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David Ross Musical Instruments Spellbook Pedal Review: 3 Modes of Fuzzy Oscillation!

Spellbook Pedal
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David Ross is no stranger to making interesting pedals and effects, and the new Spellbook pedal is a magical fuzz that mimics analog synths. This pedal is nuts, and today we check it out!


The Spellbook Pedal: Innovation & Creativity Wins Again

David Ross Musical Instruments really impressed us with the Winter Strom Pedal just a few months ago. This was an overdrive pedal that was deceptively simple in design, and I honestly though it was just another OD pedal for the “Blues Dad” crowd chasing the KLON Centaur sound. But I was dead wrong, and it had multiple applications that you can read about in my review.

So when David announced that he was going to build a fuzz pedal, I knew that there were be some kind of twist in the design. A personal touch that only David Ross would think to use. I knew that the Spellbook pedal was going to have some kind of trick behind just being a fuzz pedal. I was not let down at all when it came to my assumptions!

Now don’t think that I mean “trick” as in the pedal is a “novelty”. It absolutely is not, and as I have been working on my hardcore/metal album, something like this pedal is exactly what I need to make original, head-turning tones. The Spellbook pedal is something that has never been done before in the guitar pedal world, and it has a lot to offer.

What Is The Spellbook Pedal?

The Spellbook is a self-oscillating fuzz and distortion guitar pedal that can also be used as a stand-alone synthesizer. In addition to the Volume control, the Start/End control is a bass and treble boost with the center position being flat, and the Middle control is a mid boost and cut with the center position being flat. The Content control changes the note generated by the oscillator, and the Mode switch (I, II, III) chooses the frequency range of the oscillator.

Basically, David Ross seems to be some kind of mad scientist when it comes to pedals. He keeps tweaking standard designs that results in a new pedal that you would never find from a mainstream company. So today, we are going to go over the Spellbook, and talk about how it works.

But if you are new to the idea of oscillation, or modulation effects in general, then perhaps we should go over that first. You probably have a few pedals that use a similar circuit, but not quite like the Spellbook. So let’s take a look at how the core of this pedal works.

Innovative!
Spellbook – Guitar Pedal
$200.00

The Spellbook is a self-oscillating fuzz and distortion guitar pedal that can also be used as a stand-alone synthesizer. In addition to the Volume control, the Start/End control is a bass and treble boost with the center position being flat, and the Middle control is a mid boost and cut with the center position being flat. The Content control changes the note generated by the oscillator, and the Mode switch (I, II, III) chooses the frequency range of the oscillator.


But Wait, What Is Oscillation Exactly?

Spellbook pedal

We are going to talk about this in the way oscillation works in regards to synthesizers, since that is essentially what the Spellbook pedal does. If you already know how all of this works, then go ahead and skip this part, but if you are wondering what this pedal does that is so different, read on.

But we can also look at it in the way that guitar effects like tremolo and vibrato works as well. At the heart of many synthesizer/guitar effects lies the concept of oscillation, a fundamental principle that underlies the creation of diverse sonic textures. In this exploration, we’ll delve into how oscillation works in a musical context, particularly within synthesizer effects.

Oscillation refers to a repetitive and cyclical motion that occurs over time. In the context of synthesizers, oscillators are electronic circuits or modules that generate audio waveforms with specific frequencies, giving rise to musical tones. These oscillators produce waveform shapes like sine, sawtooth, square, and triangle, each with distinct tonal characteristics.

Two guitar effects that do this, are a good example of what a synthesizer also does. You will probably be familiar with these terms:

  • Tremolo: Tremolo is achieved by modulating the amplitude (volume) of an audio signal using an oscillating waveform. The oscillating waveform causes the volume to fluctuate rhythmically, creating a pulsating effect.
  • Vibrato: Vibrato introduces pitch modulation by oscillating the pitch of an audio signal around its original frequency. This effect adds a subtle wobble to the sound, reminiscent of a human vocalist’s natural vibrato.
  • Wah-wah: A wah-wah effect employs a sweeping band-pass or low-pass filter that oscillates back and forth. This creates a distinct “WAH” sound as the filter opens and closes, allowing certain frequencies to pass while attenuating others.
  • Phaser: Phasers use multiple phase-shifted audio signals to create notches and peaks in the frequency spectrum. Oscillating these phase-shifted signals results in the classic swirling and sweeping phaser effect.

