• Alex

The Prescription Electronics Experience: My Secret Weapon in the Studio!



With the recently announced Prescription Electronics re-launch now officially in the works, I wanted to spend some time talking about the infamous boutique pedal company and their glorious creation of the Experience pedal. I first became aware of Prescription Electronics in seeing lots of Texas blues-rock guitarists sporting them on their pedalboards at live gigs or recording session dates, including players like Charlie Sexton, Doyle Bramhall ii, Lance Lopez, Wes Jeans, Storm Warning amongst others. What I heard floored me. It seemed the tonal quality of every Rx Electronics effect unit had the same robust and consistent quality that immediately grabbed the listeners' attention. It's a specific type of guitar tone that always commanded an undeniable sense of effortless authority onstage.


One thing I gradually noticed was how often the Experience pedal featured on many guitarists' pedalboards. When compared to other 1960s inspired Rx Electronics offerings, the Experience edges out with the competition. The Experience pedal has lots of versatility between various guitars and has a dense fuzz with just the right amount of low end and cut. As if that isn't enough for you, founder Jack Brossart also built in a stackable, tasteful Octavia-style octave effect and trippy reverse swells.


In this blog, I'm going to go over how I first came to find my current Prescription Electronics Experience pedal, what the Experience can do you for your guitar tone, and how a skateboard-taped Experience became my recording session "secret sauce."


Some Brief Prescription Electronics History:


For anyone not familiar with the Rx brand, Prescription Electronics, founded in mid-nineties Portland, Oregon by Jack Brossart, was one of the original "Boutique" effect companies that sought to make consistent, high-quality pedals for the discerning musician! Jack's company quickly grew a reputation for being one of the few custom pedal makers who could capture the lighting in a bottle feeling of playing like Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page in a box. Prescription started from the beginning focusing on aggressively tuned versions of classic effects, with several germanium fuzz designs, overdrives, and arguably one of the most influential Uni-Vibe clones on the planet-the Bob Sweet hand-tuned Vibe-Unit.


Jack Brossart continued making his legendary pedals up until 2014 until, unfortunately, his untimely passing in 2019. I first got into checking out the Prescription Electronics offerings from going to the Dallas International Guitar Show as a teenager. Being a Texas boy, finding any effect pedal from somewhere as far away as Portland was a rare occurrence. I could never find any dealers where I could try any of Jack's guitar pedals before purchasing them, so like any tone obsessed guitarist; I would attempt to buy them whenever I was lucky enough to run into them. Prescription pedals usually held a high price tag, even for units on the used market, so getting one proved tricky. I decided my best chance to get one would be to settle for fuzz pedals because that seemed to be what Rx Electronics made most.


And then one fateful day, I stumbled across a Prescription Electronics Experience whose psychedelic inspired paint job had seen better days. Much of the finish on one side of the panel had flaked off, revealing an ugly glimpse at a machined paneled underside, and the knobs were mismatched with gaffe tape placed handwritten control labels. While standard Experience pedals have controls labeled Volume, Tone, Tone, and Swell-my controls had intricate handwritten notes like Output Master Volume, Bass/Treble Boost, Amount of Swell. The previous owner had even marked his preferred settings above the knobs in a metallic sharpie that stood out against the flaky psychedelic paint job.


Half of me kept thinking what-a-piece-of-junk as I looked the pedal over! But there was some mojo to the fuzz pedal as It looked like it had been on the road and toured hard. So, I decided to plug in and take a risk. As I plugged in, I realized this incarnation of the pedal was so old there wasn't a nine-volt plug so that the Experience could be powered by my touring pedalboard. At the time, this was a massive deal to me as I was really into having all my music gear being as reliable as possible, and that includes consistent power for live use. So, already looking to hate this strange looking box from the start, I threw a nine-volt battery inside and plugged into the tweed bassman next to me. Properly running through a pedal power system or not, I was grinning from ear to ear from the first note. I bought it on the spot in cash. Whenever my Experience was taken to studio sessions, I covered the pedal in black skateboard tape so other musicians wouldn't know what I was using. It quickly became a popular request for hip hop tracks just because the heaviness of the fuzz was perceived to sound like Eddie Hazel from Funkadelic.


