The year was 1974. Silicon semiconductors, reliable ICs and imported goods were in full swing. And just like what happens today, many new companies were popping up and cashing out after releasing a line of pedals based on a competitor's reverse-engineered circuits. The process was so easy—buy up a Distortion+, change a couple now-cheap parts, put it in a flashy enclosure and call it good. After effects-starved dealers buy them up, take the briefcase full of bills and dissolve into the ether. In the Silicon Wild West of this time period, it became increasingly difficult to discern the good pedals from the abject crap. And if you were a manufacturer, it was just as hard to separate yourself from these charlatans and establish yourself as a real up-and-comer. Only a handful of brands established themselves around this time with continued fame—MXR, Boss, and if you squint your eyes hard enough, Ibanez and DOD.
Some revered lines from this period—such as Ross—come to mind as being one such castaway brand, but a critical eye sees that they're copies of MXR circuits. Now that the Internet has a number of sites dedicated to turning over every rock and piece of debris in the field of effects in search of hidden gems, one brand continues to get swept into players' collective dustpan. Enter Vorg—one of the rarest pedal brands in the world.
For those not in the immediate know, the Vorg line was actually put together and marketed by Pearl—yes, the drum company. Most effects sold as “Vorg” were offered simultaneously under the Pearl name as well, but these early examples are just as rare. The knowledge of the Vorg moniker almost begins and ends with this opening paragraph. Google “Vorg pedals” and my own name will appear before any helpful nuggets. My own copy of Analog Man’s Guide to Vintage Effects even turns up nothing. However, I’ve owned and played a handful, and can personally attest to their greatness.
Vorg pedals were an admittedly strange looking—and feeling—bunch, and are often misrepresented by the Internet in various ways. Firstly, as not many people have owned them, they are much, much smaller than their pictures would lead you to believe. Their knobs, switch and other appurtenances lead one to believe that these are rather sizable units, but having owned a couple myself, they are no bigger than a Boss pedal. Secondly, they appear much sturdier than they really are, with a thin top and particle board-like sides. One of my Vorg pedals had a toggle switch in place of a stomp switch, so perhaps this is the reason for a flimsier build quality. As it stands, Vorg effects are as rare as the info that exists about them, and that fact is a crying shame. Let’s take a deeper look at the Vorg line and imagine what might have been.
Vorg F-502 Warp Sound
Of all the Vorg-labeled effects, this is the most well-known by far. The Warp Sound rose to prominence after being featured on the pedalboard of Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. When pictures of Shields’s labyrinthine pedalboard began to pop up in pedal forums, oglers noticed one thing in particular: A Vorg Warp Sound front and center with a couple strips of tape over it. Written on the tape was a hastily-scrawled “SOMETIMES.” Some casual observers thought this was a funny way of Shields telling himself that the pedal was used “sometimes,” but more dedicated pedal pushers noted that it was the pedal used on “Sometimes,” a particularly noteworthy cut from 1991’s Loveless. At that moment, the floodgates were opened and collectors rushed to buy up Warp Sounds. The problem: they were (and are) extremely rare. What happens when demand vastly exceeds supply? Market pandemonium jacks the prices up into the ionosphere.
Really though, just what is the Warp Sound and why didn’t someone just buy the pedal that it is surely a clone of? Having owned an original and spent some time in its guts, the answer is as simple: It’s not a clone of anything. Well, now! What does it do? In my time of ownership, I put together the fact that it’s a resonant filter with a selectable “peaking” frequency. Turning the leftmost knob sets a certain frequency that peaks the signal when it is played. For example, you can set the knob to peak when you play an A, and so forth. It’s an incredibly expressive effect. Why did I sell it? Two reasons—my model actually had a factory-installed toggle switch instead of a stomp switch, making it impossible to use on a pedalboard. Secondly, I found it at a Goodwill. Don’t hate me.
Vorg F-501 Phase Shifter
I’ve written about the Pearl Sound Spice Phaser several times, and rightfully so—it’s an incredible machine with a bevy of options. The phasing is deep, lush and very controllable, and in describing it, I’ve spun the yarn about Zachary Vex saying it’s his favorite phaser. All of that is true, so one might think that the older F-501 is a solid piece of machinery capable of even better phasing. Well, sort of.
The Vorg Phase Shifter is a completely different beast than the Sound Spice series. It bills itself as a six-stage phaser, much like the MXR Phase 90, but the sound is much more like a Phase 45. Some might say “Why would I want a Phase 45 that’s bigger than the original?” This is a decent question, and the answer needs context.
When the Phase 90 and 45 hit the scene, they appealed to two different players. Players who desired the dynamic swoosh of an enveloping phase tone took to the Phase 90, while players desiring a more subtle movement took to the Phase 45. If you fell into the Phase 45 camp, you were stuck on the stock intensity setting. That subtle swoosh was the alpha and omega of the sweep. If the phasing wasn’t subtle enough, that’s the brakes. Vorg’s take adds an Intensity knob, and “all-the-way-up” is the stock setting on any MXR. Dialing it down increases the subtlety until only a slight warble remains—perfect for an always-on modulator.
Vorg F-504 Flanger Analog Delay Effct
Wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly. Flanger. Analog Delay. Effct. All these words add up to the strangest Vorg offering by far. This “effct” doesn’t really know what it wants to be, and is likely the main reason that the Vorg line nosedived into obscurity. Four knobs make up the control panel, and even the order is a jumbled mess: Delay Time, Depth, Repeat and “Flang Rate” read from left to right across the surface. What on earth is going on here?
Some circuit jockeys have speculated that the Vorg FADE is simply a copy of the MXR M117 Flanger from around the same time period, even sporting the same bucket-brigade chip (the Reticon SAD1024). However, the FADE actually offers a delay control that tops out at around 300 milliseconds. Combine that with a unique flanger effect, and the FADE is one of the most bizarre slapback machines ever built. Some might wonder if Vorg was going for an actual tape delay sound ages before anyone else; after all, flanging originally began on a tape unit as well as delay.
Pearl’s model (F-604) fixed all the spelling errors and came in a much more modern (for the ‘70s) machined aluminum housing. Both Pearl and Vorg models are twice as wide as their other offerings, featuring an unbelievably dense thicket of components stuffed into an enormous circuit board that spans the entire length of the enclosure and two-thirds its depth. The FADE may not be the most collectible Vorg box or the most unique, but it certainly is worthy of mention because it ambitiously combines two “effcts” eons before anyone else thought of it.
It almost goes without saying, but if you see any Vorg pedals out in the wild, buy them immediately. I got my Warp Sound at a Goodwill store for five dollars and I’d be a fool to regret spending that much for it. Obviously, deals like this are extremely rare but Vorg pedals are just as rare as a general rule and are worth scads of riches to the collector who simply must have everything. Unlike some collectibles, however, the Vorg stuff actually sounds great and begs to be played by those lucky enough to hold them.