I’d been in the market for an envelope filter for more than a few months when Godlyke approached me about reviewing their new Guyatone Optical effects pedals… so needless to say I just couldn’t resist taking them for a test drive.
For those of you who aren’t already acquainted with this latest line of effects from Guyatone, the Ultron Auto Wah and Ultrem Tremolo are hybrid analog/digital stomp-boxes that promise the warmth of a 100% analog signal chain paired with the the accuracy and versatility of digital controllers… I’m happy to say they deliver decidedly well on both fronts.
Designed in part by renowned engineer Hideko Shimizu––who unfortunately passed away before the Optical Series reached its final design stages––the pedals were initially meant to be simple vintage-style optical effects (think Mu-tron III) but luckily for us, the “Opticals” would ultimately become high-end units capable of far more in the way of great guitar tone than their venerable predecessors could have ever dreamed of.
Ultron Optical Auto Wah Picking up where the Mu-tron III left off, and then just running with it, the Guyatone Ultron is one seriously dangerous envelope filter––while many auto-wah type effects are built to do just one thing well, the Ultron is an entirely different kind of animal… it’s absolutely loaded with sonic possibilities.
In fact, the list of features is so incredibly long that at first glance the pedal can seem almost daunting in its options, but I found that spending just a few minutes with the included manual got me fully acquainted with the Ultron’s basic control layout. In no time at all I was creating very memorable tones, from classic wah-wah effects to downright spacey experimental stuff.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have an expression pedal on-hand to test out the Ultron’s “Pedal Wah” functionality (yep, it can function as a traditional, if highly tweakable, wah pedal,) but the other two effect types––Touch Wah, and Wave Wah––worked flawlessly, and offered the kind of variables you’d usually only expect from a rack-mount unit.
Exactly what kind of variables? Well, you’ve got access to Low-Pass, High-Pass, Band-Pass, and Notch filter effects via a rotary dial, not to mention a Threshold control, Frequency control, Peak control, and three top-mounted dip switches, which include a Range switch (M, H, and L,) Drive switch (for switching the travel direction of the wah effect,) and a TAP/PDL switch for adjusting the Speed ratio in Tap mode, or the Volume curve when using an expression pedal.
As if that weren’t enough, in Wave Wah mode (which produces effects via the Ultron’s digital oscillator) you’ve got access to not only six different wave forms––allowing for an incredibly wide range of tonal possibilities––but also a highly accurate tap-tempo mode, which makes syncing-up envelope effects to the tempo of your tunes a real breeze.
Where the Ultron really shines though is in Touch Wah mode… this is the classic Auto-Wah effect, which produces envelope filtering based on your picking attack.
Needless to say, any effect that varies its parameters based on your own playing dynamics is going to take some time to master, but trust me when I say it’s well worth the effort… the Ultron easily produces the kind of squashy, rhythmic wah effect that would make any funk aficionado smile.
I particularly enjoyed experimenting with the Ultron’s Drive switch––in UP mode it offers straight-up traditional wah functionality, but in DOWN mode you can coax your guitar into all kinds of crazy space-age lounge tones circa the 1970s. Mmmm, this is really good stuff.
Of course, Guyatone has armed the Ultron with True Bypass circuitry, ensuring your guitar’s tone will stay pristine when the effect isn’t in use, and like its sister pedal the Ultrem, this bad boy is packed into a truly road-worthy chassis––the pedal was definitely built to last.
Overall, the Guyatone Ultron is easily one of our favorite envelope filters to-date––with a 100% analog signal path, and a staggering number of customizable parameters on-board, the Ultron truly brings new meaning to the word versatile. If you’re in the market for an auto-wah that’s head and shoulders above the rest, you’ll definitely want to give the Ultron a look.
Ultrem Optical Tremolo Of course, the Ultrem is no slouch either… just as loaded with options as the Ultron––and capable of actually syncing up to its sibling pedal via those digital oscillators––the Ultrem offers all the old-school analog tremolo you’ve ever dreamt of, along with a host of new options you didn’t even know you wanted.
In fact, in spite of its numerous options, I think you’ll find that once you’ve got a hang of the Guyatone Ultron pedal you’ll have no problem at all finding your way around the Ultrem––both boxes are built around the same hybrid analog/ditigal technology, and both boast very similar control layouts, so while they produce vastly different effects, your skills at tweaking one pedal should easily translate to mastery of the other.
Once again you’ve got easy access to six different wave forms, multiple tremolo effects modes (Wave Tap, Momentary Wave, and various Expression Pedal modes,) and numerous other options, including tap-tempo, Pan and Blend switches, and the incredibly cool Saturation knob, which allows you to dial in a bit of distortion to better emulate the tonal characteristics of classic tube driven tremolo units.
Added extras include both Mono & Stereo outputs (a must-have for truly great tremolo effects,) and like the Ultron, a big, bright red LED display. Oh yeah, and there’s an Expression Pedal input jack for bringing control of your Ultrem’s parameters right to your… toe tips?
Tone-wise the Ultrem is an absolute no-brainer––if you’re enamored at all with vintage-style tube amp tremolo you’ll be more than satisfied with what the Ultrem can do for your guitar’s tone… not only does the Ultrem bring authentic optical tremolo to any guitar player’s rig, but the wide array of wild tremolo effects that it offers will keep even the most die-hard gearhead happily tweaking knobs and switches for weeks to come.
Final Word All in all, it’s easy to recommend either of Guyatone’s Optical Effects Pedals––by themselves, the Ultron and Ultrem are very formidable stompboxes, but side by side I’d say they’re as close to an unbeatable pair as you’re likely to find.
Early on I was told that Guyatone’s pedals were all about warm, organic, analog tone, and I have to say that I wasn’t at all disappointed… these are great pedals, with gorgeous tone, and either one would make a worthy edition to your effects arsenal.
Now check out these sound samples––
EGR Sound Samples
Recorded direct via Line 6 GearBox