Catalinbread has you covered for the dreamy reverb and shoe look in their new Soft Focus Reverb pedal that will bathe your guitar tone and make you feel like you’ve been transported to a scene from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Prolific pedal company Catalinbread has just released a reverb pedal based on a vintage rack unit from Yamaha that is revered in the shoe-loving community called Soft Focus.
Packaged in a single small package with a sleek printed LED style design, its hue and variations are dreamy and otherworldly. We also found some little tricks, wild tones and secret features in Soft Focus along the way.
So how many reverb pedals do you have? How many are uncontrollable and flood your sound with no clarity in sight? The name Soft Focus makes me wonder if this reverb pedal fits your tone and allows you to focus. We dove into this new pedal to find out.
I grabbed the Heritage electric guitar from home and plugged it into our Fender Deluxe Reverb amp, turned off the reverb and dialed in as clean and dry a sound as I could. Turning on my technical brain, I wanted to find unity gain between on and off with Soft Focus. This little experiment discovered something I couldn’t pass up and had to investigate further: soft focus can be used as a clean boost!
I know you’re here to read about a reverb pedal, but with everything off you can use the Vol to boost your signal. Not only does it rise, but it gives you a bit of dirt on top. For your information, the unit gain is slightly below 12 o’clock.
Switching to the intended use for the pedal, I turned each of the controls: Symph (stands for Symphony and blends in a slight octave effect), Mod (controls the speed of the multi-voice chorus), and Verb (controls the decay time). ) — up to the maximum, including mixing. It was here that I felt like I was writing an episode of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks in the 1990s with my only guitar.
The sounds of a dreamy synth went on for a good 3-5 seconds, and the reverb was floating and ethereal. Deciding to get even crazier, I turned off the Verb; the result was this previously delayed gated ambient reverb that was really cool. It made me want to bring soft focus to a mix I was working on and send a trap to it.
Following these 100% mixed sounds, I turned on the Symph and Mod all the way through and you were left with a big bright reverb that was medium in length, but didn’t feed back or last very long. If you want to work the Soft Focus in this way, I recommend turning the volume all the way up to make those effects even stronger.
The Soft Focus is based on a Yamaha FX500 rack unit. It has a patch called ‘Soft Focus’, and it’s a unit that uses multiple effects at once. The FX500 has ‘Simul-Effects’ as Yamaha calls it; I guess, simulation effects. It means that a patch has five effects combined into one.
Using the pedal in a more traditional sense, I set the mix to around 1 o’clock and tweaked the settings to taste from there. This is where you’ll find the pedal works its magic by being subtle and dreamy. Think of Pink Floyd, The War on Drugs, and of course the original purveyors of shoe-gaze, Slowdive.
Wanting to hear what each of the five controls actually does, I set the Mod and Verb to zero and adjusted the Symph control. With this you can create a short ambient reverb, which will widen your notes. Turning the Symph down and playing a faster guitar part makes the sound less noticeable, but adds depth.
Moving to the Mod control, and setting Symph to zero, I cranked it all the way through, which produced an interesting ‘warp’ after the guitar part. This makes for a unique tone that could extend the notes of a guitar solo, and mixing in some Symph back further accentuated the sound.
By zeroing Symph and Mod and turning that Verb up to max, I got a warm, ‘smooth’ reverb that sat under the clean guitar signal in a graceful way. With the mix at 1pm, it was the perfect mix.
People often overuse reverb, making their parts too weak and muffled, but this pedal has a natural deposition that no matter what you do, you’ll have a floating reverb under your ‘focused’ signal. Unless, of course, you use soft focus in a more experimental way, as I mentioned above, for which, freak out, you’ll be shooting dramatic ’90s throwbacks in no time!
The variation in sound of this pedal is brilliant and I loved exploring the different ways I could use it. I honestly never expected to be able to find a little trick out of a clean boost, nor how dreamy the reverb would be without sacrificing guitar presence.
The Catalinbread Soft Focus is priced at $329 AUD and you can buy it at all good music stores. Head over to Catalinbread.com for more details.