The Octavia is a classic yet mysterious effect, and one that’s particularly hard to describe with the written word. It produces an overtone an octave above whatever you play, but it doesn’t sound like a harmonizer or a 12-string guitar. Instead, imagine fuzz combined with the sound that you hear when you run your finger around the rim of a crystal wine glass, except the pitch of the glass follows that of the guitar. It can be hauntingly beautiful when combined with a clean tone or it can add a harmonic, fixed-wah-like quality to distorted ones.
The Voodoo TC Octavia is Roger Mayer’s latest iteration of his historic invention. The intention is very much the same as when Jimi Hendrix used Mayer’s Octavia on “Purple Haze” and “Fire,” but the Voodoo TC range offers many advantages. For starters, there’s the small pedalboard footprint and attractive visual design, which is inspired by American cars of the 1950s. Secondly there’s a large diameter Drive control operated by a 40mm knob which you can adjust with your foot while playing, or simply use to very finely dial in the Drive level. There are also two soft touch small diameter knobs (Tone and Output) which are very stable: once you’ve got them dialled in exactly how you want them it’s virtually impossible to accidentally move them.
The pedal is hard wire true bypass, with the output effect signal coming from a low impedance buffer driver. Extra internal filtering keeps the noise level extremely low when you use a DC adaptor, or battery access is achieved by removing the back cover.
I tested the Voodoo TC Octavia with my Fender American Vintage ’62 Reissue Stratocaster through my Marshall DSL50 JCM2000 amp.
The most crucial thing you need to be aware of when playing through an Octavia is that it’s an extremely interactive effect. You can’t just step on the switch and hear the octave effect with every strum or pick. You need to play a certain way and under certain conditions. For starters, it responds better with deep, round tones, so flipping to the neck pickup definitely achieves the best results. Secondly, you have to pick a certain way to really get the overtone happening. But once you’ve spent some time with figuring out how to actually make the Octavia sound like an Octavia, it becomes addictive.
Start with a clean amp channel and a low Drive setting and you’ll get an almost ghostly, slightly shimmery effect which becomes most pronounced between the seventh and fifteenth frets, at least with my Strat. Combine it with some spring reverb and the effect becomes particularly haunting.
Turn up the Drive control and the sound gets brighter and barkier. Flip to the bridge pickup and the Octavia pretty much sounds like a regular fuzz pedal, albeit a particularly cutting, punchy one – especially when you turn the amp up nice and loud. The fuzz really feels like an intrinsic part of the sound rather than an effect laid over it. Switch to the middle or neck pickup and the overtone effect returns with more sustain and richness. Get close enough to the amp to summon feedback and you’ll get an impressive series of overtones.
Run the Octavia into an overdriven amp channel and the effect is less obvious, but it still adds some beautiful overtones to lead lines. You can enhance this further by finding the sweet spot on the Tone control – it’s almost like when you balance a wah wah pedal in a specific spot. Crank the amp gain up too far though and the effect becomes overwhelmed rather than enhanced.
Perhaps my favourite Octavia sound is achieved by hammering notes – say, fretting the B string at the 12th fret then immediately hammering on to the 15th. This seems to exaggerate the impact of the overtones, although I’m not sure if this is for an electronic reason or because of how the ear perceives and compares the two notes. Whatever the science, it’s a cool effect.
Another word about that large Drive control: yes, you can most definitely turn it with the side of your foot, further enhancing the interactivity that the effect excels at. But you can also use it to really finely zero in on specific Drive levels, and this lets you optimise the Octavia’s performance with specific guitars or pickups.
The Voodoo TC Octavia is not a pedal for players who like to let their effects do all the work for them. And it’s certainly not a pedal for players who like to smooth out the rough edges in their playing by using gobs of gain. It definitely makes you work to earn its sonic charms, but it’s very rewarding when you do.