Octave pedals have been present for decades and their presence has enriched our favorite music ever since. Many guitar geniuses have created masterpieces using these tools and today it would be impossible to imagine those songs differently.
But how did it begin? And why are octave pedals so popular? What do they do? Let's find out.
The predecessor to the octave pedal was a small stompbox transistor unit, called Maestro Fuzz Tone pedal, created in 1962. These new "effect units" were meant to replace the existing bulky units that were used in recording studios.
Due to high mobility and great performance enrichment, most rock 'n' roll bands and artists started using these units live.
In the meantime, the octave pedal was finally invented, along with the first wah-wah pedal. Its inventor was Roger Mayer, who had foreseen the vast potential. And that potential was successfully presented to the entire world by none other than Jimmy Hendrix!
The two collaborated together for many years and both honored each other for their accomplishments.
Hendrix himself named the pedal ‘Octavio' in 1967 and has used it ever since. This led to the sky-rocketing popularity of these pedals, and every band started using them. Naturally, newer and better models have been constantly produced, and today we have a variety of octave pedals and other similar effect units.
What does it do?
The main purpose of octave pedals, as the name suggests, has something to do with octaves (or intervals). And that's exactly what it does – it drops or rises the sound of the guitar by octaves, producing a synthesized audio signal, and/or mixes it with the original input signal.
Basically, you can either play one guitar and produce the sound of many guitars playing in different octaves at the same time, or make your guitar sound lower or higher.
The first octave pedals could only rise or drop the sound by one octave, and produce a synthesized signal alongside the original input signal, making it a bit ‘fuzzy' or distorted in the process.
Later models, due to technological advances and a necessity for new sounds, have introduced many additions. Therefore, octave pedals of today can go 3 octaves higher or lower of the input signal, can completely remove the input signal and produce only the desired octave, or can blend many octaves at once, thus creating a chorus effect.
Additionally, some other effects were implemented into this device and existing effects improved, so musicians today can amplify the volume of the synthesized signal, add more distortion and aggressiveness into the sound, or change/drop the signal so low that it sounds like a bass. This was mainly achieved by upgrading analog tracking to digital tracking.
Octave pedals, pitch-shift pedals, harmonizers
While octave pedals have a fantastic but somewhat limited use, they are often mixed with other similar effect unit pedals. Since the boom of octave pedals, engineers have put their effort into creating similar but more advanced musical tools, and hence the birth of pitch-shifters and harmonizers.
The pitch-shifter is the first next step from an octave pedal. Since most of the octave pedals throughout the last century were analog, their signal detection was, again, limited, and somewhat faulty. Therefore the possibilities were limited to full octave sound shifting only.
But with the introduction of digital signal detection (or digital tracking), a new variety of possibilities have emerged, and pitch-shifters posses exactly such possibilities. With digital tracking, pitch-shifters can alter the sound by any interval tone desired, not only by a full octave.
Additionally, the sound from pitch-shifters can be bent or changed even more, thus creating new and unique sounds that octave pedals could not (or even other instruments). Mixing the direct input with such digital synthesized tones can truly sound marvelous if played correctly.
And finally – harmonizers. As pitch-shifters are basically just upgraded octave pedals, harmonizers are upgraded pitch-shifters. Their use is quite similar, with the exception of ‘harmonic effect'. Harmonizers are able to produce such effect by mixing the original input signal with a digital pitch-shifted signal and arranging all those tones into perfect harmony.
Modern octave pedals have some interesting controls on them that you can choose in order to shape your sound. Since these units are not very large, and the foot pedal takes most of the space, not all controls are included in one pedal. This choice differs from model to model, and, naturally, from manufacturer to manufacturer.
- Direct level: with this switch you can control the volume of your direct input sound. Raising it closer to the maximum will put your original playing tones into the first plan while lowering it will add more space for shifted sound to be heard.
- Octave level: Does the same thing as the previous control, just for that desired octave below/above shifted sound.
- Octave 2 level: While this control is also used for raising a volume of the newly produced sound, it has some additional options, which usually include:
- Drive mode (OD/gain): adds distortion. This mode is very popular in creating cool and aggressive riffs.
- Range mode: changes the sound from monophonic to polyphonic, thus creating a ‘chorus-like effect'. Chords and slow intros are usually played with poly-range mode.
- Filter: changes the frequency of pitch-effect adding or subtracting the resonance level. A cool way to change your sound into something unusual.
- Attack: adds a synthetic-like sound to pitch-effect (mostly used in funk genre).
Of course, pitch-shifters and harmonizers have much more controls, since they are often larger and it is their purpose to add more. Most harmonizers have around 10 or even more tiny controls that are adjustable with fingertips only.
Working together (signal chain)
Since there are so many effect units right now with specific but limited options, they can be linked together to create a spectrum of sound-shifting possibilities. Yes, there will be so many pedals and controls in front of you, but if you manage to arrange and use them properly, there is no end to your sound capabilities.