Since the early 70’s David Gilmour’s been using rotating speakers to make his sounds fatter and more three dimensional. Recently I got my hands on a Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble. It’s difficult to capture the natural sound of something as unique as a rotating speaker but the RT-20 sounds remarkably close. Here’s a little review.
The RT-20 was introduced in 2005 housed in the new dual pedals from Boss. Featured controls are:
– Mode: allows you to switch between 4 different modes. 1 is the normal Leslie type. 2 and 3 is a combo of a Leslie and a Marshall amp with a bit more gain on mode 3. Mode 4 is a very bad sounding Uni-Vibe clone…
– Rise Time: controls how fast you want the right pedal to switch between slow and fast rotary.
– Effect: controls the level of the rotary effect.
– Direct: controls the blend of the effect and your guitar. By turning the Effect all the way to the left and the Direct all the way to the right you’ll get a clean tone equivalent to switching off the pedal.
– Balance: placement of the microphone on the Leslie cab. More amp or more horn.
– Overdrive: thin and fuzzy… don’t use it!
– Slow: rate for slow mode.
– Fast: rate for fast mode.
The left pedal switches on/off the effect and the right pedal switches between slow and fast settings. A cool display – the “virtual rotor” – indicates the rate setting of the horn.
The pedal works equally well on keyboards with a mode setting for impedance on the back. Sounds great for Hammonds and that Wrightish Echoes piano.
So by now I guess you’re wondering “didn’t Bjorn ditch all his Boss pedals?”. “Didn’t he say that they messed up everything?”. Well, kind of… I never threw away my Boss pedals but I didn’t want too many of them on my stage board because their buffers didn’t go well with especially the Colorsound PB and the Sun Face. I once had a DD-20 digital delay, which sounded quite nice but the pedal was noisy and it totally ruined my signal. I was very sceptic to the RT-20 and I’ve tried all sorts of combinations with my pedals. The result is that it sounds very nice indeed and it doesn’t seem to colour my tone as much as the DD-20 and some of the other Boss pedals (especially CE-2, CS-2, GE-7). It’s very quiet and clean.
The RT-20 is in essence an amp simulator and you’ll get a distinct volume boost when the effect is switched on. I took some time to figure how to avoid increasing the volume too much especially since all my sounds are either based on the Colorsound PB or the BK Tube Driver but it works very well for chorus sections and solos where you normally would want a little boost. On the more quiet parts you just have to use the volume pedal.
Keep in mind that a real rotating speaker acts just like a tube amp, – it’s almost alive and very “organic”… if that term can be used on electronics. Also, the Doppler effect that the horn creates needs something to bounce off on. The closer you place a rotating speaker to a wall, the more dramatic the effect will be and that’s near impossible to simulate. What you’ll get is something very similar. This isn’t a distortion effect but a simulator.
I haven’t been able to a/b test the pedal against a real rotating speaker but I’ve played through them enough to say that the RT-20 is extremely close. It adds a wide 3D effect to your tone and with some delay or echo it sounds just incredibly rich and fat. You can hear the horn swirl around adding that tyical almost scratching or swoshing tone (listen to the effect loop on On the Run). I would like this to be a little more audioable but with a mild overdrive in front it sounds very nice. I strongly recommend using an additional overdrive. The one featured in the RT-20 doesn’t sound any good.
Soundclip: Raise My Rent
On this song David used a Yamaha rotating speaker on both the rhythms and solo. The RT-20 captures that swirling, slightly unpredictable tone and works very well on the solo too.
- Custom 69 pickups > Sovtek (green) Big Muff > Boss RT-20 > GarageBand with a clean British type amp sim and a hint of delay and reverb.
Soundclip: Us & Them
On Dark Side of the Moon David played this song through a Leslie 900 (also seen on the DSotM documentary). With additional overdrive the RT-20 sounds very similar to the tone David had on the 1973-75 tours.
- Custom 69 pickups > Boss CS-2 > Maxon OD808 > Boss RT-20 > GarageBand with a clean British type amp sim and a hint of delay and reverb.
I’m very pleased with pedal. Surprised actually. I’m a huge fan of both Steven Wilson and John Wesley from Porcupine Tree and they both use this pedal frequently (see John Wesley’s presentation here – select “video” in the menu). I will mostly use the RT-20 with my band Airbag but certainly for Floyd stuff too. Recommended!