Nothing sounds quite the same. The Electric Mistress flanger is unique and it has been featured on countless recordings since it hit the market in the late 70s. The pedal also defined David Gilmour’s tones between 1977-83. A period many consider to be the peak of Pink Floyd. In this feature we’ll dig deep into the magic and legend of the Electric Mistress.
The Electric Mistress was designed by David Cockerell (Electro Harmonix). The first model appeared in early 1976. David had worked for EMS, where he designed the world’s first multi effect – the Synthi Hi-Fli (used by David Gilmour during the Dark Side of the Moon era 1973-75).
Later, with Electro Harmonix, Cockerell also designed the Small Stone phaser and Micro Synth, among others, which were both based on the Hi-Fli.
Flanging refers to a tape reel’s flange or rim. The effect dates back to the mid 40s (Les Paul was one of the first to use it) but it was commonly used in the 60s and 70s by many bands and artists.
Flanging is achieved by playing back a recorded signal from two tape machines operating simultaneously and slowing down one of the playback reels about 20ms while recording onto a third machine. This slight delay caused a flanging effect – a swirly, metallic jet type of sound (listen to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds). Slowing down even more would produce a chorus effect and ultimately a fast slap back delay.
Flanger pedals hit the market in the mid 70s. The pioneers being the ADA Flanger, Tychobrahe Pedal Flanger, MXR Flanger and the Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress.
None of these actually sound like the tape flanging. They often tend towards a chorus or more defined jet sounds. The Deco made by Strymon is one of the few pedals that is designed to replicate the true tape flanging.
The Electric Mistress
The first generation Electric Mistress pedals were produced between 1976-81. These were housed in Big Muff sized boxes powered by two 9V batteries (the 1981 version powered by a single 9V). Graphics and schematics changed over the years but the tone stayed more or less the same.
These early versions are known for their liquidy character and chorusy flanging. They were also known for being very noisy (even when they were switched off) and they had a nasty volume drop when engaged.
Like many of the older Electro Harmonics pedals, vintage Electric Mistress pedals are subject to inconsistent use of parts with varying quality. Two seemingly identical pedals can sound very different. Be aware of this when considering buying a vintage Mistress off EBay.
Check out the Electric Mistress Mystery Page for more details on each model.
The Deluxe Electric Mistress
The Deluxe Electric Mistress was designed by Electro Harmonix engineer Howard Davis (who also designed the Deluxe Memory Man). It was offered along side the original Mistress between 1978-81 and later reissued in 1999 (to present) presented in a slightly larger box. Graphics and schematics changed over the years but the tone has stayed more or less the same.
The Deluxe feature a noise filter, making it less noisy than the original Mistress. It has a slightly more jet-like tone, like the MXR, with a hint more mid range and low end.
The current large box Deluxe Electric Mistress has a considerably darker and less transparent tone compared to the original 70s models and the 1999 reissue.
Check out the Electric Mistress Mystery Page for more details on each model.
David Gilmour and the Electric Mistress
David Gilmour must have been one of the first to use the Electric Mistress. At least to the extent that he did. Although not featured on the Animals album, a 1976 green logo V2 (second generation) Electric Mistress can be seen laying on top of his Pete Cornish pedal board during the tour rehearsals at the Olympia Exhibition Hall, London, UK in late 1976.
Pete Cornish performed extensive modifications on the board after the Animals tour, in October 1977, and built the pedal into the board. Although not confirmed it is fair to assume that Cornish modified David’s Mistress pedals to reduce noise and volume drop.
During the 1977 Animals tour David would use the Electric Mistress together with a “Ram’s Head” Big Muff on songs like Dogs and Pigs in conjunction with his amp rig consisting of a blend between Hiwatts and Yamaha RA200 rotating speakers.
