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Line 6 Stompboxes

For several months I have been beta-testing the new Line 6 Tonecore stompboxes, which should be available in late October 2004. Here are some of my thoughts on these new pedals.

Buy the Line 6 Space Chorus

(1) The in/out jacks were fairly stiff and getting a plug into them was slightly difficult. I'm sure they will probably loosen up a bit with use.
(2) The footswitch was hard to toggle as compared to many other stompboxes of similar design. Several times I hit it and it failed to switch because I had not put enough pressure on it. This may soften with use or be a requirement for the "Tap" functions... not a major problem but noticeable.
(3) The Space Chorus is very quiet. Excellent noise level.

I conducted several hours of listening tests using a Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster into a Yamaha G212 amp and a Tech 21 Trademark 60. Space Chorus features three models based on analog effects: Chorus, Tri, and Vibrato. Its indicator light flashes the tempo in green when the effect is ON and amber when the effect is OFF. Using the double-action footswitch, you can tap a couple times and have the pulsations match your tempo. Whether the effect is active or bypassed, you can tap the footswitch lightly to set your tempo. Your first two taps establish the tempo and any additional taps will be averaged in.

Space Chorus vs the Whammy II: I use the Whammy II frequently for its chorus/doubling sound. With some careful adjusting of the controls, the sound of the Space Chorus could be set to nearly duplicate the sound of the Whammy. There is a slight difference in the mid-range, with the Whammy being a bit fuller in tone. This would only be noticeable in a side-by-side comparison. The Space Chorus is more versatile because of its additional control for the "Color" function.

Space Chorus vs. the EH Clone Theory: I pulled out my ancient E-H Clone Theory. This box has been on the road for years with me to many clubs, theaters and auditoriums. My first take is that the E-H box is very very noisy compared to the Space Chorus. I was not able to duplicate the sound of the Clone Theory with the Space Chorus... there is a certain shimmer in the analog sound of the E-H box that could not be captured. I spent quite a bit of time trying to tweak them to sound similar with no success. The Space Chorus vibrato setting is much better than the vibrato on the Clone Theory, which sounds asymmetrical (not a smooth sweep).

Space Chorus vs. Line 6 Mod Pro: I expected these two to sound very similar and found that to be true. The vibrato and Tri setting were very similar to those found on the Mod Pro. However, the chorus setting did not match and I eventually found that the Space Chorus is closer to the Flanger preset on the Mod Pro. The Mod Pro was richer and deeper in sound, as you would expect due the price difference between these two devices.

I have another analog chorus pedal that is out on loan and if I can get it back soon I'll do a comparison with it. All in all, the Space Chorus is an excellent sounding effect box. Clean, low noise and some very good chorus sounds. It's not a perfect imitation of an analog delay chip pedal but I was impressed by the unit overall. A very good buy!

Update: The problesm with the footswitch have been fixed and a new pedal is its way for me to test.

Buy the Line 6 Uber Metal

I spent some time testing the Line 6 Ubermetal using a Les Paul guitar and a Tech 21 Trademark 60 amp set up for a totally clean sound so that I was listening only to the distortion sound of the pedals.

I compared the Ubermetal first against my modified Proco Rat, which has been my pedal of choice for high gain distortion sounds. Both pedals were extremely quiet. At first, the Ubermetal sounded "thinner" but after some tweaking of the settings I found one that essentially duplicated the sound of the Rat. The Rat ran out of gain at a high setting when the Ubermetal still had some to spare. Ubermetal = more versatile.

Next I brought out a vintage Electroharmonix Big Muff... the first thing that struck me was how noisy the Big Muff was vs. the Ubermetal which was much more quiet. The BMP is known for its singing sustain and I had no difficulty getting the same effect from the Uber. Even with much tweaking of the controls I could not exactly get the low end of the Ubermetal to match the Muff, however that's not all bad since the Muff is sometimes flabby on its low end. The Uber could do essentially everything that the Big Muff and much more.

I also have a cheap Rogue Heavy Metal pedal, which is high gain with scooped EQ... I had no difficulty matching the sounds of the Rogue almost exactly with the Uber.

The Uber is an excellent high gain distortion box. I might flatten the eq just a bit to give it more low end. I was also impressed by the low noise. I did not find it necessary to use the gates, though the asymmetrical gate provided some interesting effects that I've not really heard on another pedal.

I also compared the Uber against some of my custom made jfet pedals but they are lower gain and not really in the same tone arena so no valid conclusions could be drawn.

Buy the Line 6 Echo Park
Based on the DL4 Delay Modeler, Echo Park is loaded with models including Analog, Tape, and Digital Delay. Different delay patterns such as slap, ping pong, swell, and sweep can be adjusted with the twist of a knob, and the Mod dial can be tweaked for even more variations. Also features Tap Tempo and stereo ins/outs. The following, very thorough review was generously contributed by Mark Hammer.

