Space is tight these days in the TPS studio. Just a few weeks back Dan and Mick happily leased out some floorboard real estate to an original Binson Echorec (https://youtu.be/kzgllPfulP4). This time last year the same accommodations were given to a vintage Echoplex EP-3 (https://youtu.be/baUwLRiy15w). The latest tenant in the TPS studio, however, at once dwarfs an apartment-sized fridge and is a good reminder that sometimes the best guitar effects aren’t guitar effects at all: meet the Leslie cabinet.
Originally engineered for use with organs, Leslie cabinets provide a pulsating, three-dimensional effect thanks to a two-tiered audio system. Down low you’ve got a bass speaker projecting into a rotating drum with an opening in it; upstairs are spinning mid and treble horns. Not only does this provide a range of oscillating phase-like throbs, perhaps the Leslie’s greatest asset is the sound variation that results from speeding up or slowing down the rotating drum and horns. Simply put, the lower rotor takes longer to wind up to speed while the upper horns more quickly coast to slower speeds. When the Leslie switches between slow and fast modes, the offset accelerating or decelerating paces of the upper and lower sections creates a physical effect that, in the words of Dan, “is moving, beyond words.”
The question is, can such a sound be captured in a stompbox? First off, a fair trial between the original and its pedal counterparts requires a stereo amp set up. In the TPS episode a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe is partnered with a Marshall Plexi to give the room some dimension and a little ping-pong pulse. As a physical effect, the Leslie packs a true sonic punch. It’s rare that Dan and Mick are short on adjectives to describe an effect. But after just a few rounds of a/b switching between the stereo amps and the Leslie, the duo pause for some audible dead air before Dan breaks the silence: “It’s hard to put the real thing into words, to convey how it feels when you’re in the room and can feel the air moving.” Perhaps the pause was for a true TPS breakthrough as Mick confessed earlier in the show, “We found a transistor amp that we actually like!”
The bulk of this TPS episode puts a selected set of Leslie-like pedals through the paces to determine how close they approximate the sound of the life-size cabinet. The lineup of pedals compared to the Leslie includes three stereo effects (Strymon Lex, Electro-Harmonix Lester G, and Neo Instruments Ventilator II) and one mono output pedal for good measure (Option 5 Destination Rotation Single). While it is often the case that such comparative homework reveals pedals nearly always live in the shadows of the originals they’re cloning after, the present lineup exhibited a surprisingly close resemblance to the Leslie. After the full compare and contrast, Mick concluded “I just thought the pedals would be a world away [from the Leslie], but they’re not a world away—they’re just into different country.”
So, with a reasonably authentic sound and a definite convenience factor in their favor, what else do these effect pedal options offer? One of the clearest advantages is their ability to control and dial in different parameters. As Dan describes, on the back of the original Leslie “there are a few things you can change, but you’ve got to go in there with a screwdriver,” essentially in standard setup “you’ve got a fast speed and a slow speed.” For example, both the Ventilator and Lex excel in their ability to present a Leslie-like sound with variable virtual mic distances from the cab. After a few riffs played through the Lex with different mic distance settings, Mick observed that “with the mic up very close, you’re hearing a more intense modulation of the rotor.”
For the Lester G, its distinct assets are the built in drive and compressor, which gave the guitar sound an almost organ-esque feel. Perhaps this is not surprising as an edge of gain would have been delivered to the Leslie from the organ output. When the Boss Blues Driver was added to the mix of the others, the pulsating sound achieved another level of richness and warmth, now with a familiar gainy breakup.
The verdict? At the end of the episode, the Leslie experience left both gents of TPS happily gobsmacked. “The sound is so big. It is so, so big,” remarked Dan. To which Mick responded, “It’s just addictive, really, really addictive.”
If this TPS Leslie episode had organ sounds ringing out in your mind, be sure to venture further into the world of Electro-Harmonix’ growing line-up of organ-inspired modelers, like the B-9 and C-9. If the idea of plugging into an amp developed for other instruments and uses piqued your interest, the Walrus Audio 385 could be a great departure point. This one takes its cue from the natural tube breakup of the amp section of a vintage Bell and Howell 385 Filmosound projector.
TPS Episode Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Dan: 1963 Closet Classic Fender Telecaster (ca. 2000); Mick: 1962 American Vintage Fender Stratocaster (ca. 2000); Duesenberg Fullerton Elite.
Amps: Leslie Cabinet with a Kingsley Maiden (preamp); Fender Hot Rod Deluxe and Marshall Plexi (in stereo).