Since purchasing an original Small Stone in a San Francisco pawn shop back in ’94 (I’m starting to feel old) I’ve been a fan of Electro Harmonix pedals. They offer a sonic texture that can’t be duplicated by even today’s most advanced plug-ins. My collection of Electro Harmonix pedals has continued to grow as the years have passed and I’m happy to say that they are used as much today as ever.
Product PointsApplications: Live sound, studio
Black Finger – two 12AX7EH vacuum tubes; compressor control; Pre-Gain, Post-Gain controls; SQSH/NORM attack time control.
LPB-2ube – preamp; two 12AX7WB vacuum tubes; LO or HI input levels; separate drive (channel) controls.
Price: $298 each
Contact: Electro Harmonix at 800-633-5477, Web Site.
When I learned that Electro Harmonix was introducing a pair of pedals that not only incorporate perfectly into a typical instrument/pedal/amplifier setup but also work extremely well in an instrument/pedal/direct to DAW setup, I was thrilled. The Black Finger is a high quality dual vacuum tube optical compressor in the form of an affordable, compact foot pedal and the LPB-2ube is a line-level preamp that utilizes two tubes to deliver optimum gain while remaining quiet and transparent. By applying 300 volts to the tube plates these pedals offer a level of definition and warmth well beyond what you would expect in a foot pedal.
The Black Finger compressor features an all-tube signal path using two 12AX7EH vacuum tubes. The pedal is equipped with three knobs and two switches to give full control over the compressors functions. The Compress knob varies the amount of compression, the Pre-Gain knob adjusts the amount of signal fed to the attenuator and the Post-Gain knob adjusts the level of the Output signal. The SQSH/NORM switch selects between normal attack and a “squashed” long attack time for the attenuator.
Two different light sources (LED and lamp) provide distinctly different readings and offer uniquely varied compressions. One tube handles the compression stage while the other manages the gain stage. Whether used as part of an effects loop or with direct guitar, bass or voice, the Black Finger will give music the type of treatment that simply cannot be achieved via plug-in emulation or with any other analog or digital product that does not cost thousands of dollars.
The LPB-2ube is a full bandwidth (20 Hz – 20 kHz) stereo preamp with an all-tube signal path using two 12AX7WB vacuum tubes. The pedal is equipped with two pairs of knobs and a switch for full control over the preamps sound. The Input Level switch selects between LO or HI input level. The LO setting provides more overall gain and works best for instruments such as guitar or instruments using pickups. The HI setting provides less gain and works best with sound sources such as synthesizers, samplers and mixers. The switch simultaneously controls both the left and right channels. The Drive R and Drive L knobs adjust the amount of gain or drive for their respective channel. The Volume R and Volume L knobs adjust the overall output level or volume for their respective channel.
In either stereo or dual mono mode, the LPB 2ube offers numerous applications. Two warm and full frequency inputs and outputs, as well as the potential to gang the I/Os, make for a clean preamp stage with both a master volume and master drive controls.
I was a little hesitant at first to run an acoustic guitar or vocal through a pedal so I initially put the Black Finger to work recording electric guitars through an amplifier and was astounded with the results. I compared the sound of the Black Finger with that of my MXR DynaComp (formerly my most used electric guitar compressor) and was amazed at the improvement in sound. Of course every application is different so I’m sure I’ll continue to use the DynaComp from time to time but I’ll no long reach for it before anything else.
With my increased confidence in the Black Finger, I put it in a vocal path while recording vocals with an AKG 414 through a Daking mic pre/EQ. While the gain was not precisely matched with the Daking (I had to turn the Daking’s output down below normal to get the optimum results) and I had to use an XLR to 1/4-inch adapter to get into the Black Finger and then a 1/4-inch to XLR adapter to get into Pro Tools, I was amazed at the results. The sound was not in the same league as my high-end (read: well over $2,000) tube compressors but it was surprisingly good and very usable. I went on to put the pedal to work compressing an acoustic guitar signal path (Earthworks SR-77 through a Daking mic pre/EQ) and had equally good results. I do miss having a meter to know precisely how much compression is taking place but besides that I feel very comfortable using the Black Finger for compression.
With such good results with the Black Finger, I was excited to put the LPB-2ube to work. I tried recording a wide variety of instruments (including bass guitar, electric guitar, synthesizer and mandolin) directly to Pro Tools through the LPB-2ube and in every instance had positive results.
While doing electric guitar overdubs with the Line 6 POD I found the LPB-2ube to be the perfect POD companion. This “real” element in the signal path gave more believability to the POD’s amplifier emulation. I also experimented with running electric guitar into the Black Finger before going into the POD and found this to be a great sonic improvement. I also had great results recording electric guitar through the LPB-2ube into the Black Finger and then directly into Pro Tools with no additional processing.
As DAWs and direct recording (sans mics and amps) become more and more common, any opportunity to insert a real tube with true musical harmonics into the signal path greatly improves the final sound. The Electro Harmonix Black Finger and LPB-2ube provide this opportunity at a reasonable price.