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The Boss BF-3 flanger is an easy call when it comes to both light and heavily-warped modulation effects.
And if you narrow it down to just flanger pedals, this one (as was its predecessor - the BF-2) is king of hill. Particularly in the mainstream world of guitar pedal consumerism, Boss's flanger is a popular choice.
Just take a look at the massive amount (and reduced prices) of used options.
I added one to my pedalboard a few months ago to replace a Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble.
The CE-5 was good, but it was largely a one-trick pony. The flanger can handle the same kind of light modulation I liked the CE-5 for, plus a litany of other sounds. A big part of this versatility is due to the multiple flanger modes the BF-3 employs.
Boss BF-3 Flanger Modes
The four different flanger modes are made up of the following:
The "Momentary" mode is a type of step on/step off function that allows you to hold the pedal down to use a flanger effect briefly. That way you don't have to click more than once.
I took the time to catalog some of these sounds, record them and put them in this article for safe keeping and my own reference.
We'll cover six settings that I came up with, and go through eight of the Boss BF-3 Flanger settings that Roland provides in the user manual. That manual also gives you a "memo" sheet of blank settings where you can write down different dials for your BF-3 flanger pedal.
You can download just that page via the link and photo below.
Download a blank settings sheet to follow along. (Download PDF)
Basic Setup and What You'll Need
Aside from the BF-3 flanger itself, I used a Line 6 DL4 delay (for some additional tinkering that I thought sounded pretty decent on number six). I also used a British Tweed amp model in GarageBand 10.
I'd recommend setting the pedal up on a desk where you can get to the dials easily.
Here's a quick reference for the gear I had hooked up:
Any kind of traditional setup where you have the BF-3 Flanger running into an amplifier or some kind of audio interface will work fine.
The diagram from the BF-3 manual outlines both a mono and stereo setup.
For your amp settings, just dial in a basic clean tone with a bit more low end.
If you need some ideas, we've got plenty of amp settings for you to sample and try out.
Once you've settled on your three-band EQ, add some reverb for a more shimmery final product.
Let's start with what Boss gives us from the product manual.
Boss BF-3 Flanger Settings from the Manual (starting at number seven in our list)
Boss BF-3 Flanger settings from manual. (View Larger Image)
Boss BF-3 Flanger settings from manual (second list). (View Larger Image)
1. Freak on a Leash by Korn: Verse Modulation and Vibrato
I stumbled across this setting in the GATE/PAN mode, which is more like a heavy vibrato or tremolo, but seemed perfect for those eerie Korn rhythms that Brian Welch and James Shaffer are so good at nailing down.
Cranking the RES and MANUAL control is what did the trick, giving the modulation a distinct "other-wordly" quality.
It's great for melodic accents in a minor key.
Set RATE and DEPTH to taste. I found that they worked fine at the 12 o'clock position.
2. Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden: Kim Thayil's Verse Riff
I don't think Kim Thayil uses a flanger pedal for this effect, but the BF-3 is capable of replicating it in ULTRA mode, which is once again a distinct tremolo-like modulation.
It differs in that you'll hear a little more shimmer and shine, like a chorus, whereas the GATE/PAN mode produces a more timed, almost echo-like sound.
This one gets close to the "Black Hole Sun" vibe and really shows off the versatility of this pedal.
The key is to make sure DEPTH isn't too high or too low.
I found that around 60-70 percent was the most ideal spot for it.
Too low and you lose the "shine." Too high and the spin is overly thick and too chaotic to sound like Kim Thayil's riff.
3. Thin Modulation Layer (classic flange)
To get the classic "airplane over your head" sound, I cut depth and rate back to roughly 40 percent while leaving the pedal in STANDARD mode. You might notice on the recording I uploaded that this creates a swooshing effect in the background, which is slightly noticeable even when I wasn't playing anything.
This background ambience can usually be remedied by a noise gate placed after the BF-3.
Typically I would use the Boss NS-2 for something like that, but the noise was fairly minimal and not enough to distract from the melody.
You can play with the modulation controls which are just DEPTH and RATE controls. Anything between three and five, for either of those knobs, is enough to give you a layer of modulation but still sounds subtle and nuanced.
4. Vocal Wah-Like Flange
Surprisingly, you can get the Boss BF-3 to sound like a talk box in its standard mode.
Most of the workload here is handled by the RES control, which is an excellent addition to this iteration of Boss's flanger line. It just does so much in the way of expanding the BF-3's range.
