PREMIER GUITAR REVIEW:
Phase shifters are rarely regarded as subtle effects. But if you count yourself among the phase averse because of the heavy handed, all-or-nothing textures some of them generate, MXR’s ’75 Vintage Phase 45 could change your mind.
MXR’s phasers are rightly regarded as classics. But while the Phase 100 became legendary at the feet of players like David Gilmour, and the Phase 90 colored Eddie Van Halen’s early work, their more sedate cousin the Phase 45 was something of a wallflower at the dance. With this beautiful reissue of the 45, MXR may coax this sweet-sounding pedal into the limelight yet.
As Simple as It Gets
The burnt-orange Phase 45 with its MXR script logo is the very picture of stompbox elegance. It has a single knob—Speed—that adjusts the rate of phase. And true to the original, the 45 is strictly battery powered, so there’s no AC jack. In other words, this is as clean and uncluttered an effect case as you’ll ever see.
MXR paid just as much attention to authenticity under the hood. The circuit board, which is padded by thin foam on either side, is handwired. The pedal also uses the Switchcraft jacks and Carling bypass switch that were used on the original. Period correct details cost you in one respect—there’s no light to tell you if the pedal is on or off. Thankfully, the audible clues to the operational state of the Phase 45 are unmistakable.
Because of its simplicity and warm, toneful character, the Phase 45 is a pleasure to use from the second you plug it in. Setting the Speed to 9 o’clock colored simple arpeggios (played through a clean blackface Fender Tremolux) with a clear, sleepy psychedelic swirl that was rich with high-end harmonic detail.
Setting the Speed to midway gives you a deeper, slightly faster sonic swish that’s perfect for Stax-flavored, suspended chord-based ballads, as well as my own pass at the Rolling Stone’s slow burner from Tattoo You, “Heaven.”
Move the knob clockwise between 4 and 5 o’ clock, and the Phase 45 takes on an even stronger personality. Here the phase has more push and stronger pulses—taking on a character somewhere between a pulsing amplifier tremolo and a Uni-Vibe, but also inhabiting an ideal space between a phaser and a rotary speaker. It’s a beautiful and natural-sounding effect that can be worked in and out of a mix with crafty use of your guitar’s volume knob.
Interestingly, the Phase 45 is also very responsive to tweaks of a guitar’s tone knobs. And rolling off the bass and treble tone knobs on the Rickenbacker 330 used to test, the 45 was a quick way to reduce the amount and depth of the phase in the mix.
The Phase 45 is one of those pedals that can get you out of a rut. It’s warm, organic, and rarely harsh. And while you could wile hours away enjoying the lush and sometimes surreal textures it can lend to the simplest chords, the Phase 45 can also enliven funk grooves and add a tipsy swagger to Keith Richards-style leads.
The Phase 45 is certainly subtler and less capable of heavy interstellar warpage than a Small Stone or a cranked Phase 90. But if the stale riffs in your repertoire are crying for the kind of modulation that can flavor your playing without melting the minds of bandmates and your audience, you’ll dig what Phase 45 has to offer.