Prescription Electronics Experience Tone and Explanation of the Controls:


What sets the Rx Experience apart from any other pedal of its type is just the depth of sound quality. Brossart tuned the Experience to reflect a healthy love of Jimi Hendrix, and players should take note that a little bit of Jimi seems to live inside the controls. His spirit appears to exist throughout the range of the potentiometers and through the psychedelic paint patterns. And it's easy to get lost for a few hours playing along to Hendrix songs. The fuzz alone is incredibly thick, aggressive, and, most importantly, never nasally like most fuzz pedals. Stranger still, this dynamic fuzz saturation seems to be relatively consistent between different amplifiers. Most vintage fuzz pedals are very picky about which amplifiers help them give up the fuzzy goodness.


The Experience's fuzz tone may make you rethink about why do you own so many other fuzz boxes and could be THE ONE for many players. The fuzz has a lot of low end, but it's never overbearing. The larger low end helps compensate for the fuzz never sounding thin, buzzsaw-like, or unintelligibly sludgy. While the fuzz tone doesn't clean up very thoroughly with your guitar's volume knob, having tone controls to adjust the bass/treble balance and the amount of sustain more than makes up for it in a recording situation. Being able to adjust the amount of bass or treble needed out of the fuzz helps the Experience work well with a variety of amplifiers. As you dial the first tone knob, the settings will boost bass or treble frequencies, as opposed to the traditional cut tone control on many effects. No matter the EQ setting, the tone has a sweetness to the EQ curve that never gets harsh or boomy.


Tone control two, the sustain control on the Experience, is one of the most aggressive voicings I've ever heard in a fuzz pedal. The lowest setting helps push your amplifier into a more natural speaker distortion, while as you go through the range of the potentiometer, an insane amount of gain is on tap. The high-gain feel helps make Hendrix inspired whammy bar divebombs, and feedback solos seem effortless. The Experience's fuzztone isn't a Fuzz Face, a Big Muff, or a Tonebender despite the Hendrix comparisons. It is its own sound, despite making you want to get your inner Jimi on! The Sustain is very responsive to your finger attack, picking dynamics, and overall playing style! I find the Experience's fuzz is the gateway fuzz for musicians who usually don't like fuzz in their songs.


The Octave-Up Tone:


The second feature of the Experience is the fantastically voiced Octavia-styled octave setting. Octavia pedals, initially designed by famed effect guru Roger Mayer, add fuzz to your guitar tone and add a second pure octave above the note you are already playing. The Experience's octave features are designed primarily after the Foxx Tone Machine from the early 1970s, with the best octave sustaining bloom occurring after the 8th fret on the neck pickup. The higher you go up the guitar neck past the 8th fret, the more pronounced the extra octave note will sound.


Interestingly enough, the tone controls completely change when working with the Octavia setting. The tone control helps define the cut frequency of the octave, and the sustain control helps lock in the sensitivity of the player's pick attack. Make no mistake, while this isn't a Roger Mayer made Octavia circuit, it certainly ranks among the very best you can buy! Phrases scream out of your fingers and through amplifiers. The Experience has maybe the bloom of any Octavia through a Marshall and cuts through any band mix with absolute ease. Where some guitarists hear "a broken speaker sound," I hear potential!


The Swell Feature:


The swell control is what makes Rx's Experience pedal one of a kind. By turning on the fuzz, octave, and swell switches, the Experience pedal enters what's known as Swell Mode. The swell feature takes away the beginning attack of a picked note, much like how a piece of music sounds after it has been recorded backward. In the late 1960s, the "reverse-tape" recording technique was all the rage, showing up on Beatles albums like Revolver on "I'm Only Sleeping," and Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love on "Castles Made of Sand."


Using the Experience's swell feature effectively takes lots of practice as it is a unique sounding guitar effect. The amount of sheer volume on tap while using the swell function is astounding. I find I have to keep the overall master volume very low on the Experience when using the swell feature to make sure I don't blow any speakers in my amps. To hear the swell effect at it's best, it's crucial to play above the 10th fret on your guitar while using the neck pickup. Octavia-styled effects always work at their best while using the neck position, as the bassier sounding pickup adds to the thickness of the overall effect.


To get the most note separation out of the Experience's swell mode, play single note roughly one and a half to two seconds apart. Being patient between every single note allows for the trippier sounding swell to chain and grow. The more playing you feed into the Experience continually, the longer the psychedelic swell effect will last. My favorite recorded example of this effect is on Charlie Sexton's "Under the Wishing Tree" album. The first song on the album "Neighborhood" is a fantastically delayed guitar track with Experience swell all over the song!


-AM

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