DOD FX22 Vibrothang

DOD FX22 Vibrothang
DOD formed way back in 1974 and for many of the years which followed, were probably the biggest challenger to Boss in the guitar effect market.

Whereas Boss could be accused of playing it a bit safe at times [although we shouldn't forget how innovative and inspirational they have been too!], DOD pedals - especially those from the late 1980s and early 90s - tended to be a bit out there and different.

What’s in a name?

The marketing for the Vibrothang described it as a ‘vibrato’ with ‘special phasing circuitry’ which could sound like a ‘rotating speaker’. Hmm, I don’t know about that.

For a start, it’s a tremolo (amplitude modulation) and not a vibrato (pitch modulation) [but maybe we should blame Leo Fender for the confusion there]… and the 'special phasing circuit' doesn’t sound that special; it’s just a fairly subtle phaser… And the rotating speaker part? I'm not sure... Although, there definitely is a sense of movement and wobble with some settings.

As a standalone tremolo (with the phasing turned all the way down), it has good and bad qualities. The main negative being that the effect rolls off some treble, noticeably dulling your signal. I've used some boutique tremolo pedals that purposely filter off some of the top frequencies - the makers usually say this is to produce a warm, vintage sound but, in the case of the Vibrothang, murky and muddy are probably more apt descriptive terms. The tremolo waveform does have a lovely pulsing feel to it though, and the overall tone can be rescued once you bring the phasing controls into play - more about that later.

As a standalone phaser (with the tremolo depth turned down) it’s OK, just a bit ‘ordinary’ and limited. It's a 4-stage phaser I believe, so it’s quite a mild effect but is good to use occasionally for a bit of variation in your sound. To put a positive spin on it though, the Vibrothang’s subtlety (as a phaser) could actually make it more useful in a musical context for more people than a stronger phaser such as an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone - as it doesn’t completely swamp your sound.

DOD 'Parental Advisory' sticker.

The Image control really brings the phasing to life. Through the lower ranges of the Image and Doppler controls there doesn't seem to be a lot happening, but things suddenly get a lot more lively with both the Doppler and Image controls near the top of their ranges. This is where most of the best - more prominent - sounds are hidden away. Here, you will find a plethora of filter, wah-like and vocal effects, as well as a kind of moving, doppler effect; although it's not exactly what was promised by the nice/crazy people at DOD.

A change is as good as a rest

Following its release in 1996, the Vibrothang’s initial sales figures were disappointing for DOD/Digitech. It has been speculated that this was due to consumer confusion caused by the inaccurate and misleading name, and the unusually named controls*. Although, truth be told, the Vibrothang’s controls were far less confusing than those on a number of the other FX Series pedals.

DOD had evidently had a bit of a rethink as, sometime around 1998 a number of the FX Series pedals received a cosmetic facelift - which included having their controls renamed. In the case of the Vibrothang, ‘RPMs’, ‘Drop’ and ‘Intensity’ became ‘Speed’, ‘Depth’ (tremolo depth) and ‘Doppler’ (amount of phasing). The fourth control, ‘Image’ (regeneration of the phasing), retained its name.

Left: Original Vibrothang from 1995. Right: 'transitional' version from c.1997 - with dual-labelled controls.
Main picture (top): Final version (introduced in 1998).

Underwater Love

Using both the tremolo and phasing at the same time is where the Vibrothang comes into its own; the FX22 really is quite unique in the world of guitar effects.

To remedy the overly dark tremolo that this pedal kicks out, you can dial in some very subtle phasing; very careful manipulation of the highly interactive Doppler and Image controls can bring back some of your treble frequencies. There will always be some treble loss, but it does get you back to an almost-standard tremolo sound, but with a dreamy warmth and hint of wobble. At one end of its reaches the Vibrothang can make you sound like you're playing underwater, yet at the other end of the spectrum the phaser section can add plenty of shimmer and emphasis too, getting so wet sounding that you'll almost be reaching for a towel.

* * *

Whereas most people would put a tremolo near the end of their effect chain, it’s not uncommon to put a phaser near the beginning. As the Vibrothang does both of these things, where should it go in the chain?

When used with overdrive, I find putting the Vibrothang last accentuates the tremolo and the filter-like aspects of the sound. Whereas, running the Vibrothang pre-overdrive, the tremolo effect is reduced (as is the volume boost that occurs when the Depth is cranked up) and more of a vibe-y sound emerges.

So, there's not really a hard and fast rule; it all depends on how you're using it, what you're using it with and what you want to achieve.

* * *

Psychedelic box of tricks

I bought my first Vibrothang back in 1996 and, all these years later, I still find things to love about it. It has its flaws, I admit, but it holds a special place in my heart. The anomalous nature of the FX22 is misleading; it is clearly a niche product yet is at home in so many musical situations: from jazz to rock, and from blues to pop.

I wouldn't want it to be my main tremolo or phaser pedal (it isn't especially strong in either field), but the DOD FX22 is a definite case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

The Vibrothang has a unique charm and can do things that I’ve never heard anywhere else: it isn't always right, but when it is right, it's so right.