If you are into synth-wave music, then you are familiar with a saw wave sound. The big, distorted sound that most artists like Carpenter Brut uses is called a “super saw” and it is a devastating sound. This is why fuzz is unique from distortion. Fuzz changes the fundamental shape of the guitar tone, while distortion is based on tube break-up.

So the Spellbook pedal does this waveform shape-shifting effect as well, with three different octave choices to blend with the fuzz signal. I can honestly say that this is the first time I have ever seen this in a guitar pedal. So how does it sound? How does it work?


Spellbook Pedal: Features And Specs

Spellbook Pedal

The Spellbook pedal has three different modes to choose from, and each one sets the “note” range for the pedal. This is controlled by the switch in the middle of the pedal. All three offer a wide range to play around with, and you can change the “note” with the Control knob.

Mode 1 probably sounds the “cleanest” to me, and it doesn’t glitch out as much with the lower strings on your guitar. If you tune down, you will get some really cool effects from Mode 1. Likewise, the other two modes also sound pretty cool with my guitar in Drop A tuning, glitching out to the ringing note when I let the lowest string ring out.

Depending on which switch position you set the pedal to, you can get some really warbly, synth-like tones from open strings. The more movement you use in your playing, the more “stable” the Spellbook remains.

The Control knob sets the actual “note”, which you can do by ear, or with a tuner pedal. When you are not playing the strings, this is the note that you hear. Unless you really crank up your noise gate pedal! You can honestly set it for whatever you like, and just play to get a sort of “glitchy” sound.

The Bass and Middle controls are very interesting as well, and can completely change the tone. Both knobs have a completely flat signal when positioned at noon, or the middle position. If you want to add or subtract bass of midrange, you can do so by turning either knob.

Both the Bass and Middle controls have a very large sweep, so you can easily blend the Spellbook with a dirty amp tone, or even an amp sim. I tried the Spellbook with amp sims, and it seems to play well with everything from Neural to STL Tones without issue.

You can run the Spellbook in the front of your amp, or in the FX loop as well. Both options yield a similar result, with the FX loop sounding a little bit “cleaner” to me, if that is possible with the Spellbook! If you use a noise gate, I would dial the threshold back a little bit to be able to get the “glitch” effects.

Multi-string tapping, and chordal tapping sounds really insane, adding overtones and ghost notes to your playing. While the Spellbook can be used for more “controlled” solos like in David’s video, the other applications are really limitless. If you tap slowly, you get the “Control note” in between your tapped notes, which sounds like a synth in a lot of ways.

Everything else about the Spellbook pedal design is what you expect from a “top of the line” guitar pedal. You have a standard 9V power supply that can be ran on battery or with an adapter. The volume control is no-frills, and the button is your standard stomp box.

The pedal enclosure is regular sized and I have to say, the artwork definitely matches the Spellbook pedal’s sound. The overall quality of the pedal is boutique, and the artwork certainly matches that high-end feel. David enjoys using unique graphics to match the vibe of his pedals, and the Spellbook is no exception.

But it is what is going on under the hood that makes this pedal really interesting. In fact,  the Howl of Flaming Death mod is an integral element that ties everything together for this pedal. This mod circuit unleashes a literal flamethrower of tone. So what does it sound like? Is it as crazy as I describe?


