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Posts Tagged ‘overdrive’

After a short wait for a couple of weeks for stocks to be replenished, I finally got my EHX Soul Food delivered today. I just finished playing it for a couple of hours straight, and I will say this: I am NOT surprised why this pedal is so popular. It’s touch-sensitive and extremely expressive, and I simply couldn’t be happier with this pedal than I am right now.

Also, I will say this right off the bat: I know that the Soul Food is supposed to be a part-for-part clone of the Klon Centaur, but I actually don’t really care about whether it sounds like a Klon or not. I’ve never seen or played a Klon in person, so I have no reference point. In spite of that, to me the Soul Food can stand entirely on its own as a great overdrive pedal; “klone” or not. If it indeed is at least similar to a Klon, then I understand why the Klon is so coveted.

This overdrive has sent me into absolute overdrive bliss! Unlike my Timmy – which will always be on my board – the Soul Food adds a bit of color, but in such a wonderful way that I will daresay that I will probably be keeping this overdrive on my board next to my Timmy.

Within the first few minutes of plugging in the pedal, I noticed that the Soul Food performed a little magic with my tone by boosting the harmonics in my signal. Even in the neck pickup of my R8, which can sound a bit muffled at times, the sparkle was spectacular, and I felt as if the tone in my neck pickup suddenly came to life.

The other thing I noticed right away was the usable EQ. One complaint I have about a lot of overdrive pedals is that the EQ’s are weak. There’s just not that much difference when you move the EQ knobs around. But the single EQ – which is really a treble boost/cut – on the Soul Food is incredibly useful. Set at noon, it’s neutral, then you boost or cut treble by turning the knob right or left respectively. The sweet spot for my R8 was between 1pm and 2pm. That just made the tone of my guitar, no matter what pickup I was using – just jump out. Quite lovely!

Here’s a thing to consider if you’re not sure about an overdrive pedal: Play around with the EQ settings before you get rid of the pedal. You might be pleasantly surprised. Personally, I’ve never liked an overdrive where the EQ’s were set at neutral. I’ve found you have to set them for each different guitar that you use. With my R8, just adding a bit of treble boost really helped the naturally deep tone of that guitar. I imagine I’ll do a little cut with my 59 replica.

Anyway, here are some clips I recorded while tooling around (the first three are with my R8’s neck pickup, the last is played with the bridge pickup)…

Testing the EQ

In this one, I have the drive set to noon, and the volume set to unity, so all the grit is coming from the pedal. Not really my favorite setting. But apparently, it’s the same with the Klon. It was best used with predominant boost against an amp on the edge of breakup, then add gain to taste.

This next one is with the pedal in its sweet spot for my R8: Volume at 12, gain at around 10am, and EQ at about 2pm.

Finally, I did a quick lead in the lead break of a song I wrote.

As I said, I’m in overdrive bliss. I love how this pedal sounds!

ROCK ON!

Update

Totally forgot to mention that for a pedal that costs less than $70, EHX could’ve just packaged up the pedal in a box and leave it at that, letting the pedal speak for itself. But not only do you get the pedal, EHX included a 9V power supply as well! That’s just so cool to me, and so very classy of EHX to go the extra mile for its customers.

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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!

Slash L Guitars
Summary: Yet another custom beauty from Perry Riggs, owner, and luthier of Slash L Guitars. This amazing through-neck guitar is not only aesthetically gorgeous, it’s capable of some incredible tones!

Pros: Lightweight (Perry lists at 8 lbs, but it feels even lighter). There’s a lot to be said about the through neck design. Tone comes from the neck and this laminated mahogany and maple neck creates both a jangly and lush tone, with sustain that’s on par with a Les Paul. I’m in heaven!

Cons: None. Absolutely none.Price: Call

Features:

  • Body: Quilted Soft Maple over Ribbon Sapele Mahogany
  • Neck: Grain-matched Flamed Hard Maple and Mahogany / Wide, Shallow “C” profile
  • Fretboard: Bound Honduran Rosewood / 24 frets – very nice
  • Nut: 1 11/16″ Bleached Bone Nut
  • Gotoh 510 hardware (my favorite – a wraparound bridge, and super-accurate tuners)
  • Lollar Imperial Pickups
  • Master Volume, Master Tone
  • 3-way pickup selector

Tone Bone Rating: Wow! Starting off the year with two 5.0 reviews! What can I say? I got pretty lucky! πŸ™‚ Perry Riggs is a guy who loves building guitars, and the workmanship and tone of his excellent instruments never cease to amaze me!

