Best Modern Uni-Vibes

The original Shin-ei Uni-Vibe is among the most iconic of guitar effects, due to its singular sonic signature, as well as its use on Hendrix's "Machine Gun" and Pink Floyd's "Breathe," two widely renowned masterpieces of the classic rock guitar canon. It was originally developed to simulate the three-dimensional swirly effect of the Leslie rotating speaker cabinet, and while it didn't quite hit its intended mark with that concept, it did have a unique, recognizable tone of its own that found immediate favor with adventurous guitarists of the '60s.

The circuit of the original Uni-Vibe is basically a four-stage phase shifter. The things that make it unique amongst phasers is that the filters are staggered, rather than aligned in series, and that it was designed around discrete transistors, as opposed to the usual op-amps that one might find in any modern, off-the-shelf phaser pedal. These two unique qualities are responsible for much of the signature auditory imprint of the Uni-Vibe, and they also make the circuit fairly difficult to replicate with precision. There are many pedals, however, that use more conventional designs to mimic the sound of the original Shin-ei model. Some do a pretty swell job of it, while many others are less convincing, being not much different from a regular old phaser. For a lot of guitarists, though, this is as close as they'll ever get to a real Uni-Vibe, as the original vintage units are both incredibly expensive (selling for $1200–2000), and rather massive and unwieldy, particularly in light of today’s tiny pedal enclosures and tightly packed pedalboards. Being that most of us have neither the bulging bank account nor the necessary hectares of pedalboard real estate to add one of these curious old contraptions to our signal chain, let us take a look at a few of the more esteemed, compact, and relatively affordable modern pedals that succeed in capturing the elusive vibe of the Uni-Vibe.

Fulltone Mini Deja Vibe 3

Mike Fuller claims to be the original manufacturer of authentic Uni-Vibe clones, having begun selling them on a large scale in 1994. This may well be true, and either way, the Fulltone Mini Deja Vibe in its various incarnations has been a frontrunner in the vibe game for as long as anyone can remember, with lots of players—including Peter Frampton and Hendrixian vibe fetishist Robin Trower—using them. Fulltone's latest creation is the MDV3, which is the same circuit as the MDV1, but with a built-in expression pedal to control speed on the fly. The circuit certainly seems to be accurate, with discrete transistor construction and Fulltone's custom made photocells that were supposedly cloned from original '60s models. "That's all really neat," you might say, "but how does it sound?" In short, it sounds really good, and about as authentic as you're going to get, with a glistening liquid drip and deep low-end throb. The integrated expression pedal is pretty darn cool too, as few modern vibes have such a function. Fulltone's MDV3 is available for a relatively fair sum of $275 through its "Custom Shop", and it's about the size of a standard wah pedal.

DryBell Vibe Machine

This compact vibe pedal, handmade in Croatia, features proprietary photocells custom made and rigorously tested for authentic Uni-Vibe circuitry. Despite being very conveniently sized, the Vibe Machine has all the functionality of the original, and then some, with knobs for depth and speed, and little switches on the front for switching between vibrato and chorus modes, and original and bright voicing. Bright voicing activates a JFET buffer on the input that adds strength and treble definition (great for humbuckers) and an internally switchable output buffer for driving long cable runs. Tiny external trim pots handle volume level, depth range, and wave shape. As if those features weren't enough, the Vibe Machine also has a jack for hooking up any expression pedal for speed control. The speed can be set (via another internal jumper) to change gradually in the Leslie style, and a calibration function makes sure any expression pedal can be used successfully. The Vibe Machine's functions are truly exhaustive, and the sound is convincingly rich and throbby in all the right ways, putting this pedal at the top of the compact vibe heap. It's $320 direct (shipping included) from Croatia.

MJM Sixties Vibe

MJM's take on the Uni-Vibe circuit is quite straightforward and accurate, using the original quadruple photocells, and sticking to the original control set, including knobs for volume, depth, and speed, and a switch for selecting between chorus or vibrato mode. The Sixties Vibe is a favorite among classic Uni-Vibe enthusiasts for its no-nonsense functionality and its warm, creamy swirl that blends beautifully with fuzz pedals and cranked amplifiers. It also does the bass throb thing really well, a key component of the Uni-Vibe sound that many lesser vibes fail to reproduce accurately. This pedal, unlike some of the others mentioned, does require an 18v power supply. It sells for 275 bucks, and has recently been updated with a more compact enclosure for those with crowded pedalboards. The paint job is also pretty far-out.

Effectrode Tube Vibe

For players with a bit of spare change ($429 worth, to be exact) and plenty of room on their pedalboard, this big, beautiful, tube-powered son-of-a-gun is hard to resist. Firstly, it's a truly handsome beast, looking more like an expensive, esoteric piece of hi-fi gear than any stompbox. Secondly, it sounds just as good as it looks. The Tube-Vibe is powered by a trio of triodes, and in addition to generating thick, chewy, drip- and-swirl vibe tones, these little valves have plenty of juice to push your amp into sweet, sweet overdrive along the way. Unlike lesser vibe pedals, the Effectrode Tube Vibe is extremely low-noise and has a tremendous amount of headroom.

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