Fulltone MDV3 by darkhorse
NEW MDV-3 $280-260 US.
Oh, the legendary Vibe pedal, an infinite opinion as to what is the “better” one. Some still swear by the original 1969 Univibe circuit and yet the logic and insight to just what constitutes a “real” univibe circuit remains lost in the consistent realm of hype and confusion on the issue.
There are many Vibe pedals around these days and I doubt if there is a “bad” one, it is more what rings your cow bell and suits your style of playing.
My love for this unique effect originated from Hendrix ranging from his distorted Machine Gun, to the more cleaner and classic Vibe of Hey Baby/New Risin’ Sun, as well as the classic paradigm Star Spangled Banner version.
Along came the 70s era of Robin Trower, his homage to Jimi in Daydream, Hannah, Can't Wait Much Longer, and his wondrous soundscape Bridge of Sighs, followed by a series of unique albums his signature tone being the Univibe.
Who can forget David Gilmour’s epic Pink Floyd Breath and others using the Univibe.
The Univibe is a unique phaser/chorus circuit, which was intended to mimic a Lesley Rotary Speaker, that failed utterly in intent but created a brand new unique effect all to its own. Once you have played around with a Vibe pedal they are steadfastly addicting, it is not for everyone and indeed it has a limited range of use. But it is one of those cool pedals like a phaser, you kick it on and heads turn. But the Univibe is not quite a phaser, nor a chorus and not a flanger, it is somewhere in between a phased chorus with a notched pitch throw on the sweep that gives it a cool vibrato pitch nothing else can really get.
If you hate the Vibe, phaser and such you probably hate pedals in general. I leave you to that if that is your thing. The rest of you can lay back and groove on a rainy day.
The original Univibe circuit was a 4 photocell, optical lamp light source circuit. Few pedals match this original circuit and that is not to say they have to, but there is something unique and organic about that rendering which nothing else quite gets.
Some Vibe pedals will have as few as one photocell and perhaps an LED light source, some have a tweaked Phase 90 circuit which sounds remarkable like the Vibe pitch warble. And for some that might be their first vibe and they dig it, but once you mess with a true organic photocell vibe you will not want anything else.
I cannot say any vibe pedals sound "bad", the one you pick will no doubt be the one you recommend to others. Something I refer to as the “I have it, it has to be great” syndrome.
I have owned and used many types of this pedal and all of them had their points, they were all fun to play. Some did not work for me with the tones I was after.
I have been ridiculously obsessed with coping the Trower, Gilmour, and Hendrix Univibe tone for many an eon. For me I have to have a real photocell circuit to get the tone I am after, and for me that revolves around the Fulltone DejaVibe which oddly enough is the one Trower uses and has used for a number of years since he had to retire the old one and sought to find a unit that sounded like it. Yeah, he went through an 80s chorus period but Bridge of Sighs is a Vibe baby, there is no substitute!
The Fulltone DejaVibe has been through 3 major revisions all using the most anal retentive obsession to not only duplicating the original circuit but to assure spec’d quality components, low noise floor, and true bypass wiring.
In short, everything great about the Univibe was taken into account by Mike Fuller and everything bad about it was removed without hurting the sound.
The 60’s, as anyone being honest will admit, there was no sense of quality control, no two pedal units would be the same, components widely varied in consistency and quality. Merely having an old Univibe from ’69 in no way meant you had magical one, it was unlikely as most in the span of 45 years have died and had to be repaired. And there comes the saga of Mike Fuller, he began his journey creating the DejaVibe by repairing old Univibe’s trying to restore them to a sense of quality. He measured the component aspects of the best ones, charting the ideal rise and fall curve of the photocells, the ideal lamp intensity and so on. If you took a Univibe, replaced all the components with spec’d out tight tolerances, NOS original Mashu****a transistors, a custom made long life pot, true bypass custom switch, a wah like heavy duty chasis, you would end up with the Deja' Vibe.
Mike is so fanatic of his Vibe he makes his own custom photocells as the ones available were too inconsistent in quality. Add to all that effort to preserve the ideal Univibe circuit, cull the noise hiss, and the terrible tone sucking buffer it had, and there you have it, the optimized Univibe, the Deja' Vibe.
The 3rd version of this pedal fixes some user issues with the Deja II, adding a new footpedal design which allows you to turn it on and off without losing your speed setting. It is a little smaller than the II version for today’s packed pedalboard users. A little smaller than most wah pedals. Marvelous build quality, nice hammertoned powder blue paint job resistant to wear and scratches:
Vintage/Modern Switch which darkens up the pedal a little making it more versatile for different sounds.
The classic Chorus/Vibrato switch, Volume and Intensity switch.
Bright blue LED on which pulses in time with the speed.
Another very important difference in the Deja' is that it runs 18v internally using a voltage pump, few other pedals, if any, offer this important aspect of the original Univibe, adding to its headroom and fidelity. This is not a 9v battery unit.
The controls are simple on a Vibe, but perhaps its use confounds a lot of users as to where and how to use it.
