When I first made contact with Circus Freak Effects in mid-December, I came away from the meeting with the feeling that these guys mean business. It wasn’t enough just to create great pedals, the whole presentation was important from the enclosure all the way to the packaging, then to top it off, the pricing had to be such that the products would be accessible to a wide range of players.
Having been in various startups over the course of my career as a software engineer, this approach is something that has always reverberated with me. In the last few years, I’ve been in one successful startup and am currently in one that I believe will also be quite successful. With either of those companies, it hasn’t just been about the technology, but the whole package. The overshadowing philosophy is simple: Not only does our product have to be good, it has to look good and be priced competitively as well.
The guys at Circus Freak get that. When I opened the shipping box yesterday and remove wrapping from the Tatooed Lady box, I was blown away by the quality of the packaging. Sliding the cover off the box revealed a velvet-like bag that contained the pedal itself. Taking the pedal out of the bag, I was greeted by an enclosure the likes of which I’d never seen before. This wasn’t your typical Hammond pedal enclosure. This was a fully custom enclosure with a bottom that is obviously meant for something other than just sitting on a standard pedal board (in fact, Circus Freak is working on a board for mounting their pedals). Finally, included in the box was a small Ziploc bag with rubber strips for the bottom and a special Allen wrench-like tool for opening the enclosure (all Circus Freak effects will be tweakable). The point to all this is that the attention to detail that has gone in to every aspect of delivering a product to the customer is evident. Circus Freak means business, and they’re not going to settle on being a pedal company that looks as if it’s run in the garage of one of the guys’ houses. Here’s the kicker: The Tatooed Lady Overdrive is only $149! The packaging alone implies a much higher value, but to have it at that low price point makes it immediately attractive!
But of course, we’re talking about an effect pedal so not only does it have to deliver on appearance, it has to sound good as well. On that front, all I can say is, “WOW!”
That kind of reaction doesn’t happen to me very often. It’s actually unusual that I dig a pedal’s tone when I have everything set to 12 o’clock, but I totally dug this tone. For me, the first thing that I look for in an overdrive pedal is that my sound should “feel” bigger; that it’s my same tone, just more of it, and not necessarily volume. That’s what the Tatooed Lady does; it gives you more of your tone. But that “bigger” feeling is also attributed to what’s obviously a bit of compression being added to the signal. In some overdrives, the compression isn’t quite as evident. But with this pedal, it’s pretty obvious. But that is not at all a bad thing as my fundamental tone doesn’t change with the pedal.
For my initial audition, I plugged the pedal straight into my VHT Special 6. I was in my living room, so I didn’t really need much volume. But the VHT also has a lot of clean headroom on top of using a 10″ Jensen Jet Electric Lightning which gives the amp a lot of bottom end; making it sound A LOT bigger than its 6 Watts would suggest. The clean headroom would let me test the pedal’s drive on its own, and not rely on amp breakup. After playing around with it like that, this pedal could easily stand on its own as a clipping device!
In the time that I spent with it this morning, I found that I loved using the pedal purely as a breakup device. I set the volume at just past unity, cranked up the Gain knob on the pedal almost all the way, then set the Bass and Treble knobs to about 11 am and 1 pm respectively. At that setting, I could get this gorgeous, searing, but open overdrive with my guitar volume dimed, but I could also back off the volume on my guitar and the pedal would “calm down.” The dynamics are incredible, though I would fall short of calling them tube-amp-like dynamics. Suffice it to say that the pedal is very responsive to attack and volume knob adjustments.
The pedal also has some awesome sustain. I was absolutely digging playing long notes because the sustain of the pedal ensured that I’d get lots of overtones and subtle harmonics. Playing those long sustained notes what driving my little dog nuts as she started to howl whenever I played a high, bent note.
In my initial conversation with the Circus Freak guys, one thing that they kept on telling me was that they wanted to make sure that their pedals had LOTS of volume. They weren’t kidding. This pedal has lots of volume on tap, so whether you want to use the pedal as a standalone clipping device at unity volume, or use it as a booster to slam the front end of your amp, you have that choice. With the volume that this pedal is capable of, you can really get your pre-amp saturated quickly.
On a final note, I was very impressed with how quiet the pedal was when engaged; no line noise whatsoever, which made me think right away that I will probably be using this pedal for recording in my upcoming session.
Initial verdict? I love everything about this pedal so far: The way it looks and the way it sounds. I’ll be using it at my church gig this afternoon, so I’ll be writing up a gig report on it later. I’m so excited to try this out in a real live situation!