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Archive for the ‘distortion’ Category

Elite Tone Smooth BoostIf I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. The market cannot have too many overdrive pedals. 🙂 As you know if you read this blog with regularity, I just love ’em. I know… there’s nothing like the sound of a cranked amp, yada-yada-yada… But to get to the type of amp drive that I like; that is, with both pre-amp and power tubes contributing to the distorted sound, the volume levels will make your ears bleed. Enter the overdrive pedal, which gives you that breakup tone at any volume level! And the reason I love OD pedals so much is because I personally haven’t come across any two from different makers that sound exactly alike. Sure, many cop the tone of some original design – can you say Tube Screamer – but even the “clones” have voices all their own as their manufacturers add features or make the original circuits more efficient.

The brand-new Smooth Boost from Elite Tone promises to be a VERY interesting take on the overdrive pedal. Don’t let the name fool you: This is not a pure booster pedal. Even Elite Tone categorizes it as a distortion/overdrive pedal. Here’s the description from their site:

Brand new offering from Elite Tone a simple subtle unique boost effect pedal. The Smooth Boost features a circuit architecture that supports, enhances and optimizes your existing tone with delicate transparency. This simple yet multifaceted effect, achieves hi fidelity tube like signal boost, compression, sustain, overdrive and even mild distortion. The smooth boost can also be adjusted remotely with guitar volume and produce a lush twangy tube like sound as the volume is rolled back. With the signal maxed it adds mild harmonic overdrive and a touch of distortion.

What really intrigues me about the pedal from the description is the phrase “The smooth boost can also be adjusted remotely with guitar volume…” Wonder if that’s actual mechanical control through a specific input, or it’s functioning like other OD pedals that respond to input gain. I’m going to have to do more research.

Holy GAS Attack, Batman!!! This handmade pedal only costs $99 direct!!!

Dammit! I wish I hadn’t gotten wind of this pedal. It’s bad enough that my natural curiosity makes me want to check this pedal out, especially with that “remote adjustment” bit. But that combined with the price is giving me a serious case of GAS! Crap! 🙂

Anyway, the Smooth Boost includes the following features (from the Elite Tone site):

  • Engineered and constructed all by hand
  • True bypass
  • Battery Included
  • 2.1 mm diameter DC jack adapter (like boss style, etc…)
  • Extremely low ambient noise ( Not audible with effect full on and strings muted in many cases)
  • LED On/Off indicator

Okay… I’m sold. Sight unseen, sound unheard. Well… I am a bit more reasonable than that, but this is VERY COOL! At the very least, I need to find out more about this pedal!

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Tone Freak Effects Severe High Gain Distortion PedalReleased in May (how did I miss this?), the Severe is “Tone Freak Effects’ answer to high gain distortion.” Oh man… This looks like a incredibly mean pedal. Set up like the Abunai 2 with a 3-way clipping switch, with level, gain, and tone, the Severe also sports a 3-way bright switch so it can be used with different amps. Very cool.

As Derek Tabata mentions on his site, the Severe will never turn your tone into a compressed mushy mess. The distortion can be laid on thick but, remains open. I can attest to this with the Abunai 2. You can lay on thick overdrive with that pedal, but it’ll never turn super thick.

With the Severe, Derek has taken high-gain distortion to another level! I’m amazed at how it sounds in the sound clips! Check ’em out!

Severe Demo Clip

Les Paul

Les Paul

Tom Anderson

Personally, I’m not a high-gain type of player, however, as I’ve gotten more and more comfortable soloing, I’ve found that I’m pushing more and more into high-gain territory. The only problem is that to achieve that with an amp means it has to be LOUD. That’s why I love pedals like this! You get the effect you need at far lower sound levels.

And you can’t go wrong with Tone Freak Effects! You just can’t! For more information, visit the Tone Freak Effects web site!

