Less than a year ago, Electro-Harmonix shook up the guitar effects world with the B9 Organ Machine—a compact pedal that combined features from the POG and HOG to create an amazing organ simulator at a shockingly low price. Fast forward a few months, and BOOM! Electro-Harmonix is back with the C9 Organ Machine. The C9 picks up where the B9 left off and brings nine new organ and keyboard simulations into the mix.
I reviewed the B9 in the July 28 issue of Tone Report Weekly. I gave it a rave review and it has been a fixture on my pedalboard ever since. I'm happy to report that the C9 is just as good, if not better than the B9. Yes, it takes some finesse and changes to your playing style, but the learning curve is actually pretty shallow. You simply need to clean up your technique (limit bends and trills) and use chord voicings that are more keyboard like. In other words, no cowboy chords.
Electro-Harmonix suggests that the C9 will perform best on the bridge pickup and placed as the first pedal in your chain. However, I've been getting great results with multiple pickup combinations and running it after my overdrive, fuzz, and compressor but before my modulation, delay, and reverb pedals. Once you adjust your technique and find the right spot in your effects chain, you are ready to go.
Let's discuss the presets featured in the C9. Tone Wheel is a classic rock organ sound with a great chorus effect. Prog is just what it implies—an organ tone straight out of your favorite Yes or Emerson Lake and Palmer record. Compact is the sound of "Light My Fire" by the Doors and it is amazingly accurate. Lord Purple is deep, like smoke billowing across the water. Blimp is Zep at its best—you can channel your inner John Paul Jones. Press Tone covers the organ part from "Let it Be." Finally, Telstar is based on the Clavioline and perfect for the songs "Telstar" and "Runaway" by Del Shannon, not to mention just about every surf rock organ sound ever. It sounds really cool blended with your guitar while playing "Pipeline" by the Ventures.
Oh wait, I forgot to mention Shimmer and Mello Flutes. That's because they each deserve their own paragraph. Shimmer, as you can guess, is based on the organ/synth sounds pioneered by U2 under the direction of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, and it's just about a thousand times cooler and more effective than any "shimmer" reverb you've played or heard. The pads from "With or Without You" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" are both there with minimal effort.
The Mello Flutes setting is exactly what you think – the flute sound from a Mellotron. What's a Mellotron? It's a sort of rudimentary synthesizer built around tape loops. The Mellotron flute sound was famously used on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” If you're like me, you'll be scrambling to find the tablature for the song as soon as you turn to the Mello Flutes preset. Be prepared to lose a few hours just listening to and enjoying the weird, awesome, psychedelic warble of this setting; it’s an inspiring sound and one I expect to spend lots of time with.
I've talked a lot about all of the classic songs you can recreate, but there are plenty of new sounds (and songs) to be made with the C9. I've been using the Continental setting from the B9 as a sort of synth pad effect under a lot of my clean rhythm playing. The Shimmer on the C9 is even better for this. Set the guitar for unity gain, place the Shimmer level between 9 and 10 o’clock, and play with light delay or some plate reverb. It's addictive; it gives your playing studio sheen and ambience without being gimmicky.
The Shimmer effect is really fun when used on lead parts as well. With a slightly dirty lead tone paired with a little Echorec and plate ‘verb, a touch of the Shimmer creates a sound that made me think of "Shine on Your Diamond" if your synths and guitar were combined. If you set the attack of the Shimmer for its slowest setting, it adds a really cool effect of fading in only on sustained notes.
The Mello Flutes is probably my second favorite preset on the C9 and it led to me writing a really cool new song that never would have occurred to me with a traditional guitar tone.
I've just barely scratched the surface of what can be done with the C9. It’s amazing to think that even just a few years ago you would have needed racks of gear to achieve these kind of sounds, and now they’re all in a pedal. Now, if only Electro-Harmonix would get cracking on a "D9 Synth Machine;" I have dreams of the Oberheim sound from "Jump" and some of the Synclavier tones from Depeche Mode's Black Celebration. And since we're dreaming, maybe the Yamaha DX7 “Tubular Bells” sound.
What we like: The C9 tracks flawlessly and offers up nine more great organ and keyboard sounds.
Concerns: Some presets are inherently louder than others which requires additional knob twiddling when switching between sounds. There are so many great tones available in the C9 that the inability to create and save presets is a little frustrating. I’d be happy to pay $50–100 more in order to have the ability to save presets.