I’ve had a lot of requests for the Strymon Lex Rotary lately. This rotary speaker simulator seems to have caused a lot of stir and not least among Gilmour enthusiasts. I recently got my hands on one and here’s my review.
Rotating speaker cabs has been David’s secret weapon since 1971-72. His stage setup at this point featured the classic 3-head Hiwatt rack, WEM speaker cabs and a Leslie 147. The Leslie was swapped with two Yamaha RA200 cabinets in 1976-1983 and the jaw breaking 1994 stage setup featured custom designed Doppola rotating speakers. Read more about David’s rotary setups here.
While Clapton, Vaughan, Harrison etc used Leslies as a main effect, David would blend or mix the effect with the main amps. This subtle liquidy swirl is the essence of many of his classic tones throughout the years. The newly released recording of Dark Side of the Moon from Empire Pool, Wembley 1974 is a great example of how the Leslie 147 cabs adds a huge dimension to his tones. You could easily use a chorus or flanger to create something similar but it’ll never be quite the same.
The Lex Rotary was designed with a painstaking focus on details and the complexity of a rotary cab and look no further people – this is as close as you’ll get to fit a Leslie in a box!
The Lex is housed in a slightly bigger TRex sized sturdy box with easy to reach big knobs. There are four controls allowing you to adjust the fast rotor speed, mic distance at the horn, horn level and preamp drive (quite decent but I recommend a better sounding overdrive pedal). There are also two on/off stomp switches for slow/fast and bypass. The pedal runs on 9V Boss style adaptor and feature true bypass switching. This is only the beginning though. The Lex also has a number of “hidden” controls that’s engaged by stomping both foot switches simultaneously. The four controls then allows you to make additional settings like different mic placements, volume boost etc. There are so much technical specifications that I won’t even dare to begin describing them. Fear not though – the Lex is super easy to operate. Check out the Strymon site for more details and soundclips.
I’ve tested the Lex both in mono and stereo. You can place it among your pedals like any other chorus or flanger and get a very dynamic chorusy tone with that classic tremolo swirl. However, if you need to run the pedal in mono I strongly suggest that you split the signal and place the Lex on one line with a second amp. This way you get a setup similar to David’s and you can adjust the level on the assigned amp for the desired amount of Leslie effect. See this feature for more on replicating David’s rotary setup.
The Lex should be operated in stereo though. The tone can fool even the most devoted Leslie fans and I had a hard time telling it apart from a Leslie 760 that I compared it with. Standing in front of the stereo setup you can hear how incredibly dynamic and sophisticated the Lex is. A Leslie or rotating speaker isn’t just a static effect like your average distortion but there are all these nuances that makes up the tone. A pedal alone can’t replicate the acoustics and dynamics of your studio or a stage but the guys at Strymon seems to have cracked the code and delivered a pedal that’s almost as organic and alive as a real Leslie.
So how does it compare to other rotary sims? The Lex is very similar to the old Korg G4 and HK Rotosphere. The Lex however sounds more natural and organic and the ramp to slow/fast is much smoother. The Line 6 Rotary Machine does a nice job but sounds almost like a ring modulator at high speeds. The Lex stays focused and allows you to carefully place the mic just where you want it for the right swirl.
I use the Boss RT20 a lot but it doesn’t really sound anything other than a very sophisticated chorus and that’s pretty much why I like it. In my opinion you can’t really compare the two but the RT20 has one huge advantage, which is the mix effect control. This is a slight draw back on the Lex especially in terms of David’s tones. The reason is that you don’t really want a dominating rotary effect but rather a mild swirl. Not quite a chorus and certainly no flanger but just a hint of that certain something. The Lex works very well for cleans and mild overdrives but gets all too dominating and dark when you try to run a Big Muff through it. In this case you’re better off with a Boss RT20 or simply a chorus.
But, the Lex was never made with Gilmour in mind. Judging by the Strymon website they set out to create the most authentic sounding rotary simulator and in my humble opinion I think they’ve done it. Highly recommended!