6 "Leslie" Pedals That Emulate the Rotary Speaker Effect

Despite being originally conceived by its inventor Donald Leslie as an effect for Hammond organs, the Leslie rotating speaker has become at least as well known and beloved as a companion for the electric guitar. The lush, Doppler-effected tone of the Leslie's dual rotating speakers has elements of both tremolo and chorus as well as a deep, mysterious mojo of its own. After early national exposure on several popular radio programs, the Leslie speaker became de rigueur for jazz organists, with Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith being notable early adopters. As far as guitar is concerned though, perhaps the earliest documented use of the effect is Buddy Guy's performance on Junior Wells' 1965 debut album, Hoodoo Man Blues. Shortly thereafter, The Beatles began using it liberally on vocals and guitars, with the Leslie making prominent appearances on "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," among other tunes.

Amongst rock and blues guitarists, David Gilmour and Stevie Ray Vaughn are the two players most closely associated with the Leslie speaker's undulating, liquid tones, with Gilmour being an especially frequent user, and rarely (if ever) appearing on stage or record without one. More than anyone else, he can be held responsible for the ongoing popularity of the Leslie sound. Nearly every guitarist who has heard Mr. Gilmour's playing on classic Pink Floyd records has become at least momentarily infatuated with the rotating speaker, but often, after discovering that the source of the effect is a rather large, expensive, and impractical device, they start searching for alternatives. In the past, chorus or flanger pedals have been used to get the job done in a primitive sort of way, but today there are a number of dedicated Leslie speaker simulator pedals on the market. Besides being less destructive to a working guitarist's bank account than an actual Leslie, these pedals are also considerably easier to tote around to practice and gigs. Here is a grip of the best options for the guitarist looking to get a little Leslie tone in their rig without breaking the bank, or the back:

Hughes and Kettner Tube Rotosphere

The H&K Tube Rotosphere was one of the first commercially available Leslie sim pedals that I was aware of, and it is nearly universally loved amongst rotating speaker enthusiasts. The Rotosphere boasts a 12AX7-powered tube drive circuit, is all analog and stereo, with, and features the same controls as a real Leslie, including a breaker switch for momentarily slowing the simulated upper and lower rotors to a stop. Though known for being a bit noisy, many guitarists swear by the Rotosphere's thick, swirly tones, including Jeff Beck, Warren Haynes, and Charlie Hunter, among many others. Unfortunately the Rotosphere is no longer in production, but used MKI and MKII versions are often available on eBay for around $300–350.

Korg G4

The long-discontinued Korg G4 Rotary Speaker Simulator is held in a similarly high esteem as the Tube Rotosphere. Unlike the Rotosphere, the G4 is digital, but its tone is as warm and convincing as they come. Its digital soul gives the added benefits of built-in mic and speaker simulation, as well as an excellent, and very useful, set of speed, balance, and drive controls. It also has stereo inputs as well as stereo outputs, making it a bit more useful for those who might want to use it with keyboards, synthesizers, or other instruments. Some well-known G4 users are many of the same people that love the H&K Rotosphere, including Warren Haynes, Charlie Hunter, and Pro Guitar Shop’s own Andy Martin. A Korg G4 will typically go for somewhere between $200 and $265 on the used market.

Neo Instruments Ventilator II

The Neo Ventilator II is the reigning king of modern Leslie simulators. It gets everything right, from the independent bass and treble rotor emulations, to the signature Leslie 800Hz crossover, to the tasty tube drive of the amplifier. It is based specifically on the Leslie Model 122, and features a full set of controls for speed, acceleration, balance, drive, and emulated microphone distance (a feature than can be bypassed when going to an amp). The Ventilator II features stereo inputs and outputs, with switches for true bypass and slow-fast speeds, and an integrated stop button, an expression pedal input, and additional mix controls. As great as it is, the Ventilator II is also rather expensive, selling for $499, but it's still cheaper than a real Leslie.

Hammond Digital Leslie Pedal

Hammond USA may be giving the Ventilator a run for its money with their recently released, and first ever, Leslie simulator pedal for guitarists and keyboardists. This pedal is based on the onboard Leslie simulator built into Hammond's “Sk” series keyboards and B-3mkII Organ. In addition to an array of controls for simulated mic distance, drive, speed, mix, and level, Hammond's Leslie pedal features four different cabinet models; the 122, 147, Model 18 (based on SRV's Vibratone cab), and PR-40 stationary speaker cabinet. It also has switches for true bypass, brake, and slow-fast. Priced at $399, the Hammond Digital Leslie Pedal should be a very strong player in the Leslie simulation game.

Strymon Lex

Strymon is probably the most highly regarded digital effects company in the business today, at least amongst guitarists, and their Timeline and BigSky pedals are modern classics, so it's no surprise that their Lex Leslie simulator pedal is a stunner. Despite its compact size, the Lex has all the features of the bigger Leslie pedals, plus some. It features a selectable bi-amp mode for sending each emulated rotor out of a separate output, which can then be sent to separate amplifiers for a swirling stereo Leslie tone that will blow your brains out. Also, Lex's expression pedal control is assignable to any of its four front panel controls, including rotor speed, horn level, mic distance, or preamp drive, opening up a huge range of creative possibilities for this compact, reasonably priced (300 bucks!) pedal.

Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble

The Boss RT-20 is a very versatile rotary speaker simulator, and is well regarded as a durable, good sounding, and affordable alternative to some of the more expensive Leslie pedals listed above. The RT-20's rotating speaker impression may be a bit less convincing than the Ventilator or the Lex, but for $219 it will get more than close enough for rock 'n' roll, and its exhaustive feature set will let you tweak for days. As a bonus, Boss equipped the RT-20 with a psychedelic virtual rotor display that, if looked directly into, may induce an acid flashback, should you be prone to that sort of thing.

The Leslie rotating speaker produces an addictive, three-dimensional tone that should be experienced by every guitarist at some point. Its signature swirl-and-throb is unlike anything else in the pantheon of great guitar effects. Unfortunately, few of us have the money and space for an actual Leslie speaker in our rig, but fear not, for these miracles of modern pedal technology that I have mentioned can save you from your dreary, non-rotating speaker existence. Check 'em out and swirl on, friends.

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