Check out this listing for the Dan Armstrong Pedal Collection- All 6 In the Original Musictronics Box!!!
The Red Ranger, Orange Squeezer, Yellow Humper, Blue Clipper, and The Green Ringer!! from Very Good to Excellent Condition!
1972 found Dan underway working with Boosey & Hawkes marketing his amplifiers at various music stores and shows, while also beginning to design his latest line of instruments known as the 'London' series. As 1973 rolled in he met, and became friends with George Merriman who was the electrician for the 'Rainbow Theater' in London (which is now a church) and who (like Dan) was an American, and originally from Pittsburgh, PA. - where Dan was born. According to Dan, "If I remember correctly when I left Ampeg in '71 one of their engineers gave me an Ampeg Scrambler as a going away gift. I can't remember but I think it may have been a prototype or something they had lying around". The Scrambler, according to Dan was "somewhat like a ring modulator but not very well designed and as a result they really didn't sell very many. Back in those days everyone was selling fuzz units of one kind or another. Ampeg tried to market the Scrambler as a fuzz unit and while it would kind of distort it would actually do a lot of other things better." Dan told George about the 'Scrambler' and was surprised to learn that George already knew everything about the device and even built one for Dan, who went on to say "Together we changed it some, tweaked it until we got it to play an octave up, and like two octaves down as well as other neat sounds - all depending on what note was originally played".
The last thing they did was to fit it all in a small green box. Dan continued, saying "we somehow fit it all into a box that was small enough to plug into a guitar and not detract the player too much. We wanted it so that when the effect is called for, you just reach down and flick a switch. Eventually we named the it the 'Green Ringer® and went on to build more devices."
According to Dan, "Ringer is the actual effect, while Green came from the green colored box that we put it in, also I never really told this to anyone before - but green was also my hope of us making some money on the unit. Ironic though, as we really didn't make that much off it, or any other devices in the line."
But such irony was hardly the thoughts or the mind-set of either Dan or George at the time as they began to produce even more and different effects devices that would all fit into the same size boxes. Dan said that he remembered "back in '65 when he was on 48th Street in New York when the Rolling Stones had their hit 'Satisfaction'. After that everyone wanted a fuzz tone." So, for the second effect in the line Dan told George that he wanted a distortion device next as fuzz units were still pouring in from all over the globe. But unlike raspy, dirty square-wave distortion devices that were already flooding the market, Dan wanted something a bit more smooth. George took Dan's ideas and went on to build an effect they dubbed the "Blue Clipper"
Dan recalls the next unit, stating "The third unit we made was our version of the Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 power booster. However, our version was alot more quiet, plus our unit had a switch on it to change the ranges (treble, bass, or all frequencies) that could be boosted. We called this the Red Ranger"
Dan went on to explain his next device, saying "I already had a good working knowledge of graphic equalizers from building amplifiers some years before, and I began to experiment with the newer stuff, parametric equalizers and such. I soon discovered that with a few peaks placed in certain areas the sound of the guitar really improved. We installed a switch to allow either a midrange peak or a high end peak. Obviously, this is the Purple Peaker - for its peaks. It worked so well that we decided to make a similar one for bass guitars, and we called it the Yellow Humper"
MXR was not the only company to take notice of the Dan Armstrong effects units. The other company was Musitronics, the same group that had made the famous MuTron effects pedals. While the MuTron effects units were popular the company was not making much profit off of them simply because the units were so expensive to build. In brief, Musitronics was looking for some partners to help offset some of the high cost of the MuTron pedals.
