JONESIN' FOR A LESLIE, REVISITED
NEO VENTILATOR PUTS LESLIE IN A STOMPBOX!
Shirley, you can't be serious...
08/16/10- By the end of my Jonesin' For a Leslie article, I thought I was done with the whole Leslie jonesin' thing, but I was wrong! Well... I'm done with the jonesin' for the Leslie sound since that was satisfied by Motion Sound's magical whirling horn. However, one of my goals has been to find a stompbox that satisfied that craving, or at least came close enough for me. When I wrote my article, such a magical stompbox was nowhere to be found.
Fast forward a couple years and the forums are all a-buzz with praise for a new contender, the Neo Ventilator. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Been there, done that...
...but then I heard a couple of YouTube guitar demos. Yowza! Has someone finally siliconized that grinding Leslie sound? This seemed very promising, so despite having the real whirling horn version, I had to get a Ventilator to satisfy my curiosity and because I still wanted a convincing Leslie simulator in a stompbox.
There were some obstacles though: First, this is an expensive sumbitch- $500. For a stompbox? Ouch! To folks who don't play this game, it probably seems nuts. Fact is, some guitarists collect guitar stuff just like Imelda Marcos collected shoes. We pay absurd amounts for stuff just because of the buzz, or for status, or because it delivers a grail-quest tone that most folks can't hear and don't give a flip about. Fact is, it's a personal matter and the price filter is more porous for personal grail-quest stuff. Is the Neo Ventilator a necessity? No. Would I go into debt to buy one? No. Would I sacrifice beer drinking for it? Hell no! But to put it into perspective, it's way more exciting than paying for 3 days at a nursing home.
The other obstacle was availability, i.e., no instant gratification. Bummer. When I decided to bite the bullet, there were a only a few USA distributors and they were all awaiting shipments from Germany. I ordered mine from Ashby Solutions, who had lots of great info at their website (including the expected delivery dates), and kept me informed of my order's shipping status. While I was waiting, I traded my H&K Rotosphere & Danelectro Rocky Road (for a Gibson "The Paul"-- not that I needed another guitar, but someone wanted a Rotosphere): I clearly had high expectations for the Neo Ventilator.
Assessment and Observations: I'm pleased to say that this "Leslie in a Stompbox" really delivers, and that I consider this grail quest completed. In fact, I doubt I'll be powering up the Motion Sound Pro 3X very often. Yes, it's that good. It's also much smaller than the relatively compact Pro 3X, but mainly I won't need to worry about oiling, worn belts, or blowing out the horn. The only downside (and a very minor one) is that the pedal requires 12 volts DC, and therefore needs its own power supply (included). It's a little more clutter than a 9-volt daisy-chainable pedal, but I'm not complaining.
The Grind For me, it was all about the timbre of the Leslie's distinctive grindy sound (the "Badge" sound) that none of the reviewed rotary speaker simulators captured adequately, or at all. The Ventilator's delivery is dead-on. It has a drive control, but it's not really needed since feeding it a relatively low-level overdriven/distorted signal from a stompbox delivers plenty of grind.
The Signal Chain Since this is a stomp box, you can put it anywhere in your signal chain; however, it's best at the end of the chain like a real Leslie speaker. In that respect, it's really a modeling device, and that has some implications for folks who love tube amps for the overdriven sound, or use their amps to provide distortion (like some modeling amps). Basically, the pedal sounds best plugged into a clean channel of a clean amp, or in the amp's effects loop. It sounds pretty bad plugged into a distortion channel.
Driving the pedal with heavy distortion creates a really heavy spatial grinding tone (380k, mp3) that overpowers the notes and sounds something like a Jet Flanger; an interesting sound that might be useful in some situations. Under the same conditions, a real Leslie speaker might not sound quite so radical. It's like putting a wah pedal at the end of the signal chain, where everything gets wah-ed: It may be a fun place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there!
True Bypass There's some kind of fancy circuitry that lets you run your signal through the box without it connected to power-- that's definitely true bypass. This doesn't use a standard mechanical footswitch, since toggling the switch without power doesn't cut the signal. When it powers up, it switches the effect in circult, probably through some kind of relay.
Stereo Image The stereo output is very cool, and best appreciated with headphones (channels panned full left and right in a mixer). Despite coming across mentions that the stereo outputs in bypass mode might be a problem (one-sided mono?), I didn't notice any problems in actual usage so I didn't study the included instructions that explained how to mod the pedal for stereo use. Maybe they revised the circuit?
Wrapup: I'm totally blown away by this gadget, love the sound, and can't understand why it took so long and why it took a small German producer, Neo Instruments, to finally do it right. Kudos to them.
This is just conjecture, but the Neo Ventilator appears to be having an effect on market forces: The dumping of Hughes & Kettner Rotospheres, as seen on eBay. I only noticed because I was thinking of selling mine, and it looked like other people got the same idea at the same time. It's interesting because rarely does a discontinued and formerly pricey (and highly praised) guitar toy like the H&K Rotosphere suddenly appear in so many listings as used gear, and with such steep price cuts-- as much as half price for units in good shape. Gear whores are so fickle...
(Addendum, 10/21/10: Just got a Line 6 Pod HD 500, and the Neo Ventilator is a perfect candidate for the HD500's FX loop since Line 6 has never put a decent Leslie FX in their Pods.)