There are times when you buy a piece of music gear to sound BETTER.
Other times, you buy a piece of gear to sound DIFFERENT.
And then… there are those other glorious times when you buy a piece of music gear… simply because you want to sound like one of your heroes!
The EVH Phase 90 guitar pedal by MXR came into my life because of that latter desire. I had told my family this past Christmas that, really, the only thing I wanted was this sweet pedal.
Guess who musta been nice not naughty for Santa??! LoL
My beaming smile and more calloused fingers show my gratitude for their generosity!
I pretty much used this pedal for every gig I play now if I’m on the electric… even the one I did TONIGHT! I don’t engage it all the time, mind you, but for those “special moments” when I need that little boost, or a little flash of Eddie flair… it’s there!!
What’s in a Name?!
I’m sure there are probably some people out there in the world who have bought this pedal and didn’t know who Eddie Van Halen was.
I am definitely NOT one of those people.
Mr. Edward Van Halen has been a hero of mine since middle school , and the red, black and white striping on this pedal inspire more in me than simple artistic appreciation – a deep emotional connection will always be conjured up in me by anything related to that wizard of the strings maestro Mr. Van Halen.
Eddie’s passing this past year, in what is surely the most challenging year most of us have ever lived through, made the whole train wreck of 2020 even worse. You can read my subsequent tribute to his all-too-soon passing in THIS POST.
If you want to get a good sense of what this pedal can do for your sound, listen to Van Halen’s first and second albums. You’ll hear the Phase 90 peppered throughout those albums, on many songs. It won’t always be on though; Eddie rarely engaged it for more than a few seconds, usually popping it in and out as a way to strengthen certain licks, lines or solos.
“Ain’t Talkin ‘Bout Love“, “Atomic Punk” , the melt-your-face guitar solo that bowled us all over in disbelief called “Eruption“… they all feature the scrape-y, swirly, boost-y cloak that the Phase 90 wraps around your tonal delivery.
He also used it on later songs too, like “Everybody Wants Some“, “Drop Dead Legs“, and even the last song on Van Halen’s very last album, for the tune “Outta Space“.
Since I’ve studied Eddie’s songs my whole lifelong (or so it feels like!), I wanted the Phase 90 so I could totally nail Ed’s tone & effects when I play certain material of his. This pedal, put in my signal path after my EVH Wolfgang guitar, but before my 5150III amp and GSP1101 processor, brings that Pasadena party that was Van Halen right into my control room every… single… time!!
For those of you guitar angels (see the front cover of 1984) who like to ascend into “Spec Heaven” whenever you check out a new piece of gear…
Lay back on your cloud I’m take in these numbers that I’m layin’ down:
Weight: 11.2 ounces
Release date: January 16, 2004
Model #: EVH90
Dimensions: 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.8
Input Impedance: 1 MΩ
Output Impedance: 10 kΩ
Signal to Noise*: >96 dB
Current Draw: 8.2 mA
Power Supply: 9 volts DC (battery) OR a 9 volt AC adapter (not included)
*A-weighted, Vref = 1 Vrms
In case anyone is wondering, no, the Phase 90 is not “true bypass“. However…
If you really need it to be, you can always call upon the fine skills of Robert Keeley, in Edmond, Oklahoma, to do a mod on it for you. He’s done this plenty of times, and has worked on Steve Vai and Peter Frampton’s gear. Contact him at www.robertkeeley.com.
If you’re like me, you already have a standard 9v 200-300ma adapter with multiple plugs for all your pedals. That kind of adapter will power this pedal juuuuuust fine, thank you very much. I’ve had no issues using mine in all my gigs.
Also, it comes with little rubber feet that adhere to the bottom of the unit to keep it from sliding around all over. They work too; I haven’t had any issues with it moving after I’ve put my foot down about my solo demands! LoL
It’s Got the LOOK
As I mentioned earlier, this pedal sports the same red, black and white striped artistry that Eddie Van Halen wrapped all over his famous “Frankenstein” guitar early in his career.
The pedal is pretty small, thin and lightweight; you definitely won’t see it taking up much room on your pedal board.
It’s also very simple in use: just one silver button to engage the pedal, and one black dial to hone in the exact amount of the effect that you want. That’s it.
Or is it???
At about 10:30 from the big black dial there’s a tiny, white button that, when engaged, instantly gives you the exact setting that Eddie used for most of his songs.
Here’s how MXR engineered it: if you leave the “Script” button alone, then you’ll be calling up the more “modern” sound of their Phase 90 pedal. The effect sounded more pronounced in this version, and it had the “Block Logo”, as in the picture below:
If you depress the white button though, you get the more vintage “Script Logo” phase tone, which first came out in 1974 and looked like this:
Fire that button up and BOOM… you’re instantly transported back, back… back to the days of the late 70s, striped bandanas and simple amp setups… the days of Eddie taking over the world!
This is especially cool for those of us that really want to just play Van Halen songs, cuz we don’t have to mess with anything; one little press of the white button, and BEHOLD… that Eddie aura is resurrected instantly!
This double-whammy duality of the pedal is why it’s more expensive than the older single version – basically, you’re getting TWO pedals in one, extending the range and strength of the effect and giving you a bit more sweep for your buck.
No Frills Gives ya Chills!
