While guitarists get all the fun with their ever-increasing number of effects pedals, there’s a worryingly small selection of ‘proper’ hardware effects for us neglected keyboard players. The two requirements I personally need for an effect to be suitable is that it must be rack mountable, and have stereo outputs and inputs. The 2nd of those requirements makes many effect pedals useless. However, there is still a wide variety of suitable hardware for synthesizer players out there.
For those who enjoy the analog and vintage sound, look no further than the Boss Microrack range. They are half the size of a normal 19” rack unit, and come in lots of different flavours, including the highly regarded RBF-10 flanger and the RPH-10 phaser unit. Modules generally run for no more than £50/$100, so while they are getting on a bit and can break down, they’re so cheap you can afford to buy a new one should something go wrong. Boss also produced a small selection of ‘full rack’ effects around the same time, which sound equally as good and are equally as cheap, the highlight of which is the CE-300 chorus unit – you won’t find a great-sounding analog chorus effect for cheaper!
If you want to stay in the vintage domain but your wallet is of infinite size, look no further than Roland’s classic range of late 1970s rack mount effects. You’ve probably heard of the classic ‘Dimension D’ rack unit, which in good condition will most likely set you back a four-figure sum. Still, a little cheaper is the excellent SBF-325 chorus and flanger unit, which features extensive modulation capabilities for all things ‘detuned’.
Modern rack mount stereo effects are also manufactured, but sadly are few and far between. The eclectic synth company ‘Vermona’ produces a variety of gear, including their own ‘PH-16’ phaser, and one of very few rack mount ring modulators produced – the ‘RM-1’. Both are available cheaply, and don’t forget to check out their ‘Action Filter’ too. Speaking of which, external analog filters are the perfect compliment to a digital synthesizer, and are best placed at the start of the signal chain. The top dedicated filters around these days include the well-known Sherman Filterbank, and the newly released Schippmann ‘Ebbe und Flut’ – super expensive and super nice.
Of course, you may be wondering what the point of all these over-sized single-purpose effects is. Well, while on stage a cheap multi-effects box can be handy, nothing beats a classic piece of analog machinery processing your sound in the studio. And while analog synthesizers are important to this, don’t forget that analog effects in your signal chain are essential also, and can work wonders on non-analog sounds too – so keep your eye out for these bargains.