Catalinbread has you covered for dreamy, shoe-gaze reverb in their new Soft Focus Reverb pedal that will wash over your guitar tone and make you feel like you’ve transported into a scene from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Prolific pedal company Catalinbread has just released a reverb pedal based on a vintage Yamaha rack unit that’s revered in the shoe-gaze community called the Soft Focus.
Packed in a single, small package with a neat, printed LED style design, its tone and variations are dreamy and otherworldly. We also found some little tricks, wild tones and secret functions in the Soft Focus along the way.
So how many reverb pedals do you own? How many are uncontrollable and flood your sound with no clarity in sight? The name Soft Focus makes me wonder if this reverb pedal sits under your tone and lets you focus. We had a dive into this new pedal to find out.
Grabbing the in-house Heritage electric guitar and plugging into our Fender Deluxe Reverb amp, I turned OFF the reverb and dialled in the cleanest and driest sound I could. Switching on my technical brain, I wanted to find unity gain between on and off with the Soft Focus. This little experiment uncovered something that I could not let go and had to investigate further — the Soft Focus can be used as a clean boost!
I know you are here to read about a reverb pedal, but with everything off you can use the Vol (volume) to boost your signal. Not only does it boost, it gives a nice little bit of dirt on top. FYI, Unity gain is just slightly below 12 o’clock.
Moving on to the intended use for the pedal, I turned each of the controls — Symph (stands for Symphony and mixes in a slight octave effect), Mod (controls the rate of the multi-voiced chorus) and Verb (controls the decay time) — up to the max, including the mix. It was here I felt like I was scoring an episode of David Lynch’s 1990s Twin Peaks with my single guitar.
Dreamy synth-like sounds lingered for a good 3-5 seconds, and the reverb was floating and ethereal. Deciding to get even more whacky, I turned the Verb off — the result was this pre delayed gated ambient reverb which was really cool. It made me want to take the Soft Focus to a mix I was working on and send a snare to it.
Following these 100% mix sounds, I turned the Symph and Mod all the way down and was left with a big shimmering reverb that had a medium length, but didn’t feedback, or last too long. If you want to work the Soft Focus in this way, I recommend cranking the volume all the way up to get those effects even louder.
The Soft Focus is based off a Yamaha FX500 rack unit. It’s got a patch called ‘Soft Focus’, and it’s a unit that uses several effects at once. The FX500 has ‘Simul-Effects’ as named by Yamaha — I’m guessing, Simulation Effects. It means one patch has five effects blended into one.
Using the pedal in a more traditional sense, I set the mix to about 1 o’clock and tweaked the settings to taste from there. Here’s where you’ll find the pedal working its magic by being subtle and dreamy. Think 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 do, I turned the Mod and Verb to zero and tweaked the Symph control. With this you can create a short ambient reverb, that extends your notes. Turning the Symph down and playing a faster guitar part, you don’t so much notice the sound of it, but that it adds depth.
Moving to the Mod control — and turning the Symph to zero — I cranked it all the way which made an interesting ‘warp’ after the guitar part. This makes for a unique tone that might extend the notes of a guitar solo, and blending some Symph back in further accentuated the sound.
Zeroing off the Symph and Mod and turning that Verb up to the max, I got a warm, ‘soft’ reverb that sat under the clean guitar signal in a graceful way. With the mix at 1pm, it was the perfect blend.
Often people over use reverb, making their parts too washy and drowned out, but this pedal has a natural deposition that no matter what you do you’ll have floating reverb under your ‘focused’ signal. Unless of course, you use the Soft Focus in a more experimental way as I mentioned earlier — to which, go crazy, you’ll be scoring 90s drama throwbacks in no time!
The variation in sound from this pedal is brilliant and I loved exploring how many different ways I could use this. I honestly never expected to be able to find a little trick of a clean boost, nor how dreamy the reverb would be while not sacrificing the presence of the guitar.
The Catalinbread Soft Focus comes in at $329 AUD and you can pick it up at all good music stores. Head over to Catalinbread.com for more details.