What comes out of Texas? Great barbecue beef (especially brisket), a fantastic music scene in Austin, and Slash L Guitars out of Richmond. Perry Riggs discovered my blog a couple of years ago and asked if I’d like to review one of his guitars. He was a luthier whom I had never heard of, and after having a nice phone conversation, I agreed to review “Lana.” If I was impressed by Lana, I am even more impressed with Katie May. It’s clear that in the couple of years since I reviewed Lana, Perry has honed his craft even more. Katie May is an incredibly expressive and sophisticated-sounding guitar, and I’ll just say it now: If I had the money on hand, I’d keep this guitar, and make it my numero uno! That’s how good this guitar is!

Fit and Finish

When you purchase a custom guitar, you’re not purchasing something that you’ll resell. After all, a custom guitar is a pretty personal thing. Perry usually builds on commission, but then he occasionally builds some for inventory, like Lana and Katie May. I have to say that Katie May feels as if she was made just for me. πŸ™‚ The neck is absolutely perfect, and dynamics and feel are EXACTLY how I like them.

The finish and workmanship that went into this guitar make it look like a piece of furniture! Everything about this guitar just screams organic. There’s a certain understated quality to this guitar that’s hard to describe, but it just looks “natural,” as if everything that should be on the guitar is on the guitar. There’s nothing extra, and there’s nothing missing. Check out some pictures:

The pictures don’t do the guitar justice. I wish I had more time to do a photo shoot of the guitar, but unfortunately, the demands of work precluded me from doing so. The quilted maple top is absolutely insane. I love how Perry used a simple stain then glossed it over with lacquer. I know, I’m really a burst kind of guy, but I’d use this on stage any day!

How It Sounds

The Lollar Imperials are absolutely incredible. They’re the perfect set for this guitar. Even though they’re just standard wound, they have a gain range that super-wide, and when dimed, they produce an absolutely velvety-smooth overdrive tone. When I gigged with the guitar over the weekend, when it came to leads,Β  I just closed my eyes and soaked up the wonderful tone of this guitar! Here are some clips (all recorded with an Aracom VRX18 in the drive channel cranked. The Lollars clean up fantastically!):

  • Middle-clean / Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi)

With this clip, I wanted to capture that simultaneous lushness and jangle that the guitar can produce. It’s best when in the middle position. When I gigged this weekend, I used the neck pickup with delay and spring reverb for a haunting, fingerstyle tone.

  • Neck-dirty

With that clip, I wanted to demonstrate the punch of the neck pickup, from which the guitar gets is super-lush, deep tones.

  • Bridge-dirty

This clip was all about “fun.” I used that song to demonstrate the “spank” of the neck pickup. It can create some searing lead tones, but with the volume backed off, will provide lots of snap.

  • Bridge clean and dirty

Remember I mentioned the spank of the bridge pickup? That’s most evident when playing a funky, clean riff. Combine that with an incredibly smooth and refined lead tone, and you’ve got a guitar that can create all sorts of tones!

By the way, my total rig for these demo clips was the guitar plugged directly into the Aracom VRX18 into an Aracom PRX150-Pro then out to my custom Aracom 1 X 12 cabinet with a Jensen Jet Falcon 12″ speaker. Amazingly enough, all clips were recorded at normal conversation levels. The PRX150 never ceases to amaze me! In any case, I miked the cabinet with a Sennheiser e609 instrument mic fed into a Presonus TUBEPre and into my audio interface. Everything was recorded using Logic on my Mac with no EQ or effects added, so what you hear is the raw guitar sound. I didn’t want to muddy the waters by running it through any effects.

Playability

Normally, it takes me awhile to get used to a guitar; especially a custom guitar. But Katie May was playable right out of the box. For me, the neck is absolutely perfect. It’s super-fast and the medium-jumbo frets just do not get in the way. They’re deep enough to provide some room for vibrato, but they’re low enough where they allow you to move around very easily. In fact, when I record the lead for the last clip, I actually had to take several takes because I kept on going too fast! That’s saying a lot for me because I’m not really a fast player.

