Guitarists with shoegazing tendencies (for the unaware, “shoegaze” is a musical genre featuring cascades of heavily reverberated distorted guitars) should take a look at the Catalinbread Soft Focus, a reverb + modulation pedal based on some algorithms of the Yamaha FX500, a digital rack effect of the late ’80s that was commonly used by the pioneers of that genre.
In particular, “Soft Focus” was a factory preset found in that device that was used a lot by seminal shoegaze band Slowdive in their sophomore LP ‘Souvlaki‘ – produced in collaboration with Brian Eno. That preset mixed chorus, delay and reverb, a trio of effects that is considered at the root of the shoegaze sound – together with distortion/fuzz.
The Catalinbread Soft Focus brings that preset back and expands it into a pedal, fixing the weaknesses of the original like the lack of mix control, a sub-par preamp, and terrible bypass tone, while recreating the original’s effect.
The circuit consists of a time-adjustable modified plate reverb that’s then split into three paths going into:
- a multi-voiced chorus modulator,
- an octave-up ,
- a clean path that leaves the reverb untouched.
The Mod knob controls the rate of the chorus on path one, and the Symphony knob controls the level of the octave on path two.
While the original Yamaha patch had a generic fixed-time digital delay in it, the Catalinbread folks decided to leave it out because of design-related issue, confident that any shoegaze guitarist would prefer to use a better delay in its place.
We added the Catalinbread Soft Focus to our article about the best reverb pedals for ambient and shoegaze.
Catalinbread Soft Focus, Builder’s Notes
The Soft Focus patch on the Yamaha FX500 was widely used in the ‘90s by early shoegaze bands, most notably Slowdive on Souvlaki. With its roots in that patch, the Catalinbread Soft Focus is intended to be an instant shoegaze button, while addressing the most glaring issues of the original unit: no mix control, a sub-par preamp, and a ghastly tone-sucking bypass signal.
At its heart, the Soft Focus is a heavily modified plate reverb with adjustable time, which is subsequently split into three paths. One path contains a multi-voiced chorus modulator, another features a well-appointed octave-up mixed in with the reverb, and the third path leaves the reverb untouched. The Mod knob controls the rate of the chorus on path one, and the Symphony knob controls the level of the octave on path two. All controls are “coupled” to the tone of the reverb to give users an expansive playing field of sounds to discover and fine tune.
Our Soft Focus is not an exact recreation but was exhaustively compared with our own FX500; the difference is that a fairly generic fixed-time digital delay is present on the Soft Focus patch. We found that leaving this feature intact ate into the circuit’s memory just a little too much for such little payoff, so we leave that addition to you and your favorite delay.