Phaser Roundup: MXR Phase 90, Maxon PT999, EHX Small Stone

For this phaser roundup, I have selected three classic phasers that have been around for years and used by players of all styles, Funk to Blues, Classic Rock to Fusion. Here are three stompboxes that won’t disappoint. All have been re-issued but still retain their classic charm.

MXR Phase 90: Suggested retail price – $137.25

MXR Phase 90The MXR Phase 90 has been one of the more popular pedals in the MXR lineup. The MXR Phase 90 is one of the first effect pedals that comes to mind in the phaser world. This was the first MXR stompbox and it was designed in a garage by teenage entrepreneurs Terry Sherwood and Keith Barr and later popularized by Eddie Van Halen. In 1972 the MXR Phase 90 was born and the little orange box was an instant hit.

Features

  • Single rate control knob with rubber sleeve for foot control
  • Input/Output jacks
  • Solid aluminum enclosure
  • Effect on/off footswitch
  • LED light
  • 9V battery or AC adapter, (optional)
  • Foam footprint for base

Construction

Housed in sturdy narrow enclosure with textured orange paint. It has a single footswitch to turn the effect on/off. The speed knob has a rubber sleeve for changing phase rate with your foot. Red LED, input/output jacks to indicate of/off status. All components are PCB mounted. Runs on 9V battery or with a power supply.

Sound Quality

The MXR Phase 90 classic phase tone comes from the addition of added distortion to the guitar signal. It is a warm, thick phase that sounds great with distorted guitar tones and that is really the strength of this unit. Excellent range of phase speeds from very slow to shimmering fast and everything in between. Kick it in with a slower rate to add some motion to your solos or speed up the rate to get simulated Leslie rotating speaker effects. At its highest rate with a touch of chorus you get a something that sounds as if you are playing under water. The added distortion can be a minus for those looking for transparent and clean phase tones, but for rock, this is your effect. There is a "script" mod that can be done to the unit to help remove the distortion for improved clean phasing. The mod was not performed on this unit and is not contained in this review. This is a great effect and it is easy to see why the Phase 90 remains one of the most popular phasers on the market.




Maxon Phase Tone PT999: Suggested retail price – $160.00

Maxon PT999Ibanez, (Nisshin) produced their infamous line of Fender, Gibson, and Rickenbacker knockoff guitars beginning in the early 1970’s. These early guitars were equal to, (if not better) than the models they resembled. These were high quality instruments and are highly sought after today. By the mid 1970’s, Nisshin added a line Ibanez effect pedals and they used the name Maxon for their own effects, (which were practically identical to the ones being produced for Ibanez). Ibanez CEO Tom Tanaka used the MXR pedals as inspiration and began making copies of them. By the late ‘70s and early ‘80s Ibanez had their own engineering staff and had early success with the TS-808 Tube Screamer which was popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson. Ibanez amassed a formidable lineup of pedals and the PT909 Phase Tone was among them. The Maxon Reissue Series Phase Tone PT999 is a continuation of that early success.

Features

  • Single rate control knob
  • Input/Output jacks
  • Solid aluminum enclosure
  • Effect on/off footswitch
  • LED light
  • 9V battery or AC adapter, (optional)
  • Foam footprint for base

Construction

Similar to the MXR Phase 90, the Phase Tone PT999 is contained in a sturdy narrow enclosure with smooth, deep blue paint and attractive white lettering. It also has a single speed knob, single footswitch and LED light. The LED and speed knob are both mounted on a small PCB board. This small PCB board, along with the input/output jacks and footswitch are all wired to the main PCB board inside the unit. The unit can be run with either a 9V battery or with a power supply, (not included). The circuit in the PT999 is exactly the same as it was when first introduced in 1974.

Sound Quality

This effect is a real delight. The first thing I admired about this pedal was that it was amazingly transparent, (subtle phasing that is very reminiscent of the original "script" MXR Phase 90). While there is a hint of distortion added to the guitar tone, it is no where near the amount added by its rival, the MXR Phase 90. Its speed range is not as fast as the Phase 90, so in that respect it is a bit limited. However, this pedal’s strength is derived from its subtlety. It is fantastic for clean or distorted tones. I found the sweet spot to be with the speed at 1-2 o’clock before my distortion units. As with all phasers, a more intense phase tone can be achieved from positioning the unit after distortion. Experimentation is the best way to find out the capabilities of any effect. I prefer the placement of the PT999 first in the signal chain to benefit from its subtle nature.

Electro-Harmonix Small Stone: Suggested retail price – $137.25

EHX Small StoneElectro-Harmonix was founded in 1968 by engineer/musician Mike Matthews. The EH offerings are vast and impressive and have been used for decades by guitarists of all styles. The Big Muff, Small Clone, PolyChorus, Q-Tron, Black Finger, Tube Zipper, Memory Man and Small Stone, among others. Chances are you have plugged into one of EH’s pedals at one point in time and love them or hate them, EH is a huge force in the effects market. The Small Stone, designed by David Cockeral, is one of the best-loved effects from Electro-Harmonix and I found it to be my favorite of the three phasers tested. It has the transparency of the Maxon PT999 and the intensity of the MXR Phase 90, while adding its own sonic twist.

Features

  • Single rate control knob
  • Color switch
  • Input/Output jacks
  • Solid wedge shaped aluminum enclosure
  • Effect on/off footswitch
  • LED light
  • 9V battery or AC adapter, (optional)

Construction

The Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Phase Shifter is housed in sturdy 3 ¼" x 5 ¼" wedge-shaped enclosure with black and red coloring and white lettering. The base comes with four rubber "feet" at the corners for support and has a single footswitch with True Bypass Switching and a single rate knob. Red LED, input/output jacks and a color switch for additional phase effects. The color switch is mounted to a small PCB board and is wired onto the main PCB board. The input/output jacks, power supply jack, footswitch and rate knob are all wired to the main PCB board and neatly soldered. The main PCB board is reinforced with foam for shock absorption. Runs on 9V battery or with a power supply (not included).

Sound Quality

The Small Stone has the widest range of speeds of all the pedals, from very slow to incredibly fast, something for every taste. It has the cleanest tone, not a hint of distortion added to the signal. For these reasons alone I give the Small Stone the highest marks for useable tones and versatility. With the addition of the "color" switch, you get a whole new landscape of effects from this unit. With the switch in the down position, you get the traditional phase tones with lots of warmth and mellow phasing. With the color switch in the up position, this thing roars with 3-D phasing. The tones are intensified and much more dramatic with the color switch in the up position, changing the whole character of this pedal, (almost like two pedals in one). With the addition of true bypass switching, Electro-Harmonix has really created one of the most pleasing and versatile phasers on the market.

Summary

All three pedals reviewed provide excellent values to the guitarist seeking a quality phaser without breaking the bank. The MXR Phase 90 is well suited for the guitarist seeking classic phasing, while the Maxon PT999’s strength comes from is subtlety. The Electro-Harmonix offers a bit from both camps while adding the versatility of the color switch for those with more dramatic tastes. In the end, each of these pedals has something unique to offer and are all high quality effects that have stood the test of time.