The Echo Park pedal is, for the most part, a refinement of the popular Line 6 DL-4 Delay Modeller pedal in a much smaller package at a much lower price. Though the Delay Modeller has a bit more flexibility via the "tweak" and "tweaze" controls, the Echo Park (EP) pedal is no slouch either and appears to be able to do a few tricks that its predecessor can't. The user will certainly not want for control, flexibility, or range of sounds, and with a ticket price around $100 less than the DL-4, I donít think anyone will really complain.

The basic package: The Tonecore pedals have a VERY substantial chassis that probably weighs in at about double the weight of my Boss pedals, and is about 10% bigger than a Boss pedal along all three dimensions. The battery compartment lies under the foot-switch treadle, but uses a convenient quick release mechanism to open the battery compartment, with side-mounted push buttons. I found it a little stiff on my unit, but it is still quicker to change a battery on the unit than on a Boss. The Line 6 programmer I spoke with told me that they were aiming for about a 6 hr. battery life from a fresh 9V alkaline with the EP (more about that below).

Along the rear skirt is the standard 2.1mm barrel jack with outside positive. The bottom cover plate recommends a Line 6 adapter (9VDC - 70ma min), but like a great many commercial pedals, any properly regulated supply of suitable voltage and current and jack/plug polarity can be used. Opening up the box one is comforted by the presence of 512kx8 worth of RAM, and lots of SMT bifet op-amps.

The switch treadle is a dual-function affair. Lighter tapping that presses one of the two switches on the board, allows you to set tempo (a feature on all Tone Core modulation or time-based effects). A more solid step depressed the bypass switch. The multifunction LED shows you the delay time by its flashing rate. It flashes green in sync with tempo when in effect mode, amber when in bypass mode, and red when the battery is in jeopardy. While the function is well implemented and tap tempo is easy to set, the switch itself has an awkward feel on my unit and tends not to provide good tactile feedback.

Processing The EP is a quasi-stereo pedal. There are two input and two output jacks, with the left channel input and output jacks for mono use. Why do I say "quasi-stereo"? A Line 6 programmer told me that the dry path is "true" separate stereo, but the delay path essentially pools the two inputs and distributes the content across the two outputs (I hope I got that part right). So, if you plug into the left (mono) input, and use the multi-tap setting, the delayed repeats will alternate between the two output jacks. The same programmer indicated that asking the DSP chip to process the two inputs in true stereo would have required many more operations per second than the quasi-stereo arrangement, requiring that much more current. One of their design objectives was to allow users and music store people to at least get some lifespan out of a battery, and not always need a wall wart to run the pedal. That objective necessitated cutting some corners. A fair trade I think, and demonstrates "big picture" thinking on their part.

The quasi-stereo aspect has some interesting possibilities. I plugged into the right (R) channel, took the its output and fed it through a chorus pedal back into the L input, whose output went to the amp. In multi-tap mode, alternating repeats go to opposite outputs. By plugging into R first, alternate R repeats show up in the L output. Since the R output comes back to L through a chorus, and since L repeats *also* show up at the R output, what you get is a constantly changing series of repeats that are increasingly thicker in their chorussing. VERY cool effect, and something one can probably do with phasers and other external effects. The one proviso for such uses of the stereo capabilities is that you need someway to keep a lid on the recirculated reprocessed signal level or else you get runaway feedback.

Controls and programs The EP has the usual complement of delay-time, regeneration amount, and wet/dry mix controls. The mix control allows you to dial in wet-only, which has some desirable applications with some of the patches/programs (more below). Two nice features which were available in the DL-4 but not as flexibly as here, are a "trails" function, and a 3-position filter setting. With "trails" off, all delay activity ceases when in bypass. With trails ďonĒ, stomping to bypass disables *input* to the delay path, but retains whatever is currently in it. That could be a long delay set up for infinite feedback, thus serving as a looper (max time 2.5 seconds) that you could play along with without adding to, but there are many other uses too. Very handy feature.

The filter switch allows for three different emulations: analog delay, digital delay, and tape delay. The analog setting is warmer than digital (natch), and the tape setting provide systematic signal degradation over multiple repeats, plus a bit of tone shaping. I can see where the EP would be left in the tape position for a great many players. The modulation control provides for vibrato in the analog setting, limited chorus function in the digital setting, and what amounts to tape slippage emulation in the tape setting. The maximum delay/sample time is 2.5 seconds, though some of the programs (e.g., slapback) provide less. The tap tempo function works differently across the various programs; directly proportional to delay time in some instances, and divided down to suit different time signatures in other instances.

Among the programs provided, the swell function provides a gradual ramp up of volume for each repeat. If you pan the mix pot to wet-only, and select the shortest delay time, it subs very nicely for a "Slow Gear" type sound. There will be a slight time offset because of the delay, but not enough to throw you off. When used with longer delays and a bit of regen, this program provides lush, dreamy sounds that youíll be hard-pressed to stop playing with. The sweep function imposes an upward filter sweep on the delay signal for each repeat; essentially like an autowah patched into a feedback loop. Again, short delay and wet only can yield a convincing autowah sound though the note lag will be noticeable. I leave you to imagine the considerable cross-linked stereo implications of both these patches.