Just as the looks of this pedal are simple and straight forward, so the adjustability and versatility of the Phase 90 is deliberately limited. You’re not going to get a ton of effects out of this puppy. It’s a one-trick pony; it doesn’t try to spin sound plates one frequency sticks like your favorite all-encompassing guitar processor.
But what it does do, it does well: if you want your signal gently boosted or, say, a solo brought forth in the mix without transforming the basic tone much… the Phase 90 does that with a sandy panache you’ll love, with a slight tilt in the mid and upper frequencies that shines a spotlight on your shred-mania right when you need it.
You can also get quite a warble or tremolo effect out of it the further to the right you turn the black dial.
I don’t usually go too far to the right myself though. Eddie didn’t either. He usually kept it clocked at about 10 a. m. so there wasn’t any fast movement in the effect that would lure your ear away from his magnificent playing.
Instead, at the “dialed-left” settings, there’s rather a slow, sweeping kind of morph that sprinkles all your notes with a Milky Way kind of star quality that’s subtle until you take it out. Then you miss it!
If you know how this effect sounds, and what it does, then you know it does it better than any other option out there. That’s why I don’t see it going out of style anytime soon… or ever, for that matter.
One word about signal chain too: if you reeeeally wanna nail that Eddie vibe, do this: place this pedal in front of your preamp, not in the effects loop, and before your distortion in the chain. That’s exactly how Ed had it and, well… is anyone gonna say his recordings didn’t sound amazing??! 😉
Keep in Good Company
The MXR company is actually owned by Dunlop (the brand Eddie used for his Wah-Wah pedal). Even before Dunlop bought ’em, MXR had a good reputation for making gear that stands the test of time.
The all-metal construction of this EVH-branded pedal is solid and dependable. I can’t see it breaking. I’ve also never heard any of my friends that have these MXR pedals complain that one went dead during a concert, broke off any pieces, or had any issues with them at all.
Eddie not only used MXR pedals at the beginning of Van Halen’s rise to legendary status, but also continued to use them throughout his career… right up to the end of his life. That says a lot.
So far, in gigging with it, I can vouch for their ruggedness and dependability.
Since Eddie agreed, I like to think that… great fingers think alike. 😉
Ain’t No Sin t’ Grin!
I always like to talk about this side of a piece of gear whenever I do a review, because, let’s face it… music and all the technology that goes along with it is, if nothing else, a lot of FUN.
This pedal can indeed be a lot of fun too. The first and foremost reason? Well, because you can instantaneously call up an effect that made one of the best guitar players of all time (maybe the best?!) sound just that much better because of this li’l box.
If you are recording guitarist , you can also push the dial to some extremes, & get it to wash your tone with some freaky movement.
This is especially effective if you match it to the temple song you’re doing. That way the effect doesn’t come across too extreme, but rather is a subtle pulse shrouded behind the bass and drums – like a gentle tap-tap-tap on your back by the sword wielded by the Angel of Rock!!!
And, come on, just having a pedal that looks like that in your arsenal has to make the playing more fun, doesn’t it?!
It reminds me of another thing I always loved about Ed – his smile. When he played his grin was usually a mile wide. Anybody could see, from planets away, that he just absolutely loved playing music and never wanted to do anything else.
Gee… maybe that’s why he was so amazing. Ya think??! 😉
I’ll Take My Kicks Striped, Please
Pedals for guitarists can be like shoes for women -you can have a closet full of them, buy more and more of them every year, and still always have that little voice in the back of your head that says , “Oh, but… what about those?”
(Not that I can talk. Who just haaaaaad to get those rockin’ kicks pictured below? Who?? One guess.)
I’ve bought a lot of pedals and gear in my time. Some hold my perpetual interest. Others? They’re here and gone like spring sonic dandelions – interesting for the moment, but not something I continue to reach for when it’s time to jam.
The EVH Phase 90 is a box you can always count on to add that little bit of brash bravado to your tone, whether in the overdrive or clean channel. Need a simple swoosh? Keep the knob left. “Unchained” undulations?! Turn right, string bender!!
Although it’s pretty ubiquitous now in my live rig, I don’t find that I use the Phase 90 much in the studio. But that’s entirely because my songwriting and production is a bit more on the eclectic side.
I don’t rely on the same effects much; I’m more a Peter Gabriel-kind of producer, with lots of diversity album-to-album, and I’m always looking for elements of surprise that paint those bouncing frequencies with aural ambushes in your ear!!
When I do need this effect though, I use it deliberately, and it’s much better than any software plug-in I have. Plus, it doesn’t add a lot of noise to my signal chain. That, in and of itself, makes it worth its weight in amps!
That’s a (striped) Wrap!
For those of you that want that “Eddie” sound, or for those who just want a good, solid dependable pedal that can only make you sound better…
Get this pedal. When that little blue “engaged” light shines up onto your spotlight-sweaty brow, and you hear how it helps you punch through the mix into the bosoms of your adoring fans (or whatever other body parts you prefer… I know what I like) you will be very glad you spent your hard-earned cash on a product worth the money.
Just don’t blame me if you can’t stop learning Van Halen tunes and nobody sees you for 8 months.
It’ll be like your own private COVID vacation… only MUCH, MUCH BETTER!!!!
Here’s to many a marathon jam, my friends! 😉
Now, go… make… SOUNDS!!