Looking for a unique sounding, visually striking, crunchy stompbox to separate yourself from the pack? Check out the vintage Japanese Bixonic Expandora from the mid-nineties! They are really customizable distortion/overdrive/gated fuzz tone machines that have been beloved by everyone from Bush, Bootsy Collins, Megadeth, guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, St. Vincent and the Reverend Billy F. Gibbons from ZZ Top himself! The Rev famously put this unique distortion pedal on the map by famously chaining six of the Expandora’s together! Bixonic Expandoras house a wealth of switchable guitar tones in a small package, which can help save space on a pedal board. This small hockey puck shaped pedal is still a relative sleeper on the vintage market, so chasing after a used one won’t break the bank! There is one hidden feature to the Bixonic Expandora that takes some hours of play time to figure out. But like all good secrets, once you find it out it’s worth it! Time to embrace the all-out sonic assault Bixonic calls the “Forbidden” Mode!
A Quick ReCap:
For those of you who haven’t checked out my previous blog on the Bixonic Expandora, it’s a really kick ass made in Japan pedal that looks like a can cross between a hockey puck and a small can of tuna. The Expandora was one of the first analog overdrive units to have the ability to switch between multiple modes of overdrive and distortion in the same box. Internal dip switches inside the pedal allow players to chose between three different types of gain staging in distortion. The controls for each setting were smartly screen printed onto the back plate of the pedal, so whenever you unscrew the pedal you can actually remember different settings without having to look for a manual! This allows the player to get the most of the Expandora with guitar changes like going from single coils to humbuckers, switching from different types of amplifiers, or even exaggerating differences between numbers of, and types of, speakers. However, the manufacturer did have another setting not printed on the backplates. This setting was usually found by players by complete accident, but slowly and surely, a small dedicated following of guitarists began spreading word about the sonic chaos the “secret” setting they had found inside the Expandora. Bixonic even got in on the joke and began saying in gear magazines that the setting users had stumbled on was “forbidden” because of how insane the gain levels were.
What IS the Forbidden Fuzz Mode?
In Bixonic’s original manual for the Expandora, Bixonic states that the Forbidden Mode is not meant to “inflict unacceptably hysteric sound onto your audience like a 60s Fuzz pedal." Into order to try it out flip your internal dip switches both to UP. What utters forth from your amplifier’s speakers is complete sonic chaos- it’s a spitty, gated, raspy, and squealing affair, one that’s very hard to tame. But if that’s your thing, you can ride a wave of sonic distortion with squeals and smoke-filled rasp. This mode doesn’t clean up with your guitar’s volume knob. It completely takes over the tone your electric guitar, but I do find different amps yield different versions of sonic chaos. Bright Fender amplifiers can make a really harsh cutting tone. Marshalls with this forbidden mode sound bassier, and notes go on forever mixed with gated feedback. I really think that the Forbidden mode really gives you the different sounds of a broken radio being played through broken speakers depending on where the tear happens on the speaker. Sometimes you’ll hear harsher broken speaker sound, sometimes boomy bassier speaker tones, it just depends on what part of your speaker is broken at the time. If you play the blues through this setting it sounds like you have been playing the same broken-down amplifier in the Mississippi Delta as long as anyone can remember. It has a ton of old school vibe. I like to think that for this single tonal reason is why Billy F. Gibbons started using these in ZZ Top. I was able to get really useable 90’s ZZ Top Tones, as well as my personal favorite “I Gotsta Get Paid”.
The Forbidden Mode is not smooth, or wooly like an EHX Big Muff Pi, it’s a violent assault on your ears. The Expandora seems to be dying a very slow, and painful death while you give it a hardcore soundtrack on its last moments. It’s certainly a head turner in your sonic rig, most listeners might want to run away actually, but it could be a really good way to end a musical performance. Give your fans a large dose of chaos with feedback and squeals like Pete Townshend from the Who! Sound like Kurt Cobain destroying the stage at the end of a Nirvana show! Give your inner Neil Young Rust guitarist a chance! The possibilities are endless. As much as a novelty as the Forbidden mode can seem to be, I think it’s a fun extra mode that you can come up with some abstract musical ideas with. Embrace that it isn’t always controllable and I think you’ll find there aere some wonderful happy accidents to find in your own playing!