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Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Overdrive/Distortion Pedal

Fulltone OCD Drive Pedal

What do you do when you have two kick-ass overdrive/distortion pedals and don’t know which one to choose because both pedals bring so much to the table? The obvious answer is to use both. But my problem in choosing is exacerbated by limited pedal real estate, so I have to make a choice.

Actually, the choice wasn’t too hard to make once I started playing with the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire. While I love the OCD, the Holy Fire wins hands-down for its versatility and total transparency. While the OCD is somewhat transparent, it can get kind of muddy and a little choppy at high drive settings, whereas the Holy Fire’s distortion section reacts a lot like a power tube at high gain settings producing a compressed effect that just rocks the house!

I still love the sound that the OCD produces. It really brings out harmonics and overtones, and set in a “sweet spot” produces a nice sparkly distortion that really sounds great. But as of late I’ve been gravitating towards retaining the natural sound of my guitar and amp, so the added artifacts that the OCD adds aren’t really what I want right now.

On the other hand, the overdrive on the Holy Fire is totally unique, and nothing like I’ve ever witnessed in all my tests of overdrive pedals (and believe me, I’ve tested a lot). The overdrive has what Creation Audio Labs calls a “wave shaping” circuit that evenly distorts the entire bandwidth of the incoming signal as opposed to creating a mid-range hump, or scooping the EQ. It really is completely even. You don’t lose any lows or highs, which is common in overdrive pedals. And the circuit reacts to both volume and pick attack, providing more wave shaping as you hit the front-end of the pedal harder. Simply put, you retain all the natural tone of your guitar! It’s insane! And it’s so special, Creation Audio Labs is trying to patent it!

I gigged with the Holy Fire for the first time this evening at my weekly Church gig. Make no mistake, this may be a church service, but we regularly hit above 100db in our sets, so there is plenty of room to let our amps breath, and take advantage of the higher gain settings on our equipment. Tonight, I made sure to pick music that would allow me to use the Holy Fire throughout my set. Talk about being inspired! I used it with my Strat and a Reason SM25 amp. What a combo! I set the gain to just above unity with the clean channel (about 10am), the overdrive at about 2pm, and distortion at about 3pm (so the distortion section would compress – it does this at around 2pm). The breakup was so smooth and delicious, I wanted to keep it on all the time! Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that with some songs, but where I had the entire band playing all out, the Holy Fire just made my heart sing!

The Holy Fire also plays well with other pedals. My mainstay overdrive pedal is my trusty green machine, an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer. That’s one pedal that will NEVER leave my board! But here’s the cool thing: Running the Tube Screamer in front of the Holy First was like nothing I’ve heard before. I did this with my OCD as well, essentially getting a combined tonal effect that the TS and OCD produce. But the Holy Fire maintained the tone the Tube Screamer produces! On the other hand, it smoothed out and thickened the distortion. The result was the expected mid-range hump from the Tube Screamer, but with super-creamy distortion, plus the TS tone, that was like candy to my ears. No extra coloration that I came to expect by running my TS into the OCD. It was like playing a fatter Tube Screamer!

Believe me, despite playing in a worship service, the way I was feeling with both those pedals running together made it seem I like I was flying with the angels! I’m not exaggerating! There is absolutely nothing compared to the feeling you get when you’re playing with wonderful tone. It inspires and emboldens you, and you take your playing to places you didn’t think possible.

That was the feeling I got when I first started playing with the OCD, and frankly, I didn’t think it could get much better. But the Holy Fire has changed everything.

On top of that, I was using another Creation Audio Labs pedal, the Mk.4.23 clean boost, yet another amazing product from those electronics wizards. I used the booster to give me just a slight gain boost for when I was doing solos, or was in the refrain section of a song when I needed just a bit more volume. It too is a totally transparent boost, adding ZERO artifacts to your signal, so all the time I spent dialing in my settings wouldn’t be lost when the Mk.4.23 was engaged.

I swear, I must sound like a twitterpated, googly-eyed schoolgirl! 🙂 But it’s been a long time that I’ve felt truly inspired, like everything was totally right with my world of tone. I’ve finally (at least for now), found total balance in my tone. The circle is complete…

At least until I get a bad case of GAS!!!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Overdrive/Distortion Pedal

Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Overdrive/Distortion Pedal

Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Overdrive/Distortion


Summary: Overdrive and Distortion and tons of gain in one box that will NOT alter your tone. Has built-in wave shaping that responds to attack and input gain that simulates overdriving the front end of an amp.

