TC Electronic Viscous Vibe Pedal Review
The Viscous Vibe by TC Electronics was created to reproduce the original Shin-Ei Uni-Vibe. The Shin-Ei (as shown below) was created in the late 60s with the intention of reproducing the sound of a Leslie speaker. While the Uni-Vibe didn’t achieve that goal, it still created an inspiring effect. Jimi Hendrix (listen to Machine Gun), Robin Trower (listen to Bridge of Sighs) and David Gilmour (listen to Breathe) all used the Uni-Vibe and it has been an inspiring effect for guitarists ever since.
The Viscous Vibe claims to be a 1:1 reproduction of the Shin-Ei Uni-Vibe. I’ve never had the opportunity to use the original Uni-Vibe so I can’t comment on how accurate that statement is. So in this guide, I’ll look at the Viscous Vibe on it’s own and how it compares to other Vibe pedals available today.
Here are the main features of the Viscous Vibe:
The original Uni-Vibe allowed you to switch between ‘Chorus’ and ‘Vibrato’ modes. Both modes have been recreated on the Viscous Vibe. Now if you’re unfamiliar with Vibe pedals, the labelling of these modes can be a bit misleading. The chorus mode won’t sound like your typical chorus pedal – nor will the vibrato sound like a vibrato effect. The easiest way to think of the Vibe is that it’s a mashup of a chorus and phaser pedal. You get the chorus-like effect but you also get unique warbling and phasing effects. When in Vibrato mode, you still get a swirly tone, but it’s closer to a vibrato than a chorus.
The switch also let’s you select a third mode – TonePrint as covered next.
The Speed knob controls the modulation rate the same way you can control the speed of a phaser effect. The Intensity knob controls how much of the ‘throbbing’ sound the Vibe creates. If you want a subtle swirling effect for a clean tone, you would turn the Intensity down. On the other hand if you want a dramatic and energetic tone, cranking the Intensity up will create a very strong pulsing/throbbing effect. The volume knob is very useful to blend the effect in with your tone. The Vibe can easily overpower your tone so learning to dial it down to the right level is crucial. Turning the volume down will get you closer to a David Gilmour style tone while cranking it up can produce some great Hendrix tones.
The original Uni-Vibe had an expression pedal which the Viscous Vibe is clearly lacking. So while you won’t have a pedal to control the speed, an interesting feature has been built into the footswitch. If you hold the footswitch down, it ramps up the speed of the effect. In the video later you can see this in action.
As with all of TC Electronic’s latest effect pedals, the Viscous Vibe comes with their TonePrint feature. I feel this is often the strongest feature of many of TC Electronic’s pedals. TonePrint allows you to customize your pedal’s settings to far greater control than the knobs allow. You can even download TonePrints from other guitarists. Being able to come up with a TonePrint on your smartphone and beam it to the pedal is a quick and easy way to craft your tone exactly how you like it. If you’re stuck choosing between a couple different Vibe pedals, this is a feature that would tip me over the edge.
True Bypass or Buffered Bypass
As is becoming more common with pedals today, the manufacturers are starting to give you the option between True Bypass or a Buffered Bypass (find out what those terms mean here). A lot of pedals only give you one or the other – which can have a big impact on your tone. With the Viscous Vibe, you get to decide which type of bypass you want to use. This is a great feature as it gives you control over your tone. Keep this in mind if you check out other Vibe pedals. To change between True Bypass or Buffered Bypass, you will need to open up the back and access the internal DIP switches.
Analog Dry-Through & Kill-Dry
This feature means that when the pedal is used, your signal is not converted to digital when passed through. Of course the effect is digital, but your dry signal will pass through untouched. This is a great feature for anybody who feel a bit hesitant about digital pedals. Knowing that your dry signal will be untouched means you’re not going to lose any tone in a Analog-Digital conversion.
The Kill-Dry feature allows you to only pass through the effect instead of passing through the effect and the dry signal. This is useful if you want to use the pedal in a parallel effects loop. This feature is set with an internal DIP switch.
It’s nice to see stereo capability on a pedal like this. If you are interested in this type of effect, the chances are you will have other effects that do use stereo. So being able to keep your signal in stereo is a handy feature to have. It should also give you more flexibility on where you position the Vibe in your signal chain.
If you don’t have a smartphone or want to use a PC/Mac to play around with TonePrints, the Viscous Vibe comes with a USB cable. This means people who don’t use smartphones aren’t going to miss out on the benefit of TonePrint.
