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Pigtronix Philosopher King Effects Pedal

Posted on Jul 14, 2011


OK, I'm not one to play favorites, but if I had to pick the Pigtronix pedal that gets me the most jazzed (glad you asked ... there are plenty to choose from), it would be the Philosopher King. To me it feels like Dave Koltai and crew looked at the Philosopher's Tone, their incredible compressor/sustainer/distortion pedal, and said what can we add to make this the most stellar pedal in our stable?

Well, how about an envelope synthesizer, with separate controls for attack (Swell) and decay (Fade)? Oh, and it's polyphonic so each string/note gets its own treatment.

Pigtronix Philosopher King Main Image

Now before I get into the fine details about the Philosopher King, the best demo of this unit is from Dave Koltai himself shot at Winter NAMM 2010 by Blake Wright of of What's That Dude Play, and this will give you some idea of what I'm talking about.

Pigtronix Philosopher King Envelope Compression/Distortion Controls

First of all, the Philosopher's Tone on which this pedal is based, is an incredible unit by itself. The main premise is that you want to maximize and clean up your sound via the compressor before you start to overdrive it, so why not pair the two together in the chain? This functionality is spelled out in the upper right of the pedal, where you have your standard threshold (sustain) knob and blend/ratio (compression) knob, along with the distortion level (grit) and a treble control to brighten things up if the compression is running a little dark (a common side effect of compression), and you're good to go.

But now it starts to get freaky.

The Philosopher King adds an envelope synthesizer to the pedal, which opens up a whole world of possibilities with how you pick, hold, and release notes. If you've ever read a basic synth article, you may remember (or not) that the volume of a played note has four parts.

ADSR 101:

  • Attack - how fast the onset of the note rises to full volume (Swell in Pigtronix terms)
  • Decay - how that initial attacks fades into a steady held volume (Fade in Pigtronix terms)
  • Sustain - the volume at which the held note continues to ring (Hold in Pigtronix terms)
  • Release - when you let go of the note or mute the string

Pigtronix Philosopher King Envelope Synth Controls

We can see the controls for the synth in upper left of the pedal. The Swell knob controls how fast the attack of the note will come to full volume. Guitarists use the effect of a slow attack to create volume swells all the time, usually by manually manipulating the guitar's volume knob as they pick, or by using a volume pedal. In the case of the Philosopher King, you can control this same behavior by pressing the Swell footswitch and using the Swell knob to change the speed of the swell.

Similarly, The Fade knob controls how fast the note will either decay to nothing, or to the volume level dictated by the Hold knob. So they work in tandem to control your sustain, and like the Swell functionality, you engage it by hitting the Fade footswitch. They even include an auto-reset toggle, which when on, will send the synth back top the start of the cycle as soon as you finish it, such that at fast decay rates, you get all sorts of tremolo and staccato effects.

Finally, there's one shot mode, which will send the generator through the full cycle regardless of anything you do after it's triggered. This means it'll blend with whatever you're playing after it's been set in motion.

Add in a trigger input which you can use to sync the swell and fade functionality to an external sound source (aka your drummer), expression pedal in/out jacks for swell and fade timing, and a CV (control voltage) in/out for complete external manipulation of the amplitude modulation, and you can see that there's a lot to play with here.

And for those of the RTFM variety, the User's Manual may provide a good read.

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