Craig Buzzart goes on to add "Dan Lamb and I were both reps for Mutron & he had heard of Dan's devices from Elliott Randall - guitarist of Steely Dan and later - studio musician. Together, Dan Land and I negotiated the licensing deal between Dan Armstrong and Musitronics. I remember introducing Dan to everyone, from which they made an agreement to produce the Dan Armstrong effects units in the US" There were some differences however. For starters, there were only five effects units to be produced in the beginning: the Red Ranger, Yellow Humper, Blue Clipper, Green Ringer and Purple Peaker. But later, after a great deal of work, Mike Beigel, Dan Armstrong & George Merriman came out with the Orange Squeezer - a compressor, limiter that would become one of the most popular units in the lineup. So popular was it, that Wareham - which was still producing the effects units overseas, eventually changed one of the original units as the Orange Divider soon got changed to the Orange Squeezer, like the Musitronics unit.
While the credit for the unit itself was shared by all parties at Musitronics, the Mutron website reveals that Mike Beigel came up with the Orange Squeezer name. In all fairness, and as mentioned above, it's worth pointing out that the Dan Armstrong 'London' guitar & bass brochures - printed a few years prior when Dan was still in England, lists one of Dan's & Georges units called the 'Orange Divider' which would seem to suggest that Dan & George came up with at least part of the name. In any case, the important thing is that the unit performed well and has become the most popular of all the Dan Armstrong units. In essence, only 6 of Dan's & Georges 8 units were produced by Musitronics, as they changed the 'Orange Divider' to the 'Orange Squeezer' and they dropped the 'Silver Shifter' and the 'Black Blank' altogether. These changes were only the beginning as according to Craig Buzzart "the original Wareham units were made so much better than anything that came along afterwards. They had more heft to them as they were built from better materials. They also featured many more interlocking tabs on them which in turn makes them more sturdy when stacked."
When it came time for the units to be produced in the US by Musictronics, Craig continued, stating "Aaron Newman didn't want to spend the funds for the die to make the cases like Wareham and so they just used what they had." Soon the stores were stocking the Dan Armstrong effects units in display cases like the two seen above.
Dan Armstrong was one of the music instrument industry's true originals. Most players only know him for the iconic, clear Plexiglas-bodied guitars he designed for Ampeg in the late '60s, played by Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Greg Ginn, and others, but the man was a fearless innovator who pioneered a number of ingenious guitar, pickup, amp, and effects designs over the course of his four decades in the industry. Amongst his greatest achievements—at least in the eyes of effects enthusiasts—is the line of guitar effects he designed for Musitronics, AKA Mu-Tron, in the 1970s. Musitronics was experiencing significant success with its original designs, but not making a great deal of money, as the Mu-Tron line was rather complex and expensive to manufacture. Dan Armstrong's small, economical, and cleverly named effects devices plugged right into the instrument jack (or amp, with some simple wiring modifications), and were deemed to be the perfect solution to the company's financial woes. Unfortunately Musitronics went under not too long after beginning manufacturing of Armstrong's designs, and as such, the manufacturing rights to these designs changed hands a number of times over the years, likely limiting their popularity. However, these tiny boxes have nonetheless developed a strong following in the guitar effects community due to their unique appearance and functionality, as well as their cool tones. Let's take a moment and examine some of effects designs of Dan Armstrong.
Perhaps Armstrong's most well known and beloved effect, the Orange Squeezer is a compressor that has appeared on countless records by Dire Straits, Steely Dan, and others, with Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits being an especially enthusiastic proponent of this tiny orange box. The Squeezer has but one control, a switch to turn the effect on or off, but its simplicity and warm, musical compression are the keys to its success. Its pre-set compression characteristics are fairly modest (which seems like a wise choice for an effect with no parameter controls), so it doesn't offer the endless sustain and vicious squash of some modern compressors. The Orange Squeezer has a relatively subtle attack and smooth, blooming sustain, and unlike a lot of similar effects, it's relatively quiet. Because it's fairly well known and pretty awesome, the Squeezer's circuit has been cloned by a handful of modern effect builders in a much more convenient pedal form.