Overall Impression

The rating says it all. Great looks? Check. Great sound? Check. Great playability? Check. This is a guitar that I would add to my collection any day, and I’m going to be jealous of the person who ends up with her. Kudos to Perry Riggs for creating such a masterpiece of a guitar! And by the way, Perry, if you’re reading this, I now hate you for torturing me with this guitar. I’m a horse, and Katie May is the carrot that’s dangled in front of me. πŸ™‚

The rating says it all. Great looks? Check. Great sound? Check. Great playability? Check. This is a guitar that I would add to my collection any day, and I’m going to be jealous of the person who ends up with her. Kudos to Perry Riggs for creating such a masterpiece of a guitar! And by the way Perry, if you’re reading this, I now hate you for torturing me with this guitar. I’m a horse, and Katie May is the carrot that’s dangled in front of me. πŸ™‚

The rating says it all. Great looks? Check. Great sound? Check. Great playability? Check. This is a guitar that I would add to my collection any day, and I’m going to be jealous of the person who ends up with her. Kudos to Perry Riggs for creating such a masterpiece of a guitar! And by the way Perry, if you’re reading this, I now hate you for torturing me with this guitar. I’m a horse, and Katie May is the carrot that’s dangled in front of me. πŸ™‚

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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!

Β DSC_0344

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.

Cons: None.

Price: $149.00 Street

Features:

  • Volume and Gain controls (volume has lots of output gain)
  • Independent Active Bass and Treble EQ controls
  • Amp-like dynamic response
  • Incredibly touch sensitive
  • Voice Toggle (up = flat response, down = slight treble boost for thicker-sounding guitars)
  • True Bypass
  • Can take up to 18v input power

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. πŸ™‚ 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.

tl_bottomSo 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

DSC_0338Part 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 aΒ  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 simpleΒ  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. πŸ™‚ 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.

Overall Impression

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! πŸ™‚

ROCK ON!

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tl_pedal_bagtl_boxWhen 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). tl_bottomFinally, 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. πŸ™‚

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!

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Evaluating an Overdrive Pedal

I was reading through some earlier reviews of overdrive pedals such as the Keeley Luna Overdrive and the TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive, and in one review I wrote, “…I came to realize [is] that more than any other pedal I’ve tested and reviewed, overdrive pedals are the most challenging to get to work in a rig…”

I got to thinking on why that is, and looking back on how I evaluate overdrives, I came to the conclusion that overdrives are challenging to evaluate because like tube amps, they all respond a little differently to what you throw in front of and in back of them.

And it’s not just the TubeScreamer vs. non-TubeScreamer distinction that makes them different. Builders use different tone stacks or purpose-build their pedals to mimic the tone and response of classic amps or amplify the voltage – all sorts of things! All these differences make me a nut for overdrives. Whenever I get a chance to play a new one, I jump at it because I never know what I’ll get!

In light of these differences, I’ve come up with a fairly uniform system to evaluate overdrives that helps me find an OD’s sweet spot that I’ll share here.

Dialing In EQ

More than anything, getting EQ dialed in is ultra-important, as that determines the color – if any – that the pedal adds. Some pedals, like the Tim and Timmy, are built as transparent overdrives, but in some cases you have to add a bit of EQ color to make them sound good. So here’s how I dial in EQ:

  1. First, set the amp clean, to maximum headroom. Pedal disengaged.
  2. Set the amp’s EQ’s to flat response. Note that that doesn’t mean that you turn everything to noon. It means you set the EQ’s to where you have as close to an even distribution of lows, mids and highs for the gear that you’re using. For my standard rig, that means cutting the bass and mids a bit and adding some highs.
  3. On the pedal, set gain/drive to 0, volume to unity, and tone controls to manufacturer-specified flat response.
  4. Engage the pedal. What did that do to the sound? Is it brighter? Muffled? This gives you an idea where in the EQ spectrum the pedal sits. Some pedals are on the brighter side, others darker.
  5. Make adjustments to where the tone is pleasing to you. For me, I usually like a bit of brightness when I have an overdrive engaged to get a bit of a treble boost.
  6. Now, progressively add gain/drive to the point where the pedal gets to the edge of breakup; that is, if you play lightly, the tone cleans up, but if you attack the strings, you’ll get distortion. How does that sound? Adjust EQ accordingly. This step is typically where I’ve found that adding a bit more highs works best for my rig because when I set my amp to where I like it for a gig, the highs of the pedal will offset the bottom end of my speaker and give me a more scooped tone.

Don’t be concerned if you spend an hour or so getting it right. EQ is tough.

