter. However, there is more to this case than what it seems. How many Y-splitters have a knob attached? And why is that knob labeled “Speed?” The answer is half mislabeling, half bizarre. The Stereo Box is actually a tremolo pedal in disguise. The unit is designed to pan between two outputs at a rate set by the Speed control, but when only one output is used, the Stereo Box pans between the used and unused outputs, resulting in a very nice sounding triangle-wave trem, not unlike a juicy amp-style effect. Tremolo was called tremolo long before the Stereo Box was released, so why not call it tremolo? Only Ibanez knows.

DCP Series

There are barely any words that can do this series justice—one look at any pedal in the line says it all: these things are unapologetically digital. For starters, they look like digital calculators, complete with ugly LCD screen. Five pedals make up the entire DCP line, and two of those are delays. We guitarists have always had a love-hate relationship with digital pedals; digital is fine for delays and reverbs, but anything beyond that constitutes fightin’ words. It should come as quite a shock then, that Distortion, Overdrive and Parametric EQ round out the offerings. Admittedly, in 1987, when these confusing relics were produced, the idea of a digital overdrive wasn’t typically met with revulsion, but these boxes are now only mere footnotes in the effects saga. Understandably, they were produced for just one calendar year before Ibanez wised up.

PUE-5 Tube

Many “all I need is my guitar and my amp” players are surprised to learn that the name “Tube Screamer” is more of a suggestion than a list of contents. Us pedal nerds know that no actual tubes drive a Tube Screamer. Imagine, then, if Biff Tannen got ahold of the sports almanac and transported us to an alternate dimension where Tube Screamers had actual tubes. Enter: the PUE-5 Tube, a multi effects unit with an actual 12AX7 in it. Of course, this tube isn’t actually in the Screamer, but instead a second Tube Drive section; the Screamer feeds the Drive in this one unit, which then feeds a delay and chorus. The whole unit constitutes a standard effects setup from the mid-‘80s and sounds excellent. This amalgamation isn’t “bizarre” per se, but it is awesome to think that there was once a Screamer-type unit that made good on its name.

SK-10 Visual Super Product Sound From USA

At last, we arrive at the most ambitious name ever slapped onto a pedal, the Visual Super Product Sound From USA, otherwise known as the SK-10. This absolutely ridiculous box was a Japan-only release, and nothing about the sound is certain. In fact, I’ve never played one, but every bit of text on the SK-10 pushes it closer and closer into Ibanez’s court of peculiarity. Three controls adorn the front: Tube, EQ and Power, with Tube and EQ combining to form the Warp Selector. What all of this means is anyone’s guess, but it’s all too surreal not to include.

comments powered by Disqus