In the last few years famed guitar manufacturer Fender has expanded further into the pedal market. Fender is very well known for guitars, and almost equally as famous for their amps - so why not pedals?
Along with a large range of overdrives, choruses, and boosters, three new pedals added to the range are the Pinwheel Rotary Speaker Emulator, the Lost Highway Phaser and the all-in-one Downtown Express, a bass multi-effect pedal. All three pedals do their specified job perfectly, but also pack a lot of features into well-built boxes that can extend the effects beyond their intended use. The Pinwheel features seven knobs and a toggle to assist in making it more than just a rotary speaker emulator, it features controls to make it feel like a rotary speaker in both sound and vibe. The Lost Highway Phaser can quickly (literally) switch from a subtle, ear-catching phase effect to psychedelic freakout, while the Downtown Express, despite its intention for bass guitar, can do so much more. All three pedals are reasonably priced for what they’re capable of, and will slot in nicely beside other Fender pedals with matching anodised aluminium enclosures.
First off, the Fender Pinwheel is a pedal with everything you need and nothing you don’t. There’s stereo inputs beside the expression pedal input, and stereo outputs on the other side. The pedals works just as well in mono, but it’s good to know you have the option - more on that later. On top of the pedal is the guitar/keyboard voicing switches, and the dynamic on/off switch. The ‘ramp’ knob located just above the bypass switch allows the user to change the dynamic response of the rotary effect, and the dynamic on/off disengages this circuit. The final switch on top of the pedal switches between either an external on/off for fast/slow pedal or an expression pedal. Sitting side by side as part of the modulation family, the Lost Highway Phaser is as useful as the Pinwheel. While acting partly as a conventional phaser, this pedal can do so much more. Located on the front of the pedal are rate, depth and feedback controls. What sets this pedal apart, however, is a dual circuit that’s foot-switchable, with independent rate and depth switches. There’s a universal 4 or 8-stage phaser switch, which affects the EQ notches in the wet signal, and a toggle between triangle or sine waveforms to quickly shape your flanger sound.
The Downtown Express is a pedal about as big as the sound it can produce. Designed to be an all-in-one bass pedal, the Downtown Express is a must have. Not only does it feature a mute button, but you’ve got EQ, overdrive and a compressor, all with their own on/off switches. You can even toggle the compressor before or after the overdrive section for even more options. The EQ is three band, and even at maximum settings, the EQ is still entirely usable, but seems designed to shape the tone ever so slightly before your amp or other pedals. The overdrive can get really dirty really fast and, when this pedal is used for guitar, can get thick and fuzzy. The tone and level controls can even simply help to push your signal into another overdrive or into your amp harder. Finally, the compressor is another three knob situation, with simple threshold, gain/output and a blend knob. On bass, this pedal works great when pushed too far, then blended back for a dynamic, but controlled style of parallel compression. What’s more, there’s a handy gain reduction LED that flicks on and off when you hit that threshold.
In use, all three pedals can be either an iconic sound or the last 10% of your tone. While the Downtown Express is the least flashy of the three, it can still provide a really nicely compressed tone and a great drive or fuzz. The Downtown Express is a players pedal, and built to last gig after gig. The Pinwheel, however, is a pedal all about expression, even without an expression pedal. The push and pull of the fast and slow braking rotary are the icing on top of your shred cake, or the thick, modulating mess of arpeggios. Because of the stereo in/out, and voicing options, the Pinwheel is great for re-amping. And when we’re discussing re-amping, let’s not limit ourselves to guitar and bass. Run a stereo drum session through this pedal and blend it in for an iconic groove that no one will be able to put their finger on. Re-amp a vocal for a thick midrange blended beneath clear and crisp highs and lows, or create a radio effect before a drop. You’re really limited only by yourself, because the Pinwheel creates a sound like no other, especially when coupled with an expression pedal. Finally, the Lost Highway Phaser is such a guitar player’s pedal that it makes me wonder how they’ve reinvented an effect that has been in the limelight for 50+ years to still feel so fresh and inspiring. I felt like I was playing with modulation for the very first time. It’s instantly inspirational whether you’re tinkering with a lead or thickening up some chords, or both, or neither. Do whatever you want with it. Even at a blend of 100% wet, this Phaser sounds great. It’s two conventional phasers in one, but with new features such as the waveform shape and switchable stages that push it to the forefront of the pack.
All in all, these three pedals are just a few more to a collection of great pedals from Fender. They’re entirely usable in any genre, and can quickly move from iconic, heavily effected sounds to more subtle hints of movement and dynamic. The Downtown Express is the most practical of the three, and as it’s name suggests, turns your bass guitar into a non-stop steam train, while the Pinwheel and Lost Highway Phaser move your tone into uncharted territory, regardless of what instrument or signal you run through them. There’s a bunch of routing options, some more tonal shaping features and a bunch of internal organising and rearranging made easy for us with the flick of a switch. Each of these pedals is a complete package in it’s own right, but couple together you’re ready to take over whatever it is you’re trying to take over. Fender are royalty in amps and instruments, and might just be here to capture pedals too.
Hits and Misses
Great sounds, even when maxed out
Great routing options