Electro-Harmonix String9 String Ensemble: What is it?
The String9 String Ensemble is a guitar synth pedal that, as part of Electro-Harmonix’s 9 Series, assumes a form that should by now be familiar. As the name suggests, it packs nine different modes onto one pedal, each selected via rotary dial, and presents a reasonably compact and affordable way of turning your electric guitar sound into something else entirely – principally, strings and orchestration – without the need for any modding.
All this makes is a dramatic change of pace for those of us with more vanilla pedalboard tastes, but others might find that it will scratch that itch to pick up that vintage keytar you’ve been keeping a look out for on Reverb.com.
The sounds comprise a Symphonic mode, which has an octave-down effect to the guitar as it extends the whole range of what you are playing into a quasi-symphonic orchestra – one for the Beethoven heads. You get no prizes for guessing what the June-O setting emulates, knowing that it’s available at the turn of a dial is its own reward.
Elsewhere, you can play around with sounds based on a small-string section sampled by PCM electronic keyboard, an Orchestron playback sample with warble, ARP Solina and Crumar Performer-style modes, and a trio of freeze modes – Orchestra, Synth and Vox, the latter taking the Mellotron choir and strings sounds from Electro-Harmonix’s Mel9 Tape Relay Machine.
There are two control knobs for adjusting parameters on each of the nine core sounds, and Dry and Effect volume dials so you can set the mix of your guitar’s effected and dry signals. This is fed through the Effect output, while the Dry output sends your guitar’s signal through at unity gain. It’s very practical.
Electro-Harmonix String9 String Ensemble: Performance and verdict
Those routing options and the control afforded over your wet/dry mix is a very practical consideration and one that makes the String9 a less intimidating proposition when you’re figuring out what you want it to do and where it can sit in the mix. Where the String9 will max out your grey matter’s RAM is in deciding how you want it to sound, and what music you will invariably want to create with those sounds.
You could, of course, go 100 per cent strings. To hell with your guitar; as with its siblings in the 9 Series, the tracking is impressive and allows for maximalist settings. Alternatively, much joy can be found in the mix of wet and dry.
The sound options might boggle the mind at first but there’s a little overlap, with the sustaining sweep of strings as the recurring theme. Those control dials can dramatically alter the sound in each setting. Control 1 is often deployed as a tone control, which as utilitarian as that sounds really does come in handy for brightening or darkening to taste. Sometimes those strings need some of that sheen taken off ‘em.
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The Juno setting could see us getting carried away a little in two directions, both evoking the ‘80s. One of those could see us draining the hairspray to go full new wave, or else channelling Charles Bernstein’s work on A Nightmare On Elm Street to bulk out the portfolio with a handful of horror movie score scratch tracks. It’s a lot of fun, especially with the Control 2 dial acting as an octave switch.
With all this synthesized processing capability at your feet, it is only right that you should be able to create self-sustaining synth pads, and that’s where the freeze function comes in.
You can set it up in Auto Freeze mode relatively easily, and if it is triggered too easily rolling back the volume control on your guitar should help. Clicking on the bypass switch turns disengages it, but another quick way of muting the freeze mode is muting with your fretting hand and tapping the strings with your picking hand. Manual Freeze takes a little more getting used to but presents options such as cranking up the dry volume to play over the pads.
Other things to consider include the String9’s preference for being first in the signal chain – thereby uncomplicating the wet/dry mix – and using a pickup with decent output.
EHX suggests running a boost in front of it if your pickups are low-output single-coils, but we never had that problem. EXH also says fingerstyle techniques yield more realistic results but that is a matter of taste, however, some of these sounds are so realistic you might want to wear a tux to nail that first violinist vibe.
MusicRadar verdict: The String9 sounds so good you might consider whether you need the keyboard player after all. It offers cool string sounds, presents them practically, and while it won't be an everyday pedal for many players, it is an inspiring tool for seeking out new sounds.
Electro-Harmonix String9 String Ensemble: The web says
“As with the other ‘9 Series’ pedals in the range, there are no problems with tracking here – there’s no need to have to have dry guitar sound mixed in to disguise any shortcomings, so you can have pure string sounds if you want. However, blending strings with guitar offers a lovely range of textures combining a sharp attack with lingering sustained body.”
Electro-Harmonix String9 String Ensemble: Hands-on demos
Electro-Harmonix String9 String Ensemble: Specifications
- ORIGIN: USA
- FEATURES: Buffered Bypass,9x patches (Symphonic, June-O, PCM, Floppy, AARP, Crewman, Orch Freeze, Synth Freeze, Vox Freeze)
- CONTROLS: Dry volume, Effect volume, Ctrl 1, Ctrl 2, Patch selector knob, internal bypass mute dipswitch (for the Effect jack), Bypass footswitch
- CONNECTIONS: Standard input, standard Dry output, standard Effect output
- POWER: Included 9V DC adaptor 100mA current draw
- DIMENSIONS: 97 (w) x 119 (d) x 52mm (h)
- CONTACT: Electro-Harmonix