"Schizophrenia in Pedal Form": Boss PS-3 Digital Pitch Shifter/Delay Review

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by JanusZarate, Apr 7, 2008.

  1. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger

    Feb 21, 2006
    Boise, ID, USA
    A few of you listened to my teaser noise clip. Now it's time for the full review. :D


    The Boss PS-3 Pitch Shifter/Delay is quite possibly one of the quirkiest and most useful pedals ever made by Boss (they've had quirkier pedals that IMO are pretty much garbage). Made between 1994 and 1999, it's an uncommon pedal that has retained its value surprisingly well. Jeff Caxide of Isis is one of a few bassists known to use it; he mainly uses it for deep chorus sounds.

    There are 11 modes crammed into this pedal, covering a variety of detuning, pitch-shifting, and digital delay territories. Whether you want to do harmonies, whammy shifts, inverted noise, or just clean delay, it's in here!

    SIZE: Same as any other compact Boss pedal. :p

    POWER: Same as any other Boss pedal. :p

    CONTROLS: Where do I even start? There are four knobs in all. The Balance knob controls the wet/dry mix. Unlike traditional Blend knobs, there are no volume drop issues with this knob – the mixes are perfect. You'll want to turn this to 100% wet for whammy effects, and keep at 50/50 for harmonies. The two middle Control knobs vary in function (I'll outline what they do in each mode below). The Mode knob lets you switch between 11 different modes.

    PITCH SHIFT RANGE: For the Detune function, the range is limited to +/-30 cents. For the Pitch Shift function, the range is extended to +/- 2 octaves. You can dial in any of 24 semitones between -1 and +1 octave. Beyond those, you have two additional settings: +2 and -2 octaves. You can't pick semitones between 1 and 2 octaves; you really wouldn't want to anyway, because of how dramatically high/low they are.

    OUTPUTS: There are two outputs, both of which produce an identical blended sound except in the Dual Pitch Shift modes. In those modes, the sound created by Pitch A's setting is sent to Output A, and the sound created by Pitch B's setting is sent to Output B. Both outputs have a blend of your clean signal unless you dial it out completely. If you're just using Output A, it will get a mix of everything, so don't worry about missing anything.

    MODES: I'll go through each mode and describe how they work and sound.
    1. DELAY 32-125ms: A basic digital delay that's rather clean. The first Control knob manages feedback (repeats), and the other controls delay time. The one unique feature of the delay is that it trails after you turn it off – perfect for avoiding those abrupt stops that other delay pedals create when turned off.
    2. DELAY 125-500ms: Same as the first mode, only with more delay time.
    3. DELAY 500-2000ms: Same as the previous modes, only with more delay time.
    4. SINGLE PITCH SHIFT: Detune: This mode allows for some chorus and vibrato tones. It's very much what you would expect from the modulation section of a fancy delay pedal, except that there's no delay going on. Keep the feedback low for harmonies. The controls remain the same for all three Single Pitch Shift Modes: feedback and pitch. Increase the feedback to get pronounced modulation sounds.
    5. SINGLE PITCH SHIFT: +/- 2 Octaves (Fast): This mode allows you to go well beyond the limited range of the Detune mode – as far as 2 octaves up/down. Use this mode to get minimal delays in shifting. Cranking the feedback allows for some weird but cool sounds.
    6. SINGLE PITCH SHIFT: +/- 2 Octaves (Slow): This mode is like the previous mode, but the shift process itself is slower and more noticeable. This is great to use for those bigger pitch shifts.
    7. SINGLE PITCH SHIFT: Inverse: This mode is freaky. It acts like a reverse delay with preset delay time if you set the pitch to be equal to your dry signal. But shift the pitch anywhere else, and crank the feedback... you'll get a truly bizarre reverse-shifting effect that you have to hear to believe.
    8. DUAL PITCH SHIFT: Detune and Detune: This layers two voices of detuning over each other, and you can adjust the pitch of both. While you won't get the wilder warbles of the earlier detune mode, you will get a much thicker, deeper sound overall that's perfect for ambient textures.
    9. DUAL PITCH SHIFT: Detune and +/-2 Octaves: A single-voice version of the previous mode is combined with a single-voice version of the next mode. The lack of a feedback control means that what you'll get is a clean result with a small shifting delay on both voices.
    10. DUAL PITCH SHIFT: +/- 2 Octaves and +/- 2 Octaves: This mode allows you to create harmonies with three voices: two pitch-shifted voices plus your dry signal. It's a cool way to generate artificial chords and organ-like sounds.
    11. EXPRESSION: Pitch A to Pitch B: Are you a Justin Chancellor fanboy? Do you want to produce whammy shifts and harmony shifts like the Digitech Bass Whammy, but don't have $700.00 to spare? This pedal can do them. Using an expression pedal, you can manually shift the pitch within a specified range. Set Balance to 50/50, Pitch A to 5th up, and Pitch B to 1 octave up, and presto – you can now cover “Disposition” to your heart's content. You can also do the traditional whammy sound by setting the Balance to 100% wet, Pitch A to your normal sound (12:00), and Pitch B to 1 octave up; with that, you can cover “Schism”, “Lateralus”, etc. - and whatever else you feel like doing! The advantage this mode has over any Whammy pedal is that you can dial in whatever semitones you want and create a custom range to shift within.
    TONE: The tone of the shifted pitch is clean, but it's also noticeably unnatural, so if you're looking for the perfect natural 3rd, 5th, etc., keep dreaming – it's not possible with any pedal I've used. If you're looking to get a PS-3, it's because you want the power of a Whammy with a different sort of flexibility and a somewhat different sound. The tone also has a slight tremolo-like warble to it – mild but musical. You might be bothered by it, or you might love it.

