I’ve owned a few modulation pedals over the years, and most guitarists can say the same. I had the fortune of owning an old MIJ Boss CE-2 that I bought for $30 back in the 90s and was subsequently stolen by one of my cousins, owned a couple of old Ross Phase R1 pedals, a Ross Phaser/Distortion pedal (which I think JD still owns), some EHX Small Stones, a Line 6 MM-4 Modulation Modeler, and more that you can find on the Pedals of the Past page.
Even when I had the MM-4, the only effect I really used was tremolo. When I owned a Fender DRRI, I made regular use of tremolo as an accent and used it on the 2011 version of “Goodbye”. I also favored phaser and love how Live used it on “Lightning Crashes”. In fact, when people ask for examples of modulation, I point to that song as my go to phaser sound. As much as I favored the sound, I never held onto phasers for very long.
When I sold off my TC Electronic Nova System and started rebuilding a pedal board, my attention turned towards a tremolo and phaser pedal in addition to a delay and reverb pedal. I called up and spoke with my Sweetwater rep and started talking about my plan. I wanted an MXR Phase 95, which combines four different MXR phasers into one mini pedal, a Digitech Obscura and Polara, and a good tremolo pedal.
That’s when he suggested the Eventide H9 Max and reasoned that I was about to finance at least $400 if not $500, so it made sense to pay $200 more to get the Max and have access to a flangers, rotary effects, octaves, choruses, and pretty much every other kind of effect. I remembered Eventide once being the flavor of the month when it came to “high end” pedals with their TimeFactor, ModFactor, and PitchFactor pedals. The H9 had all of those algorithms on it along with their Space pedal and settings specific to the H9. For a few hundred more, I could get an H9 Core, tie it to the same account, and the H9 Max would unlock every algorithm on the Core. I’d have two monster pedals that could cover pretty much everything I could imagine.
I pulled the trigger. For a while, my main board had two H9 pedals on it. You can plug it up to a computer via USB cable and manipulate all of the settings or do so via bluetooth using an iPad. I had ultimate control, could program effects to match specific BPMs, and would never need another delay, reverb, or modulation pedal. You can even find presets to download onto them to mimic classic pedals.
Spoilers: I only own the Max now
As I played around with the effects, I realized that a) there were a lot of settings that I’d simply never use, b) I do not have the patience to tweak the effects and strongly prefer pedals with a few knobs that are clear regarding what they do, and c) the pitch shifting effects left a bit to be desired. If you look at the picture of the recording board, I own an EHX Micro POG because the tracking on the H9 leaves something to be desired. What’s tracking? It’s how well system creates the shifted notes. The POG can handle multiple notes played at a time while the H9 cannot.
The H9 Max has some really cool delay and reverb presets and while I’ve been able to tweak those, I’ve found that I always turned to my TC Electronic Nova Delay because of how easy it is to tweak and understand what the controls do. I mostly use the H9 for modulation and have come close to using it numerous times only to fall, but fall back into my comfort zone of not using it. I did use a recreation of the Boss PH-1 pedal for one of the first 2018 versions of “Spin” I recorded and will continue to do so. I also want to record a second solo on “So Far” with a rotary effect like I did for the 2011 version and stack them.
You might be curious if the H9 is worth it. Pete Thorn, a well-known gigging guitarist, used to use two of them and I believe still has one on his board. The H9 is a versatile pedal that puts numerous pedals that you’d probably never use at once into a neat and tidy package right at your feet. It’s incredibly easy to fine tune the controls and tweak to your hearts content, but you have to know what you’re doing. You’d easy spend more then $700 buying the different modulation, delay, and reverb effects in order to get the same level of versatility you get in the H9. Even pedals like the TC Electronic Hall of Fame and Flashback that have numerous settings don’t get the depth that the H9 does. That alone makes me a proponent, especially if you can find one used. Heck, when I bought my Strat from Guitar Center in late October of 2018, they had a used one for $350 and it looked to be in good shape.
A 3rd party company puts out a product called an EvenMIDI that connects via MIDI and allows you to tweak the controls using regular ol’ knobs instead of the digital PC or tablet interface.
As I wrap up work on Skylines and the Horizon and move onto new songs and a new project, I’m going to try to feature more modulation, especially since so many parts haven’t been written. Unless it goes kaput, you can expect to hear the H9 on more tracks in the future.