Review: Fender Tre-Verb, Lost Highway Phaser & MTG Tube Distortion
The Fender stompboxes just keep on coming – but do these three multi-talented new units have the sonic chops to match their twiddle-friendly versatility?
It seems Fender’s audacious ‘taking effects pedals seriously’ gambit is paying off. The original line of six stompers has now swelled to 15, and the latest batch includes this tastefully tinted trio: a combined tremolo and reverb, a twin-speed analogue phaser and a valve-powered distortion with added boost.
They’re all housed in Fender’s now familiar brushed-aluminium enclosures, with the same dinky LEDs in the control knobs (which can be switched off if you’re anti-dinky). One thing they don’t have, however, is the clever battery compartment design of the previous models… because they’re mains-powered only.
This is understandable: the Tre-Verb is digital, the MTG Tube Distortion needs to pump 150 volts to feed its 6205 subminiature valve and even the Lost Highway Phaser demands 80mA of current, which would drain the average PP3 like a toddler downing a Fruit Shoot.
It’s the Tre-Verb that catches our eye first, if only because of its obvious similarities with the Strymon Flint. But then, you could say Fender got there first: it’s been pairing tremolo and reverb inside amplifiers since 1963. Things are a little different here to how they were on the original Vibroverb, though: you get three flavours of each effect to choose from and the reverb has separate dials for blend, dwell and tone. Got a stereo rig? There are even dual inputs and outputs.
The Lost Highway offers the lip-smacking prospect of two separate phaser speeds with Leslie-style ramping from one to the other. You also get switchable 4-stage and 8-stage phasing, two different wave shapes and a sensitivity control that lets the modulation speed respond to the level of the incoming signal. A one-knob wonder this is not.
And that brings us to the MTG, a distortion pedal designed in cahoots with Bruce Egnater of Egnater Amplification fame. Next to the three-band EQ here you get an extra control marked ‘tight’, for reining in the bottom end at higher gain levels. There’s also a footswitchable boost, but this isn’t available on its own, only as the cherry compote on top of your distortion cheesecake.
The first problem we run into with the Tre-Verb is how to pronounce it. Tree-verb? Tray-verb? Trevor? Luckily, that’s about the only problem we do run into, because this is a great little pedal. On the ‘Tre’ side, the choice is between optical, bias and harmonic tremolo and they all sound spot-on: opto pulsates with rhythmic clarity, bias rises and falls with a more gentle sway, and the Brownface-style harmonic mode adds a chewy dimension that also recalls the vibrato on an old AC30. You can’t go to drastic extremes with rate or depth, but there is a tap-tempo function, accessed by holding down the footswitch.
The ‘Verb’ half of the pedal offers a choice between Brownface and Blackface spring reverbs, plus a plate type. The difference between the two springs is subtle – ’63 is a touch bolder than ’65 – but the plate sound ditches the wobbles for something much more pure and even. Note, though, that reverb trails are set to ‘on’ and we can see no way of turning them off.
But we’re not done with the Tre-Verb, because there’s a surprise in store: a killer feature that isn’t even mentioned in the manual or on the Fender site. Plug into two amps and select plate mode, and you’re rewarded with a rich stereo spread. This can get truly immersive with both blend and dwell dials cranked; combine it with some moody tremolo and the Tre-Verb reveals itself to be a bit of a modern soundscaper as well as a vintage mojo machine.
The Lost Highway looks even more versatile on paper, but if you’re after that classic swirling sound you might be left ever so slightly frustrated: at heart, this is more of a throbber than a swoosher. Fender was clearly anxious to make sure it wouldn’t be the kind of phaser that scoops out your midrange – there’s even a 3dB boost switch on the back to compensate for any perceived dip in output – but the result is that a little bit of sweetness is missing.
Using the second footswitch to drift between two different speeds opens up its gigging potential, while the sensitivity control allows you to make the modulation go wild with every new note, then gradually ease off in depth as well as rate as it decays. Add the voice-modifying power of the two toggle switches and you’re in a phasing playground – but would we rather be there than basking in the tonal purity of our battered old vintage Bad Stone? Probably not.
Things are more straightforward with the MTG: this is the shredding channel your amp never realised it had. The gain range goes from medium to high to even higher; and while this is a more rounded kind of distortion than you get from the average snarly rock box – as you might expect when there’s a tube involved, even a teeny one – there’s an edginess to the treble response on the wound strings that can make a Blackface amp feel almost like a JCM800.
It sounds pretty strident even with the mids backed off, but that’s not to say this pedal is just a hooligan: bring out the Les Paul, turn the gain down to 10 o’clock, think about a deceased family pet and you’ll find it can also handle the soulful stuff remarkably well.
The boost is tonally transparent, and the two knobs give you fully independent control over how much intensity you’re adding to the dirt and how much sheer volume you’re adding on the way out. The ‘tight’ control adds a worthwhile fourth element to a well-judged tonestack, and we can see this unit matching the Tre-Verb for the most important quality of all: sheer usefulness. Keep ’em coming, Fender.
- PRICE £199
- DESCRIPTION Tremolo and reverb pedal. Made in China
- CONTROLS Tremolo output level, rate, depth and opto/bias/harmonic mode switch; reverb tone, blend, dwell and ’63/’65/plate mode switch; signal path (T>R or R>T) and LEDs on/off switches; tap tempo on tremolo footswitch
- FEATURES Stereo-through inputs and outputs, with stereo reverb in plate mode; buffered bypass; powered by 9-volt mains supply with at least 310mA (not included)
- DIMENSIONS 125 x 103 x 63mm
- VERDICT A handy pairing of two tasty effects with plenty of tweakability
Lost Highway Phaser: 7/10
- PRICE £119
- DESCRIPTION Phaser pedal. Made in China
- CONTROLS Rate 1, depth 1, rate 2, depth 2, blend, feedback, input sensitivity, 4-stage/8-stage and sine/triangle waveform switches; 3dB boost and LEDs on/off switches; slow/fast ramping footswitch
- FEATURES True bypass; powered by 9-volt mains supply (not included)
- DIMENSIONS 125 x 103 x 63mm
- VERDICT Flexible wobbly fun, but not one for the phase-shifter purists
MTG Tube Distortion: 8/10
- PRICE £159
- DESCRIPTION Distortion pedal. Made in China
- CONTROLS Treble, middle, bass, tight, level and gain; boost level and gain; LEDs on/off switch, boost footswitch
- FEATURES True bypass; powered by 9-volt mains supply with at least 290mA (not included)
- DIMENSIONS 125 x 103 x 63mm
- VERDICT: A lump of pure rock that’s got sensitivity as well as brawn
- CONTACT fender.com
Like this? Try these…
Strymon Flint £259, Keeley EH Verb o Trem £149, Mr Black Deluxe Plus £179
Heptode Virtuoso £180, Walrus Audio Lillian £192, EarthQuaker Devices Grand Orbiter £179
Blackstar HT Dual £229, Ibanez Tube Screamer Nutube £139, Effectrode Tube Drive £339
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