    TRACKING: The PS-3 seems to track flawlessly; whether you're playing on the G string or plucking an open drop-D note, it seems to track and sustain without quitting. With my Stingray, it never gave up. The only time it became an issue was when playing notes that were shifted 2 octaves down – I couldn't hear them anymore. But when they're THAT low, you'd have to be crazy to expect to hear them. You can certainly feel them, though; my apartment was shaking. :D

    PROBLEMS: There's so much crammed into this pedal that I've been itching to pick up a second one! If you fall in love with multiple modes, you're going to hate having to change settings over and over again. Also, there are no helpful markers on the pedal to tell you what semitone you've dialed in – you have to use your ears to dial them in. If you mark the pedal with a sticker or something, you'll be fine, but otherwise, it can be a pain when changing between modes. Lastly, I wish this pedal had the option of true stereo on the delay mode. Still, I can live without it.

    OVERALL: It's a good clean digital delay with delay trails. It's a thick chorus pedal. It's a pitch shifter and freaky noise generator. With an expression pedal, it's a Bass Whammy substitute for the Tool fanboy on a budget. The PS-3 is all of these. I'm surprised they're not more expensive on the used market!

    SCORE: :bassist: :bassist: :bassist: :bassist: :crying:

    SOUNDCLIPS: I've only done a few so far. I'll add more when I have time, to capture the PS-3's other pitch shifting modes and the delay modes. Pardon the general lousiness of my playing in these clips - it was my first time attempting some of these songs...
    • Expression Pedal Sweeps - this clip demonstrates the "texture" of the pitch shift sweep in Expression Pedal mode.
    • "Schism" - this clip demonstrates the Expression Pedal mode set to produce a whammy effect (1 octave up). Delay was added post-recording using a delay plugin.
    • "Disposition" - this clip demonstrates the Expression Pedal mode set to produce a harmony shift effect (5th up / 1 octave up). It's the shift that is otherwise exclusive to the Bass Whammy and one or two other Digitech pedals.
    • "Epilepsy" - this clip demonstrates what mode 7 (Inverse) can do if you crank the feedback and mess with the pitch. WARNING: Chaotic digital chaos! :eek:
    Driven Crane likes this.
  2. BassIsFun17


    Jan 16, 2006
    really nice review
    i like the sound of this one
    i may have to snag one sometime.
  3. great pedal can't recomend them enough
  4. 'Boo, what are you using for an expression pedal?
  5. One question I'd like answered. When using an expression pedal how fast is the sweep of the treadle?