This pedal is another one that is well known in the effects nerd community, and its circuit is reportedly quite similar to the MXR Distortion Plus, with Armstrong himself stating that the Distortion Plus was MXR's attempt at making a version of his effect. This may or may not be true, but there are notable similarities between the pedals, both in circuit design and tone. That being said, the Clipper's full, somewhat dark sounding distortion qualities are quite distinct. Like the Squeezer, its only control is an on/off switch, but its permanent setting is a good one, and its fat, snarling grind sustains beautifully and responds quite well to the guitar's volume knob. Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo used to famously affix the Clipper directly to his guitar with tape.
This miniature green box combined a low-gain fuzz tone with a cool octave-up, sounding not unlike an Octavia with single notes, but attaining a more ring modulator-like sound when given more than one note at a time. According to Armstrong, the Green Ringer was an improved version of the Ampeg Scrambler, which a co-worker had given him when he was working for Ampeg. He liked the effect, but felt he could improve upon it and make its octave component a bit more stable and predictable. After tweaking and experimenting with the circuit, The Green Ringer was put into production, becoming the first effect in Armstrong's guitar effects line. Its rather bright, cutting tone works best with neck pickups, like many other octave-fuzz effects, and it pairs beautifully with other Armstrong units, especially the Clipper and the Squeezer. For DIY'ers, BYOC even offers a kit that combines the Ringer and the Squeezer into one convenient pedal.
Inspired by the Electro-Harmonix LPB-1, Dan Armstrong's Red Ranger was designed to give the guitar output a boost going into the amplifier, in order to enhance weak, low-output pickups, or to just give the amp's front end a push into overdrive. Armstrong took great pains to improve upon the LPB-1 concept, and in doing so, made his Red Ranger both quieter than its competition, as well as more versatile. The Red Ranger featured three modes, selectable via a small toggle switch, which was the unit's only control. The "Full" mode was a 13dB clean boost of the guitar's full frequency spectrum, while the "Treble" mode added another 12dB of treble boost on top of that. "Bass" mode punched up the low end by a total of 22dB, all without attenuating any treble or midrange frequencies. Robin Trower famously used the Red Ranger in Treble mode, typically towards the beginning of his signal chain, prior to his wah and fuzz pedals.
This effect was inspired by Armstrong's early experimentation with graphic and parametric equalization. In his experiments he noticed that, in many cases, boosts in specific frequency ranges tended to enhance the sound of an electric guitar, adding power and clarity. The original Peaker had three modes, with the "HI" mode offering a 12dB boost between 4000 and 5000 Hz for more presence and bite, while its "HI + LO" mode added an additional 7dB of boost around 200 to 400 Hz to add punch. The third mode, "OFF," was not quite all the way off, as it still added a slight overall bump in output, but without affecting specific frequency ranges. The tiny toggle to switch between these modes was the Peaker's only control.
This one has the funniest name of all of Dan Armstrong's effects, but regardless of that, it was originally designed as the bass version of the Purple Peaker, offering a little extra "hump" in the frequencies that tend to make the bass guitar sound nicer. Thus, its peak frequencies were around 100 Hz for the "LO" setting, giving the bass player 7dB of extra bottom and thump, and 2000 Hz in the "LO + HI" setting, giving an additional 10dB of presence and definition on top of the extra low-end beef. As with the Peaker, the Yellow Humper still offered a bit of flat boost and general signal enhancement when in the "OFF" position.
Dan Armstrong's unique effects designs have been reissued by a handful of companies over the years, as the manufacturing rights have changed hands more than a few times, but typically these reissues have been both overpriced and underwhelming. Vintage units are still available, but they often go for upwards of 200 dollars, and the jack plug design is less than practical for most players. Perhaps the best way for today's guitarist to get a taste of these effects is via the DIY pedal community, who have decoded most of the circuits and made schematics available online in various places. The circuits have also been cloned by a handful of boutique companies, who typically add some handy controls and put them in standard, modern pedal enclosures, which makes these fine effects much easier to use and enjoy.