Test Pilots: EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run Part 1

Paul Gregory’s ethereal guitar soundscapes are at the heart of Newcastle band Lanterns On The Lake’s beautiful widescreen music. The EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run seemed like his perfect reverb and delay pedal, so we sent it on tour with him…

The Avalanche Run, bottom left, on Paul’s pedalboard on stage at Bluedot Festival

Lately, I’ve become rather fascinated by EarthQuaker Devices. I’ve used quite a lot of their pedals, a particular favourite of mine being the Dispatch Master reverb/delay. So when I was asked to road test the new EQD Avalanche Run, I think I may have let out a squeal of delight, probably audible only to me… but a squeal nonetheless.

Lanterns On The Lake were due to play Bluedot Festival in a few weeks, accompanied by Royal Northern Sinfonia – a perfect opportunity to give the pedal a good workout.

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The Avalanche Run has a lot of sounds in it! The reverb and delay feel quite interactive and the different modes – reverse, normal and swell – can create a huge host of soundscapes. For the purposes of this road test, however, I wanted to use the reverb as a core sound for the songs and the delay for sound-on-sound pseudo looping and some tempo-based parts.
To get the most out of the pedal, an expression pedal can be connected to control all sorts of things. Sadly, I didn’t have one to hand, though I found the delay time and mix controls easily accessible with my feet.

 

Avalanche Run

Gig time at Jodrell Bank

So… on to band rehearsals for Bluedot. Blasting through the set in our rehearsal room, fuelled by cups of tea and a good selection of crisps, my first impression was that the reverb is beautiful. I mean really beautiful. It’s voiced perfectly, feels as if it naturally filters some low end from the decay and the top end is smooth. It was easy to get a nice reverb-heavy sound without turning my entire sound to a muddy mush.

I set the decay at around 11 o’clock and the mix at around 1 o’clock and left the pedal like that for the whole set. I fired overdrives, fuzz and a heap of delays and loops through it (courtesy of a Line 6 DL4) and the reverb performed admirably – no weird clipping or muddiness, just tons of post-rock/shoegazey/ambient fun.

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That became the base reverb for at least 70 per cent of the songs. The other 30 per cent of the set, I reverted back to my older DigiTech DigiVerb, the simple reason being the 100 per cent wet functionality. On my old DigiTech in church mode, when the mix is set to 100 per cent, the volume doesn’t change; on the Avalanche Run when the reverb is set to 100 per cent, everything gets much quieter, so this setting didn’t work for me.

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The delay sounds great and, like the reverb, is easy to set up. The tone control was useful to get the delay to sit right in the mix, and I liked it quite dark. The Avalanche Run does sound-on-sound looping with endless feedback.

However, the delay time has a maximum of two seconds, which might sound like a lot, but sometimes you just need more – and I found myself needing more… at least two seconds more. A minor grumble, but given that the Avalanche Run is a DSP pedal, I’m not sure why it’s limited to two seconds. I’m sure there’s a reason.

Due to this, I was going to use the delay only for simpler stuff, with the tap tempo – a feature I’d always wished the Dispatch Master had. Onto my pedalboard it went. The top-mounted jacks meant it could be tucked into the bottom-left, with the delay time and mix controls accessible by foot.

For me, the big test of any pedal is how it handles a live situation – not just in terms of how it sounds; this thing is very user-friendly. After the last rehearsal, I hadn’t played the pedal until we arrived at the amazing Jodrell Bank Observatory for Bluedot, so unpacking my board to find the settings on every pedal all over the place I quickly set about sorting out the dials.

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On stage with Royal Northern Sinfonia

I was able to dial in the sounds on the Avalanche Run immediately: power on, lights flashing, a quick strum and everything worked nicely. Beer? Playing with a 20-piece orchestra behind you is an awe-inspiring thing, and it also makes it a very different type of gig. The guitar and orchestral lines complement each other, so making sure I had the right onstage volume and tone was something to think about.

I recently had my Vox AC30 serviced by the rather amazing Stoneham Amplification and it sounds amazing… and loud! So, getting the balance took a bit of time. I use a fair amount of reverb pretty much all the time and the Avalanche Run certainly helped to keep things up-front due to its voicing, without the sound getting too boomy or overcooked, or pushing everything to the back of the mix, which reverb can sometimes do.

We were first on the bill due to the challenges of setting up and soundchecking a full chamber orchestra, and the sun was very bright onstage. In a dark rehearsal room, I had the LEDs covered with a plectrum to stop them burning out my eyes, they were so bright, but on stage it’s a welcome feature and the tap tempo is easy to see.

The tap function works even if the effect is off, so I was able to tap in the time before I needed the delay. The silent switching is also an excellent choice for this pedal – nothing ruins a quiet moment in a song like the sound of ‘CLICK’. It all adds up to a very ‘stage-friendly’ pedal. You can see where it’s set and what it’s doing, and it doesn’t make a noise when its not supposed to. Also… no hum!

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Soundchecking ahead of Lanterns On The Lake’s set

I kept the delay off for the most part, and when I needed to I was able to push up the mix knob using my foot mid-song, and then whack it down again. Doing it this way worked just fine, although having separate footswitches for the delay and reverb would have been welcome during the gig. The optional expression pedal would of course cover this, but given that it can control so many other functions, such as the toggle between reverse/normal delay and repeats, it would be a shame to use it just to control the delay mix.

During the parts of the set when I used the looper parts from the DL4, getting down on the floor I was able to add in some unplanned grainy reverse delays from the Avalanche Run – and it sounded massive. It really is a joy to use this pedal for on-the-fly stuff. I must get an expression pedal…

The footswitches felt really solid, even when I gave the on switch a proper whack in over-excited fashion – it certainly doesn’t feel as if there is any risk of breakage. It’s a good solid design that I reckon will stand up to the usual tour-bashing pedals get.

Practicalities aside, I found the Avalanche Run inspiring. It really moulded with my guitars and amp, and I soon forgot it was new and just played. It’s a glorious-sounding thing. Despite having only a couple of rehearsals, the Avalanche Run was gig-ready really quickly – I didn’t feel I needed to spend more time to get to know how to use it live.

The Avalanche Run feels like a Dispatch Master on steroids and I’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do. It’s definitely a keeper and will remain on my board. Nice work EarthQuaker!

• Test Instrument EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run
• Price £299
• Band Lanterns On The Lake
• Main Guitars, Amps & Pedals Used Eastwood Airline ’59 Coronado, modded Epiphone Dot, Epiphone Les Paul, Vox AC30, Maxon OD9, Fulltone 69, Z.Vex Super Hard On, DigiTech DigiVerb, DigiTech DigiDelay, Line 6 DL4
• Gigs So Far Larmer Tree Festival, Bluedot Festival, Deer Shed Festival
http://www.lanternsonthelake.com
Pick up a copy of the December issue of G&B to read Part 2 of Paul’s Test Pilot.

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