Catalinbread STS-88 review: flanger plus reverb equals gothy atmospherics galore
Flanging is now officially back in fashion – and by teaming it with reverb, Catalinbread might just have unlocked the effect’s full mood-scaping potential.
Catalinbread STS-88. Image: Catalinbread
This whole 80s revival thing is bad news – the haircuts alone are potentially traumatising to young children – but if there’s one aspect of the era that might just be worthy of a second chance, it’s the flanger.
Did this richly swirly modulation effect really deserve to fall foul of the tone police? The likes of Walrus Audio, ThorpyFX and Rainger FX clearly don’t think so, having all jumped into the flanging fray in the past couple of years… and now it’s the turn of Catalinbread with the STS-88, which ups the ante by adding extra-lush reverb.
That might make it technically ‘multi-effects’, but this is a simple pedal compared to much of the Oregon firm’s recent output. There are two knobs for the flanger (depth and rate), one for the size of the reverb and one for overall wet/dry mix, plus a switch inside for selecting true or buffered bypass; this will also dictate whether the reverb stops abruptly or is allowed to decay after you turn it off.
It seems Catalinbread’s designers have used up all their coloured paint pots, because the company’s recent launches have followed a distinctly monochrome theme – and that’s certainly true of the STS-88, right down to the frogspawn-esque translucent grey knobs. I for one am not complaining: lurid 80s pinks and purples would have been just too… well, flangey.
Are you in a good mood? There’s an easy fix for that: just listen to Homesick, from the Cure’s melancholia-drenched Disintegration album of 1989. OK, now that you’re thoroughly miserable, note the guitar that comes in at 1:38 – that’s just about the ultimate atmospheric flanger tone, which makes it an ideal first reference point for this pedal.
Well, it’s maybe not quite as jet-swooshy as Bob Smith’s Boss BF-2, but if you’re playing with the world’s most depressing covers band then the STS-88 will do you a fine job. The flanging itself is deep and sinuous, with a metallic edge that doesn’t get too clangy, and the reverb works beautifully with it. This isn’t just a semi-random pairing of effects to save you a bit of pedalboard space – it’s a mutually enhancing double act.
And with four knobs to play with, it isn’t all about gothic gloom either. The most important controls are the two on the left, allowing you to crank up the vowel-like resonance as much as you like and then pull it back to just the right side of overbearing. Then it’s time to start tweaking the rate, from winding arcs to rapid pulses, and finally dunk the whole thing into the reverb cauldron. This is a fairly bright ’verb with plenty of scope for epicness; it actually sounds fine on its own, though only an anti-flange fundamentalist would ever use it that way.
There is a noise gate built into the circuit to keep the doubled-up hiss at bay, but you’re only likely to notice it opening and closing if you’re playing ultra-quietly – there’s no unnatural clamping of reverb tails to disturb your transcendental reverie. In fact, nothing about this clever little pedal could be described as unnatural. It’s just luscious 80s magic in a box.