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Nova Repeater

The Nova Repeater news is a tad old, as it started shipping a couple of weeks ago, but retailers are still only taking pre-orders on it. I’ve been waiting for the Nova Repeater to come out for awhile, ever since I heard about it from Winter NAMM news. As TC Electronic puts it, this pedal is “No frills, with a sound that kills.” It truly is no-frills. There’s no programming of the pedal. It has a few features and that’s it. But what it has that I’ve not seen with other pedals is a feature TC calls, “Audio Tapping.” Essentially, you hold the tap tempo button down, then strum your guitar, and the delay is set based upon the strum. I can’t wait to try out this delay pedal! Here’s a demo video:

Nova Drive

Next up is the Nova Drive, which is an analog overdrive and distortion pedal that is controlled with a digital interface. Not sure how that works, but it does sound very cool. This is the same drive/distortion circuit that is in the Nova System, so if you know about that tone, you know it’s very nice. There are a couple of things that stand out about this pedal for me. First, you can change the order of the drive and distortion, making drive first, distortion second; and vice-versa. Second, you can also run the effects in parallel, which is totally – it provides a completely different dimension in the tone this pedal produces. It also has a MIDI input that you can hook up to a G Major system to program it. Not bad. Anyway, here’s another demo video:

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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!
stroborack
Peterson VS-R StroboRack

Summary: Super-accurate, super-sophisticated, yet super-easy-to-use. With point-one cent accuracy and built-in temperament and sweeteners, plus a huge display, accurate tuning is a breeze with this unit!

Pros: The big display makes tuning extremely easy, and the built-in sweeteners (I’ll get into that in a bit) ensure that once you’re tuned you sound great.

Cons: None, at least from the standpoint of features and capabilities. But as I’m not really a rackmount guy, lugging this around would mean having to get an enclosure. But in the studio, IT IS THE BOMB!!!

Features:

  • 0.1 Cent Accuracy
  • Large, Backlit Virtual Strobe™ Display
  • Exclusive Sweetened™ Tunings For Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Dobro®, Baritone, Steel Guitar, Electric Violin- total of 34
  • Buzz Feiten Tuning System® Presets
  • 8 User-Programmable Sweeteners
  • 25 Presets
  • Built-In Mic
  • Mute Button & Remote Jack
  • Tone Out Jack
  • All Metal Construction
  • Neutrik® Jacks
  • 12V BNC Output For Gooseneck Light (not included)
  • Built-In Power Supply (No Wall Wart.)

Price: $359 (street)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0. I’ve used a lot of tuners, and this by far is the most accurate I’ve ever used. Despite it being a rackmount, my use of it in the studio has proven

I used to never be into rackmount gear, let alone sophisticated tuning equipment. But the Peterson StroboRack has me reconsidering both those things, especially in my workshop/studio where tuning accuracy is incredibly important.

I received the StroboRack a few days ago, and since I set it up (which required all of two minutes to plug in the cords), I can see why so many people love these tuners. It’s a completely different way to tune an instrument. Instead of lining up a needle or LED, or even using the “strobe” effect on a TU-2, you tune by making the “checkerboard” pattern on the LCD stop moving. If it moves the left, you’re flat. If it moves to the right, you’re sharp.

Tuning with one of these things does take a little getting used to. First off, I had to really lighten my touch with the tuning keys, and also had to make sure I didn’t put any pressure on the neck. At .1 cent accuracy, even a slight pressure throws off the tuning. But once I got used to it, tuning was a breeze!

Do you take sugar with that?

The StroboRack includes what are called “sweeteners” for specific types of instruments. I’m not sure I understand this idea completely, but it has to do with setting the right intervals between notes – compensating for the type of instrument – so that the tuned instrument doesn’t just sound great tuned up, but when you actually chords, the chords are much more tonally accurate. Apparently a lot of math goes into calculating these sweeteners.

All I can say is that my guitars tuned up with the StroboRack, actually sound better than when tuned up with my little TU-2. It probably has a lot to do with the high degree of accuracy, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the “GTR” sweetener. For instance, I did an A/B comparison of tuning with the StroboRack vs. my TU-2. I took my time to get the most accurate tuning I could with both tuners. When I struck an E chord after tuning up with my TU-2, I had to make a couple of minor adjustments to my G and B strings – it wasn’t that the chord sounded bad, it just seemed to sound a bit “off.”

On the other hand, the E chord struck after tuning with the StroboRack with the GTR sweetener engaged sounded absolutely right on!

Fit and Finish

The StroboRack is encased in a nice, heavy-duty aluminum casing. It is really built like a tank, so I have no doubts that it could survive the rigors of the road. But I do advise getting an enclosure for it. It’s still a precision instrument, and should be handled with some care.

Overall Impressions

To say The Dawg digs this unit is an absolute understatement! Last night, I used it to set the intonation on a new guitar I got, and I have to tell you, the big display and scrolling checkerboard really made it easy. I know, a lot of folks would say, “But it’s just a tuner.” Well yeah… but the accuracy it affords you – especially you tone freaks out there – just can’t be beat. This is a unit that I will definitely be adding to my rig!

