Son of a Spring Chicken

By Rich Tozzoli. Let’s talk about plugging in—no, not plug-ins, but literally plugging in. Something that’s old-school, inexpensive, analog and fun. A good old-fashioned stomp pedal and what it can bring to the table. You know how we all work. Forever seeking better sound, we ask our cohorts, compadres and co-workers what they’ve come across that’s cool and useful. Well, in a recent discussion with Tom Menrath [new head of the Music Creation Division at American Music & Sound], I asked him just that question. He said, “You gotta check out the Chicklet.” “The Chicklet?” I asked. “What the heck is that?”
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By Rich Tozzoli.

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Let’s talk about plugging in—no, not plug-ins, but literally plugging in. Something that’s old-school, inexpensive, analog and fun. A good old-fashioned stomp pedal and what it can bring to the table.

You know how we all work. Forever seeking better sound, we ask our cohorts, compadres and co-workers what they’ve come across that’s cool and useful. Well, in a recent discussion with Tom Menrath [new head of the Music Creation Division at American Music & Sound], I asked him just that question. He said, “You gotta check out the Chicklet.” “The Chicklet?” I asked. “What the #)$ is that?”

Turns out I’m damn glad I asked him. The Chicklet is a great little reverb effect pedal from Malekko Heavy Industry in Austin, TX. Just one in its Omicron series of cool mini pedals, it doesn’t get any easier to use. It has two knobs, a stomp switch and an LED. It fits in the palm of your hand. That’s it. But it’s not about the simplicity. It’s all about the sound.

Last year, the company released a pedal called the Spring Chicken, which was a spring reverb emulation pedal. Well, they’ve apparently improved on the popularity of their original design with the new Chicklet. Sporting white graphics on a pink metal casing, it belies what’s inside. This little guy has a huge spring reverb tank sound, with virtually no self-noise at all.

The two pots atop the pedal are simply called Mix and Dwell. Mix is just what you think—the blend of the reverb signal. But Dwell controls the intensity of the effect, and can sound downright awesome on guitar. But it’s not just for guitar, as I used it as an insert in Pro Tools, through my Creation Audio Labs MW-1 Studio Tool. That allowed me to use it like a plug-in, and actually manipulate the controls in real time. It’s amazing how spoiled we’ve gotten with software, and how we expect everything to be automated. This was just pure creative fun, and Chicklet simply sounded awesome on an old Whirly part, and even in the distance on background vocals.

A feature I really appreciate is that this little pedal has a buffered switch, which means the reverb will still be trailing after you’ve bypassed it. This may not be as important when using it as an analog tool within a DAW, but when you use it on guitar, it’s almost essential.

I happen to have a couple of old amps that don’t have reverb, which is what got me asking Menrath about gear in the first place. However, I don’t always want to rely on plug-ins to provide the sound afterwards, I want to be inspired by it when I play. But I’m also very picky about my ’verb, and not just anything will do. So after getting the recommendation, I went on to YouTube to see what it might sound like (amazing how powerful YouTube has become for gear research!). Well, I immediately liked not only the tiny size, but also the huge sound that came through my computer speakers. I had to try it!

Within a few days, I had one at my door. What I hadn’t even realized is that it’s too small for even a battery! It will only run on a 9V DC neg tip regulated power supply. Damn, was I sooo bummed to have a new toy that I couldn’t try out. With a price tag of only $120, I should have known better, and it was my fault for not reading the details.

Anyway, next day I had this little guy plugged into my ’47 Gibson BR6 amp, and I was smiling. I was loving the simplicity of everything—a Tele, a small amp with nothing but a single volume knob and a tiny reverb pedal with two knobs. The Chicklet’s sound really is that of an old reverb tank, and you hardly need any for a great effect. It can also peek through even when using distortion. At the 9 o’clock position, with the Dwell off completely, it gives that perfect hint on depth, and that was coming out of a very small Field Coil speaker. But wow, turning it on and off many times for comparison, there was no doubt it was a keeper.

By turning the Mix and Dwell up further, you can ring chords out that would not work on a dry amp. It even sounds great when both are on 100 percent wet, especially when doing volume swells. The Dwell effect was particularly fun to play with when I used the pedal as an insert in Pro Tools, and it was easy to experiment just by twisting and listening.

I learned more than a few things from using this pedal. First, was that cost does not always equate to quality. This is an excellent-sounding pedal at an inexpensive price. Second, You Tube is an incredible marketing tool for gear. To be able to hear something has value, but to see it and hear it has immediate impact. Third, it’s fun to tweak knobs to get tactile sounds, something many of us DAW users miss. And last but not least, you never know what will bring us inspiration, no matter how small it is.