Mar 28, 2016
The original UniVibe is a now-classic effect, most notably used by masters like Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour and Robin Trower – but what you may not know is that it actually started life as an attempt to imitate the Leslie/rotary speaker effect.
It was not particularly good at that.
Luckily, it was good at being what it was – a 4-stage phaser born of electronic wizardry involving a bulb surrounded by 4 photocells, that somehow ended up yielding chorus and vibrato sounds which were swirly, undulating and oozing with creamy warmth.
Yeah I know, this is quite possibly the most convoluted and ridiculous origin story for any pedal.
Say what you will about Mike Fuller, but the man does nothing by halves. Over the years many have tried to nail the original (and now really pricy!) UniVibe with updated/modified circuitry and componentry but Fulltone have gone the complete opposite direction. Here’s what they say about the MDV-3:
There are a LOT of pedals claiming to be “authentic vintage Univibe clones” on the market…the small ones are merely a glorified MXR phaser filled with opamps with a few capacitor changes. That’s not a Univibe! So how is one to know which pedals are real and which ones are just a cheap shortcut? A real Univibe clone will have:
- 4 x glass covered/hermetically-sealed photocells and an incandescent bulb on the circuit board. I go one step further…and NO ONE else does this, I took many real 1960’s ‘cells and blueprinted them, not only their dark/bright resistance, but also for their all-important rise and fall times as they react to the light turning on and off. This is deep E.E. stuff, cannot be done unless you have the know-how and the expensive scopes.
- Run at 18+ volts.
- Totally discrete electronics, i.e. NO OPAMPS in the audio path! I go even further by only using New Old Stock (N.O.S) Panasonic Matsushita 2SC828 transistors for all stages, and the same metal-can 2SC539 transistor as original Univibes had for the preamp… this really makes a difference in the sound! You think those are cheap or easy to find?
In typical Fulltone fashion, I also manufacture my own speed potentiometer… it’s a dual pot with a gear on it like wah-wah pot, and with a special taper. (same as original Univibes) The only change made is I up’d the resistance to get you better slow speeds, and double screen the carbon composition track to last many, many years. I’ve been building “authentic vintage Univibe clones” longer than anyone, since 1992. Mine are used by Robin Trower, Peter Frampton, Doyle Bramhall II, and countless others… by the people who know great sound and won’t settle for less. I make tools for people who play… so go to a Fulltone Custom Shop dealer, plug in and listen for yourself, you’ll walk out with Fulltone more often than not.
So – now you know that Mike Fuller really rates this pedal. That’s cool and I’m super happy for him. But naturally we’re not just going to take his word for it…
The activation switch may look a bit weird with its quarter-circle cut out of the treadle, but makes perfect sense from a design point of view. Take the Dunlop Rotovibe for instance – it has a similar wah-type housing, and to activate the effect, you step forward, toe down, which means that when the effect turns on, it’s instantly already going at sea-sickness inducing full speed. With the MDV-3, having the activation switch independent from the treadle, it means you can leave the treadle at whatever setting you want, and when you engage the effect, it will already be at the exact speed that you wanted!
We’ve got two big knobs controlling Intensity and Volume, and two mini-toggles which switch between Chorus/Vibrato and Vintage/Modern modes. I’ll admit that I am a little concerned about those little switches taking a beating, but I guess to some extent they’re sheltered from potential harm by the bigger knobs either side.
Now, one of the biggest reasons I wanted to try the MDV-3 was because of it allows you to control the speed of the effect on the fly. I had visions of going from slow, deep chorusing to pulsating, throbbing psychedelia and everything in between, all in the space of the same solo, which could possibly help hide the fact that I’m just playing that same pentatonic scale over and over, haha.
As a grunge lover, I also wanted to get some of that watery medium/fast vibe sound that guys like Mike McCreedy, Jerry Cantrell and Kim Thayil used to such dark and moody effect. Yes, I know – they probably used the Dunlop Rotovibe back then because they couldn’t afford original UniVibes, but heck – the Rotovibe itself costs quite a bit these days, and is probably equally difficult to find!
Sadly, this leads me to my greatest disappointment about the MDV-3 – the sweep of the treadle. In terms of speed, two-thirds of the foot controllable sweep only gets you to about half the maximum speed of the effect. Then, the remaining one-third very quickly blitzes you through to maximum vibey velocity – which affords you much less fine control in the higher speed range than I would have liked. It would take way more concentration and fine motor skills with your ankle than should be necessary during a practice or a gig in order to dial in a faster vibe tone.
My disappointment with the foot control aspect of it aside, it’s certainly a fine sounding pedal. The signature UniVibe throb and pulse is there in spades, always feeling full and organic and never feeling too choppy or square-wave. Switching between Vintage and Modern yields the expected result, with Modern mode putting forth a bit more immediacy and mids oomph and slightly louder perceived output as a result.
I didn’t end up doing a video for this one as I didn’t really vibe (ha) with it due to the treadle sweep, and in general I just felt like I wasn’t bringing anything particularly new to the table, so please let Sweetwater’s excellent demo inform your ears instead.
Maybe next vibe
Verdict – it sounds lovely, but the foot control aspect was a letdown for me. If you dig the tones and can live without foot control, you might want to look into the “normal” Fulltone Mini Deja Vibe instead. It’s the same exact circuit but in a normal pedal format. And it has one of those oversized knobs for the Speed control so you can nudge it with your foot mid gig and still have some level of control over it.
That’s 3.0 F*ck Yeahs from me today.