I had tried a friend's EH Holy Grail pedal and was surprised at how realistic the spring reverb setting sounded through a guitar amp. Great pedal to have, especially if you're using a reverb-less amp. But what about its big brother, the Holier Grail? Housed in the traditional Electro-Harmonix trapezoidal oilpan-type box, the Holier Grail does everything the Holy Grail does. That is, it provides great-sounding spring reverb, okay-sounding hall reverb, and a weird effect called "flerb" which is sort of a flanged reverb that most folks probably won't use very much. Upping the ante, the Holier Grail adds a pretty nice "room" reverb sound, a switch which lets you choose between long and short decays, and a gate function. The gate is kind of interesting. You can choose to gate just the reverb, '80s-style, or you can gate the direct and reverb signal. There is also a gate reverse switch which makes the gate work in reverse. In other words, as the input signal gets louder and louder, normally it would reach a threshold and open the gate. But in this case, the signal is present until it reaches a set threshold, then when it gets loud enough, it shuts the signal off. Kind of counter-intuitive, eh? The Holier Grail's manual suggests using this function to achieve swelling, backwards guitar effects. I'm sure this can be done, but I definitely had trouble mastering the necessary subtlety. Overall, I felt the various gate functions were cool, but a bit much for a floor pedal. Even though the Holier Grail is very quiet and would work well in a studio situation (i.e., used through a board's effects bus), I couldn't help thinking that it has too much tweakability for a stompbox. The Holier Grail is capable of some very cool things, but most of them would require a live performer to hover over the box twiddling knobs. Perhaps EH should consider developing a stereo rackmount version of it. As I said before, the Holier Grail's best attribute is the quality of its spring reverb sound. I A-B'd it with a reissue Fender tube spring reverb unit, which in my mind is the archetype of how classic guitar reverb should sound. I plugged a Telecaster into each unit and ran them into an old Fender Bassman amp. Carefully (and of course, subjectively) comparing the two, I was astonished at how close the Holier Grail sounded to the Fender unit, especially at "dryer" settings. It had that nice subtle "boing" that other digital reverbs can't quite get right. At one point-and I'm not joking-I picked up the Holier Grail very gingerly, subliminally thinking that if I handled it roughly, the spring would clang and make an awful racket through the amp. At "wetter" settings I found the Holier Grail sounded ever-so-slightly tinnier than the Fender, and lacked some of the Fender's richness. Still, this is a very handy effect for someone who might not want to lug a Fender reverb tank to gigs (not to mention deal with stage-vibration problems inherent to the Fender units). If you're only looking for a convincing spring reverb sound in a stomp box, you'd probably want to just go for the original Holy Grail. But if you're an experimenter looking for some new sounds for the stage and the studio, for a few dollars more, the Holier Grail might fit the bill.An endnote: For this review, EH initially sent me a defective unit, followed by a second defective one (the second one had a completely different problem than the first). Finally, the third one they sent worked like a charm. If there is some sort of quality-control problem at Electro-Harmonix (and it sure seems like that may be the case; see Larry Crane's review of the Holy Grail in the Tape Op #31), I'd recommend not purchasing a Holier Grail through mail order. Instead, get it at a shop where you can audition it first.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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