Now The Fun Starts…

Now that you have EQ dialed in, it’s time to have some fun with volume and drive. But before you start twiddling volume and gain knobs, you have to consider how you’re going to use the overdrive. Remember, an overdrive isn’t just a soft-clipping device. It’s also a booster which can boost the input gain on your amp to where your pre-amp tubes break up. Furthermore, as I mentioned above some overdrives are meant to specifically mimic classic amps in tone and dynamics. You have to consider these things when playing with volume and gain. I think the reason some people don’t like particular overdrives is because they may not have considered what the builder’s intent was with the pedal – if any – and tried to set it up the way they’ve “normally” set up an overdrive. For instance, I tried out an overdrive from a builder who created a pedal to mimic a Marshall stack. But I tried to use it as a gain stage. Didn’t work at all. I had a converse issue at first with my Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire trying to use it as a simulated amp stack, but it’s better used an extra gain stage. The point to this is that some pedals work better as pure overdrivers, while some pedals work great as standalone clipping devices.

Standalone Overdrive

This is the easiest thing to test. Just set your amp up to maximum clean headroom, set the volume on the pedal to around unity gain or slightly above, then crank the gain/drive, slowly dialing it back until you’ve got the right amount of dirt or crunch. This is also the most boring to me, and frankly, there have been few pedals that I’ve tested that actually work well this way – at least that sound pleasing to me.

The Hybrid Solution

My favorite way of using an overdrive – even it was meant to be an amp stack – is to use it in a “hybrid” way. That is, making it push my pre-amp into saturation and thus overdrive. Here’s how I set it up:

  1. First, I get the EQ dialed in, then I set the amp to where it’s just at the edge of breakup (with the pedal off), where rolling on volume (with my volume knob set in the middle) or attacking harder will cause my amp to break up.
  2. Next, I’ll switch the overdrive on and set the the volume to a bit past unity gain, so I get a volume boost, plus it’ll make my amp break up a bit.
  3. Then I add gain to get more crunch. I might have to back off the volume a tad as gain also adds a bit of boost.

What that gives me is a great lead tone plus a solo boost, and it’s how I use my Timmy pedal to great effect. But with the Timmy, I use a bit more boost to completely saturate my pre-amp, so I get some power tube breakup as well (typically, my master volume is dimed). Granted, this is quite loud which is why it’s such a blessing to have a great attenuator like my Aracom PRX150-Pro to keep the output volume down. Note that with the hybrid solution you have twiddle knobs to find the right balance between pedal distortion and amp distortion. Some pedals are better at adding just a touch of distortion to the signal like my Timmy, whereas others, like the TC Electronic MojoMojo are better at providing most of the distortion with just a little gain boost. You have to play…

We’re Not Finished Just Yet…

Doing a one-to-one eval against your amp is one thing, but invariably, you’re going to use an overdrive with other pedals, specifically modulation pedals. For years, I used to have all my pedals in front of my amp. I was playing a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe whose dirty tone was UGLY, so even though I had a loop, I just put all the pedals in front of the amp because I just played the amp clean. Accordingly at the time, I used OD pedals that worked well as standalone clipping devices, and it wasn’t an issue running my modulation pedals right after my overdrives. But then I started using amps that had great tube distortion, and the game changed. I was now putting modulation pedals in my effects loop and overdrive and distortion pedals in front of my amp. That called for different types of overdrives.

But especially within the context of using overdrives with modulation pedals. Once you’ve dialed in the overdrive on a one-to-on basis, you may have to make further adjustments once you introduce modulation pedals. For instance, I normally add a touch of spring reverb to my signal, plus a little slap-back analog delay. Doing that has a tendency to darken my tone a bit, so I adjust EQ on the amp, and also adjust EQ on my overdrive pedals in response.

This is sort of the tedious part of adding new gear to your chain: Every new addition changes your signal and you have to make appropriate adjustments – I’ve found especially with drive pedals – to accommodate the other pedals.

What I’ve presented here is NOT hard and fast by any means, but it should provide you a good backdrop for testing out overdrive pedals in the future.

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Are New Overdrives Irrelevant?

Over the years, I’ve tested and played and owned several overdrive pedals, from TubeScreamer types to transparent, to amp “simulator” types of overdrives. Not knowing the exact number of overdrive pedals on the market, I’d venture to guess that are probably at least a couple of hundred overdrives from different builders from which to choose that are available to guitarists today. And new overdrives continue to hit the market each year; granted, the rate at which they’re popping up seems to have slowed over the last couple of years, but people are still building them.

But given the literal glut of overdrives available to us guitarists, I continually ask myself if the new overdrives arriving on the market are relevant; or are they just a “copy cat” effort meant to capitalize on the success of previous products?

