Five Fantastic Flangers

It is fairly safe to say that the flanging effect is one of the least popular tonal colors on the guitar player’s paint palette. The flanger is often dismissed as a gimmicky, over-the-top jet-plane noisemaker and hasty conservative players that seek the instant gratification of familiarity usually flee the flanger quickly. But, for the more fearless rabbit-hole spelunkers who are unafraid to walk through the looking glass into the infinite fathoms of the filter matrix, an exciting new world of sonic reflections awaits at the click of a footswitch…

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress Flanger/Filter Matrix

Before the mid-‘70s, the flanging effect was only achievable in the studio by syncing up a network of tape machines, each with the same track recorded, and manually slowing down the reels during playback by pressing down on the flange (or rim) of the reels. As they returned to sync, a sweeping comb filter effect ensued and probably made sugar-tongued youths of the psychedelic days think that they were peaking when they heard the brain-blowing frequency shifts on Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men” or The Small Face’s “Itchycoo Park.”

When Electro-Harmonix released the original Electric Mistress V1 in 1976, it was arguably the first time the flanging phenomenon was translated from tape to integrated circuit technology. The short-lived blue and red version was quickly updated with the replacement of the useless AC on-off toggle to a filter matrix switch. The color scheme was also changed to the black and green Pac Man lettered machine V2 that collectors go bonkers for to this day. There is a reason that this is considered the Holy Grail flanger even with its annoying volume drop and veracious two-at-a-time nine-volt battery appetite. Anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing the prismatic, liquid glisten of the original Electric Mistress will be under her spell. This almost hi-fi quality is due in no small part to the coveted Reticon SAD1024 chip. Adjusting the rate, range and color controls allows the user to achieve everything from chorus-like, slow massaging movements to flashing swirls of acid-trail pulsing. Engage the filter matrix and freeze the harmonic sweep so you can manually dial in alien spittoon steel drums or muted synth percussion. Until EHX finds a way to reissue this sought after classic in its true analog form, you will have to go with the excellent Hartman Flanger, which is as close as you can get without going vintage.

Tycobrahe Pedalflanger

Perhaps one of the most rare and valuable pedals ever made, the Tycobrahe Pedalflanger reared its big blue head 1976 and ceased production in only one year. Using the same huge blue wah pedal housing as the equally rare and unique Parapedal (that Tony Iommi made famous), the Pedalflanger has the ability to be controlled via treadle.

Tonally, the Pedalflanger is has little more swoosh to it than most flangers and can be very tape-like on the longer sweeps, but as you go toward the toe-down position you can get into Leslie-land and beyond depending on your Spread and Intensity control settings. To really hear what the Tycobrahe Pedalflanger is capable of, check out the bubbling sonic cauldron that Geezer Butler stirred on Black Sabbath’s experimental space-bass track “E5150” from the criminally underrated Mob Rules album. The combination of the Parapedal wah and Pedalflanger creates an underwater sub-soundscape nightmare. It culls visions of a mechanoid megalodon lurking beneath unsuspecting prey, poised for a Polaris breach…

The good news is you can get a faithful, slightly updated version of the elusive Pedalflanger from Chicago Iron. Chicago Iron is the saving grace of Tycobrahe enthusiasts who don’t want to spend an upwards of $1200 to get their rare flanger fix.

MXR M117 Flanger

Yes, Eddie Van Halen will be forever associated with this all-time-classic grey box, and for good reason. No, I am not going to discuss it any further because the subject has been covered, smothered, tied and fried in every guitar magazine since 1979. In my little world, there is only one true master of the MXR M117 and he was a Scotsman named John McGeoch.

As possibly one of the most overlooked and most influential guitarists of his generation, he brazenly explored every nook and cranny of the MXR Flanger. It was such a core element to his sound that he mounted the pedal on a microphone stand so he could change settings in real time during performance. Though you can hear his colorful cavalier cacophony on classic albums by Magazine and Visage, it is when he joined Siouxsie and the Banshees that his artful playing reached full bloom. His guitar playing on the 1981 masterpiece Juju is a tour-de-flanging-force. On tracks like “Into the Light” and “Head Cut” he makes sounds that swirl, drip upward and calcify like emissions from heavenly spire antennas. If anything will pry you from the sticky old idea that flangers are best used sparingly, these recordings will.

For my money, the M117 Flanger is the warmest and chewiest of all flangers and Dunlop’s reissue is nothing short of fantastic. No, it doesn’t sport the fabled SAD1024 under the hood like the mains-powered original, but the tone is 99 percent there and you get a status LED and the ability to run it at 18 volts with two batteries. If you are after your first flanger, this is the one to have.

A/DA Flanger

The A/DA Flanger is easily the most flexible analog flanger there is. With all the through-zero flanging capabilities that the DSP counterparts boast, the A/DA can actually achieve an infinite sweep that is more akin to the tape flanging effect on all those classic albums. Listen to the reel-to-reel flanging producer Martin Birch applied to Cozy Powell’s insane drum break on Rainbow’s iconic track “Stargazer” for reference. Other exclusive features of the A/DA Flanger include a minimum to maximum delay time ratio of 40:1 (double that of most flangers), even-odd order harmonics switch, and a threshold control that allows you to dial the flanging out of the low end to preserve a fat bottom while retaining a shimmering top. Thankfully, serious flanger fanatics can purchase a peerless reissue that is made in California by original brand owner and designer David Tarnowski.

Boss BF-2

For those who want a true vintage BBD flanger on a budget, look no further than the classic Boss BF-2 from the 1980s. If you think the old purple BF-2 can’t deliver, just listen to the ethereal peaks and valleys and of Robert Smith’s guitar and Simon Gallup’s bass on the classic Cure albums Faith, Pornography and Disintegration. Like an electric spider, Smith wove dense webs of flanged, intertwining guitar parts that enraptured the listener. These sonic vistas were depicted with heavy doses of BF-2.

If you need anymore convincing of the BF-2’s capabilities, get delightfully infected with the sitar-scorpion-sting of Billy Duffy’s dream catching intros to The Cult’s classic tracks “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Fire Woman.” The BF-2 is a molten-core element to Billy Duffy’s tone and accentuates his unique blend of post-punk roots and stadium rock riffage.

Don’t fear the flanger

With a little patience, most flanger pedals can be dialed in to replicate choruses, rotating speakers, tin-drum tremolos and subtle phase shifters. They also reward the sonic explorer with otherworldly tonal treasures and happy accidents abound. Summers didn’t fear the flanger, nor did Gilmour, Levine or Cobain. We can be like they are…don’t fear the flanger.

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