External Power or 9V battery
The Viscous Vibe doesn’t come with a power supply but it does accept 9V batteries. If you want to use an external power source, use a 9V 100mA power supply with the centre pin negative. If you’re unsure what power supply to purchase, the TC Electronic PowerPlug 9 will definitely work.
Ease of use
It’s easy to experiment with the Viscous Vibe. Play around with the three knobs, then flick over to the other modes and repeat. It took me about 10 minutes to get a feel for the different type of effects I could produce with the Vibe. With a quick listen of Machine Gun by Jimi Hendrix, I tweaked the knobs and came quite close to the effect I was hearing. It’s pretty easy to use and it should be easy to hear in any song whether the Chorus of Vibrato mode will suit the song best.
When you look at the three knobs on the Viscous Vibe, does the Speed knob look unusually large? While I didn’t see anything written on this by TC Electronic, to me it was clearly designed to be large enough that you could use your foot to turn it. As explained earlier, the original Uni-Vibe had an expression pedal to control the speed on the fly. While you can ramp up the speed by holding the footswitch down, it’s not quite the same. I found it quite easy to push my foot on the speed knob and rotate it on the fly. While it was awkward at first, I got the hang of it and could ramp the speed up and down while playing. Of course it’s not the same as having a proper expression pedal, but this will be enough for most guitarists.
Most guitarists won’t have much use for an expression pedal anyway so being able to change the speed with your foot on the fly can be handy. It also means your pedalboard won’t become crowded with an expression pedal you probably won’t use.
I downloaded a few TonePrints from here and it quickly became clear that a you can achieve a good range of effects with this pedal. My favorites were the ‘Vintage Vibe’ and the ‘Thirsty Hearts’ as they both gave great examples of how different your Vibe pedal can sound depending on how you tweak the effect.
If you haven’t heard a Vibe pedal in action before, the below video gives you a good idea how the effect can be used. Watch out for when the footswitch is held down to hear the speed ramp in action:
As a Hendrix fan (check out my guide on Hendrix here), I really enjoyed jamming along to some Hendrix tracks with the Viscous Vibe. If you haven’t used a Vibe pedal when playing Hendrix songs, you’re missing out. With any Vibe pedal, it’s so much easier to capture the right feeling and tone when playing Hendrix style solos or riffs.
Here’s a great demo of how the Viscous Vibe sounds with a Hendrix style:
While it’s tempting to crank up the gain and use a high intensity vibe, a subtle vibe low in the mix can give your cleaner tone a lot of character. The below clip gives an excellent demonstration of how a slow and subtle vibe can warm up a crystal clean guitar tone:
I personally prefer the Vibe on a clean tone, but if you do get a Vibe, experiment with using it with clean as well as dirty tones. It’s a versatile effect so you can use it on your high gain tones, low gain tones as well as clean tones.
The reason I feel the Vibe works extremely well with clean tones was due to a friend’s recent gig I watched. The band performed ‘Wish You Were Here’ by Pink Floyd. What should have started off with a goosebump inducing intro turned out to be dull and lifeless due to the rhythm guitarist’s clean tone. It was completely dry and lacked any character. It felt cold and lifeless simply because the clean tone was so dry.
While the song doesn’t use a Vibe (the song is played on an acoustic), adding a subtle vibe effect to the rhythm guitar would have been all that was needed to add some character and warmth. So I let the rhythm guitarist borrow my Viscous Vibe and set the TonePrint to a subtle effect that would suit a clean tone. I suggested he use it only during clean parts. The difference at the next gig was worlds apart. The slow swirly vibe added so much warmth to his clean tone without becoming distracting. The point here is that even if you don’t play songs that use a Vibe, you can easily incorporate it into your playing to enhance your tone.
The sound quality is fantastic. It gives you the clarity you expect in a modern pedal while still giving you a warm tone. I’ve heard a few different Vibe pedals and this one has a more organic feel than many others. While I’m sure some guitarists will say that a digital vibe can never compete with a proper optical based Vibe, at no point did I feel the Viscous Vibe was lacking.
Like all of TC Electronic’s latest pedals, it’s a small and rugged casing with good quality hardware. While I was stomping on the footswitch or using my foot to turn the Speed knob, at no point did I feel concerned that something would break or wear out. Of course as this is a new pedal only time will tell if it does last, but I’m confident it will.
I had fairly high expectations for the Viscous Vibe because I’ve had great impressions of other pedals by TC Electronic. At the same time I’ve used a few Vibe pedals that just didn’t feel right so I was a bit cautious. After using the Viscous Vibe for a couple of hours I could easily say that it met my expectations. I’m sure it was a hard job to try and digitally reproduce the original Uni-Vibe and while I don’t know how close the Viscous Vibe really is, it’s pretty impressive. A few digital vibe pedals I’ve tried felt cold and lifeless, which is not the case with the Viscous Vibe.
