|Circus Freak Tattooed Lady Overdrive
Summary: Whether you’re looking for a reactive overdrive or an amp-in-a-box, this pedal delivers! Combine that with great tone, and at least for me, there’s nothing to dislike about this pedal.
Pros: Superb dynamic response, with lots of volume and gain on tap.
Price: $149.00 Street
Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 ~ I don’t give these out lightly; especially to brand-new gear manufacturers, but after playing with this pedal for past few weeks, I just can’t find anything NOT to like. I’ve thrown it in front of four different amps used it with three different guitars, and love its tone with every combination!
I’ll admit it. I find chicks with tattoos incredibly sexy. Not too fond of “tramp stamps” but tats on the rest of the body are a turn-on for me. So I suppose I had a predisposition for liking the Tattooed Lady Overdrive by Circus Freak Music. But truth be told, I certainly did have an underlying excitement prior to receiving the pedal for review after having an introductory conversation with its creators back in mid-December. I felt that for the first time in a long time, a new player to the guitar gear market “got it,” bringing not only great technology but solid business acumen to the table. The guys at Reason Amps certainly got it when they came to market, and my very good friend, Jeff Aragaki with Aracom Amps gets it for sure. Lots of boutique guys are nice guys who make gear as a hobby and go into business after building up a local following, but lots of time, they get kind of lost in the background noise of all the outfits that come to market each year.
So what sets Circus Freak apart from other pedal manufacturers? Frankly, they have a vision which ties their current lineup of products with their future ones. For instance, it’s one thing to say you’re eschewing the typical Hammond box for a custom box. Lots of folks do this. But it’s obvious that the customizations aren’t just to be different. They’re functional. For instance, the bottom of the custom box (shown at right) has been purpose-built for mounting on some sort of rail system – there’s definitely a pedal board on tap, even though they haven’t released one yet!
Who’s to say if a business will be successful or not. People have to like and buy your products. But having been a poster-child for startup companies in my career as a software engineer, I can tell you that having a unifying vision and executing on that vision – while not necessarily guarantees to success – certainly provide a foundation for success, and that’s what excites me about Circus Freak Music.
But I digress… let’s talk about the pedal, shall we?
Fit and Finish
Part of the vision that Shannon and AJ of Circus Freak shared with me was that they wanted their products to be likened to sideshow performers of old. One thing about sideshow performers is that they’re memorable, so it was important to the guys to create a visual package that people wouldn’t easily forget. Not only is the enclosure unique, as I mentioned above, but each pedal comes in a velvet bag, and boxed with a box that has some incredible graphics! These guys put a lot of thought into their image, and their execution reflects the depth of thought. Of course, time will only tell how that will work for them, but they certainly have made a great start!
How It Sounds
As they say, “the proof is in the pudding,” and as far as performance is concerned, the Tattooed Lady provides the proof of operation and tone that back up their packaging. For the first couple of weeks that I had the pedal, I had it hooked up to my little VHT Special 6 combo. That amp has lots of clean headroom, so I really got a feel for how the pedal stood on its own. As an “amp-in-a-box,” I was totally blown away! I set the pedal to unity volume, which is just past 9am on the volume knob, and set the gain to about 3pm. At that setting, I could control the breakup of the pedal purely through attack and guitar volume changes.
The distortion that the pedal produces is nice and open. There’s a very slight compression, but it never gets squishy, even when I have my guitar volume all dimed. That’s very amp-like in nature! Because of time constraints (I’ve got lots of gear that I’m reviewing right now), I only have a single clip, but it’s a clip that really captures the dynamic range of the pedal. I first start out playing a simple arpeggio chord progression with the pedal disengaged, and my Les Paul volumes both at under halfway. I then switch on the pedal. One thing you’ll notice is a sudden increase in definition with just a touch of volume increase. At this point, the guitar’s set the same way, and I’m still picking pretty lightly. Then I get into strummed chords and crack my bridge volume to play a Townshend-like chord progression. What totally amazes me is that even with fully-strummed chords, the note separation is maintained! Finally, I back down the volume back to where it was, and the tone completely cleans up.
Here’s the clip:
What turns me on about the open distortion this pedal produces is that it’s UGLY – in a good way. It’s got that edgy, snarling-dog quality to it, and with the church music I write and play, that provides a contrast to the much softer message in my songs. I love the juxtaposition!
Mind you, this pedal is also very loud, and though I did test it to slam my pre-amp to break it up, and it does a fantastic job with that, I’ve relegated that duty to my trusty Timmy which I use as my transparent overdrive/booster. To me at least, where the Tattooed Lady totally shines is as an amp in a box. YMMV, of course… And don’t mistake my use of it as a pure distortion pedal. That’s a completely different animal and is square-wave. There’s a big difference between that and a soft-clipping device like an overdrive.
I’m not returning this pedal. Sure, I’ll pay for it, but I’m not returning it – ever. How’s that for an overall impression? I’ve been looking for an amp-in-a-box overdrive for a long time, and this is the first pedal in that long line of pedals that completely fits my tastes. Sure, there are others out there like the Caitlinbread Dirty Little Secret or the GeekMacDaddy British Ball Breaker, but those are specifically full-strack Marshall-esque type pedals. I’ve been looking for an overdrive that was brand-agnostic. Honestly, I don’t know if it was ever meant to be used like this considering all the volume on tap, but that’s how I’m going to be using it – so there!