In the ’70s and early ’80s, Electro-Harmonix pedals were ubiquitous in the garages and basements of North America. The company’s line of effects pedals was unique and included many innovations. Oddly enough, the company never produced a reverb unit - until now. Enter the Holier Grail, a digital and best cheap reverb pedal that offers, in the Electro-Harmonix tradition, some nice surprises.
The Holier Grail is the shape and size of other large-format Electro-Harmonix pedals, such as the Electric Mistress and Memory Man. The five knobs are large and sturdy – perfect for adjusting with a foot if your hands aren’t free.
Although the Holier Grail was designed with guitarists in mind, it can be used with line-level signals, from, for example, a keyboard or the aux send of a mixer. However, the Holier Grail’s headroom is designed for instrument-level signals, so you’ll have to keep your line-level sources at a moderate volume to avoid overloading the pedal. The Holier Grail is a mono device, with one 1/4-inch input and two 1/4-inch outputs: a main output and an effect-only output. Power is provided by a wall-wart supply.
The Holier Grail offers Spring, Hall, Room, and Flerb (which combines a best flanger pedal and a reverb) presets, and you can choose a Long or Short version of each. The Blend control lets you mix the amount of effect in the signal at the main output.
The pedal also includes the Golden Gate, which allows you to gate the entire signal at the main output or gate the reverb only. Other gating controls include Gate Threshold, which sets the level at which gating takes place; the Gate Reverse switch, which inverts the gate’s behavior; and the Gate Speed switch, which controls the rate of the gate. At the Slow setting, the gate’s attack and decay are approximately 500 ms. At the Fast setting, the attack and decay are set to just over 10 ms.
Plenty of Room
The presets I checked out first were the Spring reverbs. In a head-to-head comparison with a couple of real spring reverbs, the Holier Grail held its own sonically. It was also one of the quietest devices of the bunch. When the effect was blended subtly into the background, the Holier Grail’s Spring presets sounded full and warm. When the effect was pushed forward in the mix, it still sounded springlike, but without the tell-tale intermodulation you get from real springs. Still, there was plenty of “boing” for surf-style guitar riffs.
One interesting artifact in the effect algorithm is that the short Spring setting resonates at around a concert G. Needless to say, I found myself exploiting the resonance on occasion.
The Hall and Room presets are also very nice when they’re blended behind the source signal. They sound especially good on volume swells. Both presets, however, have pronounced early reflections – verging on slap-back echoes – that become increasingly noticeable as you balance the mix toward the wet side.
The Flerb preset sounds great on swells and arpeggiated figures and is a nice addition. In the Long setting, the flanger resonates strongly in a Bb tonality, which was a little more difficult to work with. But this is one preset where you’ll want the mix leaning toward a wet balance.
Open and Shut
The Holier Grail’s gate works nicely with the reverb presets, and you can use it on its own by dialing out the reverb signal altogether. However, there are limitations to editing the gate: Gate Threshold is the only gate control other than the two-position speed and direction switches.
More than once I wanted to set a quick attack and slow release on the gate, which, unfortunately, can’t be done. But with some careful tweaking of the Gate Threshold knob, I was usually able to find a setting that I could work with.
Another minor annoyance is that you get a pop when you change Gate settings. According to Electro-Harmonix, that happens because the gate is in the audio path. Hitting the bypass switch before you change the Gate setting will alleviate the problem.
The Holier Grail seems a bit pricey for a digital reverb with only eight presets. However, the fact that you also get a gate (and a bit of flanging thrown in for good measure) helps soften the blow.
Nonetheless, the Holier Grail is a solid, no-frills processor that is quiet and sounds great. Its collection of reverbs will work well onstage and in the studio.