As a Hendrix/Gilmour fan, I’m happy with the Viscous Vibe and while there are plenty of other Vibe pedals out there, I can’t think of any reason for me to switch to a different one. Of course everybody is different and will prefer different pedals, but for me the Viscous Vibe does the job extremely well.
- Excellent sound quality
- TonePrint adds a lot of flexibility
- Option between True Bypass and a Buffer
- Modern features not available on older Vibe pedals
- Small size fits well in pedalboards
- No expression pedal (for some guitarists this is a con, but for most it won’t be an issue)
- Doesn’t come with an external power supply
- Would have been nice to have multiple TonePrint slots saved to the pedal instead of only one
Who is the Viscous Vibe for?
Hendrix/Gilmour fans: if you enjoy the music created by Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour or any other guitarist who used the Uni-Vibe, then you really need a Uni-Vibe pedal. If you already have a vibe pedal, then you can compare it to the Viscous Vibe and decide whether it would be an upgrade or not. If you don’t already have a vibe pedal, then the Viscous Vibe is hard to beat. Check out my Beginners Guide to David Gilmour and my Jimi Hendrix guide to find out how those guitarists used the vibe as well as find out how to incorporate other effects with the vibe.
Experimenting: if you like experimenting with different effects, then the Viscous Vibe would be a great addition to your collection. Not only does it give you excellent Vibe tones, but with the TonePrint feature, you can experiment as much as you like and save your favorite settings.
Getting a better clean tone: as I mentioned earlier, I feel a subtle use of the Vibe with a clean tone can give you so much character and warmth. If you perform live and feel your clean tone is a bit cold, then consider using the Vibe as a way to add a unique quality that a typical chorus pedal won’t achieve.
Guitarists looking for something different: guitarists use chorus and phaser pedals all the time. If you want a chorus-like effect but want to have something slightly different to set yourself apart from other guitarists, then consider using a Vibe. It’s not quite a chorus pedal and not quite a phaser, but can give you a similar effect. If you want to stand out from the crowd, a Vibe is a great way to do it.
Who isn’t the Viscous Vibe for?
If you hear the above video and audio clips and don’t feel inspired, then the Vibe probably isn’t for you. Some people like phasers, some like chorus, some like ring modulators (although I think they’re in the minority :)) and some people will like Vibes. If you can’t picture yourself using a Vibe to enhance your tone, then this pedal isn’t for you.
How to get the most out of the Viscous Vibe
Here is what I recommend to help you get the most out of the Viscous Vibe:
Clean tone: start with a completely dry tone and use the Viscous Vibe to add some subtle warmth and swirling effect. Experiment with different speeds and intensity while keeping the volume low. Then experiment with raising the volume of the Vibe so you end up with a lush swirling soup-like tone. This will give you an idea how you can use the Vibe to enhance your tone or create lush textures. Experiment with both Chorus and Vibrato modes. Have a listen to Breathe by Pink Floyd for a very wet example of the vibe with a clean tone.
Hendrix tone: take an overdriven tone and roll off the volume on your guitar. Now mix in some vibe with low intensity and speed. Experiment with adjusting the speed and intensity to match the feel of what you are playing. Gradually raise the volume on the Vibe while keeping your guitar’s volume knob low. Experiment with both modes to figure out which style of the effect you prefer.
Psychedelic experimenting: the goal here is to come up with the wackiest effect you can. Usually cranking the intensity knob up is all it takes. But instead of coming up with a useless wacky sound, try to use it as an inspiration tool. Combine the Vibe with other effects to hear how the effects interact. Experiment with placing the Vibe in different positions in your pedalboard and how it changes your tone. For example do you prefer the sound of the Vibe before or after a fuzz distortion? What about before or after the wah? Break any ‘rules’ you normally follow and see what happens. This experimenting will get you used to using the Vibe as an inspiration tool for songwriting or jamming.
Alternatives to the Viscous Vibe
There are countless Uni-Vibe pedals out there you could consider as alternatives to the Viscous Vibe. Here are a couple to check out:
- Jim Dunlop M68 Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato Pedal
- MXR JHM3EHT Limited Edition Experience Hendrix 2014 Uni-Vibe
- Electro-Harmonix Good Vibes Modulator Pedal
Also check out my guide on Jimi Hendrix for other Vibe alternatives.
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