Canadian Musician - March/April 2023 - Page 24


Empress ParaEQ MKII Deluxe

By Jean-Philipe Comeau

When you think about guitar pedals , you usually have the “ cool ” stuff in mind , like the myriad of overdrives , modulations , delays , reverbs , etc . Utility pedals aren ’ t commonly found on such a list , but few tone shaping devices can come close to the usefulness of an EQ pedal . Case in point : look at any accomplished studio guitarist ’ s pedalboard , and chances are that most of them include some kind of equalization tool like the one I have here .

The Empress Effects ParaEQ MKII Deluxe is a powerful piece of equipment that can look daunting at first glance , but is pretty intuitive to use , either live or in the studio , with any instrument you can plug into it . The circuit is housed in a single pedal enclosure that ’ s slightly bigger than average but manages to keep things compact thanks to its top-mounted jacks ( you can choose between true or buffered bypass ). It offers three fully parametric bands ( low , mid , high ) with +/ - 15 dB of boost on each one and a wide-ranging Q control , high-pass and lowpass filters as well as low-shelf and high-shelf . The pedal also includes a boost with its own footswitch that can deliver up to 30 dB of extra juice . You can set it to be usable only while the EQ section is toggled on or to be independent , just like having two pedals in one ( I prefer the latter for the versatility it procures ). Overall , the pedal seems very well built with sturdy knobs , smooth switches , and solid jacks . The only thing I would like to add is the option to save presets to further enhance its functionality .
I tested the ParaEQ MKII Deluxe in the studio with a bass , electric and acoustic guitars , and a pedal steel with very satisfying results . Using a Mexican-made vintage style Fender Jazz Bass plugged directly into a hardware compressor and the console , I was getting a good but generic sound . Adding the ParaEQ to the equation , I went from “ OK ” to “ now we ’ re talking !” by boosting a little bit of lows and highs and taking out some low mids . It gave me a round tone with plenty of definition that sat in the mix just right . I then grabbed my thinline Telecaster with Filter ’ Tron pickups that tends to sound a bit thin
and harsh at times . Boosting the lows and mids and bringing that low-pass filter down a bit gave the guitar some bark and made its top end sound much sweeter . I was then able to beef up the pedal steel ’ s tone by bringing the high-pass filter up to take out some mud , adding low end at a slightly higher , more desirable frequency , cutting the low-mids to mitigate the nasal tone of the pickup and boosting the highs to compensate for what my volume pedal was filtering out . It sounded divine ! Afterwards , I needed a banjo tone but didn ’ t have mine with me , so I got a little bit creative with a napkin to mute my acoustic guitar strings and aggressive EQ settings , and the result was a faux-banjo tone that did exactly what I wanted it to do ! Finally , I used the internal boost with the pedal steel and the acoustic guitar ( both with low-output pickups ). It gave me more than ample volume , but also added a smidgen of high-end chime , telling me that the boost circuit is clean , but not entirely transparent . It ’ s not a bad trait at all , just something to keep in mind if it ’ s part of this pedal ’ s appeal to you .
I didn ’ t use the review unit in a live setting to avoid damaging it , but based on my experience of what it can do , here are a few circumstances where I think it would shine as a tool for gigging musicians . The first application that comes to mind is to use it to adjust the tone and volume when switching between two very different instruments going through the same signal path ( a Stratocaster and a Les Paul , or active and passive pickups , for example ). It could also be used as a dual booster , using the EQ side to maybe emphasize the mids or highs , and the boost side for a clean volume push . This would effectively give you two flavours of “ more ”, either before or after your gain pedals for a wide array of available tones . Lastly , it could simply be used as a tone-shaping tool to get the best out of your instrument or amp , or to get a little funky and coax some weird tones out of it !
All in all , the ParaEQ MKII Deluxe is expertly designed , solidly built , sounds great and is extremely versatile . There ’ s definitely a learning curve to be able to use a parametric equalizer properly and to its full potential , but the end result will be well worth your efforts and this one is quite easy to use once you know your way around it . Just open your ears , twist the knobs , and you ’ ll be gratified with tones you didn ’ t even know existed within your instrument !
Jean-Philippe Comeau is a Montreal-based guitar player / multi-instrumentalist and teacher with a bachelor ’ s degree in music performance who ’ s been active for more than 15 years on the local scene playing in various bands . He co-produced singer-songwriter and long-time collaborator Karolane Millette ’ s debut album “ La Tête Haute ” on which he also played all the guitars , and he recently started working at Oakfloor Records as a session player and producer . He can be reached at guitarsolos04 @ hotmail . com .