Pros: Possible to achieve all sorts of clipping from swampy grind to searing distortion rife with harmonics, overtones and feedback, and it can do all this at ANY volume – freakin’ amazing!

Cons: Operationally, none. But its circuitry is so special that it requires a special 48V DC adapter – it will not run from a standard 9V or 18V power supply like Dunlop DC Brick. But for what it brings to the table, that’s a small price to pay.

Price: $195 direct

Knobs:

– “G” Gain
– “O” Overdrive – Soft clipping circuit – has built-in wave-shaping to react to input gain much like the front-end of a tube amp. Higher levels evoke increased wave-shaping ensuring even distortion throughout the EQ spectrum.
– “D” Distortion – Square wave form distortion
– Hi-cut (variable sweep hi-cut, fully open gives you all the tone, dialed back scales back the hi-freqs)

Tone Bone Rating: 5 This stuff is magic.

The guys at Creation Audio Labs must be wizards – or at least half wizard – because they’ve created what I consider to be the only overdrive/distortion pedal that does what it’s supposed to do, and doesn’t alter the tone of your amp! Mind you, there are times when you want that. For instance, to me, the classic overdriven mid-range hump of a Tube Screamer is an incomparable sound, and something I will always have on my board because I like the way it changes my tone. But in a lot of other circumstances, all I want is grind or all out distortion, and I don’t want my tone changed. That’s where the Holy Fire overdrive/distortion comes into play.

This is truly a magical pedal. Not only does it look awesome with that brushed metal exterior, and glowing red “Holy Fire” letters, it kicks the freakin’ pants off pretty much anything that’s out there that claims tone transparency in my opinion. And I don’t say this lightly. Remember, if you’re a regular reader of this column, I’ve got a real penchant for overdrive and distortion boxes – especially overdrive boxes. So when I say a pedal totally kicks ass, I mean it! You might not see too many reviews on them here, only because I only take the time to write about gear I love and would put in my chain. This is a pedal that will be taking up space on my board! And at $195 direct from Creation Audio Labs, this is a must-have box!

What’s so special about it? Actually, the question should be: What’s not to like? You get the best of both worlds here: Completely transparent overdrive or beautifully compressed distortion. Playing just with the overdrive and the distortion completely rolled off, you can get that classic, mildly crunchy, gritty grind to rip-roaring rattle that’ll make you think your amp’s bottles will shake off. Conversely with the overdrive turned all the way down and sweeping the Distortion knob, you can go from sweet and mild distortion, to heavily compressed gut-wrenching distortion replete with harmonics and overtones that’ll make you feel you’re getting scalped! But the best settings combine certain amounts of both. When you find your sweet spot, it’s epiphany time!

Imagine all this in one little stomp box! And the kicker is that your amp will still sound like your amp! Mind you, I didn’t read any reviews of this pedal before I got one for review. I didn’t want to taint my assessment of the pedal. The VERY first thing I noticed as I twiddled with the knobs is that my test amps never lost their voicing (I used three amps: An Aracom RoxBox combo, a Reason SM25, and my trusty Fender Hot Rod Deluxe). In all cases, the amp I was playing still sounded like my amp except it had grind and/or distortion. And no matter what output volume I had, the pedal operated the SAME WAY!!! So imagine the versatility this pedal brings to the table! I’m going to do a test later on with my Fender Champ 600, and see what wonders the Holy Fire will conjure when I lay down some tracks. It should be interesting as well as rewarding. So whether you’re on stage or in the studio. If you need breakup in your sound, this pedal will do it.

But wait there’s more!

On top of all I discussed, the pedal is sensitive to input gain, and has what’s called “wave shaping” that responds to higher input gain and acts like you’re overdriving the front-end of a tube amp. When you hit the pedal hard with either a booster or diming your guitar’s volume, or just picking hard, the pedal’s LED changes to a yellow color indicating that you’re overdriving the pedal. The magic behind this is that wave shaping evenly distorts the input signal across the EQ spectrum, so all your input tone is completely retained. The damn thing works too! It ain’t no marketing gimmick! So just as you’d expect when you do the same things with an amp, the Holy Fire will do it as well. Like I said, it’s magic.

