Who Needs Digital? 8 Awesome Analog Octave Boxes

When a new octave pedal hits the market, there’s plenty of talk, but it ultimately boils down to one question: “How’s the tracking?”

It’s a legitimate question—guitarists have been hot to get in on the simplicity of a piano’s easy octave generation for decades. Folks looking to create soaring four-part harmonies with a simple guitar have a real need for pedals that “track well,” meaning that when notes are struck, the engine of the octave pedal accurately replicates octaves above and below without any artifacts or weird note aliasing.

At least, that’s the idea. In my travels in guitar circles, I’ve noticed that octave pedals often find their spots met with much fluidity. After all, an octave is an octave, is it not? Isn’t tracking the only attribute that truly matters? If an octave pedal truly tracks 100 percent accurately, would the search then end? Will it ever end?

What madness, this! Welcome to the world of clean analog octavers, friends, a world where tracking doesn’t really matter all that much, so long as it’s passable; a world where we once again focus on tone rather than algorithms, and a realm that has much more history and style. It’s a universe that amounts to higher degree than chasing a finely-tuned synthesis.

Analog octave pedals began long ago; the genesis is murky but as best I can tell, the first clean analog octave effect was manufactured by Conn—yes, the horn and organ company—in the late ‘60s, and it was called the Multi-vider. Maestro soon followed this up in 1971 with its plainly-named Octave Box, though it just didn’t sound that good. Since those days, clean analog octaves have come a very long way, though the technology hasn’t changed much in over 40 years. Let’s take a look at the eight best.

Boss OC-2/OC-3

Though several companies released octavers between the Maestro Octave Box and the mid-‘80s, no pedal put clean analog octavers on the map like the OC-2 did. Its simplicity and warm analog sound were simply unparalleled at the time. Because tracking was a little spotty by nature, it became an instant favorite among bass players that typically played just one note at a time. It contained just three knobs: Oct 1, Oct 2 (both down) and Direct Level (wet/dry mix), which was enough for most players, and was used primarily to warm up a signal to great effect. The Direct Level control made it a boon to bassists, as liberal use of all three knobs dials in a warm, fat low end that is funky as all get out.

The OC-3 took the octave action even further, utilizing a feature that has yet to be replicated to this day: selective string octave division. By using the Mode knob, players can tailor the octave generation to certain strings and frequencies, allowing for some awesome tonal combinations.

Pearl OC-07 Octaver

In the ‘80s, almost every musical equipment manufacturer decided to get their feet in the proverbial door. The level of effort was typically deciphered by a guitar community that was too savvy to fall for half-assed attempts, and many companies’ newfound engineering sectors quickly evaporated. One such time that the guitar community’s radar was miscalibrated was the instance of Pearl pedals. The Pearl drum company released a full line of pedals in the ‘80s, and all were great. One particular box that stands head and shoulders above the rest is the OC-07 Octave, which is one of the finest octave pedals ever made. Unlike most clean analog octavers that produce one and two octaves down, the OC-07 does octave-up as well. With a handy “Normal” (wet/dry blend) knob, guitar players can wield the power of an all-analog tone-soaked four-part harmony. Giddy up.

DOD Octoplus

There’s almost no doubt that ‘80s DOD is one of the most maligned pedal companies in history. Though the company was a powerhouse in the ‘70s, a scant decade later, they were priced lower than Boss pedals and the design was similar. Many players thought of DOD as knockoffs, though this is a regrettable untruth. DOD’s clean analog octaver was the Octoplus, released in 1986. Just like the Boss OC-2, the Octoplus featured three knobs, but the Octoplus eschewed the “Oct 2” control in lieu of a Tone control. Many bass players avoided the two-down control because it produced a subsonic tone, so DOD removed it and offered up a unique tone circuit to brighten up the effected signal. Coupled with the Direct Level control, the DOD was the bass world’s unsung hero of widely-available ‘80s clean octavers. Prices are on the rise because players are retroactively acknowledging the great design and tones.