The old Univibe was placed at the end of the chain mainly because back in that day all there was in the way of overdrives was various fuzz units. These old tech fuzz pedals could not handle the Vibe pulse much less a buffer in front and the Univibe had a real tonesucker one, both Jimi and Trower had it at the end of the chain as that is where the old one pretty much had to go.
These days with a lot more pedals and much better tech, most prefer to run the Vibe before overdrives. Whether or not you like the Vibe into today’s better fuzz and distortion pedals is a personal choice and largely more often than not depends on the pedals and their interactions.
Personally, I have found I get the best Trower type tones into ODs and if I want a more intense distorted warble into feedback I rely on the amp settings and more gain but not a lot of high end.
It may take a little experimenting on your board or chain to find to most pleasing means of using the Vibe and the marvelous thing about the Deja is it changes a lot as to where and how you use it more so than adjusting the controls it’s how you use it that makes the tone change.
Personally I feel the Deja MDV3 is stronger than the previous models and potentially brighter so you have to take that into account as to what sort of Vibe tone you want. The MDV3 can also render slower and faster speeds than the previous models.
This is a great pedal and while there are a lot of Vibe pedals out there, it is fairly certain if you do find one that is a 4 cell optical it is doubtful it was made to the level of spec Fuller attends this unit. They are all good pedals and all fun to play, so whatever one you end up with you will no doubt like it. I always end up coming back to the Deja, just something magical about this optimized Univibe circuit.
Here is what Mr. Fuller has to say on his pedal:
“There are a LOT of pedals claiming to be "authentic vintage Univibe clones" on the market....all of the small ones are merely a glorified MXR phaser with a few changes. That's not a Univibe! So how is one to know which pedals are real and which ones are just a cheap shortcut circuit that will satisfy you only until you get a chance to play pedal like the Fulltone MDV & MDV-3, both of which sport a "100% real vintage circuit."
“A real Univibe clone will have:
4 x glass covered/hermetically-sealed photocells and an incandescent bulb on the circuit board.
I go one step further...and NO ONE else does this, I took many real 1960's 'cells and had them cloned for not only dark/bright resistance, but also cloned the all-important rise and fall times of the cells as they react to the light turning on and off. Nobody else even knows about this, let alone bothers with it. They just buy whatever off-the-shelf photocells they can get, oblivious to these specs. Yes, even those forum-worshiped wait-list builders.”
“Run at 18+ volts, ours has a unique voltage doubler circuit inside so you can power it with any standard 9VDC adapter.”
“Totally discrete electronics, i.e. NO OPAMPS in the audio path! I go even further by only using New Old Stock (N.O.S) Panasonic Matsu****a 2SC828 transistors for all stages, and the same metal-can 2SC539 transistor as original Univibes had for the preamp... this really makes a difference in the sound! You think those are cheap or easy to find?”
“In typical Fulltone fashion, I also manufacture my own speed potentiometer... it's a dual pot with a gear on it like wah-wah pot, and with a special taper. (same as original Univibes) The only change made is I up'd the resistance to 200K to get you better slow speeds, and double screen the carbon composition track to last years beyond what the old ones lasted.”
I've been building "authentic vintage Univibe clones" longer than anyone, since 1993. Mine are used by Robin Trower, Peter Frampton, Doyle Bramhall II, and countless others... by the people who know great sound and won't settle for less.
I make tools for people who play... so go to a Fulltone Custom Shop dealer, plug in and listen for yourself, you'll walk out with Fulltone more often than not.”
So how does it sound, well first off you have to be familiar with some of the epic tunes that have used the Vibe and simply would not be the same song without it. While many Vibe pedals can cop a good tone, there is only one really spec’d out optimized circuit taken to the extent Mike Fuller has accomplished with this unit. The Deja can render the cleaner brighter sounding Hendrix Hey Baby tone as well as the darker, warble into feedback vibrato phase that made Bridge of Sighs a benchmark sound. It is all where you put it and what you use it with, and how you set your amp.
So be prepared for some tweaking to get what you’re after and you are in for some of the most fun playing you will ever experience in a pedal. See if you are not playing more funky, in a groove and digging on the vibrato phase pulse of the mighty Univibe.
The mystery of the magic photocells is probably something many would be interested in as the argument of which Vibe sounds better goes on and on. Looking back to old photocells the measured rise, fall and recovery times were much slower than the new available cells. The older cells were around 200ms the ones used today are like 25ms. Which is why Fuller decided to make his own. The Deja was born out of matching the best univibes and what they had in regard to component specs. There are many Vibes out there but unless they are using NOS old stock photocells they are using the newer fast ones. So, there is a fundamental difference even in real vibes. Not saying are bad but if you really want the real original Photocell circuit optimized w spec'd custom components, NOS parts and true bypass no noise, the Deja is the deal. It is doubtful other makers are able to render the attention to detail Fulltone renders on the internals of this unit.
Just FYI: (labeled on the bottom of the pedal):
Fulltone Deja’ Vibe MDV3
“This recreation of the legendary vintage Univibe is dedicated to the person who inspired me to produce it…the great Robin Trower.”