Much like with basses, where every year brings a new crop of Fender clones to market, the crowded world of boutique effect pedals is as much about mimicry as it is originality. Within each effect category, a substantial number of entrants use essentially the same circuits and achieve the same sounds with perhaps a few superficial tweaks to make the pedal seem more distinctive than it really is. By contrast, the Seamoon Funk Machine is like no other envelope filter out there. A refresh of a legendary filter originally designed in the ’70s by my former colleague (and music journalism and electronics legend) Craig Anderton, the new Funk Machine owes its existence to New York session ace Neil Jason. Jason — whose extensive credits include Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Mick Jagger, Plastic Ono Band, Roxy Music, the Brecker Brothers, and Brian Ferry — had long been interested in reviving his favorite envelope filter, finally finding a willing partner in pedal designer Ben Fulton. The result of their collaboration is the new Funk Machine, which seeks to bring the gooey dwoop on tracks like the Brecker Brothers’ “Sponge,” Roxy Music’s “The Main Thing,” and Narada Michael-Walden’s “Mango Bop” to modern ears.
The most immediately striking thing about the Funk Machine is its psychedelic, Neo-Deco ’70s graphics. My best guess as to their inspiration is the visual style of the Sesame Street “Pinball Number Count” song, as performed by the Pointer Sisters. It’s a vibe, to be sure. Coupled with the bright blue housing, the Seamoon looks fantastic and conveys the aesthetic its sound is intended to capture. The exterior construction is durable, with robust metal switches and high-quality knobs and jacks. Popping off the back cover reveals tidy surface-mount circuit boards, rather than the hand-soldered point-to-point wiring you sometimes find in boutique pedals.
The Funk Machine has four primary parameters adjustable via the knobs, as well as some internal set-and-forget features. Before diving into the parameters, it’s critical to understand what the Funk Machine isn’t. Unlike most envelope filter pedals, the Seamoon is a downward-sweeping filter only. Envelope filters use the amplitude of the input signal to create a control voltage (CV). In bass applications, this CV is applied to the cutoff frequency of a resonant lowpass filter. As the CV increases, the cutoff moves across the frequency spectrum. This movement can begin in the low range of the spectrum and move up as the CV decays (in proportion to the note’s amplitude), or it can start in the high range and move down. The direction of the sweep determines the sound: Up sounds like a quack, while down sounds like a dwoop, and most envelope-filter pedals provide a switch to choose between them. In the Funk Machine, it’s always down. The freq knob controls where in the spectrum the filtering begins, depth controls how far through the spectrum the filter travels, blend controls the ratio of dry to wet signal, and vol controls the level of the wet signal. The mini-switch at the top engages an onboard preamp for buffering the input from, say, a passive bass, while an internal switch controls the input sensitivity and an internal trim pot controls the output level.
Off the bat, it’s easy to be a little frustrated with the Funk Machine, particularly if you’re expecting it to behave like a typical envelope filter. The role of the parameters is not particularly intuitive, and the lack of a sensitivity control feels like a crucial omission, given the importance of this setting in determining when the filter opens. But here’s the thing: Once you spend some time with the pedal and reframe your expectations, it reveals itself to be one of the coolest-sounding filters out there. It is sensitive to playing dynamics and to your choice of instrument, so attention to those details is crucial to wringing the most out of it. Because of the counterintuitive nature of the onboard controls, it’s better to just twist knobs until good stuff happens, rather than going in with some methodical plan of attack. I wish the vol control was the overall output volume, rather than the effect volume. But these minor annoyances are mere trifles once you find settings that work well.
The Funk Machine has one of the most liquid and organic downward-filter sounds out there. It sounds every bit as juicy and wet as a vintage MuTron; it’s instant Bootsy. It’s also capable of delightfully murky and thick subby tones when the freq control is in the lower range. While I don’t think it is nearly as versatile as some other stalwart envelope filters, it does something entirely unique and has a deliciously funky sound that’s musical and inspiring. Paired with other effects, like distortion or octave, it can be the foundation of truly special tones. If you’re an envelope-filter fan and are willing to make room for two filters on your pedalboard, there is absolutely an important role for the Funk Machine. Rather than lament what it isn’t, it’s far better to appreciate it for what it is: a singularly vivid and pitch-perfect effect for capturing the sounds of a bygone era.
Seamoon Funk Machine
Pros Top-shelf downward-sweeping filter sounds that are every bit as funky as the original
Cons Missing some features typically found on envelope filters; controls can be counterintuitive
Bottom Line So long as you appreciate the Funk Machine for what it is (rather than what it’s missing), you’ll realize it’s one of the coolest filters on the market.
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