REVIEW: TC Electronic Flashback X4 Delay & Looper

TC Electronic’s TonePrint line of effects ignited a revolution in the way guitarists approach stopboxes. These compact but powerful little pedals give you all sorts of effect parameters which you can set by yourself, but they also reserve a separate memory slot for you to load presets designed by some of the greats, who have access to even more parameter control than the pedals themselves let you tweak. You can beam these presets to your pedal via an iPhone or with a USB cable, and sound like your favourite artist. The Flashback Delay is a very versatile little pedal with six seconds of delay time, multiple delay types and a handy toggle switch for varying between quarter, 16th or dotted 8th notes, but it’s a little too simplified for those with complex delay needs. Enter the new Flashback X4.

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Guitar Center: TC Electronic Flashback X4 Delay & Looper

The Flashback X4 takes the basic feature set of the regular Flashback and knocks it up a notch. It adds several new modes, four TonePrints instead of one, up to 40 seconds of looping, and several other high-performance features which we’ll get to in a minute. But the first thing you’ll notice upon removing the Flashback X4 from its box is that it’s big. In photos it looks pretty much like a long version of a regular TonePrint pedal, but it’s actually about 50% bigger. Some players may baulk at such a large pedal, but if you ask me it makes perfect sense: the looper feature in particular means that this is a pedal designed to be performed with, not performed through, so you’ll want it to be front and centre on your pedalboard, and you’ll need enough space between switches to hit everything you need to at the appropriate time.

The Flashback X4 has twelve delay types: Tape, Tube, Space (based on the old Roland Space Echo), Analog, Analog with Modulation, Reverse, Dynamic (otherwise known as ‘ducking delay, which fades the repeats down while you’re playing and mixes them up with you’re not), 2290 (based on the classic TC Electronic 2290 delay), 2290 with Modulation (more of a flanger-type modulation compared to the Analog/Mod mode), Slap, LoFi, Ping Pong, and four artist TonePrints designed by Steve Morse, Doug Aldrich, Bumblefoot and Korn’s James ‘Munky’ Shaffer. Of course you can load any TonePrint into any of those four slots. You can also store any three presets into the A, B and C footswitches, and they can be stored separately to the four TonePrint slots, so if you wanted to you could load up a total of seven TonePrints.

Controls are Delay Time (with the same tiny delay subdivision switch as the Flashback), Feedback, Delay Level and Looper Level. There’s a switch for selecting Delay or Looper mode, and the Delay is still active if you’re in Looper mode, which is a rare but much-requested feature. If you remove the back of the unit you’ll find two DIP switches: one for switching between buffered and true bypass (with buffered as default), and another to kill the guitar’s dry signal (which is essential if you’re using a parallel effect loop or wet-dry-wet three-speaker rig).

There are stereo inputs and outputs (which automatically sense when mono is required), an expression pedal input and MIDI in/through, as well as a USB connection. The footswitches double as Record, Play/Pause, Play Once and Undo/Redo switches for the looper. In Delay mode the footswitch on the far right is a Tap Tempo button. An expression pedal can control Delay Time, Feedback Level and/or Delay Level, and you can even define the range within which to exert control.

I plugged the Flashback X4 into the effects loop of my Marshall DSL50, which the pedal handled with ease thanks to its monstrous headroom. Cycling through the various modes revealed a few standouts: Space is great for Devin Townsend-style ambience; Reverse is killer for psychedelic mindstorms (turn the Feedback control all the way down for just the backwards sound); 2290 is a very pure, ‘honest’ repeat; and the Munky TonePrint, which stalks your guitar with a big greasy modulated echo. But all of the sounds are useful and musical.

The looper is intuitive and powerful, and it’s easy to layer sounds and create ambient soundscapes or rhythmic undercurrents. And because there’s so much looping time available you can record a part then play it back while you perform a harmony over the top. At no point did I feel that the loop was getting away from me, which has happened with some other pedals.

The greatest selling point of the Flashback X4 is its sheer usability. There are other units with more control over individual parameters or more powerful looping capabilities, but I can’t think of any that do it all so very easily and with such great headroom. And the flexibility of the TonePrint concept means you have presets from guys like Dave Stewart, Billy Morrison, Dann Huff, Lee Ranaldo, Reeves Gabrels, Richard Fortus, Steve Stevens, Greg Koch, Jona Weinhofen, Joe Perry, Michael ‘Padge’ Paget, Ryan Roxy and many more.