Steve Vai’s ears are a very demanding pair of fellows indeed. In addition to holding on a parade of stylish sunglasses over the years they’ve been at least partially responsible for some of the coolest distortion tones in recorded history. “Bad Horsie.” “Erotic Nightmares.” “Building The Church.” The dude knows tone. With the Ibanez Jemini, Dr Vai is seeking to redefine the humble distortion pedal for the needs of modern guitarists, who tend to achieve distortion a little differently to players of 25 years ago (when everyone used an ADA MP-1 into the effects return of a Marshall JCM900) or 35 years ago (Marshalls cranked up to 10). Modern guitarists often layer different kinds of distortion together, or they seek pure preamp-type gain. The Jemini has you covered either way.
So what we have here are two completely separate pedals, each with their own Drive, Tone and Level controls, their own stomp switches, their own ‘on’ lights under the control pots themselves (green and red respectively, obviously), a pair of switches which cause the foot switches to pop out, revealing the compartments within – one to hold a single 9v battery and another to hold a spare or whatever else you need to stow in there – picks or some spare change or what have you.. The input and output jacks are mounted either side of the unit, and the 9v adaptor jack is at the top. It might be more pedalboard-friendly to have all the jacks at the top, methinks. Unfortunately we don’t all have the legendary guitar tech Thomas Nordegg to on hand rig up our 1.5 metre pedalboard for us.
The word on the street is that the Jemini is voiced to sound similar to two of Steve’s favourite pedals, the Ibanez Tube Screamer and the Boss DS-1. In fact, if you’ve been following his rig throughout the years like me you’d notice that these two pedals left his ‘board altogether when the Jemini first made an appearance. Owning each of these pedals myself I can confidently say that while they both seem to have served as a starting point, the Jemini definitely offers its own take on these classic sounds. The Green channel is more ‘overdrive’ than ‘distortion,’ with nice soft edges and a smooth, sweet tone. The Red channel is voiced more aggressively in both tone and gain.
To get the most out of the Jemini it helps to know how Vai himself runs this bad boy. He uses the Red channel in combination with a clean amp sound for rhythm tones, and he kicks in an overdriven amp setting in combination with the Green channel for lead. The manual gives you Vai’s exact settings for each side (Green Channel – Drive: 11 o’clock, Tone: 12:30, Level 1 o’clock. Red Channel: Drive: 3:30, Tone: 11, Level: 1).
At lower gain settings the Red side can pump out great medium-gain AC/DC-type tones, believe it or not, which ring clearly with a pleasant ‘thud’ in the low end. Keep the Tone control at around 1 or 2pm and you’ll be very impressed. Crank both up further though and you’ll hear an aggressive, top-endy modern metal tone with lots of high end sizzle (if you set the Tone that far) and a compressed attack. It also has unbelievable bottom end. If you start here and reign the Gain and Tone back just a little bit, you’ll find a tone that’s great for Vai’s ‘Alien Love Secrets’ era.
Here’s some riffage through the Red channel:
Stomping on the Green side (through an overdriven amp setting as per Vai’s preference) brings out a huge, warm, squishy, rich, harmonic-dripping lead sound. It mushes up a little bit if you play more than one note at a time or if you play fast on the low strings, and this is a very Vai characteristic that you can hear all over songs from ‘Passion And Warfare,’ so it’s quite apt that it’s available from his signature pedal. The Green mode is also great running through a clean amp, where you can get some beautiful, ringing vintage tones – but it excels at creating fat lead sounds that cut through exceptionally well.
Here’s the Green channel for ya:
(By the way, It sure sounds to my ears like the Green channel blends in a little of the original, undistorted note as well, which is a trick used by some other Tube Screamer-inspired pedals by other brands, such as the Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive. When used with an already-distorted amp, this allows you to retain a lot more note articulation while also boosting the fuzz factor).
Aside from the unfortunate design decision to prevent you from using both pedals at once, the Jemini is a keeper. You don’t need to be a Vai fan to dig the sounds (although maybe you do need to be a Vai geek like me to appreciate the swirl finish inspired by his UV77MC 7-strings painted by Darren Johansen of About Time Deigns) – you just need to be a tireless tone seeker.
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