At $359 street, it’s not a cheap proposition by any means, but hell! We gear sluts spend tons of money each year on gadgets to make us sound better. One would think that sounding better also means being in tune. Of course, Peterson has several other tuners, like the StroboStomp that doesn’t have all the features of the rack unit, but it uses the same “Virtual Strobe Technology” as the StroboRack, so you know you’ll get the accuracy you need.

Mind you, I didn’t try out all the other features like outputting to two outputs, which is pretty cool, or using the XLR jack to go into a board. Those are great features, but frankly, they’re secondary to what’s important with this unit: Accurate tuning.

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Acoustic Imaginearing Quantum DriveBrand-new from what appears to be a brand-new kind of overdrive/distortion, Acoustic Imaginearing has just released its new QuantumDrive, overdrive/distortion pedal. Folks, this appears to be totally new technology; the first and only that employs quantum mechanics tunneling to produce its distortion sound!

I’m no physicist, so I’ll let you do your own research on what quantum tunneling is. But this is a totally new twist on distortion! Here’s the press release:

The QuantumDrive, A.I.’s flagship product, is a versatile and unique overdrive and distortion unit that uses a patent pending process to dynamically shape the sound of the guitar by means of a quantum tunneling device. Quantum tunneling is a curious physics principle which allows matter to “pass through” other matter which would normally be impenetrable. A.I. has developed a means of using this effect to modify a guitar signal in unique and previously unheard of ways. The quantum distortion appears to add a vowel sound to the signal as well as emphasizing the consonant, fricative guitar distinctiveness. Affecting the edge of the waveform and not just the peaks, the result is a very expressive tone when played “in the zone.” Of course the pedal is also capable of wild and quirky, outside the norm distortions — each distinctive to the instrument processed by the Quantum Drive.

The effect is well suited for both guitar and bass, as bass frequencies are retained without becoming muddy. It has been used by Tony Levin on the latest King Crimson tour.

In addition to the distortion channel, the pedal has a solid overdrive channel, also uniquely designed, that can be used independently or chained together with the quantum channel.

I gotta tell you, I love this kind of stuff! And the fact that this is an overdrive/distortion pedal (you know OD is my favorite kind of pedal) is even better! I’m very excited when inventors add a new twist to something familiar. It just goes to show that there’s no shortage of creativity and innovation in the world!

How It Sounds

There are very limited sound clips available on the site, but the interface to listen to them is a bit screwy. I was able to do a debug trace to figure out the sound clip file names. The following clips were done with a Les Paul with the rhythm pickup into the QuantumDrive and output through a Peavey Classic 30. The clips actually aren’t that good, as the massive amounts of reverb kind of mask what could really be a great sounding pedal. But from what I could here, this is a real open sounding distortion, with just a little fizz. What I like is how the signal tails off.

Light Quantum Drive

Medium Quantum Drive

High Quantum Drive

Note that this pedal also has an overdrive that you can mix with the quantum drive as well.

Where to Buy

You can get this pedal on EBay for $165 as a “Buy It Now” or bid on it for $160 starting bid/$225 Buy It Now (in another auction).

This pedal is so new, they only have two dealers. This is a great find!

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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!

Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2

Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2 Overdrive Pedal

Summary: In Japanese, “abunai” means dangerous, and this pedal’s overdrive tones are indeed dangerous – at least to your other overdrive pedals. With three switchable clipping configurations, you can dial in a myriad of overdrive characteristics that’ll suit any situation, be it live or in the studio.

Pros: The magic’s in the three-way clipping configuration switch. Super simple to use, and very easy to dial in the kind of overdrive character you want.

Cons: None

Price: $199 (through dealers – check out the Tone Freak Effect Contact Page)

Specs:

  • Controls: Drive, Tone, Level
  • 3 clipping configurations
  • True Bypass
  • Neutrik jacks
  • Teflon coated, silver stranded wire
  • Mil-spec PCB
  • Metal film resistors
  • Metal film capacitors
  • Hand assembled

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 – As I shared with Dereck Tabata (maker of Tone Freak pedals), with the amount of gear that I run across, I’m rarely blown away by pedals. But I was completely blown away by the Abunai 2. Step aside Tube Screamer, there’s a new sherriff in town.

One rainy friday night several months ago, I was sitting in an Armadillo Willy’s eating my dinner and surfing the web, while waiting for my son’s hockey practice at the rink across the parking lot to end. I was doing what Internet geeks like myself occasionally do: Search for available domain names, and reserve them, just in case I want to build a site or point them to this blog. In this case, I did a google search on “tone freak.” The first listing was for Tone Freak Effects; an effects manufacturer I had not even heard of at that point.

