Phase Shifter or Phaser

Phasers are considered by many to be a mainstay of Dino pedal types. Many Dino pedal boards sport a phase shifter of one type or another. Creating anything from a soft wooshy backround to a sound similar to a jet leaving the runway they've been used on countless Dino recordings. The original MXR Script Logo Phase 90 is one of the vintage pedals that often command a used price far in excess of their original list price. A handful of original vintage analog Phasers are considered very special, but, it should also be noted that with modern technology there are some wonderful, if somewhat expensive, Phase pedals waiting to be snatched up by a Dino looking for killer effect tone and not interested in vintage significance. While some pedal varieties have never equaled the analog tones of the 70s some of the modern Phasers provide phase tones that are quite good.

Phase pedals started showing up on recordings in the early 70s by groups like the Doobie Brothers using the Maestro PS-1. One of the earlies Dino applications was Ritchie Blackmore on the first Rainbow album.  Phaser again received a strong shot in the arm a few years later through Eddie Van Halens use of the MXR Phase 90. Unlike some guitar pedal types the Phaser maintained a solid popularity through the 80s, 90s, and right up to present day. The phaser effect, like both chorus and delay, should get some serious attention when a Dino chooses to start populating a pedalboard.

A Little History

Phase Shifters, Phasers, are actually quite old as guitar effect pedals go. They played a big role in ushering in the sound of the 70s and helped in creating a distinction between the music of the 60s and what would become the new sound of the 70s. The earliest model I'm aware of that was labeled as a phase shifter was the Maestro PS-1 which was released in 1971. Yet, this was not the first phase shifter. Jimi Hendrix had a true phaser on his pedal board. The Univox Uni-Vibe. While the switch on top is labeled chorus / vibrato the Uni-Vibe was actually a four stage phaser. It's slightly chorusy sound is produced because each of the four stages are set at different frequencies.

Note. For those wondering about what they heard on some of the other recordings from the 1960s that seemed to employ this effect such as Pictures of Matchstick Men what your hearing is a flanging effect that was created in a studio using two tape machines. The Phase Shifter was created in the hope of reproducing a similar sound a guitarist could use on stage as part of their rig.

1971 Maestro PS-1

Maestro, which was under the same parent company umbrella as Gibson, produced the first pedal that took the name Phaser. The PS-1 had a bubbly kind of sound that was meant to sound like a rotating speaker but had a bit of a metallic quality to it's voice. On it's own it sold pretty well and wound up on many a guitarists pedalboard. In the coming year, though, it was overshadowed with the release of the MXR Phase 90.

1972 MXR Phase 90

Original version. Script logo. A Dino Grail pedal. MXR was a new startup company that had taken note of the fact that while guitar effect pedals being manufactured might sound good they were being made from cheap materials and certainly not built to last. MXR decided to go the extra mile and create pedals that were both wonderfully voiced as well as built to a much higher level of quality. The Phase 90 was one of their first pedals and a home run right out of the box. A phase shifter that also produced excellent 2nd order harmonics and enhanced rather than took over the guitars tone. An excellent pedal that now commands a high vintage price.

1974 Mu-Tron Bi-Phase

Think two of everything. Two phasers in one housing. Rates, Sweep Ranges, etc. Actually a very well voiced pedal. Maybe a bit more than the average Dino would need and definitely far to large for todays Dino pedal board. Then again, if you want two phasers designed to compliment each other the Mu-Tron Bi- Phase was one killer pedal in it's day. Also another collectors item.

1974 Electro-Harmonix Small Stone

Oddly, when you think of how over the top some of the Electro-Harmonix effects are voiced, the EH Small Stone is a beautiful example of a well reined in guitar phaser pedal. Just enough of everything without going over the top. Rich and sweet within a sweep range that turns before reaching stages where the tone distorts. This is also the biggest selling pedal Electro-Harmonix ever built.

1975 Electro-Harmonix Bad Stone

More in line with expectations of a pedal from Electro-Harmonix. More than you really need or desire at both ends of the scale, but, easily set to an appropriate range for usage. If the Small Stone is a bit too sedate for you the Bad Stone will supply the added range your seeking. I truly think this one goes overboard, but, that's just a matter of opinion.

1976 Roland AP-2 Phase II

Roland AP-5 Phase Five

Roland AP-7 Jet Phaser

In 1976 Roland rolled out the first of three very cool phaser models. The AP-2 Phase II was a thick swirling phaser that ran on two 9 volt batteries The especially cool part of this model was the second knob in it's two knob layout. The first controlled the rate like a Phase 90. The second knob was labeled resonance and adjusting this knob would vary the type and amount of harmonics in the tone of the phase. Roland followed this pedal with the AP-5 Phase 5 which added three more knobs, dropped the resonance control, gave the player the ability to preset two different delay times selectable by stomp switches as well as a switch for continuous, controlled by LFO, or touch mode, controlled by guitar signal strength at the imput. Roland then again followed the AP-5 with the AP-7 Jet Phaser that readded the resonance control, plus control knobs for selecting JetPhase or Phase voicings while deleteing the guitar signal strength control mode. Although the Jet Phaser became the most well known I really preferred the tone of the earlier two models. The AP-7s Jet, (gain +phase) voicing sounds more like a jet with it's ass on fire than a jet taking off. Even when the jet portion is off the straight phase voicing sounds slightly cloudy or distorted when compared to the AP-5. I'm sure some of our older Dinos have used or owned a Roland Jet Phaser and may disagree with me on the voicing. That's cool. It's just not the one I would select.

1978 A/DA Final Phase

The A/DA Final Phase added onboard modulation types as well as a built in overdrive. While not as transparent as some of the other phasers. The addition of the modulation, which did much more than just add a shimmer or vibrato effect, makes this one stand out. It could do asymmetrical sweeps and some strange pattern sweeps that prog rock guitarists or fusion players could fashion odd time signatures around. With the overdrive you were in the realm of the Jet Phaser.

During the 1980s phasers were produced by a number of manufacturers which, by this time, included Boss, Maxon, Ibanez, DOD, and many more. Phasers were a popular effect with enough buyers to support multiple brands and models in the marketplace.


Modern examples

Before any of our members start saving up their hard earned dollars for a 30 year old pedal I very much recommend that they listen to all of the pedals listed below. These are not sort of good modern versions of phase tone. All four of the phase pedals listed below are very good to excellent.

Red Witch Moon Phaser

Subdecay Studio Quasar

Toadworks Phantasm

Retro-Sonic Phaser



Guitar Effects pedals The Practical Handbook by Dave Hunter