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What Does a Phaser Pedal Do and How Does It Work?

Are you wondering what a phaser pedal and does or how it works? Take it a step further, have you ever wondered how bands in the 70s had a very distinct sound, and you can always tell it is a Jimi Hendrix song by merely listening to the opening riff? 

How does one recreate that sound, even though they are armed with the same guitar and amplifier? 

The answer is effect pedals! Guitar players often get lost when exploring pedals that best fit their sound since there are just so many of them available to us. 

While the world of pedals can be brutal to navigate initially, read all about a phaser pedal here and see if this is the missing link to your rig.

What is a Phaser Pedal?

what is a phaser pedal

Also known as a phase shifter, a phaser pedal is used to create a classic swirling sound often found in the signature psychedelic sound of 60s music. 

While using a phaser pedal, the audio signal is received as a sine wave and split into two paths. While one path runs through an all-pass filter, preserving the original sound and altering its phase, the frequencies on the other are modified according to one’s choice of suitable sound. 

When these two distinct audio signals merge, the frequencies that are not in phase with each other get canceled. This leads to an interesting sound where one can hear the difference in the peaks and lows of the sine wave. Thus, we have the signature sound of the pedal.

Where to Hear a Phaser

In the early 1970s, Eventide created one of the earliest studio devices that replicated a tape flanger, the Eventide Instant Phaser. Hear the effect heard on Led Zepellin’s recorded and live performances around the time. 

An excellent example of a phaser in action is also Jimi Hendrix’s distinct sound.

Around this time, Tom Oberheim also designed the guitar-specific and portable Maestro Phase Shifter PS-1. The most notable users of this were John Paul Jones of Led Zepellin, Ernie Islay of The Islay Brothers, and Rush guitarists Alex Lifeson. 

But the phaser was not just a fad of this era. It continued to thrive even in the 80s, popularized by Eddie Van Halen.

In the modern context, we saw the phaser make a notable comeback in the works of Daft Punk on their seminal album ‘Discovery’ in 2006. 

The use of a phaser spans across genres, and over the decades, musicians have continued to find innovative ways to incorporate one into their sound and giving it uniqueness.

What is the Difference Between a Phaser and a Flanger?

The flanger was envisioned in the 1960s when audio engineers were working on tape recording machines. To slow down the tape, they would press the supply reel flange. The name of this process was “tape flanging.”

Unlike a phaser, a flanger takes the original audio signal and adds it back onto it an indefinite number of times. This process thus creates an equal number of peaks and troughs throughout the entire audio signal. In theory, these repetitions are perpetual. 

However, a flanger is not a mere delay, and its sibling would probably be a chorus more than a delay. A delay time is short in a flanger, and they use a low-frequency oscillator when adding back to the source sound. 

While a phaser also creates a delay effect, this comes through because it primarily uses an all-pass filter, as explained before, instead of an actual delay. Depending on the settings on the pedal, you can manipulate the number of peaks (or troughs) in your sound. 

Do I Need a Phaser Pedal?

If you play a lot of lead guitar or solo lines, then a phaser pedal will help your sound cut through the other elements in the band by giving it more body. They can be used in both live as well as recording setups. Even a phaser set to low with only a hint of a manipulated sound will help cut through.

They are a great addition to your rig if you are looking for a little bit of extra movement in certain parts of the song. You will find that it will give your sound a certain kind of edge, especially when playing lines.

Not just limited to solos, phasers are also great for adding color when playing chords by adding a swell, especially when playing on slower tempos.

Even in the verse of a song, a phaser will add thickness, especially when playing arpeggios.  

In terms of genre, there is no limit to the possibilities to be explored with a phaser. You need not be playing only psychedelic rock to make good use of this pedal. Even in heavier sounds such as metal, guitarists will also plug a phaser before or after their distortion pedal. 

Now let us take a look at how we can add a phaser pedal to our already existing setup:

Parts of a Phaser Pedal

Although many variations vary from brand to brand, most phaser pedals have a few standard controls. 

The primary knob will usually be a speed or rate function. This knob controls the speed or rate of the LFOs, which control the position of the all-pass filters. A low rate will give you a slow and upfront effect, whereas a high one will almost emulate a C3PO and an R2D2 tonality. 

The level knob determines how wet or dry your output will be. Having it set to the drier side will only give a light effect on the original tone, whereas the wetter it is, the more the effect comes through. Having it set to the maximum limit will give you only the sound of the flanger and not your clean guitar tone.

Additionally, your phaser pedal may have a depth knob used to manipulate the peaks and troughs of the all-pass filter. The more you crank this up, the more distorted and gnarly your sound will be.

Some of them also have a feedback knob, which is used to control the level of the output signal, which is fed back into the pedal. Similar to using a microphone near speakers, the feedback results in overtones. This can be incorporated into your sound in many different ways if you have a personal preference for it.

While features vary, it is crucial to choose a pedal that suits your needs the most. It does not have to be a very high-end one, packed with features if your sound does not need it. Keep in mind what kind of music you want to play. Picking one will become very easy that way.

Where Does it Fit in my Signal Chain?

Like any other pedal, placing a phaser in different parts of your signal chain will yield different results. So there is no right or wrong as long as you put it after your tuner.

Traditionally, a modulation effect such as a phaser goes after the dynamics pedals and the gain-based ones in a chain. This can be followed by a reverb, delay, or any other time-based pedal.

So the safest bet would be to place your phaser after your fuzz or distortion pedal, followed by your ambient pedals such as a delay or a reverb. This gives an effect to the overall sound. However, many musicians also place their phasers right after their tuner, creating a strange new effect. In comparison, some prefer to put it right at the end of their chain. It all comes down to what you want your guitar sound to be like. 

The best way to navigate this is by playing around with the order of the pedals in your chain and finding a flow that feels the most unique and optimum to you. 

Final Steps

Now that we know a bit of the history of a phaser pedal and what they add to a guitar sound, it is probably a lot easier to choose if this will be the next significant addition to your rig. 

We know that a phaser pedal is quite versatile and used in many different genres of music. Not limited to just psychedelic rock, but it can also be a good fit for those looking to create even ambient, electronic music. 

If you are looking for frequency modulation in your sound without compromising on the primary tonality, then this one is absolutely for you. Remember that the pedal that would work best for you and is the easiest to use is the one to get. Do not follow trends blindly. Please pay a visit to your local music shop and try a whole bunch of them before making a decision. Have fun with it. That is all that matters!

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