Gear reviews: Catalinbread Heliotrope

Everyone has their vice.  Some people buy crack cocaine, others spend all their money playing online poker.  My mother enjoys exploiting deals on coupons at grocery stores and hoarding cans of tuna fish and corn in her upstairs closet (true story).  I have a bad habit of impulsively acquiring gear for my guitar setup.

One of the toys I bought last year was Catalinbread Heliotrope – which they market as a “harmonic pixelator” or a bit crusher/ring modulator effect.  Garageband actually has a bit crusher effect that I’ve used a few times while recording and it made me want to find a pedal that would allow me to utilize the effect in a live setting.  I settled on the Heliotrope because it was relatively cheap ($160) and although it’s not a true bit crusher (which takes the original signal and lowers the sample rate, effectively making the sample intervals larger – which alters the original signal by making it sound like one constant, flat tone instead of a complex analog signal),  the demo videos sounded pretty rad.

In my first trials, I placed the pedal in my chain somewhere before the amp and not in the effects loop.  Maybe one of the first things I noticed was that I could constantly hear a high-pitched squeal coming from the pedal.  I emailed the company to see if I had purchased a defective unit and they informed me that this was the carrier frequency, and part of the design of the pedal.  Who wants a pedal that emits an ear splitting noise whenever it’s engaged?

I felt a little disappointed.

I went back to the drawing board though and I placed the Heliotrope in my effects loop, after the pre-amp but before the speaker (I’m using a Mesa Boogie Lone Star 1×12 combo).  Much to my surprise, this seemed to mask the carrier frequency, allowing me to fully enjoy the sound of my guitar and the pedal.

There are four knobs on the Heliotrope and they get a little tricky to maneuver.  I’ll describe them like this:

Volume – Easy enough.  You should be able to figure that one out.  I’ll say this – without the 18volt power adaptor, when the pedal is engaged, it’ll dramatically decrease your signal volume.  I have a standard 9V adaptor and it doesn’t really cut the mustard.

Gain – Again, this is pretty self explanatory – it kinda controls the amount of dirt you’re cranking into your signal.

Sample Rate – Okay, this is where you need to pay attention…  This knob actually controls your carrier frequency.  If it doesn’t sync up with the key you’re playing in, everything will sound completely dissonant.  It’s almost beneficial to play a note and then adjust the knob to get a clear idea of where you want to be (sounds confusing – but it’s almost like tuning a guitar by ear.)

Resolution – Catalinbread describes this knob as similar to focusing a camera lens – and I really like that analogy.  Once your Sample Rate is set, this knob allows you to deconstruct the signal as much as you want.  Using the Sample Rate and Resolution knobs in conjunction is essential to getting a great sound out of this pedal.

I recorded a little demo using the Catalinbread Heliotrope.  This pedal requires a lot of attentions in order to achieve the desired effect, but I really like it… It’s not going anywhere.  For the first 18 seconds, I’m just playing through my amplifier and then I engage the pedal and things get pretty 8-bit.  I’m a fan.


4 Responses to “Gear reviews: Catalinbread Heliotrope”

  1. Hi everyone!

    This is my first post on this site. I’m so excited to have found someone who shares my obsession for punk rock music and useless guitar accessories.

    Oh how rude of me. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jack Knoff. I am a senior citizen living in Shartsville, Pennsylvania. Please visit our town website if you have a chance. My wife and I own the only restaurant in town. It’s called Hag’s. Because I’m so old and wrinkly that my o-ring has become an outie, I don’t work much there any more, which has given me plenty of time to watch television. My favorite show is JAG. In fact, my friends call me JAG for short. Ha – so they call my wife and I Hag ‘n’ Jag.

    But I digress…I just wanted to write and say that this blog, Daily Riffage, has become my favorite site on the internet, and this post was worth a comment. I TOO LOVE THE CATALINBREAD – in fact, Hag is serving Catalinbread with all entrees this month at the only GS in Shartsville.

    All the best, pedophiles.
    Jag Knoff

    • So I was jamming out on my home gear (Pixelator 3X run through a DynoPitch XM580, with DoppleX-90 preamp and Turboquasher pickups), when I was thinking “man, how the fuck can I make my music sound more like a nintendo game?”

      So, I popped online, navigated away from my home page ( to my 5th favorite obscure punk rock music and guitar-hipster indulgence blog, and what do I see? A wonderful, amazingly lengthy description of a tool that will turn “Panama” into the intro from Contra.

      I haven’t been this happy since they built the St. John the Baptist School for Boys accross the street from my apartment (I’m always facinated by the flexibilty that boys display at that age!).

      Great post, Daily Riffage. Keep the minutia coming.

  2. Wow – I never expected a post so quickly. I’m really glad that an Earth-shattering site of such grave importance has such a robust discussion.

    Mike, are you too from Shartsville? Sure is cold and snowy here,eh? So you live across from the all boys Catholic school, eh? Hag and I are Catholix as well (check out my hip alternative spelling – I have it on good authority that the Big Guy digs my high speed lingo). Hag and I were going to move over there but we decided not to. Did you know that one block has the highest concentration of sex offenders in the whole damn state?! Those people scare me. Thank God no one like that would ever visit the Riffage. They just don’t share our penchant for MIDI style cell phone ringtones.

    Speaking of the cold, it sure is nice to have an old lady in this weather. Sure everything starts to droop a bit, but at least you never have to remember earmuffs – you can always wrap your lady’s labia around you for warmth. That’s a muff-to-muff ratio of 1:1.

    Enough wisdom for today, enjoy the Catalinbread with some garlic butter.

    Peace out, Peds.

    Jag Knoff

  3. Man…your friends suck.

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