It’s High-Swoon on my Sundials
Ah yes . . . yet another pretty face from Christian Livingstone, my favorite London pedal builder. Now, one might think that I am a bit biased toward his creations at this stage, and one would be right in suspecting my ability to remain objective in reviewing my friend’s work, but I assure everyone that Christian has a very keen ear for fuzz. I’ve said it before that I attribute his ability to create usable flexible fuzz circuits to his years—and ears—of experience on big stages and studios. Christian was rocking professionally before the boutique boom, so he knew all the issues to resolve in vintage fuzz circuits before he even started engineering his own gear.
Speaking of engineering, this new Solar Bender has been fine-tuned so much that it can now be classified as an original Magnetic Effects circuit. The fabled Tone Bender MKII now acts as a spiritual guide for this new evolution of Bender. Buffer-friendly response, temperature stability and an external Bias knob are the utilitarian upgrades, but the musical midrange has been re-voiced and the sound spectrum sounds much wider from low-to-high in comparison with other Benders I have been on.
The Rising Sun of Ra—Dawn of the Harmonics
I must admit that I love all the tones on classic records achieved with the old MKII, but I have always wondered why so many cloners insist on remaining faithful to the old circuit. There are so many potential pitfalls in that design—a volume drop upon engagement, extreme low-end cut and inconsistent tone dialing has plagued every variant I have played and owned until now. The oldies have been undermined.
The Solar Bender starts with a Level control that has plenty of past-unity wallop. Like a vintage sound desk it sounds fatter, wider and woolier as it is cranked up, adding gain and compression at maximum volume. It then goes on to a Bias control that changes the texture and character of the fuzz by adjusting the transistor bias, from mismatched zap and static brrrraps to aligned planets of searing sustain. The tone knob has a perfect subtle sweep, but I like it on the brighter side to match the clarity of my all-aluminum EGC. I turn it all the way up when I want a majestic soaring Michael Rother tone. He is a master of musical moodscapes and I was able to get scarily close to his 70s’ Sterntaler guitar sound with a Strymon Dig set to Golden Ratio repeats. As one might expect, the Solar Bender excels at searing sunrise sustained lead tones—particularly when the attack is turned up. It could turn the thinnest, tinniest wiry dry tone into a fat sizzling electro-storm-cloud of harmonic sustain. Everything blooms basking in the rays of the Solar Bender.
What We Like
Beautiful functional graphics, complete routing flexibility and total tonal control make for a scorcher of a stompbox. I am also happy to report that the strange note disappearing act that lesser MKII variants all seem to exhibit from time-to-time is wrung out of this circuit. I had all but given up on the fabled MKII for my own uses until the Solar Bender arrived on my doorstep. Now I can soar with my heroes when the inspiration calls for it. The Solar Bender also responds amazingly well to guitar volume and tone knob tweaks. I love being able to go on a Bender without fear of repercussions.
As with most fuzz circuits, noise can be an issue with higher gain amps, but the noise floor on the Solar Bender is much lower than any others I have tried. In fact it can be dialed out completely with a little patience. I recommend using this box with low-to-medium gain preamps, or, none at all. I love the electrostatic feel of plugging the Solar Bender straight into a DAW with some delay—a must-try.