If you're new to Chase Bliss, you might have some questions about its two-channel gain pedal, Brothers. Can you operate both footswitches? Can you avoid squashing that little toggle between the footswitches? Does it sound good? Is it worth the money? The answer to all these questions is "Yes."
Chase Bliss is famous for its effects that offer elaborate functionality. Because it's essentially a two-channel dirt pedal, Brothers might seem like it's gilding the lily, but it's not. For starters, both channels are excellent, offering several great tones separately and together. Given the range that's on offer, Chase Bliss's options for saving presets ensures that those with the gear and patience for such things will get gobs of bang for their buck. For the rest of us, there are still plenty of wonderful sounds that are available at our fingertips.
For all the talk of flexible routing, the Brothers interface is very simple: each channels has controls for Gain and Tone. There's a Master control that sets the output for both channels and a Mix knob that blends the two channels together. Below that knob is a toggle that determines if the channels run in parallel, if Channel A feeds into Channel B, or vice-versa. Each channel has a toggle that determines if the gain is set for Boost, Drive or Fuzz. Between the two footswitches that activate each channel is a (comparatively) recessed toggle that allows you to choose between two presets (more can be accessed via MIDI options).
So how does this company that's famous for modulation and "digital brains" do with plain ol' dirt? Gloriously. Brothers is a partnership with Resonant Electric Design, and Channel A is based around that company’s Manifold Drive (which is manufactured under the Field Effects brand). This channel is voiced to be more "transparent," which probably explains why I adored the Drive setting—the gain is rich and meaty at higher levels, natural and open at lower settings, and dynamic and articulate no matter where it's set. I found the Boost setting to be a little bland, and the Fuzz setting was more like a squishier distortion, with its even EQ and relatively quick response seeming a little vanilla compared to most classic fuzzes—but then there's Channel B.
Channel B is described as being more mids-focused, a description that typically fills me with dread but is wonderfully implemented in the Brothers. There's a minor bass cut and a gentle swell that rises into the upper mids, adding presence rather than the anemic honk that so many other mid-focused pedals offer. In Boost mode, Channel B offers a deliciously rich—dare I say Klon-like—clean boost that adds both heft and sparkle to notes. In Drive mode, the compression brought out more of the mids, but as the gain came up and I turned up the Tone, a Marshall-y and then Vox-y top end emerged. These tones were a bit edgy on their own, but worked wonderfully when I ran Channel A into these settings. The Fuzz setting here is similarly excellent, offering classic tones that were reminiscent of Clapton's "Woman Tone" from Cream; cranking both the gain and tone resulted in a very Muff-like fuzz.
Both channels impressed with their richness of tone and depth. The Tone controls are fairly modest, which makes dialing in the sweet spot pretty easy. That said, it also means that selecting the Tone control from the array of DIP switches that can assign the pedal's controls to an expression pedal results in a fairly bland effect. More useful is assigning the Volume or Drive controls but, the fact is, if you ignore the MIDI options, the Presets toggle, and the DIP switches, you're still left with two channels of fantastic, versatile and complementary gain pedals that are good enough to hang with virtually any pedal.
What We Like: Fantastic tones that offer everything from clean boost to low-gain to high-gain to fuzz. That's literally four channels, to say nothing of the different shades that can be derived from using both channels. It's almost enough to get ye humble writer to invest in MIDI.
Concerns: The Master volume makes it difficult for Luddites like me to get the most out of the two channels due to uneven output between them. Using Channel A for overdrive and Channel B for Boost or Fuzz works fine (and, in all honesty, is likely how I'd use the Brothers), but if I wanted to use Channel B for lower gain settings and Channel A for a boost, I'd have issues with volume. As for the two footswitches, as long as you've got some room on either side of the pedal, you'll do fine—even my size 13 feet were able to navigate the pedal accurately.