Electro-Harmonix Black Finger: This review is of the modern version with tubes, not the originsl 1970's solid state version. As I promised a long time ago, I've bought another Black Finger for an update to my review. The reason for this is I have heard from so many people saying their Black Finger is not noisy like I claim, or it only has noise when used with passive instruments, or even that theirs doesn't have the "thick, fat, greasy" qualities I described in my initial review, and is instead super clean and dry-sounding. But then I've also gotten plenty of emails from people saying their experience of the B.Finger was exactly the same as mine. So what's the real deal?
Honestly, EHX has a history of terrible quality control, at least with their larger bent-steel-box classic units. There was a review (that I can't find now) of the B.Finger, from an EHX endorser, saying that EHX had to keep sending him replacement units because on tour they kept breaking. He said one of them even had a couple of components just fall out of the circuitboard. It's possible that the reason for everyone's different experiences and impressions of the B.Finger is because of EHX using differing component quality or tolerances, or other flaws in their assembly/QC process.
However, at this point I'm convinced that the key to getting less noise from the B.Finger is to send it a fairly high input signal level. The really noisy element of this pedal is the output gain stage, so the less you have to turn up the output gain, the lower your overall noise will be. Of course if you send it too strong of a signal, the B.Finger will clip (distort). But up to that point, the strongest signal you can send it will get you the best low-noise performance. I've had one guy contact me repeatedly to insist that the noise issue results from the fact that the B.Finger has abnormally low input impedance. But low input impedance would result in a loss of high frequencies, not an increase in noise. Additionally, I have both active and passive instruments to test it with, and the only difference in noise level between them corresponds to their output level, not whether they are active or passive. My highest-output passive bass requires less make-up gain than my lowest-output active bass, so in this case the active one actually gets more noise from the B.Finger (which would not be the case if it were only a question of impedance).
This second pedal I'm testing now seems nearly identical to the first one. I don't see any way in which my opinion would change. Its tone and action are both quite versatile, ranging from "thick, fat, greasy, funky" to more subtle and gentle. The tone is quite "tubey", not like a driven tube amp, but it does color your signal noticeably. The Lamp/LED switch allows some subtle yet interesting differences in the action (the attack, release, and overall feel). There is no loss of lows or highs. There are definitely some circumstances where I'd call it way too noisy, but then again I have also managed to "cure" that noise partially or even totally by boosting my signal before the input, and of course sending it the cleanest signal possible. Also it should be noted that the "Sqsh" and "Norm" switch settings have drastically different output levels, so be careful when switching between them, and be aware that switching will mean having to change all of your in/out levels to find the right signal-to-noise ratio. The B.Finger actually sounds very similar to the White Finger, there is not that much of an audible quality difference between the tube and solid-state versions. The Black one has one really cheesy element: there is a little light bulb between the tubes, to light them up. Because I guess consumers need their tubes to light up like a reading lamp in order to show that they paid extra for something with tubes. I wrote in my first review that the footswitch is "true bypass"--maybe it was, but the one I am testing now is not true bypass, and there is a small amount of tone suck and volume loss when bypassed.
Price in USD: new $200, used $100-$150