The Triumvirate from VFE Pedals is a pretty unique take on distortion. Essentially, it is based on a multiband concept that offers no less than three distortions in one pedal…
The distortions in this pedal are not stacked to feed one another, but rather they operate in separate frequency areas, offering you much more detailed control over how hard you hit the BASS, MID and TREBLE frequency areas respectively.
It should be mentioned that VFE offers a dedicated bass mod, and the unit I am reviewing here is of course such a version. There are two things involved with the modification. First, the gain is lowered by 6 dB to better cope with the hot outputs of active basses. The circuit offers so much gain, though, that this is not a problem. At least, I never missed anything in terms of dirt power, based on the tones I could tweak out of the pedal in the sound clip sections. The second mod is that the range of the filter networks are lowered by one octave. However, since the filters have no upper limit and you can adjust the filters via internal trim pots, you can actually dial it back into the guitar version if you prefer that.
But before we dip in too deep, let’s get a quick overview of the controls.
On the surface, you get 3 main knobs and 3 small knobs. The 3 large knobs control the level of the BASS, TREBLE and MID respectively. Similarly, the 3 small knobs control the amount of gain for each section.
You also get the usual LED and a foot switch to stomp on. However, both of these offer a little something extra than just ‘the usual’. The LED serves no additional function, but you can adjust how bright you want it to shine by turning a trim pot on the print board inside.
The footswitch has special trick up it sleeve, as it is possible to use it in a Latch Mode, where it doesn’t turn on/off, but rather kicks in the effect for as long you press and hold the switch. When you let go, the effects is off.
The reason why I said ‘on the surface’ in the opening of this section is that there are some vast tweak possibilities under the hood of the Triumvirate. In fact, you will find no less than 11 trim pots to tweak on the PCB.
8 of them affect the ‘crossover’ filters and this number is achieved as the MID band is in fact split into HI-MId and LO-MID on the print board. The last 3 trim pots adjust pre gain, LED brightness and a treble cut filter before the master output.
There are 5 rounds of sound clips in this review:
- Power Up!
- Latch Mode
- BASS Band
- Various Settings
- Various Settings (Clean)
NOTE! Please use headphones or ‘real’ speakers. You simply can’t judge low-end material on laptop, tablet or phone speakers…!
NOTE! If you are on a mobile device, please turn it to landscape mode to see the knob settings of the pedal for each audio clip.
The Triumvirate is one hell of a versatile overdrive / distortion pedal. Having independent control over Gain and Level of the drive on three different frequency bands gives you some unique and creative possibilities that I really like.
And the Latch Mode feature is just brilliant. Again, apart from being a fun addition it actually opens a range of creative uses that you can incorporate to become part of your playing style or even compositions. To some, it might also just be a gimmick, but regardless it’s a great idea that I am sure many players will find useful at some point.
Having said that, the incredible control you get also means that you can easily dial in some pretty ‘ugly’ tones. This is not pointed out as a downside to the pedal, but rather a note to remember that getting a ton of flexibility also includes getting the opportunity to mess up your tone if used recklessly. In other words, you may be disappointed at first and there is a bit of a learning curve to decode how each band functions and not least interacts with the two other bands of distortion. But don’t give up. Take a moment to play with this pedal and chances are that once you get to know it, you will feel it pays you back big time.
An important part for me regarding the huge range of gain is as much the fact that it can be quite subtle as well as brutal when cranked hard. It can easily just ‘warm up’ your low end with some subtle drive, but it can also make your treble and mids scream and rip through any band mix regardless of how dense it may be.
VFE makes quite a big deal about the fact that this pedal is made in the USA, using nothing but super high-quality components. This is all great and as long as it delivers accordingly, I have no problem with that message. And it does. This pedal is very well constructed and it has a strong feel of quality from head to tail, inside and out. As always with new pedals, I can’t comment on long-term durability, but certainly doesn’t leave me suspecting that it breaks easily.
As mentioned in the Versatility section, this pedal is über-flexible. The design decisions behind, placing a lot of the tweakability on the inside is justified. Crossover filters and pre-gain settings are for the most part set-and-forget parameters that you spend some time on adjusting once. You may have wondered why I didn’t create some rounds of sound clips, tweaking the trim pots. I did indeed tweak the trim pots around, but never found a better sounding setting that the one this pedal was born with. There are plenty of changes to make in there, and depending on your bass, playing style, etc., these are great options to have, but for a passive P bass (or J for that matter), I found the default ‘bass mod’ settings just perfect.
If there is but one thing I would have liked to see, it would be the option of blending in a portion of the full, dry signal. As you can hear in the first round of sound clips, even when you leave the Gain all the way down, it is not your dry tone coming through. And the pedal was never meant to be able to do that, so what I am saying is that, having the flexibility of all of the 3 bands as they are is great, but also having a blend knob for adding some clean tone would make this pedal even more amazing.
Today (2016), a new Triumvirate would have set you back $209. However, VFE Pedals founder and owner, Peter Rutter, have decided to make VFE a business on the side and launches a new – more simple – range of pedals in the summer of 2016. This unfortunately means that the custom pedals (of which the Triumvirate is one) are now discontinued. But as a fellow pedal geek, I am sure you are used to search the pre-owned markets out there, and at this specific time, you can pick up a used VFE custom pedal on Ebay at around $120-$150. I am curious to follow how the pre-owned prices may develop as no more new units will be added to the market in the future.
For now, I will have to evaluate the pedal based on the $209 price tag, and while that is at the high end of the scale, it is no surprise given the high-quality components inside, the fact the it is hand-built and the great sound it is capable of producing.
Having said all of that, I am also curious to find out how the new range of cheaper pedals sound and perform. I hope to be able to keep you updated on that soon…
The Triumvirate is super versatile, which also means that there is a learning curve. You could mess up your tone if you just go nuts withe the tweaking, but if you take time to get to know this beast, you can tame it and it will pay you back in spades. The price is in the upper-mid range, but then again many other drive pedals in the best half of the field will be a similar investment. Quality and great tone comes at a cost.
So, if you are looking for a great drive pedal, like to have maximum control and is willing to take the time to learn and understand frequency bands and experiment with internal trim pots, you should definitely give the Triumvirate multi-band distortion a go.
Oh, and that Latch Mode feature is really a hidden gem that you could utilize for fun as well as a true creative tool in your arsenal.
Very high quality
Good value for money
Latch Mode adds some cool creative possibilities
A blend option would have been nice