Unleashing aural amalgamations into my studio this week, is a bite-sized pedal from London-based Rainger FX. Known for their off-the-beaten-path offerings in the world of stompboxes, Rainger FX mixes analog effects with a digital twist to create new sounds from the well-loved effects of yore. On the surface, Dr. Freakenstein is a basic fuzz pedal, but it sports interesting tweakability and versatility that makes it a lot of fun for the sonically adventurous guitarist.
The Dr. Freakenstein is about the size of most of today’s micro pedals; a relatively new offering in the guitar world, as “pedalboard real estate” is now a make-or-break deal for many discerning guitar players with piles of pedals at their feet. It’s compact, and has only a few simple controls, making it easy to cram into your existing rig. The material of the box feels like hammered metal, and has a nice textured finish with minimalist graphics. This pedal is so tough, it could handle a firing squad without flinching. There is one big knob, labeled Tone, and a thumbwheel (I’ve never seen this before on a pedal, a nice touch) to control Volume. On the front, under the Tone and Volume controls, are two push-button switches labeled Hi-Lo, and Mode. Along with the Freakenstein, comes a small pressure pad to control dynamics in the form of the Igor. Instead of the standard wah-style control, Rainger FX has really changed the game on this one, making it both easy and intuitive to control dynamics (on specific surfaces) and “hidden” pedal functions.
Plugging in, I got a saturated fuzz tone, which isn’t directly comparable to any well-known vintage models, but it is somewhere between a Tone Bender and Germanium Fuzz Face. In the instructions, the manufacturers encourage you to “tune” the tone knob to get your desired sound. The Igor foot controller and the Tone knob work together, encouraging you to find a sweet spot between them. The Tone circuit’s mode and the Igor’s control parameters correlate to the switches on the front. The Mode switch is for the Igor controller, and changes what the pressure pad controls. With the button out, and at any Tone setting, pressing the Igor engages a bitcrusher.
At lower tone settings, this makes your signal sound like a broken NES cartridge, characterized by its slow bloops with the Igor at full pressure, and can do really cool primitive octave down effects without the Igor. You cannot hear notes with the Igor all the way down, as the bitcrusher rids the signal of any timbre at more exaggerated settings, sort of like an 8-bit ring modulator. With the button in, the Igor controls a high-pass filter for the gain, making it harder to notice at higher tone settings, but adding a nice, wah-style sweep to your sound at lower or middle-ground tone settings. The Igor has a wide, sweepable spectrum, making it easy to access more moderate, or utterly destructive sounds at most pressure levels. It can be used either metal- or rubber-side-up, with each having different sensitivity settings. Metal-side-up has very little sensitivity, and you have to really push your foot down to get to the top of the range. Rubber side up has extremely high sensitivity, and a light push with your toe will zip you to the top of the range, with almost no middle ground. The operation of the Igor varies highly on the surface it’s used on. Carpet (the material I tested it on) makes it more finicky and hard to operate, but on hard, flat surfaces, the operation is very smooth and tactile. The biggest bone to pick I have with the Freakenstein, is the built-in noise gate. Like many, I like my fuzz vintage, wild, and untamed. Although the Dr. Freakenstein can get some of those tones (albeit with a digital sheen), the noise gate can sometimes render the pedal useless. Rolling down the volume to tame the gain (almost second nature to me when playing fuzzes), doesn’t change the tone but effectively kills sustain on impact—it’ll last maybe two seconds before it sputters out. This can also sometimes suddenly happen at full volume, which could present problems during a show or a tight recording session. The noise gate sometimes doesn’t even do its job, because there are still squealing overtones and a very faint hiss at higher volume levels.
What We Like: Wide range of tones, from octave-down effects to bitcrushed mayhem. The Igor pressure foot control is intuitive and fresh. Solid build and small footprint, and still has a lot of options.
Concerns: Igor hard to control on softer, non-flat surfaces. Noise gate kills sustain and is sometimes unreliable.