The Electric Mistress was extensively used on David Gilmour 1978 solo album – notably on Mihalis (rhythms and solo), So Far Away (solo), Short and Sweet (main riff and rhythms), Raise My Rent (solo) and I Can’t Breathe Anymore (rhythms). The album is an early show case for the pedal and David’s late 70s tones.
Although only briefly used on the recording of The Wall (mostly used as an effect on panned guitars and occasional licks), the Electric Mistress was once again used extensively during the The Wall tour in 1980-81.
David had two pedal boards on stage – his main 1976 Pete Cornish board and a mini board, also designed by Cornish, used while performing outside the wall during the second half of the show. Both boards featured an Electric Mistress.
David’s Wall stage setup featured his Hiwatt amps, WEM cabinets and two Yamaha RA200 rotating speaker cabinets. During the 1981 leg of the tour, he also used two Boss CE2 chorus pedals for stereo spread. All this combined with the Electric Mistress. The amount of modulation borders to being ridiculous but it really defined his huge tone for that tour and songs like Mother, Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell.
Final Cut (1983) is perhaps one of the most honest sounding albums in terms of David Gilmour’s guitar tones. Very little studio processing was done to the tracks and the Electric Mistress can be heard throughout – notably on Fletcher Memorial Home (solo) and Not Now John (solo).
David’s exhausting 1994 stage rig did also feature an Electric Mistress. It was built into a custom rack by David’s long-time technician, Phil Taylor. The unit also featured two Boss CE2 and a Demeter Tremulator. It is not known whether David actually used the Mistress during the tour or not – although Pulse and available bootlegs from the tour suggests that he never used it.
David’s new home recording studio, Medina, in Hove, UK, feature a large collection pedals, including an original Electric Mistress (probably a 1976-78 V2-V4 model).
A vintage Electric Mistress (the one seen in David’s studio?) is also featured in David’s 2015/16 Rattle That Lock stage rig. The pedal is linked up to a Lehle parallel L, which operates as a volume boost to compensate for the Mistress’ slight volume drop. The Mistress was used on Run Like Hell and, in combination with a Ram’s Head Big Muff, on Comfortably Numb live performances.
Check out the David Gilmour Album Gear Guide for complete setups on each album and tour.
Setting up your Electric Mistress tones
Flanging is not a subtle effect and some find it too overwhelming – especially for replicating David Gilmour’s tones. But, that’s pretty much the nature of the effect. Chorus, although sounding slightly different, is a more subtle effect.
When replicating David Gilmour’s tones it’s also important to understand the difference between when he used rotating speakers, the Mistress or both.
It may not be that easy to tell the difference but the intro lick on Mihalis is the Mistress alone, while the intro on Raise My Rent is the Yamaha RA-200 rotating speaker. Most of his lead tones on the Is There Anybody Out There live album is both the Mistress and Yamaha.
Like most modulation effects, the tone you get from the Electric Mistress depends on what pickups, amp and other effects you use with it. Brighter amps, like Fender, and low output pickups adds a high end sparkle and a more noticeable swirl.
On darker amps, like a Hiwatt, the Mistress produce a more mellow tone that also blends much better with Big Muffs and fuzz pedals. This combo is naturally the closest to David’s 1977-83 Mistress tones.
Combined with pedals and pickups that has a boosted mid range, like Tube Screamers, Rats and humbuckers, the Mistress appear darker and even a tad boomy, although this combo often works better on smaller amps and typical bedroom setups.
The Electric Mistress can produce anything from subtle tape-ish flanging to more extreme rotary tones. David Gilmour seemed to prefer something in between. I prefer the Deluxe over the original Mistress. Part because I find the original to be too noisy and thin sounding but I’m also partial to a slightly more jet kind of flanging.
Keep in mind that the original 18V Electric Mistress had differently positioned pots. That means that 50% effect is not always at noon as you’d expect but alternating between 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. See the Electric Mistress Mystery Page for the different pot ranges for each model.
See picture above for my favourite Electric Mistress settings and the featured YouTube shootout clip for Animals, Wall and rotary settings.