Being the gear slut that I am, I just had to mosey on over to the Tone Freak site, and check out what they had to offer. And much to my extreme pleasure, they had a bunch of overdrive pedals, my favorite kind of effect! I immediately reached over to my laptop bag and pulled out my ear buds so I could listen to clips. The first set of clips I listened to were recorded with the Abunai 2. From the very first clip, I felt that this pedal was something special. It wasn’t a Tube Screamer tone – it was something altogether different. It had a much “ballsier” sound than a Tube Screamer, but seemed to clip very similarly – at least in the middle position.

Well I got one in for review just yesterday, and from the moment I hooked it up to my board and started noodling, I was in love!!! And by 2am this morning, I was spent, which accounts for why I’m doing a review of the Abunai 2 the very next day. I just couldn’t stop playing (though after the first hour I did stop to take a break and write a First Impressions article)! So today I’m a bit fuzzy and a little worse for wear, but grinning from ear-to-ear because I just spent the previous evening in absolute overdrive bliss! I know some gear is good when it can consume my attention for hours on end. This is the perfect overdrive pedal!

Features and Ease-of-Use

The features are listed in the summary section above, but the most special feature of this pedal is the three-way mini-toggle set between the drive and volume knobs. This controls the variable clipping section which gives you symmetrical, asymmetrical, and no clipping to open up lots of different overdrive tones. As far as ease-of-use is concerned, this pedal’s easy to use. Select the clipping configuration you want, adjust level, gain, and tone, and you’re off to the races!

Interestingly enough, I wanted to get some background information on the pedal before I received it, so I had a nice conversation with Rob at Tone Merchants about the Abunai 2. He indicated that I’d have to spend a lot of time dialing in just the right overdrive tone I wanted, but once I got it, I’d be totally happy. Call me lucky, but I set everything in the middle position to start with, spent maybe 20 seconds twiddling the knobs, and found a sweet spot. I suppose it also all depends on how discerning or nit-picky you are… I’ll just call it luck for my experience. 🙂

How It Sounds

Many words come to mind with respect to how the Abunai 2 sounds: Killer, Inspirational, Ballsy, F-in’ Incredible! All of the above. To date, this is the best-sounding overdrive pedal I’ve ever played, and I’ve played a lot. You know how taken I was with the OCD, but even that lost out to the Holy Fire, which is yet another killer overdrive/distortion that will never leave my board – actually I shouldn’t say “never” because that’s exactly what I said about my Tube Screamer. It’s not transparent – at least not nearly as transparent as the Holy Fire – but the tone it produces is so damn sweet, who the hell cares about transparency? But that said, the tone of your amp doesn’t really change a lot. It just takes on a slightly different character, and that difference is simply wonderful

No matter what toggle position you go with, the Abunai 2 serves up lots of sustain that gives the resultant tone a very 3-dimensional quality. It’s in your face, but at the same time it’s very spacious – even when it’s simulating tube compression!

In case  you missed the previous article where I described how each position sounds, let me rehash it here. Note that I’m not going to try to identify which position refers to symmetrical, asymmetrical or no-clipping; only what it sounds like to my ears.

Middle

The middle position sounds much like a classic overdrive tone. It’s an open type of distortion tone with a nice grind that’s never harsh. This could be the closest you get to a Tube Screamer tone, but it’s significantly different from that tone. This is a great toggle position for playing dirty rhythm parts.

Left

To my ears, this position sounds much like the tone you get as your power tubes start to saturate. You get a bit more voltage sag, resulting in more sustain and compression, but the overdrive tone still remains fairly open. And like an amp whose power tubes are starting to saturate, you get a slight volume drop. So far, this has been my favorite toggle position for leads.

Right

This position simulates fully saturated power tubes adding tons of compression, tons of sustain, and the expected drop in volume as a result -it’s spongy. I compensated for this by adding some clean boost to get the volume back to unity gain. But despite that, notes are clear, and the dynamics are still incredible.

Here’s a sound clip I recorded at around 1am this morning. I played both parts using my Prestige Heritage Elite. For the rhythm part, I set the toggle in the middle position, rolled off the drive to about 10 am, set the gain to unity, and placed the tone dead-center. I had both my ‘buckers engaged for this part. For the lead, I used the left toggle position, upped volume to about 2pm, set the Tone wide open, and set the Drive to about 1pm. The lead was played through my bridge pickup.