In this case, we move both the RES and RATE controls to 70 percent. The added rate gives use the quick wah-like swells.
Turning depth up higher sounded a little too messy to me, but it did accentuate the vocal aspect of this sound, and is certainly an option for those of you who want to up the intensity.
Adding distortion or a classic Hendrix-like fuzz makes this one even more fun.
5. Thin Layer of "Almost Nothing" Modulation
I've often relied on modulation pedals for nothing more than layering a clean tone. And by that, I mean that in some cases I want my guitar to sound clean, but with just a little something extra.
The above setting is what I typically use for that task, as the RATE and RES controls are backed down around 30 percent, giving off just a faint suggestion of modulation.
It sounds more like a thin chorus effect than a full flange.
It's fantastically subtle and perfect for dressing up a clean tone that needs a boost.
6. Modern Laser-Like Picking Swell (Wes Borland Style)
The first half of this recording is the above-pictured BF-3 settings combined with a tape delay on the Line 6 DL4 (pictured below). I've also included the riff with only the BF-3 if you listen past the first recording.
The riff is pulled from "Livin' it Up" by Limp Bizkit, since the effect reminded me a lot of Wes Borland's melodic guitar playing that relied heavily on a phaser-style modulation reminiscent of lasers being shot off in a cartoon.
It's great for some of the more intense and odd-sounding minor chords or intervals, which tend to play really well with delay and echo effects.
It's a good one for the non-traditionalists among us.
Resolution in the ULTRA mode does most of the heavy lifting here. (View Larger Image)
Line 6 DL4 pedal I used for the delay with the Boss BF-3. (View Larger Image)
Using the Boss BF-3 Flanger with a Bass Guitar
The BF-3 is designed to process the lower frequencies of a bass guitar, just as effectively as it does a typical six-string electric. As you might have noticed in the earlier diagram, there's even a separate input for both instruments.
Having said that, not all of these settings are going to be equally effective in conjunction with the role of a bass guitar.
For example, bass players probably won't find a lot of use for the fluttering effect that I dialed in for the "Black Hole Sun" riff.
However, the modern laser effects we created in number six could be applicable for bass players in certain types of funk genres or slap bass styles.
It all just depends on what type of music you play.
Generally speaking, modulation and the bass guitar go together sparingly. And when they do, it's usually meant to provide a subtle layer of flavor and not to significantly alter the bass's clean tone.
Here's a quick list of recommendations for those using the BF-3 with a bass guitar.
- Stick with the STANDARD mode
- Keep RATE and DEPTH knobs around 12 o'clock most of the time
- Use the RES control to adjust intensity
I'd also recommend dropping the BF-3 at the end of your pedal chain (note that it has stereo outputs so it can split your signal) if you have other pedals.
Boss BF-3 Flanger vs MXR Flanger
A common comparison (mostly because of price and popularity) is the Boss BF-3 and the MXR Flanger or Micro Flanger.
The main reason I don't like the MXR Flanger as much, isn't really about sound quality as much as it is about control. The MXR flangers, particularly the Micro version, just don't give you as much flexibility.
Here's a quick look at the regular version.
There are no mode controls like the BF-3, and you also loose the stereo i/o features.
The Micro version could be more ideal if you want a simple modulation interface (typically just rate and depth controls) since it gives you only a RATE and REGEN knob.
Thus the primary difference between the Boss and MXR flanger styles is seen in the amount of tinkering you'll be able to do.
For those who want a simpler, more straightforward control scheme that you don't have to fool with, MXR might be the better option.
Personally, I prefer the flexibility and control afforded by the Boss BF-3.
Otherwise, it would be tough to come up with this many different settings and sounds.
Boss BF-3 Flanger Reviews and Other Resources
- Gear Page Discussion where owners and prospective buyers discuss the BF-3 at length in this forum post.
- Ultimate-Guitar Review and community voting results for the Boss BF-3 flanger.
- A bassist's review of the BF-3 covering all the specs from a bass perspective
- User reviews of the Boss BF-3 from Harmony Central's forums.
- Line 6 DL4 delay settings cookbook and tone guide with nine presets.
- My best chorus pedal recommendation covering some alternative modulation options.
Have questions about the Boss BF-3 or the settings I posted here?
Drop it in the comments section below and I'll respond there. That way if other community members and readers have similar questions, they can benefit as well.
Your own settings, screenshots and audio samples are also welcome additions.
Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Criatvt