The Ibanez PH10 Bi-Mode Phaser

Bob Leggitt | Friday 9 September 2022

Ibanez PH10 Bi-Mode Phaser in orange and grey

Tracing back the history of music technology, you'll find a period in the second half of the 1970s when the phase-shifting effect entered its heyday. It may seem odd today, but at that point, even some of the major guitar amp models began shipping with phasing as their sole onboard modulation effect. That's how important the sound was at the time.

Phase-shifting was an evolutionary effect (both historically and sonically) with precedents dating back to the tape-based flanging of the 1960s. But in its developed form, phasing lost contact with its ancestry and fell into a niche as an animation process for rhythm guitar. Rate set moderately slow, depth adjusted to taste, and the cycling tonal variation added just enough interest to choppy chord work or grinding drive.

Although a number of notable earlier guitarists used phasing, it was probably prolific session cat Lee Ritenour's showcasing of, and commitment to the effect, that most helped to popularise it in the mainstream.

Meanwhile, producer Lee Perry got hold of a Mutron phaser and ushered the effect into the world of reggae guitar, creating a legacy through the work of the Upsetters, which saw the popularity of phase-shifting subsequently reinforced in early UB40 releases, and then by UB40's studio-sharing semi-soundalikes Weapon of Peace.

And the phaser was a lot more prevalent in punk and post-punk guitar than it's given credit for. Even sticking purely to full-on punk bands, Steve Jones used a phaser very early on with The Sex Pistols. You hear it on the Original Pistols Live album - that's the one recorded at Burton-on-Trent in 1976, when Glen Matlock was still the bass player. And you hear Mick Jones using one with The Clash on the London Calling album. It's prominent on the reggae-influenced tracks Revolution Rock and Rudie Can't Fail. There's also a phaser on Stiff Little Fingers' Safe as Houses - another reggae-inspired gem from the vault of punk. The phaser appears in the guitar riff sections where there's no singing, and you particularly hear its evolution as the track's final chord dies away.

By the mid 1980s, however, the phaser effect was on life-support. Ritenour had ditched it, and general trends had obliterated it with a tidal wave of chorus, digital delay and digital plate reverb. Many guitar shops had ceased stocking phasers as standard. But if there was one thing you could say for the 'eighties music tech industry, it was that the word "resignation" was not in anyone's vocabulary. Any technological advancement would be bulldozed into the market whether or not there was any demand...

"You mean, we can push the number of phase stages from six up to ten and the phase shift gets bigger?... Yeah! Why would we not wanna make the phase shift bigger?! Let's build it!"

"Yeah but, it's now 1986 and phasers totally died on their arse about four years ago and no one really wants them anymore..."

"But bigger is bigger, right? LET'S BUILD IT!!!... And I have a FANTASTIC idea - let's call it the Ibanez Strap Yourself Down, Bigger Shift Than Ever, WIDDLY-WIDDLY-SUPER-DUPER-WARP-SHIFT Phaser!"

"Okay, let's build it... But let's not call it that."

And with that (or a somewhat lesser-dramatised version thereof), a new legend was born - albeit disappointingly named the PH10 Bi-Mode Phaser.

Retailing in the UK at around £85 (original USA retail price $135.95) in the latter 1980s, the Ibanez PH10 sat within a range of 26 compact pedals from the highly-regarded Ibanez. Bi-Mode referred to the fact that the PH10 still offered the less aggressive 6-stage phasing algo as an option, whilst integrating the new 10-stage phasing as its flagship setting. This was a flexible, solid-sounding unit with a rugged construction typical of the brand. But it faced stiff competition - especially given its price. Its period contemporaries included...

  • Aria Big Foot APH-1 Phaser - £49
  • Boss PH-2 Super Phaser - £105
  • Boss RPH-10 Phaser (micro-rack format) - £135
  • DOD FX 20B Stereo Phaser - £56 but frequently selling for £49.
  • Morley Phaser One - £82
  • MXR Phase 90 - £56
  • Washburn Accelerator PX-8 Phaser - officially £54 but could sell for below £40.

Some prices are approximate, as they could vary significantly from store to store.

The PH-10's target market was almost inevitably the player who understood the deep-phasing advantages of the slightly earlier Boss PH-2, but didn't wanna shell out over a hundred quid. Despite costing well above most of its other rivals, the Bi-Mode's quality and scope made it a good deal.

Aside from the Bi-Mode switch, the controls are familiar. A Speed knob to adjust the tonal evolution rate, a Depth knob to set the prominence of the tonal evolution, and a Feedback knob to progressively add in that rather metallic-sounding "jet" quality. Phase-shifting is one of those guitar effects that can be a little too subtle to notice in a busy mix - especially without resonance, and especially with the phaser placed before an overdrive stage in the chain. But with all guns blazing, the PH-10 cannot be accused of failing to make its presence felt. It's a bit of an analogue monster - in a good way.

As someone who grew up in the heyday of phase-shifters, I've retained a soft spot for them, and whilst the Tokai TPH-1 remains my fave, followed by the 1970s unit that Peavey built into their amps, I can't imagine the Ibanez PH10 disappointing many fans of pure analogue phasing.

Although phase-shifting never revisited its late '70s / early '80s peak, it regained some traction in the 1990s as guitar sounds returned to a more earthy character. The PH10 didn't quite make it into the thick of the Britpop era, when phasing did see a measured renaissance. But its tenure on sale did make it through the early '90s, which was pretty impressive given that the unit was introduced just as phasing was undergoing a burial ceremony.

The Bi-Mode Phaser would always be overshadowed in Ibanez history by the legendary Tube Screamer. But let's at least afford it a good old 'eighties backslap for flying the flag in the hardest of times.