The ducking function is something I've been dreaming about for a while. Duckers are what radio announcers use when they talk over music, and reduce the level of signal X (music) whenever the level of signal Y (voice) is above some threshold. In this case, the wet level drops when you play lots of notes, and fades back in when you give the music some space. Think of it as a "declutter" setting that keeps echoes out of the way until youíre ready to appreciate them. Handy, very effective, and the sort of capability that lets you do post-production effects in a stage setting. The multi-tap settings do what you'd expect, providing multiple taps and fluctuating assignment of repeats. I gather that the tape filter, in tandem with multi-taps is intended to deliver convincing Echoplex effects. The ping-pong setting alternates repeats between outputs. Both ping-pong and multi-tap are obviously patches that require a stereo amp/mixer setup to appreciate. In contrast, the swell, sweep, and ducking patches sound just fine through a single amp, though they sound gorgeous through a stereo setup.

The killer app in digital delays is reverse, and this one does not disappoint. True tape reverse effects require a whole lot more than merely having the volume increase slowly as happens in the Boss Slow Gear and similar pedals. When tape is reversed, everything about the notes played is backwards, including their order, the location of any finger vibrato and where and when notes are held a little longer. To truly mimic those aspects of reverse tape, you need to take a sample and literally replay it backwards, not just make the volume swell at the start of a single note or chord. Here is where digital pedals shine. When you add in the EP's tape emulation filter, the sound is marvelous. Stick your favourite 1969-era fuzz in front of the EP (I like my Foxx Tone Machine clone), and itís just you and Eddie Kramer back at Electric Ladyland studios.

The trouble with such capabilities is that while they work easily on stage, they donít lend themselves to carefree use in improvisation the way that a Slow Gear soft attack unit does. Reverse-tape is traditionally used as a post-production effect where the user can plan out a passage/riff, execute it, and insert it appropriately. Live, you need to wait until the total sampling period is filled up before things start spilling out backwards. It helps if you go with a shorter delay/sample time, but youíll need to decide if the content to be reversed can be broken up into smaller units for reversal, or whether a longer sequence of notes needs to be processed as a whole. The sound is wonderful, but the planning and timing required is very demanding. Thatís not Line 6's fault though, simply the entrance fee for trying to accomplish the miraculous.

Summary: The sound is great. The package convenient and sure to make folks whose pedalboard is crowded by oversized stuff VERY happy. The stereo capability is a goldmine and the available sounds and controls tailored to deliver a vast array of sounds that not only sound great, but that players can *use*. When you consider the sound and choices attainable for two and a half seconds, and compare it to what an average analog pedal with less than 400msec delay costs, I donít know why youíd look elsewhere.


Power Supply Tests

I did some testing of the Tonecore with various power supplies and here are my results...

It of course worked perfectly with the Line 6 power supply, which I noticed is actually 9.6v output... I took the power supply to my bench and measured it with no load and got 9.6v (hmmm, might be regulated)

I had a generic unregulated wall wart and the Tone Core worked well with it also... I didn't measure the output of this one but it was probably putting out 10v or slightly more (I've measured it in the past).

Next I got out the power supply that is supposed to not work well... a regulated 9v switching adapter. This is an item I got on speculation that I might offer them for sale. Measured output was exactly 9v.

The Tonecore worked well from this switching adapter with almost no hum -- I had the Space Chorus going at this time. I was quite surprised.

Okay, let's make this a bit harder... I got out the daisy chain and put a second Tonecore on that same switching adapter... Dr. Distorto running into the Space Chorus. Not a problem!

I changed the SC to a LiquiFlange and then to the Roto-Machine. No problems! I changed the distortion to the Ubermetal and continued to boogie on...

At this point, I'm not having much success getting the pedals to act up, so I switched the distortion out for a Daphon Echo... no noise. I took that off and put on a cheap Ibanez LA Metal before the Tonecore Verbzilla... still no problems.

I could not get it to perform other than completely normal. I'm not saying this is typical as the switching adapter I used is what I consider to be a very good model, and my little 5w tube amp has good grounding. I was using a Strat and my studio is prone to stray RF and hum, but I was able to play at earsplitting volumes without any hum or noise problems!!!

This is certainly not a definitive test, but it does prove several things:

(1) The Tonecore pedals will work with switching adapters (2) They can be daisy-chained (3) Other linear adapters work too


Tonecore Secrets!

There are a couple of interesting secrets about the Tonecore pedals. the first is a way to check the version of the digital coding inside the pedal. It's easy if you follow these steps:

To check the code revision.

  1. Plug a cable into pedal input to power it up
  2. Unplug cable
  3. Press footswitch through the second switch and hold it.
  4. Plug cable back into the input and count the number of red and amber flashes.

RED = 1.0
AMBER = 0.1+
So, v1.2 would flash Red (once) then two Amber flashes. A version 1.0 pedal only flashes once Red.

Secret No. 2 is that all of the Tonecores use a common "base unit" and the different effects are accomplished by modules that plug into the base. All it takes to convert a pedal from one effect to another is to change the small module. Below is a picture of some modules and a base unit with the module removed (on the left).

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