Pigtronix Mothership
By Ken Hughes
Wed, 28 Jul 2010
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0810 Pigtronix Main NAMM’s Hall E: a subterranean world of sordid me-too knockoffs, whackos pitching brilliant solutions to nonexistent problems, ukuleles of every description, and a smattering of truly cool gear shown by startups and one-man shops. Firmly in the last category was Pigtronix in 2005, whose unique Envelope Phaser made a splash. Now here comes the Mothership, an analog synth that, rather than being controlled by MIDI from a keyboard or sequencer, takes an audio input from another instrument—a synth, Rhodes, guitar, or really anything— tracks its pitch, and uses that to play a monophonic analog oscillator.

The Mothership can pitch-track any monophonic source. Chords confuse it, but that can lead to cool sounds, too. Its tracking is impressive. I fed my Rhodes into it, and the tine and hammer thunk failed to fatally confuse it. Ditching the highs and lows improved the smoothness of the pitch tracking, but I kind of liked the warbly attacks I got before. Two waveforms are available, and the square wave sounds much louder than the triangle. That makes sense, because a square wave has more harmonics. Both waves bring back the days when “electronic music” meant electrons rather than ones and zeroes.

Mixing in the source sound with the Clean Signal Level knob offers more than you think—at lower levels, the original sound kind of blends in rather than sounding distinct. A patently dangerous amount of subsonic energy issues from the Sub Octabe Knob. It’s a really good way to add beef to, well, anything. Try it on a weak kick drum. (Insert sinister laugh here.)

Things get really interesting when you engage the ring modulator. The Mothership’s ring mod can use either the oscillator or the input as its source, so you can get a wide range of effects—anything from that ’50s sci-fi vibe to a more musical version that keeps the generated pitch in lock step with the source pitch.

A “Whammy” input lets you connect a sweep pedal to control oscillator pitch, with a tunable range from a minor third to over an octave. You can also connect a footswitch to toggle the Glide on and off. You can even make chords by tuning the VCO and ring mod to intervals that compliment the input signal and sub-oscillator sounds. Since the Ring Mod tracks, the chords are repeatable and stable on any note. You can then bend between chords with the whammy.

In the audio demo (CLICK HERE), I played Rhodes, electric guitar, and bass guitar through the Mothership. The leads panned to the left are sounds I cooked up on the fly with my Rhodes as the input. You’ll hear both waveforms, the Rhodes tone mixed in to various degrees, ring mod on and off, Glide engaged and disengaged, the Whammy pedal in use, and what happens when you play chords into the Mothership.

Panned to the right is the guitar. At the very end, you’ll hear what it sounds like when the amplitude of the input signal drops below the Mothership’s sensitivity threshold—I put a Keeley compressor ahead of the Mothership to help the guitar generate more sustain. On the bass is the Mothership’s sub-oscillator working the way an octave pedal would. As an octave effect, I’d rate it a shade better than my Boss OC-3 Super Octave in pitch tracking, and vastly superior in terms of booty-osity. In the ’80s, the Yamaha DX7’s slap bass patch was de rigueur on pop records, and a lot of producers layered in a Minimoog to make it fatter. If we’d had the Mothership, we could have done it all in one pass and had more time to add mousse to our mullets.

The Mothership isn’t everything it could have been for keyboard players. If it had a filter, it would more fully live up to its billing as a synthesizer, but to be fair, it’s aimed chiefly at guitarists and modular- minded synth players, and there are dozens of envelope filter pedals out there you could put downstream. That said, the Mothership offers a surprisingly broad palette of sounds from fairly modest resources. If you’re looking for an effect that will deliver arresting, how-did-they-do-that sounds, beam up to the Mothership and have a listen. You just might not return to Earth.

Specifications

PROS: Wicked sounds leave the listener guessing how they were achieved. Excellent pitch tracking. Footswitch and sweep pedal inputs offer more expression than most stompboxes. Built like a tank.

CONS: No filter, envelope following, or envelope control. 48V power supply is hard to replace on the road at common stores such as Radio Shack.

CONCEPT Plug in any instrument and turn monophonic lines into synth sounds.

INPUTS Instrument in, VCO sweep (“Whammy”) pedal in, Glide footswitch in.

OUTPUTS Main out (source instrument, VCO, ring mod, sub oscillator), Sub out (sub osc and ring mod, duplicated at this output).

W x D x H 7.4" x 4.6" x 1.5".

PRICE: List: $649.00
Approx. street: $480

pigtronix.com

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