TWA Great Divide 2.0

Without a doubt the most expensive unit on this list, the TWA Great Divide falls squarely into the ethos of “you get what you pay for.” Two versions of this pedal exist—1.0 and 2.0—but I’ll only talk about the 2.0, since it makes the original look silly by comparison. Five sliders let players dial in a massive five-part harmony between “Syn,” one-up, one-down, “Sub” and Dry. The Sub slider can be set from one octave down to a speaker-quaking 2.6 octaves down. Similarly, the Syn control can be dialed in to the same set of octaves, adding a complex gain stage arrangement for some serious dirt. Even with all this control on the surface, the circuit board of the Great Divide features 12 extra screwdriver-adjustable parameters—everything from output volume, gating and envelope attack speed can be tweaked until you can’t bear to look at a screwdriver ever again.

Foxrox Octron

The entire Foxrox line of pedals is severely underrated and deserves mentioning. Underrated, that is, to the casual effects player. To collectors, Dave Fox’s designs have held value for years, and some of them still fetch strapping sums on the used market, such as the Paradox TZF and Captain Coconut. One of Mr. Fox’s pedals that has endured over the years is the Octron. This unit is an all-analog octave up and down box with a Direct (wet/dry blend) control. However, the upper octave function is entirely gain-based, while the octave down is not, generating a powerful lead sound with all three knobs cranked. The Octron 2 comes in a wider enclosure, with all three knobs assigned to an individual footswitch, putting players in the cockpit of an all-analog octave warship.

EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander

EarthQuaker Devices may single-handedly be responsible for the “bitcrusher” misnomer, in which pedals that make video game sounds by way of octaves and fuzz are mistakenly labeled as bitcrushers. And due to use of the word “bit” in its title, the false parallel was drawn within minutes of its release. However, the Bit Commander is not a bitcrusher, and is instead a four-part harmony machine, featuring fuzz on select octaves, as well as on the clean input signal. The Bit Commander lets players mix in one octave up, one octave down and a suboctave. The upper octave is transformer-based, so it functions much like an Octavia, which isn’t clean but still sounds great. The “Base” control resembles a blend control, but the input signal is fuzzed-up first, then blended in with the rest. Turning the Base control down yields a highly expressive clean octave engine that can roll with the big boys for either guitar or bass.

Aguilar Octamizer

Back in the ‘70s, long before most non-pedal companies tried their hands at it, Ampeg made pedals. Two of them, to be exact, and both of them command a silly amount of money in the usual used areas. One of them is the Scrambler, a ripping octave-up fuzz that’s more aptly named than almost any pedal in history. The other is the Sub Blaster, a highly-coveted piece of bass kit. Eventually, Ampeg saw how much these pieces fetched in the market, and decided to reissue them. To equal parts chagrin and delight, Ampeg’s reissues looked exactly like the originals, including the boxes and manuals. Those too are now worth lots of money, and so the market was again open for this circuit. Bass company Aguilar heeded the call with the Octamizer, which takes the Sub Blaster circuit and adds an Octave Filter control and a Clean Tone control, for equal parts ass-kicking and tone shaping.

Mu-tron/Mu-FX Octave Divider

Larry Graham, bass wizard of Sly and the Family Stone, calls this pedal “bigfoot,” presumably because it makes his bass sound gigantic, and not due to the sheer size of the enclosure. Unlike every other pedal on this list, the Octave Divider contains a “Stabilize” switch, which dramatically increases the accuracy of the tracking. Clearly, Mike Beigel of Musitronics was a forward-thinking engineer to foresee that glitchiness was cool. Other controls include Mix and Tone knobs, as well as a built-in Dan Armstrong Green Ringer, bringing the voice count to three (including the dry signal). Mr. Beigel eventually released all the Mu-Tron pedals under the Mu-FX line, and the Octave Divider got a facelift, including an active input, Bass control and a smaller enclosure.

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