I should make mention to a very cool effect that happens when you turn the distortion knob past 2 o’clock. The circuit actually starts compressing the signal, so you lose a little volume, but you get a very fat signal. In my opinion, that’s where the magic occurs with the distortion. After playing around with lots of combinations, I ended up just diming the distortion knob altogether, then just layering in varying amounts of overdrive and gain. Truly candy for the ears here, folks. With that, I’m going to post a couple of YouTube vids here so you can see and hear for yourself.

January 12, 2009

I’ve written a follow-up on this pedal. In a nutshell, I got my first chance gig with the Holy Fire this past weekend, and it was a true revelation. Talk about being on cloud nine while playing the guitar! Read the follow-up here.

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Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 Boost

Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 Boost

Creation Audio Labs Mk 4.23 Clean Boost

Summary: Truly flat EQ response, zero coloration, clean boost pedal that takes your tone and gives you more, much more of it. Can be used as a simple clean booster, or can slam the front of your amp with up to 24dB of gain.

Pros: Does only one thing: It boosts your signal, giving you more cleans, or slamming your preamp tubes into sweet, singing, sustaining distortion. No bells and whistles, just a single volume knob. Super cool stainless steel finish, with backlit lettering.

Cons: None.

Price: $149 direct

Specs:

  • From zero to +24 dB of transparent boost
  • No tone coloration
  • No signal distortion
  • No phase reversal
  • True bypass with quiet switching
  • Ultra quiet 9v power supply included

Want a pure boost pedal? One that just does what it’s supposed to do? Simple to use? Doesn’t add its own “character” and just gives you more of your own tone? Look no further. I don’t say these words lightly either. All those things are true!

When Anthony Bonadio of Reason Amps first told me about the Creation Audio Labs Mk 4.23, I was really taken by the emotion in his voice when he described the pedal, and his claim that it was the best boost pedal he’d ever used. That’s saying a lot coming from a man who rarely uses pedals. And when he offered to send his to me to try with the Reason SM25 amp I recently reviewed, I just couldn’t wait until it arrived. It arrived today, and now I understand why he feels the way he does about the Mk 4.23.

Playing it through the Normal (clean) channel of the SM25, it does what it’s supposed to do: It boosts your clean channel. It was what I expected, so it was a bit boring, though I was impressed by the fact that there was no snap, crackle, pop when I kicked it in, and it just simply gave me more of my clean tone. But where this pedal really shined was when I kicked in the Bright and StackMode channels of the amp.

Talk about a visceral response! I can’t even describe the feelings I experienced as the pedal slammed the preamp tubes, and made the amp produce sweet, singing sustain that lasted for days! I always knew that the amp could produce incredible distorted tones, but with the boost engaged, I could hear additional harmonics and overtones issuing from the amp that up until that point I had never heard! On top of that, I never lost a bit of tonal clarity, even when I had the volume knob dimed and was creating that scooped, snarling dog buzz. That’s certainly a testament to the quality of the amplifier and complex and sophisticated sounds it can produce, but it’s also a huge testament to Mk 4.23 that can push the amp into that organic, high-gain overdrive. OH MY FREAKIN’ GOD!!!

I tested the pedal with humbuckers and single coils, and it was interesting to hear the difference in how the pedal performs with both. With humbuckers, the volume boost is less dramatic, as humbuckers send a lot of gain by default. But the effect was by no means displeasing. Where I didn’t get a significant volume boost, I got a lot more gain, driving the preamp tubes even harder. The sound was absolutely delicious! In fact, it drove the amp into feeding back, even a lower volumes! How cool is that?!! The guitar I used has tons and tons of sustain, but with the amp slammed, the sustain went on and on and on. And with that much gain, the compression from the power tubes just gave the signal balls of steel. But wait! There’s more!

With my Strat, the volume boost effect was dramatic; perfect for pushing your volume into great lead levels to get over the top of a mix. I didn’t get as much drive into the preamp tubes, but I wasn’t expecting that in any case. And yet again, the booster just took my tone, and simply gave me more of it.

So as you can tell, I REALLY like this pedal. I love what it does in a big way. But here’s another thing to love about this pedal: Its price. Creation Audio Labs got tired of using middle men and retailers that would price the pedals out of many players’ budgets, so they decided to only go direct. So what used to be a $260 pedal is now only $149. Buy it direct from Creation Audio labs!

In closing, after I return this pedal to Anthony, I’m going to buy this pedal. After just using it for just a short time, I’m confident in saying that this is a pedal that will always be on my board.

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