Red Witch pedals hail from the North Island of New Zealand. The company specializes in high quality analog pedals which look as good as they sound, with a very boutique vibe.
I reviewed the Empress chorus/vibrato pedal. The pedal is housed in a diecast aluminum box which has been heavily plated with shiny chrome, and screen printed with slightly art nouveau inspired images. The typeface used to describe the controls looks very gothic and iconic, and Red Witch gets big points in my book for creating a strong brand identity, unlike a lot of smaller pedal makers who seem to just stick a Dymo label on a sardine can and call it finished.
Controls on the Empress include a small switch for selecting vibrato or chorus mode, and another switch for brightness; and knobs for velocity, mix, depth and voice. There’s also an internal slide switch to choose between two different input stages. The unit is preset to the Medusa input stage setting, and the other position provides a little more boost and slightly different tonal response.
Switching is true bypass, and the pedal runs on either a 9 volt battery or an external power supply.
Plugging this beast in, the first thing to catch my attention was a LED which flashed in time with the velocity setting. Nice touch!
It seems relatively easy for pedal designers to design a chorus pedal which has that slick 80s hi fi sound – you know the one, it’s all over the clean tones on any Def Leppard or Michael Bolton album. But what makes the Empress great is that it nails that classic vintage warbly chorus sound that sounds like it’s a true part of the sound, rather than something that’s being done to the sound.
My favourite setting was running the pedal into the lead channel of my Marshall DSL50 head, with the voice and depth controls on 10 and the velocity and mix controls on 4. With this setting going into a distorted amp tone, the Empress added rich harmonic overtones similar to Eric Clapton’s “Woman Tone” or the sound of a wah pedal half cocked, which seemed to swell up around the note then drop back again.
Backing off the gain and switching to vibrato mode, some great vintage textures were on tap, and cranking everything to 10 in either chorus or vibrato mode created some gloriously over the top wobbly bubble sounds.
This pedal is one of those rare units that is able to inspire you to seek out new sounds and new songs to fully take advantage of all it has to offer. It’s one of the best chorus pedals I’ve seen in a long time.
Here’s a great video demo of the Empress by ProGuitarShop. (By the way, I’ve bought quite a few pedals from ProGuitarShop – great service, and their demo videos are the best I’ve seen).