Chorus is kind of a weird effect. Sometimes it can be sweet, delicate and organic. Sometimes it can be bold, crisp and hi-fi. It’s difficult to find something new to do with the effect after all these years, especially something that honours the established chorus sound we’ve all grown to love, but Seymour Duncan has taken a particularly unique approach with a new dynamic feature. Now, in the interests of transparency I actually wrote the manual for this pedal and was able to play an early prototype in California in early 2015, but this review is totally unbiased: I have no reason to persuade you to buy the Catalina if it’s not what you’re after.
The Catalina Dynamic Chorus is made using Bucket Brigade Devices (BBDs) and it has stereo outputs for sending the output to two amps or signal chains. It has controls for Delay (ie: you can select between .5Ms to 50Ms distance between the dry and effected sounds), Mix (which lets you dial in anything from very subtle background chorus to a 3dB boost for the effected signal compared to the dry sound), Depth and Rate controls, plus a smaller Tone control which rolls off up to 10dB at 5kHZ (in other words, you can keep plenty of air in your tone with the control all the way open, or roll it right back for a darker, more subtle effect). There’s a True Bypass footswitch and a separate Expression switch which engages the Dynamic feature; there’s also a Threshold control which lights up blue or green depending on the setting of the Hard/Soft mini-toggle.
So what’s all this ‘dynamic’ business? Well when you stomp on the Expression switch you can set the Catalina so that the mix – and therefore the effect depth – gets louder gets broader or more subtle depending on how hard or soft you play. For instance, you can set it up so there’s plenty of shimmery chorus when you’re playing soft, but as soon as you pick above your preset threshold, the chorusing effect disappears. Or you can do it the other way around: plenty of deep chorus when you’re picking hard, fading back to progressively shallower depth when you pick softly.
My go-to song to try this out is Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” where those big bold stabs seem to sound best when there’s no chorus on them, but the softer, gentler chord melodies become super-sweet when there’s a wavery, tremolo-like chorus on top of them. Or I can crank up the Delay control and unleash my inner Andy Summers with wide chorus coming in when I’m picking hard, reigning back in as the notes fade out. It’s a very intuitive, interactive experience. I’ve always shied away from using chorus for lead guitar because I never liked the way it messed around with the clarity of a high, sustained note. But the Catalina completely eliminates that issue: just whack the string a little harder and the warble goes away.
The Threshold setting does take a bit of time to get right for the particular guitar you’re using it with; you’ll need to set it differently for high-output humbuckers verses single coils, for instance. One thing you won’t find from the Catalina is that really wild, wobbly, seasick chorus sound. It never gets that extreme, so if you’re after those particularly out-there tones then this probably isn’t the pedal for you.
Likewise if you’re into the processed 80s chorus sound or modern digital choruses with all sorts of pitch-shifty tricks, the Catalina may be a bit more organic than what you seek. It can be subtle enough to use as a ‘leave on all the time’ effect, especially with the Dynamic Expression mode engaged, but if you just want your chorus effect to stay at the same depth all the time you can use it without the Dynamic Expression feature and it’ll sound great!
Unless you’re looking for a really exaggerated chorus effect, the Catalina has a lot of power and flexibility for all sorts of uses. It can go from subtle to pretty bold, and it works with your playing in a way that feels completely natural and yet is unlike any other chorus I’ve used.