GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO PHASE
Today my challenge is to explore the multitude of sonic possibilities presented by the Apollo II Phaser. Taking a deep dive into such a comprehensive and unique iteration of the classic phaser is a bit daunting, I admit, but the Apollo proves to be a competent copilot on our journey to the depths. Now, where to begin?
Fender P-Bass → Beta DLX → Apollo II
I pick up the closest instrument to me, which happens to be my trusty-dusty Fender P-Bass strung up with flatwound strings. Everytime I get that thing in my hands I can’t help but play through some of my favorite lines from Duck Dunn, James Jamerson, Rocco Prestia, Louis Johnson, etc. I’ve got the Apollo set to a slow, deep phase with a simple sine waveform, the first setting on the wave selector knob of the pedal. With a little warmth and drive courtesy of the Beta DLX, the Apollo’s lush sweeps saturate the middle range, blending beautifully with the Rhodes and guitar. A twist of the regen knob adds juicy saturation to the sound, creating a nice interplay with the kick and snare. Digging in with my right hand pushes the Beta’s drive section a bit, creating a little harshness in the top end of the phaser sweep, but a slight adjustment of the Apollo’s depth knob tames the offending frequencies gracefully.
Fender P-Bass → Boss OC2 → Beta DLX → Apollo II
One of my favorite components of the Apollo II is the expression control. With the wave knob set to manual mode (all the way to the right) an expression pedal controls the phase sweep similarly to a wah pedal. Once again with Fender bass in hand, I’ve placed my Boss OC2 in front of the Beta DLX to add some sub octave, then into the Apollo with expression pedal attached. The combination of overdrive, sub octave, and controllable sweep brings the four-string straight into synth bass land. The expression pedal allows you to manipulate just the right vowel shape and speed whether you are playing long notes, a staccato rhythm, or melodic passage. The Beta DLX’s gentle compression lets the notes land like a hammer with the kick drum in the mix, and a twist to the left of the regen knob on the Apollo tightens the sound perfectly. Building out from the center of the mix, I’ve added some Rhodes to the left side which is sounding cool and ambient. How about some guitar to balance the right?
Fender Telecaster → Apollo II → Surf Rider III
I’ve decided to explore some of the Apollo’s many pre set waveform patterns to add some variation to the typical phase sweep. The clean tone from the Tele is working great with the Apollo in the mix and after some twists and turns I’ve found a waveform that feels right. The Surf Rider enhances the sound with smooth, ambient reverberations that all but place themselves in the mix for you. Back to the Apollo to dial in the right amount of depth and regen. This is a supporting part, so I don’t want too much saturation. A few taps on the tempo control and we are in business. The waveform fluctuations coming from the Apollo add just enough unique character to the sound to catch your ear, but not stick out too much. Maybe I’m going overboard now, but I’m hearing this repeated melodic figure over the top of this thing. More guitar!
Fender Telecaster → Surf Rider III → Apollo II → Electroman II
Placing the Surf Rider first in the chain may seem like an odd choice, but in this case it’s acting like a thickener for the guitar tone. I’ve got the resonance boost engaged, and the decay and depth both set to around 80 percent. Setting the level control fairly low creates a fat, saturated tone that is not cavernous in nature, so attack and clarity are not lost on quickly moving phrases. The Apollo scoops up all the juicy goodness coming from the reverb pedal and slowly shifts through a more narrow depth setting. I’ve got the waveform back on a simple sine. Adding some delay changes the character of the sound ever so slightly, rounding off the slow phase shifts with cascading repeats and a hint of flutter. I didn’t go into this thinking I would use one pedal for three different elements in this mix, but here we are. The Apollo’s ability to shift between lush analog phase, randomized waveforms, and master control via expression pedal has allowed for enough diversity in sound and rhythm to fill my speakers from left to right. Now, on to the next experiment!
Fender Telecaster → Counter Current → Imperial BC183 → Electroman II
I know, I know. This is supposed to be an Apollo feature, and for the bass nonetheless, but this reverb first thing got me thinking and this combination just sounded so f-ing cool on the guitar and… well… here we go! I intentionally left the Apollo out of the loop for guitar this time so that it would shine more brightly on the bass in this mix. The Counter Current is doing a similar thing here as the Surf Rider did in the previous tune, except that its drive and feedback elements add a distinctly different character to the sound. Boosted and mangled by the Imperial, then thrust into oblivion by the Electroman, this is a room filling and raucous guitar tone that is surprisingly easy to wrangle and super fun to play with. Time for some bass.
Eastwood Hi-Flyer bass → Counter Current → 76 → Apollo II
This time the Eastwood Hi-Flyer is my axe of choice. Also strung with flats, the short scale and P 90 style pickups on this bass give it a very unique and super cool character. Let’s see how it sounds with some phaser! To ensure that this is a well rounded reverb-first experiment, I’ve still got the Counter Current up front in the chain, and the 76 adds a stinging upper structure while thickening up the low end with ripping fuzz textures. For this tune I wanted to explore some of the deeper rhythmic elements that the Apollo has to offer. After a few minutes of manipulation I think I’ve found a pre set waveform that works, and I’ve dialed up the depth to sharpen the rhythmic attack of the wave pattern so it sticks out more in the mix. It’s working great with the gnarly sound of the 76 and I tap in the tempo of the tune. The pattern feels busy to me now so I flip the 1-2-4 toggle from 2 to 1, which slows the rhythmic pattern to half the speed. Somehow I’ve landed on a rhythm that is almost a quarter note triplet and it’s working. The slow variances in phase create a new rhythmic layer that is a perfectly imperfect counterpoint to the eighth note groove I’m playing on the bass, and really brings the part to life.
This has been an enlightening experience for me. The Apollo II has proven to be not only a classic and excellent sounding phaser, but also a versatile and unique tool for creating music. It’s great when experiments like this lead to cool new combinations and tones. I’m going to do some more tweaking with that Counter Current first in the chain… until next time!
- Benjamin Wright -