The EXchanger has one primary focus: Due to a pickup’s behavior you are able to dial into an ideal or different sound better. To make this obvious, the sound coming from a single-coil pickup is different from a P90, which is different from a modern high-gain/output pickup, etc. And so, when playing with the same pedals and amp you achieve different qualities in sound based on the guitar (pickups and electronics) used. The EXchanger’s key role is to allow those unique pickup changes so that a Strat can sound more like a Les Paul and a guitar with active-pickups can morph into the role of a Strat. Because the EXchanger is not a modeler, it does not reproduce specific guitars or pickups like you would find with amp/cab sims pedals/software, for example. Rather, as stated, you can get similar characteristics of different pickup outputs so that the same guitar sounds and behaves differently. An obvious example is those players who may like a Strat, but it sounds thin when playing some genres of Rock and particularly Metal. To make up for that short-coming often a player will use higher-gain equipment (pedals/amps), turn up the volume or perhaps try to add some EQ, which can work, but also muddies the signal. The EXchanger’s role is not to make the Strat sound exactly like playing a Dean, Jackson or some other guitar with ballsy pickups, but to enhance the Strat’s own pickups so that it mimics the behavior of those ballsy pickups better.
I included various guitars with the accompanying demo video, including a Strat with vintage pickups, an 8-string with active pickups, and a few guitars between. I was impressed as to how the 8-string could sound very Strat-like, although with more meat on it. The Strat fattened up and could produce more of a well-rounded acoustic tone with the Supa’Clean mode, and a Strandberg guitar that is meant for Prog Metal actually beefed up nicely with the Modern Power pickup selection. Of course, the characteristics inherent with P90s, Les Paul 50th Anniversary and Wide Range humbuckers all shone through very well with each guitar. HOWEVER, each guitar still retained its underlying tone, but with the characteristics of the chosen pickups, e.g., more low end, a more even EQ throughout, more punch, more sizzle, etc.
Generally speaking, the EXchanger is quiet, depending on the pickup choice, but also the pickups currently in your guitar and the other gear used, e.g., high-gain amp vs. clean amp. Any modest hummmm or ssshhhh can be eliminated easily with a basic noise gate, although you don’t hear any such signal disturbance while playing (only when you and the band/background music are silent and if you listen for it and definitely not while playing clean-ish. The footswitches are silent for the most part… the odd time I heard a ‘click’ when turning on the unit, and then other times I did not. Not a big deal.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: The Keyztone EXchanger is not a simple EQ pedal… and if it were then many musicians would be dialing in some Hot Texas pickups for a thin-sounding Strat, or could make their regular humbuckers sound like P90s. It’s not happening, which is why guitarists regularly swap out pickups in favorite guitars. In effect, the EXchanger is a pickup enhancer that removes the limits of a pickup’s configuration (pickup + cable length + guitar potentiometers) and does so my separating the input tone from the output tone. This is done by making the input frequencies flat (from the guitar going into the EXchanger) and then reengineered to mimic the characteristics of different pickups so that your guitar could emulate bright vintage single coils, Rockabilly style pickups, super clean piezo/acoustic sounding pickups, etc. At about $220 USD, the EXchanger is an average and reasonably priced pedal when considered generally. But based on how much it can do for your tone and the sculpting of different sounds with the same guitar and I think it’s of excellent value. Tonal differences with the EXchanger are so obvious when playing clean or with a hint of dirt. And although the differences are more subtle in high-gain or distorted environments (due to more signal alteration) there still are apparent tone differences – enough, in fact, that I use it regularly in my compositions when I want different sound qualities when chugging heavy chords or playing lead. Someone with a few dozen guitars with various pickups may not see as much value in the EXchanger, but I suspect most people do not have a horde of guitars with 8 different pickups among the bunch. But even if that were the case, think about that one guitar you enjoy playing the most and how you wish it had pickup characteristics of a different guitar in your collection and you begin to get the point behind the EXchanger’s potential value.
GENERAL USE: Obviously whatever pickups you have in your guitar will remain – but what the EXchanger does is alter their characteristics relative to those of a different type of pickup. This means being able to enjoy the pickups you have, but also to enjoy other tones that may be suited better in different instances (e.g., wanting more punch or low end for heavier rock music). To give an example, P90 soap bar pickups are characterized as ‘thick, slightly gritty with serious midrange presence and reasonable high-end response and punch.’ And so, if you have a Strat or even a guitar with humbuckers that tend to be thinner, more low end or without much midrange response, then those pickups will morph to represent P90s to a good extent (but will not make you sound like musician X playing a guitar with P90s… just keep that in mind). And so, once you select the characteristics you want to give your guitar (8 different pickup types in the EXchanger), so that it sounds more like a different type of guitar, you are able to fine-tune it even more with the Dark/Bright knob and the Bright Boost switch, which help to account for both cable length (longer cables can muddy or darken the signal) and pickup type (dark pickups will require more brightness to produce more of a vintage Strat sound, whereas a Strat will require more Darkness to emulate humbuckers better). Once you select the type of pickup you want and any dark/bright enhancement to zero in on the tone better, you are ready to go. Pickup selection is easy, requiring you to stomp through the selections (via the Tone Select footswitch) to the desire pickup – which then can be engaged or disengaged via the Bypass footswitch. Since power consumption is only 14mA, if you choose to use a 9v battery there is a ‘battery low’ LED indicator.
OTHER DETAILS: Measuring in at 120 (L) x 85 (W) x 33 (H) mm (4.72 x 3.34 x 1.3 inches) and weighing 275g (0.6 lbs), the EXchanger has an aluminum chassis with a brushed metal finish. Its power 9V DC output is located in the back, whereas the guitar input/output both are located along the sides and slightly more than half-way up the pedal. The two stomp switches are far removed from any LEDs, switches, knobs and input/output cables to prevent any stomping mishaps. The Tone Select footswitch has a hard click, whereas the Bypass is soft-switching. The Bright Boost switch has a solid feel to it and is slightly longer than most switches of that type (making it easy to grasp and toggle). Both knobs are metal and the pots are solid in feel when moving the knobs. The Dark/Bright knob clicks in place (seven locations, with the middle at 12-noon representing neutral ground). The Level knob rotates smoothly without any locking positions. All LEDs (for tone/pickup selection, on/off and low battery) are small and slightly countersunk.