Price paid: $ 225
Ease of Use — 7
For guitarists, arpeggiators lie on the deeper side of the effects pool, and I figured that even one laid out as intuitively as the Arpanoid would require a bit of study before wielding it capably. I tried diving straight into the Arpanoid blindly, but ultimately had to spend a few minutes alternating my focus between the instruction sheet and the Arpanoid's controls. According to the one-page sheet, the Arpanoid is "the first dedicated compact polyphonic pitch arpeggiator effect pedal for electric guitar." Actually, it doesn't generate arpeggios - those would be only the tones of a designated chord. According to the manual, "it takes whatever single notes or complex chords you play in any key, and transforms it into an adjustable ascending or descending scale." The biggest knob, Mode, occupies center court on the Arpanoid. It's an eight-position sequence selector. The first four modes are major sequences, and the second four are their minor counterparts. Sequence options are: octave below to root; root to octave above; octave below through octave above; and random pattern. The three-position mini-switch above the Mode knob controls the direction of the sequence which can continually repeat going up, repeat going down, or alternate up and down. Up-and-down patterns automatically go twice as fast. The Step knob controls how many notes the sequence contains, which is crucial to the overall feel and timing. A slight turn of the Step knob can have a great impact on the cadence. Clever manipulation of the Step and Rate knobs can lead to inspiring note sequences. Left to chance, results can feel random.
Sound — 7
The Arpanoid is wild! Like a musical sonar device, the Arpanoid can create strands of pulsing notes that sound as if they're sinking to the depths and rising to the surface. To understand the essence of the Arpanoid's own sound I employed a very basic setting. I found essentially four elements evident in the wet signal - a digitally generated, digital-sounding note; a slight, slapback-style echo; a pulsating wave; and a bit of gain/noise. Those elements combine to form computer-inspired, electronic, futuristic tones, and it can feel like they have a life of their own once they start running up and down scale tones away from the notes and chords you play. EarthQuaker wisely made the dry signal path completely analog and designated its own level control to easily dial in the desired ratio of wet effect to pure guitar tone.
Reliability & Durability — 8
I worked with the Arpanoid for a few weeks, and it functioned flawlessly. The only hiccup was that the Wet knob took some breaking in to loosen up, and it still feels bumpy when turning compared the smooth flow of the similar Rate, Wet, and Dry knobs. The four are ridged plastic knobs akin to those found on a Mackie mixing board. The Arpanoid pedal with its sole metal footswitch had an average sized footprint and was just a bit on the tall side. Its metal housing seemed robust, and the pedal felt heavy for its size. EarthQuaker devices are hand-built in Ohio, my home state. Using a Phillips head screwdriver to take off the back cover, I found a handwritten serial number and a date (the pedal's completion date?). A look inside the box revealed an orderly, securely housed circuit board with a handwritten date from several weeks earlier as well as a set of initials (the assembler?). The pedal operates on a standard regulated 9V DC power supply, but one is not included, nor is there a connection for a 9V battery. I used one of the 9V slots on a Visual Sound 1 Spot multi-adapter to provide power. The Arpanoid's sole white indicator light burnt nice and bright.
Overall Impression — 8
The Arpanoid is not for the fainthearted or traditionalist. It's for sonic adventurers who love the "electric" part of playing electric guitar. The Arpanoid is a tweaker's dream. It's easy to get caught up in "playing" the Arpanoid while essentially relegating the guitar to a trigger role. The Arpanoid's controls interact with each other in myriad ways, and the sounds made me play in creative ways. Ironically, instead of playing complicated passages to work with this rather complex pedal, I wound up playing more simply, leaving space for the Arpanoid to fill in the blanks. I enjoyed using the Arpanoid to spin sonic clusters that I'd tack on to phrase endings. Or I'd record an otherworldly sequence to a TC Electronic Ditto Looper, and then kick the loop on to add texture to a section of a song such as an intro or breakdown. It was fun to create unique phrases with the Arpanoid to loop and then play over. The Arpanoid also made a funky octave-down sound that sounded especially cool with power chords. Don't be fooled by its rather sterile appearance - the Arapanoid is a freakazoid at heart.