Sounds & Review

This was hard to do, since I can usually describe what a guitar pedal does with flowery verbiage, and standard guitar tone terms like “Syrupy” or “Warm”. This is unfortunately impossible to accomplish with the Spellbook. You honestly just need to hear it, and David did a much better demo than I could:

As you can see in the video, all three switch modes are explored in the demo. The Spellbook can be used for guitar, as well as bass, and really any other instrument that takes a 1/4” input jack! Again, it works with audio interfaces and amps alike.

I have been playing guitar for 30 years now, and I have never seen anything like the Spellbook. This is honestly something very different, and while it can sound like a simple fuzz pedal if you want, it has so much more protentional than just pedestrian use.

I can see the Spellbook pedal being used as a temporary effect during a live set, something to create some serious noise and chaos. It could also be used for a very interesting intro to a song, especially when mixed with delay and reverb. David Ross really got weird with this one, and it came from an interesting realization:

The Spellbook guitar pedal was created in part as a result of my fascination with the old Boss DM-2 Delay. When you turn the Intensity and Echo controls on the Boss DM-2 all the way up, the pedal starts to self-oscillate. You can change the pitch of the oscillation with the Repeat Rate control. I found this to be a very cool and unusual effect, but for me it had a couple of problems

The first was that the feedback effect would cascade and the volume would quickly get out of control. The second issue was that once the pedal would go into the feedback loop, the guitar signal would become overwhelmed and would no longer be audible. It was around August of 2020 when I said to myself “it would be cool if I could play my guitar through this…” that the idea for the Spellbook was born.”

David Ross

Wrapping Up & Where To Buy

David Ross Musical Instruments has designed something truly unique, and with the help of a Kickstarter campaign he has been able to assemble all of the units in his shop, ready to ship. When you buy this pedal, it comes directly from the man himself. All orders have free shipping if you click the link below.

The Spellbook is a very interesting design, and it exceeded my expectations. When David told me about the pedal, I knew he was making a fuzz device of some sort, but I had no idea just how innovative it would be, and I am still experimenting with the pedal today as I write this article. Again, I have never encountered a pedal that does anything close to this effect, in over 30 years of playing guitar.

When David and I first started talking, I was very interested in taking his Winter Storm pedal and doing something with it that it was not supposed to done. I think I achieved that, using it for amp sims to tighten up the sound. This time, David turned the tables on me, sending me a pedal that surprised me, and did not do what i thought it would.

David Ross is definitely someone to keep up with in the pedal world. Right now, he is essentially a one man operation. But I can see the brand growing to be a part of the guitar zeitgeist, offering effects pedals that no one else has never even thought to make. David is a true artist, and takes a lot of pride in his work.

While big brands seem to update older pedals for reissue and copy each other constantly, David Ross is making pedals that offer players new soundscapes. It is rare that a pedal really strikes my interest these days, and David has surprised me twice.

I will be doing my own video, but since there is a limited amount of stock, I wanted to get the word out so you can buy your own Spellbook pedal. I will post my video here, in this article, when I finish it. The Spellbook just became available this week, and with limited quantities, I wanted to get this overview out and published.

David Ross is working on other pedals as we speak, and I do not see him slowing down anytime soon. The Spellbook came from hearing a BOSS delay pedal glitch out a little bit, something we have all probably done before. But who would have made a pedal based on that idea? Who would turn that into a musical, usable sound?

Only David would, and I am glad someone is making interesting guitar pedals, that are innovative and fresh instead of “just another overdrive”. You can also follow David’s progress on new pedals by checking out his Facebook and Instagram, where he posts updates on batches, as well as new pedals, guitar mods, and cool ideas from his shop.

Innovative!
Spellbook – Guitar Pedal
$200.00

The Spellbook is a self-oscillating fuzz and distortion guitar pedal that can also be used as a stand-alone synthesizer. In addition to the Volume control, the Start/End control is a bass and treble boost with the center position being flat, and the Middle control is a mid boost and cut with the center position being flat. The Content control changes the note generated by the oscillator, and the Mode switch (I, II, III) chooses the frequency range of the oscillator.

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