A Brief History of the MXR Phase 90

Phasers offer everything from slow, subtle whoosh to dramatic ray gun zaps, and they are used by musicians in all genres of music. Whether it’s adding swirl to a funky rhythm, extra dimension to spaced out prog-rock, a warble to a Rhodes, or thickening some chicken pickin’, phasers are a go-to effect for musicians of all stripes.

One such device is the MXR Phase 90. It’s formidable: simple and yet powerful. Born in 1974, the original Script Logo Phase 90 was named after its cursive branding. A few years later, the fancy writing was gone and a new block logo took over. MXR succumbed to bankruptcy in 1984, but the brand was resurrected by Jim Dunlop and production resumed, complete with new features, such as LED power indicators and the option to use a power supply instead of a battery.


Script Logo Phase 90
Script Logo

The original and granddaddy to them all. The first version of the Phase 90 had no power supply option or LED indicator, just a battery compartment and one knob to control phaser speed. For collectors, this is perhaps the most sought after version due to its O.G. status.


Block Logo Phase 90
Block Logo

This version received a cosmetic change by way of a different font and is the basis of the modern reissue. Eddie Van Halen was a big fan of the Phase 90, and you can hear it all over Van Halen’s early work. He probably had several of them, and may have had both Script and Block versions. In an interview with Guitar World, he mentions he picked up his first Phase 90 in the mid-'70s, so it could have been either version.


Phase 45
Phase 45

This version featured a less dramatic sweep than its older brother, hence the name. The Phase 90 uses four stages, while the Phase 45 uses two. If you want a more subtle version of the Phase 90, this is a good choice.


Reissue Phase 90
Reissue

Perhaps the most ubiquitous phaser in the world, the reissue Phase 90 came to life after Jim Dunlop resurrected the MXR brand. It is on countless pedalboards across the world, and for good reason. While there are many unique and feature-laden phasers on the market, there’s a reason this is used so often: it does its job, and does it well.


Phase 100
Phase 100

This version adds a shape knob in addition to the standard speed control. The user can select between four preset waveforms for a wider variety of phasing. The Phase 100 is a great option for players who want more than a standard speed knob but aren’t interested in additional features like tap tempo or tone controls.


EVH90 Phase 90
EVH90

Honoring Van Halen’s history with the Phase 90, MXR gave Eddie a signature version of the effect. Complete with the red, white and black striped look of his Frankenstein guitar, this version features contemporary appointments such as an LED indicator and 9-volt power supply option, as well as a “script button,” which enables the user to change between the sound of the vintage Script Logo Phase 90 and the Block Logo Phase 90.


CSP026 ‘74 Vintage Phase 90 Reissue
CSP026

This version stays true to the original and is perfect for the tone hound with a simple rig. It is slightly inconvenient, due to the lack of an LED indicator and power supply option, but that’s how the original was. I have owned and used this version for more than a year, and it is fantastic.


CSP101SL Script Phase 90
CSP101SL

Essentially a ‘74 Vintage Phase 90 Reissue with modern appointments, this is for the vintage Phase 90 lover who desires modern convenience. I owned this at the same time as the ‘74 reissue and noticed some tonal difference, but it’s a very good phaser.


CSP105 ‘75 Vintage Phase 45
CSP105

The same idea as the ‘74 reissue, but in 45 form. This may be the most unique MXR phaser available, so if you like being the cool kid who has what other players haven’t even heard of, snag this one.


Phase 99
Phase 99

The latest version is the most feature-laden to date. This custom shop edition features:

  • two phasers housed in one pedal
  • dual speed controls
  • a button to change between series and parallel phasing
  • a sync button to synchronize phaser rates

If you love modern phasers but want to stay faithful to MXR, the Phase 99 is for you.


Whether you’re looking for simple swoosh or unhinged undulations, the Phase 90 will get you there with ease. Its one knob layout makes it idiot-proof, and the small size makes it easy to fit onto even the most cramped pedalboards. It’s been used on countless records to modulate guitar, vocals, keyboards, and just about everything else you can imagine. It’s a classic for a reason, and if you haven’t played one, it’s high time you give it a whirl.

comments powered by Disqus