How To Generate Feedback…Freq-uently: a look at the DigitechFreqOut Natural Feedback Creator

By Francis Reyes

Feedback… isn’t it amazing? Play a note, hold it, and a screaming rainbow blooms from your fingers (no, we’re not talking about someone critiquing your performance. That’s a different set of fireworks). Captured on record on The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” harnessed to an art form by Jimi Hendrix, tamed by Adrian Belew, and feared by many a guitarist suffering from poor monitor mixes, feedback is one of the most exciting textures ever to come out from the electric guitar-and-amplifier vocabulary. In the right hands, this dissonant modern audio anomaly can be tweaked into an extension of a melody or–in its untamed form—embraced for what it is as a glorious electric primal scream.

There are a few elements that have to be in place: enough gain or volume from an amplifier, and the acoustics and hotspots of a venue where a guitarist can coax “tuned” overtones at specific distances from the amp. Effects pedals that produce artificial feedback without distortion and unsightly poses from guitarists looking for that spot near the speaker cone at any volume have been around for years but have so far not been essential components of many pedalboards.

The DigitechFreqOut Natural Feedback Creator may just change that. To begin with, the FreqOut is essentially part of the legendary Whammy family and shares the same compact footprint as its brother the treadle-less Whammy Ricochet. The brushed metal finish looks hip and let’s face it, we DO buy pedals sometimes because they look cool. The feedback can be tuned to 2nds, 3rds, 5ths, and octaves and benefits greatly from the impeccable pitch-shifting Whammy engine. The footswitch can be used in latch on-off modes: with the mini-toggle set to Momentary On, you can apply feedback whenever you please by stepping on the footswitch (the Ricochet has the same treadle-free operation for pitch shifting) and releasing your foot to end it. You can play, say, four separate chords and apply feedback after each or whichever chord you choose. With Momentary Off, the footswitch acts as a straightup effects on-off and the FreqOut will generate feedback automatically after every note you play, again at the designated interval you choose. A row of LEDS indicates visually how the feedback “blooms.”

The concentric Gain/Onset knobs control how loud you want the feedback and the rate where it creeps in (or out?). Set to light Gain, the feedback does feel organic and, yep, sounds natural. Turn it up and the resulting tone is flute-y with enough sustain to generate E-Bow-like lines. In fact, setting the Dry mini-toggle to Off removes your direct guitar signal, leaving only the feedback; you can do spooky Theremin-esque melodies. Guitar-playing Dr.Who fans will, well, freak out.

As with the Whammy series, the FreqOut is designed to be first in line in a pedalboard directly after your guitar; putting a gain stage before it may just, er, freak out its tracking (but then again, hey, why not try it anyway?). It’s true bypass, so tone-sucking is virtually non-existent (sucking is on you, so keep practicing). It works best on single notes; with chords, you can eke out the feedback note of your choice by plucking a particular string within the voicing just a touch louder than the rest. Adding an overdrive after the FreqOut specially in its lower Gain stages is welcome, and you get a facsimile of an amp ready to scream… without painful volume levels. Add a delay or reverb and the sonic possibilities are extended further. And if you have a JamMan looper…

Whether as a “normal” feedback generator or as a textural colour, the FreqOut is a fun little box. It won’t turn you into a Hendrix or Belew—and God help you if you think any pedal can—but you can explore some of their territories and find your own thing like a whisper that can scream.