    My one main gripe with my Whammy IV is that i feel it shifts too quickly, that the treadle sweep isn't big enough unless you are ultra careful and slow as you press down. This to me is a bigger concern than not having the 5th/octave thing, since I'm not really a tool fan, whereas long slow pitch shifting vamps would make me orgasm.
  6. G0rilla


    Feb 1, 2008
    Latvia, Riga
    Making ears bleed since 1989
    Wow...added to g.a.s...
  7. OhThePeacock


    Sep 15, 2007
    Wausau, WI
    Cheers on the review Boo. :D I'm gonna have to finish reading through this later tonight when I get time because homeroom is just about ending right now.
  8. Homeroom.....Wow, that was like.....Thirty years ago! Oh my god, I'm old!

  9. speak_onion


    Jun 22, 2007
    Queens, NY
    I <3 PS-3. Starting to wonder about putting it back in the bass rig after a long stint in the noise rig.
  10. Swimming Bird

    Swimming Bird

    Apr 18, 2006
    Wheaton MD
    Wait, this is THE Jeff Caxide chorus?

  11. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger

    Feb 21, 2006
    Boise, ID, USA
    A Roland EV-5. I haven't tried any other expression pedals with it.

    In terms of how the sweep feels and responds... that's really dependent on what expression pedal you decide to use. I haven't had my foot on a Bass Whammy, so I can't do a fair comparison in that regard.

    As I understand it, yes. I'll try to approximate it tonight when I do more soundclips. I do have a Stingray, after all. :)

    Maybe I could do something off of Oceanic... I think I could do better justice to Isis than to Tool. :D
  12. jonpopu


    Nov 3, 2006
    Man now I wish I hadn't sold mine... till after this review. I can see this driving up the price alittle. Cool pedal, just not for me.
  13. speak_onion


    Jun 22, 2007
    Queens, NY
    Ha! I mentioned on another message board that I thought this review might drive up the price and I might sell mine if it got high enough, and someone right then offered me a price I couldn't refuse, so I just sold my PS-3.

    It's cool; I've got an Ibanez HD-1000. Like a rack PS-3, with LFOs and no exp pedal input.
  14. emjazz

    emjazz Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2003
    Brooklyn, NY
    very nice!
  15. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger

    Feb 21, 2006
    Boise, ID, USA
    What forum was that? :D
  16. opivy3056

    opivy3056 stardust in a light beam Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2004
    San Diego
    I always took the "warble" for dissonance. I guess I was wrong. It's hands-down the craziest/coolest boss pedal I've ever played through.

    I lent mine to Devi Ever so she could test it with her "Master Controller" joystick thingy. I'm eagerly awaiting its return now, though.

    this review makes me want another one. Really bad. And an expression pedal. Nice job 'Boo.
  17. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    I'm guessing I already know the answer, but does it track with any sort of polyphony? I had a Bass Whammy for a bit, and while it was very cool, it couldn't handle more than one note at a time (and I play chords and double-stops frequently).
  18. opivy3056

    opivy3056 stardust in a light beam Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2004
    San Diego
    Yes and No.

    Perfect intervals are fine. Power chords will track pretty freakin well on most of the neck. But if you get too major or minor, you start getting warbly.

    POG?! yes. maybe. Im not sure. Doh.
  19. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger

    Feb 21, 2006
    Boise, ID, USA
    What he said. :D

    The POG is supposed to be better for polyphonic scenarios, but this can handle the bulk of it very well.
  20. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    I already own a Micro POG :D It works pretty perfectly for tracking chords, etc. I was just curious as to how this operated, as I enjoyed the sweep sound and harmony options of my Bass Whammy, but didn't dig the one-note limitation.
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