One of the first pedals I ever loved was a vintage Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phaser. When I pulled it out of its wooden box, I beheld the glory of its lone knob and Color switch. It had a way of being subtle and dramatic all at once. On faster settings it sounded like an alien ray gun from a 1950s B-movie, while slow settings yielded slow, savory whooshes. Because I was afflicted with terrible G.A.S., I moved on to different phasers, such as the Phase 90. I came to love them all for their individual greatness. As time went on, I wondered to myself, “Will I ever find the sound of my beloved Small Stone in a box that’s capable of delivering other classic phase tones as well?” I forgot about that question, but when I plugged into the TC Electronic Helix Phaser, I remembered, and the answer is a resounding yes.
I feel that a disclosure is in order: I am among TC Electronic’s many fans, and I own and regularly use a Polytune 2 Mini, Flashback Mini, and original Ditto Looper. I’ve owned many of the other TonePrint-enabled pedals as well and none have disappointed. The Helix continues to further the reputation of innovation and quality that TC has established.
Recently released alongside the Viscous Vibe, the Helix comes in a mellow yellow enclosure with stereo ins and outs. Speed, Depth, Feedback and Mix knobs allow for optimum tone shaping, while a three-way switch selects Vintage, TonePrint, or Smooth modes.
I first tested Smooth mode, and to my delight, it was reminiscent of those Small Stone sounds I loved so dear. My favorite setting in this mode was Speed set just below 9 o’clock, full Depth, Feedback at noon and Mix at 3 o’clock. The slow, subtle, dramatic whoosh added a chewy texture to arpeggios and lead lines, and excelled with both clean and overdriven tones. I couldn’t help but play Jonny Greenwood’s line from Radiohead’s “Knives Out” through a clean amp. The Feedback knob increases or decreases resonance accordingly and acts in a manner similar to the EHX Color switch but with more control.
The Vintage mode, to my ears, seems to be influenced by the MXR Phase 90 variety of phasing. At maximum Speed settings, it is slower and more subtle than Smooth mode. If you want to get your Van Halen on, this mode will take you there. Keep in mind that I’m basing my experience with the Helix on my personal phaser frame of reference; there are many sounds to be had from this box, and if you have a personal favorite, I’m willing to bet it’s in there. Like the Viscous, its vibey brother, the Helix sounds musical and usable on all settings. In fact, I was inspired to write a new tune using various Helix settings combined with another member of the TC family, the Flashback Mini. With a slapback echo dialed in courtesy of the PGS EP-3 TonePrint, I set the Helix to stun in Smooth mode for a speedy arpeggio. With that looped into the Ditto, I set the Helix to Vintage with high Depth and low Speed for leads with a bit of fuzz. This combination kept me occupied for the better part of an hour. Like other TC pedals, there are a lot of sounds to be had - especially with TonePrint capability waiting in the wings—and you’re bound to find something you love.
With its huge variety of tones, impeccable sound quality, and compact size, the Helix is another winner from TC Electronic. The company has been crushing it lately, and I can’t wait to see what it comes up with next.
What we like: Wide variety of vintage and modern phase tones. Stereo ins and outs. TonePrints.