When you think about Uni-Vibe pedals, the country of Croatia might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But Croatian builders DryBell have set out with their Vibe Machine to change how we think about this venerable effect. As pedal geeks go, collectors and connoisseurs of univibe pedals are perhaps the most fickle subset of the effects world. If the “it” vibe pedal doesn’t have a high price tag and long wait list, it’s probably deemed unworthy. I kid, of course, but I’ve seen arguments like this on various forums.
Starting with the original Uni-Vibe made by the Japanese company Shin-ei back in the late 1960s, it is seen by many as the holy grail of modulation pedals. The Uni-vibe, made famous by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, and David Gilmour was intended to create a Doppler-like effect, using a four-stage phaser and pulsating light bulb surround by four photo cells. But the original pedal, which included a separate foot treadle, was huge by today’s standards and lacked many modern amenities like true bypass. These days, finding a used one in excellent condition will cost you an arm and a leg.
Today there are a number of highly sought after boutique makers of univibe pedals, each with their own recipe of recreating that swirling, pulsating nature that makes up the signature tone of the univibe. The DryBell is a worthy contender with a few tricks up its sleeve that still makes it unique.
WHAT WE LIKE:
What makes the Vibe Machine physically distinctive is its small size — like regular MXR pedal-size small— and yet it has what it takes under the hood. Each pedal has custom matched photocells inside, and on top are two large controls for intensity and speed, plus two smaller toggle controls for choosing either a chorus or vibrato tone, and the other for “original” or bright tone.
In addition to the input and output jacks, there is also an expression jack so you can add a separate control for speed. There is even an option to make adjustments via a jumper inside the pedal to make the Vibe Machine ramp up slowly to a faster speed or ramp down slowly, just like a rotating speaker effect. Very cool! There are even several small trim pots on the side of the pedal for adjusting the volume, in addition to other lesser used controls, although I never felt the need to tinker with them. Still, it’s nice to know this is an option.
Despite all this control in a small package, what I liked most was its tone. It just sounds right. I could easily dial in just the right amount of throb which sets a great univibe apart from lesser univibes. I liked setting the intensity at noon or less, and the speed set around noon maybe a little faster. On the chorus setting, you get that authentic multi-dimensional, deep-swirling, grinding tone. Increasing the intensity can overpower the sound, so be careful, but on a slower speed this might be your cup of tea.
I was happy to discover I really liked the vibrato setting too, making this pedal even more flexible in achieving a variety of tones. Here I rolled back the intensity to around nine o’clock, and the speed set faster, at around 3 o’clock. This gave me an authentic vibrato tone that was both obvious yet not overpowering. The bright switch is very helpful as well, and I preferred it sometimes when using humbuckers guitars, generally keeping it on ‘original’ when using single coil guitars.
TONE: 5 out of 5 STARS
The tone of the Vibe Machine is almost sensual. Is it as authentic as the original? Tough to say for me without having both to compare. But I’m pretty sure if Jimi Hendrix was alive today, this pedal would put a definite smile on his face.
BUILD QUALITY: 5 out of 5 STARS
Again, top notch. From the very cool dark red paint and packaging job, the Vibe Machine is first class all the way.
VALUE: 4 out of 5 STARS
The DryBell is not cheap at almost $300. But given its custom matched parts, small enclosure, and terrific feature set, I can’t help but think this pedal actually seems like a great value. Given the nature of vibe pedals overall, and a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied for any reason, it’s hard to go wrong with the Vibe Machine!
OVERALL RATING: 4.5 out of 5 STARS