Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: Cusack Effects Tap-a-Scream

Why does an overdrive pedal need tap tempo? That’s a question I can hardly answer. But I can say that the Cusack Effects Tap-a-Scream is a whole lot of fun.

What is it? It’s the mutant offspring of a tremolo and an overdrive pedal with variable fade in on the overdrive. It has tap tempo, 24 waveforms and controls for depth, color, and feedback.

The Controls:
Rather than detail them here, you should just read the descriptions in the manual on the Cusack website. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this thing can do.

The Sound:
For me, the beauty of this pedal lies in its uses as a song writing tool and for “ambient” and “sound collage” rhythm playing.  Here’s an example of how I used it. My band is working on our first album (I say that lightly - we're dad-rockers with day jobs). But on one of my songs, the ending is supposed to dissolve into chaos. It’s a straight ahead rock song and then in the coda, it sort of explodes. I recorded a few tracks of feedback, oscillating delay, and synth arpeggiator and slowly faded those in. The problem was that in the context of the song, they came out of nowhere. By doubling the main rhythm guitar part with the Tap-a-Scream doing an almost reverse tremolo sound, I was able to slowly build the chaos. I now have the Tap-a-Scream guitar entering at the start of the coda and then I slowly fade in the other tracks. It's perfect for segueing from the traditional rock sound of the verses and choruses into the noisier Sonic Youth/Wilco sound of the coda.

I'm also a big fan of the Sparkledrive and the Pork Loin where you can blend your clean and dirty sounds. With the Tap-a-Scream, you can have a clean sound with dirty tremolo pulses on top. I dialed in one sound that reminded me of How Soon is Now by the Smiths. I think I sat in my basement and played a four chord progression for about fifteen or twenty minutes just listening to how the pulses emphasized different notes. It's been a great songwriting tool in that way. Each time I dial in a new sound, I come up with an interesting part to go with it.

I know I often end my reviews with a “go buy it” type line. For this one it’s not as cut and dry. I’m really enjoying this pedal. And it has led to me coming up with some really cool parts that I otherwise would not have written. As a songwriting and recording tool, it’s great. But I don’t know if I would use it in a live setting. If you’re a tinkerer and love to get to know the ins and outs of a pedal, this one will provide hours of fun for you. If you are a “set it and forget” type or a traditionalist, you might want to skip this one.

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