Tone Tips

The Electro-Harmonix 8-Step program: The Future is Now

  • By Nicholas Kula @tonereport
  • August 13, 2015

A year or so ago, Electro-Harmonix radically changed the game, and it went largely unnoticed. The game was expression pedals, and the linchpin was the 8-Step Program. There’s a chance that most players have at least heard of the 8SP, partly because of Electro-Harmonix’s ubiquity in the effects industry. However, players everywhere have turned their backs on the 8SP before giving the effect its day in court. In a world where we’re sending patches to our pedals by placing our smartphones near our guitar pickups, it’s hard to believe that the 8SP is built for absolute neural chaos. It shouldn’t be confusing, but for some folks, it just is. Of course, the manual’s girth is a sight to behold; I’ve read shorter books in college. However, once players know what they’re looking at, the functions usually become quite clear. Following this, there’s usually a “click” in the surveyor’s head, and from there, it’s a smooth paddle-out to ride the waves of creativity.

Just what is the 8SP? Well, as one will note, the front of the unit contains nine sliders. Imagine the first eight are tiny expression pedals, all lined up in a row. When the slider is all the way up, it simulates the “toe-down” position of an expression pedal, and likewise, when the slider is all the way down, it simulates the “heel-down” position. The 8SP allows a player to press “play” and a sequencer cycles through these eight “expression positions.” If a player sets every odd slider up and every even slider down, it is as if the player is rocking the expression fully “on” and fully “off.” The ninth slider controls the speed at which the sequencer cycles through these eight steps. This control can be overridden with the Tap footswitch.

Of course, it is impossible for an actual expression pedal to go immediately from toe-down to heel-down with no sweep in between. This is where the magic of the 8SP lies—it does things that are physically impossible for anyone to replicate. However, there’s also a glissando parameter, so users can dial in some glide in between settings, just as if he or she were operating a normal expression pedal. There’s also a “Sequence Length” parameter so users can adjust the length between one and eight steps.

Readers might note that when an expression device is plugged into a pedal, the knob that the expression pedal controls is effectively disabled. 8SP users can circumnavigate this issue by creating a preset of one sequence length. Then, with the 8SP connected, step one becomes the knob that expression control is overriding. For example, if I was using the 8SP connected to a phaser controlling a depth knob, using the above method, the step one slider would now control the depth amount until I told it otherwise.

Got all that? If not, that’s fine. I’ve prepared a list of my personal favorite pedals to pair with the 8SP, and perhaps the way this unit drastically opens up these boxes will be of use to the creative juices.


Pigtronix Tremvelope

My big 8SP revelation came to me when I was working at a guitar shop; my coworkers and I were trying to brainstorm the best use for the 8SP when inspiration struck. The Pigtronix Tremvelope, aside from being a killer pedal in its own right, has several expression jacks for its various parameters. However, the one that made all the difference was the Pan jack. Plugging the 8SP into this jack, and subsequently hooking the stereo-equipped Tremvelope to two separate amps yielded total control over a “ping-pong” effect between the two amps. With a slider set all the way up, signal only came out of the left amp. When set down, signal emanated from the right amp. When set in the middle, sound came from both amps. By itself, this isn’t that much of an accomplishment, but when utilized rhythmically, it created an intoxicating effect that blew me away. Imagine playing a run, but one can pick which notes come out of which amps! Just set the 8SP accordingly and tap in the sequence rate, and be ping-ponging in no time. I am also absolving myself from any responsibility of the aftereffects of a blown mind.


Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Big Muff

When Electro-Harmonix announced the Deluxe Big Muff, the final word in the Muff circuit, some features were firsts in the line. One such feature was the Gate control, which chokes off any sound beneath a desired threshold. More important to our purposes, however, is the new Mids knob and accompanying Freq control. Users are able to hook an expression pedal to the Deluxe Big Muff and sweep the Mids control. This knob is governed by the Freq control and also the Q switch. When using the 8SP, I usually set the Q switch to High, then run a couple sample sequences and adjust the Freq to taste. When all is said and done, users can create what amounts to an LFO that sweeps the mids, turning the Deluxe Big Muff into an auto-controlled fuzz-wah symbiote. It’s an interesting sound to coax from a dedicated fuzz unit, and the best part is that the Mids sweep is only available when the Mids footswitch is activated, so players can leave the 8SP running freely at all times before kicking it on and bringing the house down.


WMD Geiger Counter

Admittedly, it takes a special piece of gear such as the 8SP to make one of the weirdest pedals even weirder. Thankfully, creator William Matthewson built the Geiger Counter with such a thing in mind. Both the Bit Depth and Sample Rate controls can be manipulated by an expression pedal—even simultaneously. Don’t be fooled—the Geiger Counter itself says it accepts only CV (control voltage) in, but an expression pedal such as the 8SP will work just fine. Yes, there are over 200 wavetables inside the Geiger Counter, and I found the most 8SP success with tables 26 and A6. Pressing the Wave Table rotary down changes the LEDs near the Bit Depth and Sample Rate knobs. When the control’s LED is green, this means it is ready to be controlled by an expression pedal. Of course, using the 8SP to control either parameter is really fun, but I found that the Geiger Counter really opens up when both knobs are controlled by the 8SP. When the Sample Rate is high, the Bit Depth is also, making for a relatively clear signal, but when both are down, chaos ensues. Knowing this, players can craft some sequenced bursts of textures that will leave crowds in awe.


Moog MF Boost

“A boost,” one might wonder. “Why is a boost pedal on this list?” Well, I’ll explain. The Moog MF Boost is awesome, and it is probably the only boost out there with an expression jack. Interestingly, Moog claims that plugging an expression pedal into the MF Boost turns the expression pedal into a volume pedal. While this no doubt has some utility, plugging an 8SP into the MF Boost gives it a whole new identity. What do we call a pedal that modulates volume over a fixed rate? That’s right, a tremolo. It stands to reason, then, that the marriage of an 8SP and the MF Boost doesn’t just create a tremolo, it creates one of the best tremolos ever. With every odd slider set up and every even slider set down, players can turn their MF Boosts into tap tempo tremolos. With the Gliss set low, it’s a square-wave trem. Increasing the Gliss shapes the wave into a sine wave. Want subdivisions? There’s a subdivision selector switch on the 8SP. Want to vary the duty cycle of the trem? Try setting all sliders up, then setting sliders four and eight down. Best of all, users are not limited to all-or-nothing, try varying the sliders for an awesome pattern trem effect.


Strymon Deco

Strymon’s do-it-all tape machine emulator makes much out of its ability to emulate vintage recording equipment, but adding a healthy dose of the 8SP makes the Deco emulate vintage recording equipment that the engineer spilled a full beer on. Since players can program all Strymon pedals to yield expression control to any knob, this includes the Deco’s Volume knob, which essentially turns the Deco into the same multi-function tremolo as the MF Boost, but for some reason, the action isn’t as smooth on the Deco. I found that setting the pedal up such that the 8SP controls the Saturation or Wobble knobs is most beneficial. When governing the Saturation parameter, the 8SP generates a sound that sounds like a tape machine gone rogue, which is an extremely interesting texture. Furthermore, when affixing the 8SP to the Wobble knob, players can simulate a tape machine that hasn’t been calibrated for decades. I noticed that when set to control Wobble, the 8SP sliders benefit from being set to halfway or below to really coax out subtle musicality.

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