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Marshall Time Modulator

May the 4th be with you! Of course, it is #StarWarsDay, and everyone is sharing all kinds of Star Wars related goodness on the interwebs. It is no mere coincidence that today at Toyland we have no other than Australia’s own Star Wars-themed legends Sithlord in the studio recording eight songs of raw oldchool thrash. Our studio assistant, Talie, has been tasked with homework to research a #StarWarsDay blog post about our favourite Star Wars-related piece of gear, the Marshall 5402 Time Modulator.

The Marshall 5402 Time Modulator is a piece of outboard equipment everyone has heard, but few have actually used. Manufactured in the late ’70s and early ’80s, they are the epitome of the limited edition. The MTM is most famous for two applications – being used by Stevie Wonder on ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ and ‘Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants’ albums, and even more famously as the source of the distinctive vocal processing on James Earl Jones’s voice to create the iconic Darth Vader vocalisations from the original Star Wars films. Which brings us into a golden era of studio production equipment being used creatively – welcome to the late 1970s.

The Marshall 5402 Time Modulator was invented by Stephen St. Croix (1948-2006) – ahem, not the adult movie star, the other Stephen St. Croix – who was an audio engineer, producer, inventor, designer of audio gear, an artist and all round super clever dude. St. Croix founded Marshall Electronics – a completely separate company from Marshall Amplifiers – and also contributed to the development of the art of audio mastering very significantly, and to the design of Ensoniq’s PARIS digital audio workstation and EMU-Ensoniq. Stephen St. Croix was also a journalist in the field of audio technology, and he had a column ‘Fast Lane’ in Mix Magazine that ran for 18 years, and even today these are worth a read both for the author’s knowledge and personality.

It is no exaggeration to say St. Crox’s greatest contribution to recorded arts is the menacing cyborg presence of Darth Vader’s voice and breathing in the Star Wars movies. The MTM is a voltage controlled time sweepable analog delay effects box; it premiered as a prototype (5002 Marshall Time Delay) in 1975 at the New York Audio Engineering Society Convention. The commercial product release was in 1979; on the films ‘Star Wars[A New Hope]’ (1977), ‘The Empire Strikes Back’(1980) And ‘Return of the Jedi’ (1983) the 5002/5402 were completely cutting-edge and high tech equipment for the era.

The 5402 has two delay modules – a shorter delay, and an extended delay – operated by both automatic and manual controls – using a rotary pot allows for continually adjusted, smooth, and non-stepped sweeping through settings, which can have a very musical sound. Delay time can also be swept automatically by an LFO. You can play this effects unit like an instrument. The short delay introduces time and frequency shifts, and the longer delay (up to 400ms) creates double and triple tracking effects, and manipulates many of the more charismatic, kooky and unique effects. This effects box can create everything from flange, vibrato, arpeggiation, echo, Leslie-style flutter, Doppler panning, variable feedback, and combining parameters can unlock some extremely science-fictionesque resonances and variable feedback.

The front panel control of the 5402 offers adjustable parameters for input level, time delay, dry output, feedback, delay A and B output, time modulation, 3 position flanges, mode select between flange and delay, LFO rate (0.1Hz-10Hz), 3 position delays, LFO waveshape select. The maximum delay time is 400ms, and the Doppler pitch/vibrato range is six octaves. The dynamic range is 95dB and the flange notch cancel depth is in excess of 95dB. You get the idea – this is a super dynamic and creative effects box.

Intelligent Devices released a plug-in of the Marshall Time Modulator in 2009, and it was one of those plug-ins where the math of the digital version just did not live up to the circuitry magic of the hardware version.

If you were wondering, why yes, we have a Marshall 5402 Time Modulator at Toyland, so if you have a Star Wars-themed jazz odyssey album to unlock in your life goals, you now know where to go to make your Space Opera Opus. Hope you enjoyed this short intro to the Marshall Time Delay 5402 effects box. May the 4th be with you. #StarWarsDay