I tracked the rhythm part in a single take, and then loop recorded the lead so I could just jam. I’m not sure what iteration the loop was in when I finally stopped. All I know was that it was about 2am, and I took the last “take” and exported the clip to an MP3.

Overall Impressions

As I mentioned above, my head’s fuzzy, I’m a little worse for wear, plus my fingertips hurt from playing so long last night. But what the hell! I was in complete tonal bliss! The Abunai 2 is an absolute dream come true in overdrive tone! This is a pedal that you just have to check out if you’re in the market!

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4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite

Barber Direct Drive

Barber Direct Drive

Barber Direct Drive

Summary: The Direct Drive is a nice, fairly transparent overdrive that maintains your amp’s tone that can produce mild grit to over-the-top, searing gain that sustains for days. 

 

Pros: As overdrive pedals go, this pedal sounds great, and with internal trim pots you can adjust the bass response and presence. This ain’t a Tube Screamer clone by any stretch of the imagination. Plus, it’s handmade and at a GREAT price!

Cons: A little noisy with single coils and P-90’s.

Price: $119 direct

Specs:

Volume, Tone and Drive knobs
Internal Trim Pots to adjust bass response and presence 

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 – I really like this pedal! It’s fairly transparent and clear, and except for a bit of noise with my Strat and PRS SE II Soapbar, this OD delivers great tones at any volume!

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I have a thing for overdrive pedals; especially in a small home studio like my own, a good overdrive pedal really helps get that drive tone when you have to play at bedroom levels. Unfortunately, not all drive pedals behave well at low volumes. I would have to say that a lot of my overdrive purchasing decisions have been driven (excuse the pun) by how well they perform in low volume situations like a home studio. I’ve played several drive pedals over the years, and while almost all sound great when an amp is pushing some serious air, there’s only a select few that perform well at much lower volumes. So I’m happy to say that the Barber Direct Drive falls into the latter camp!

Ease of Use

What could be more easy? Three knobs for Volume, Tone and Gain. Just dial in the amount you desire of each, and you’re off to the races. But the Direct Drive also provides a cool push-pull pot with the Tone knob that engages what Barber calls “Fat Harmonics” mode for what they call the “Expensive California” amp tone. It’s another way of getting more high-end sparkle and emphasis on overtones and harmonics; much like the Fulltone OCD that has it on all the time. But wait! There’s more! 🙂 Inside the box are internal trim pots for adjusting bass response and 

How It Sounds

It’s certainly fatter sounding than a Tube Screamer, even though Barber claims in their manual that a certain knob setting is an “808 killer.” I tried the Direct Drive at that setting, and it’s close, but sorry, no cigar. But that’s not a bad thing! The Direct Drive has a very distinct personality and definitely a sound and voice all its own! I did mention in the Summary that it’s fairly transparent. It is, but nowhere near as transparent as the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire which is just about the most transparent overdrive I’ve ever played! But again, that’s not a bad thing. The overdrive characteristics are a bit tighter than a Fulltone OCD and much more even EQ-wise than a Tube Screamer; like I said, it has its own voice.

Here’s a clip I recorded. The rhythm part features a Strat. The Direct Drive’s volume is at unity, tone is dead-center, and Drive is about 10 am to get just a tiny bit of overdrive. The solo employs my Prestige Heritage Elite. The box’s volume is still at unity, tone is about 1 pm, and the drive is set to dead-center. This produces a nice, smooth grind, and lots of sustain.

By the way, the cool thing about that clip is that it was recorded at bedroom level, with my ribbon mic about 2 inches from the grille cloth! For the pedal to create that drive sound at that level is amazing!

Overall Impressions

This is a real kick-ass pedal, and I do have to say that in low-volume situations, this has got to be one of the best sounding drive pedals I’ve played. I dig it!  This is not a pedal I’d just at high gain, gig volume situations. It’s not that the tone is bad, but even though Barber has removed some of the compression characteristics in the later models (the old ones were pretty thick in comparison, apparently), it’s a bit too tight at high gain, especially when you need to punch through a mix. Besides at that volume level, I tend to stay away from my overdrive pedals altogether and just use my Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 booster (the best, most transparent booster on the planet, IMO) to slam my pre-amp tubes. 

But for general overdrive duties, this is a great pedal. I actually love its fatter tone when playing in low-volume venues, and for a street price of $119, and being hand-wired to boot, this is a pedal that I don’t think I can ignore! Neither should you! 🙂

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