To answer that question, I’ve had to look at the landscape, as it were, of the overdrives out there (mind you, we’re talking overdrive as in “soft clipping,” not distortion or fuzz). In general, to me, overdrives fall into two camps: TubeScreamer-type overdrives, and non-TubeScreamer-type overdrives. This has more to do with history than anything else. Back in the early- to mid-70’s, Maxon came out with the OD-808, which was then picked up by Ibanez and eventually called the TubeScreamer (it was simply called Overdrive and Overdrive II before that), though early versions had the TubeScreamer brand, but the “Overdrive Pro” designation. All that aside, that original pedal, which used the JRC4558D OpAmp chip, created the foundation for several follow-on variants; but the “style” was marked by the mid-range hump that the JRC4558D chip produced. On the market today, you have several TubeScreamer variants from all sorts of builders including Danelectro and DigiTech for mainstream builders, to boutique builders such as Doodad Guitars and Tone Freak Effects.

In non-TubeScreamer land, it’s almost impossible to name builders purely because there are so many that offer so many different approaches. Some, such as Creation Audio Labs and Paul Cochrane or even TC Electronic go for transparency; other builders such as GeekMacDaddy build overdrives to simulate amp stacks; still others build pedals based upon entirely different vintage circuit topologies from the TubeScreamer such as the ColorSound Overdriver. Still others try to push the limit by combining an overdrive circuit with something else (Pigtronix comes to mind here).

Now given that, I think I’ve answered my own question. I believe that despite the shear numbers of overdrive pedals on the market, new overdrives are always relevant purely based upon their variability. Moreover, not all overdrives work well with some rigs. The reason I have so many overdrives in my possession is that depending upon the amp I’m using, some pedals just work better than others, though I do have to say my Timmy pedal works with everything I have; even my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, which is actually a pretty finicky amp.

The only problem with having so many overdrives available kind of boils down to the classic fable: You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the prince (or princess). That doesn’t reduce the relevance of new overdrives, but it does make it harder to find the right one for your rig.

ROCK ON!

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TC Electronic MojoMojo OverdriveSummary: This is a no-frills dirt pedal, and that’s a good thing. With toggle-switchable voicing and very responsive EQ controls, dialing in the pedal to work with your amp is a cinch! This overdrive will add an ever-so-slight dark coloring to your tone when active, but that’s a good thing as well.

Pros: Amp-like dynamic response. Works great as a dirt enhancer, and was obviously made for stacking. Nice, open distortion, and sags nicely at higher gain settings with minimal compression.

Cons: Can sound a bit compressed and mushy if EQ is not dialed in correctly, and finding the sweet spot can take a bit of time.

Price: $129.00 Street

Features:

  • Active Bass and Treble EQ controls
  • Drive and Level controls
  • Voice Toggle (up = flat response, down = slight treble boost for thicker-sounding guitars)
  • True Bypass

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ Yet another winner from the TC Electronic compact pedal line! As sort of a “mainstream” kind of overdrive, I really didn’t want to like this pedal. But after I got it dialed in with my amp and guitar, I found that I REALLY like this pedal!

Maintaining my objectivity is the hallmark of this blog. And when manufacturers send me gear, I am extremely careful to be honest with my reviews; not just in my writing but also honest with my tests; always doing my best to give the gear a fair shot. I want to exhaust all possibilities before I render a verdict – especially if I don’t like something, though that is certainly not the case with the TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive. As I mentioned above, I REALLY like this pedal and am impressed with it for a variety of reasons. Here are a few:

  • First off, this pedal is absolutely no-frills. One of the slogans that TC Electronic has used in the past is “No frills with a sound that kills.” That’s a very apt description of the MojoMojo. With this pedal, you set the voicing and EQ to match your guitar and amp, then set the level and drive where you want, and well… play.
  • Also, unlike a high-end overdrive like the Keeley Luna Overdrive that I recently reviewed that employs a fairly sophisticated Baxandall EQ that can drastically affect the voicing of the pedal to produce different overdrive sounds, the MojoMojo produces one type of overdrive. Once you dial in the EQ, you just adjust the drive and level to how much you need at a particular time.
  • I found that treating the pedal as if it was another gain stage in front of my amp worked best, as the pedal was designed explicitly to act with tube amp-like dynamics. Like high-end pedals, it’s super-responsive to pick attack and volume knob adjustments just like you’d expect with a tube amp. Very nice.
  • Though relatively inexpensive compared to other TC Electronic pedals – it’s $100 less than the Nova Drive – the quality that obviously went into the pedal from both a tonal and mechanical perspective is apparent. Tone-wise, the overdrive is open and smooth, with great note separation. Physically, the pedal is simply very well made. The knobs move smoothly but with good tension, and the on/off switch seems rock-solid. This is the type of quality that I’ve come to expect out of TC products.

I’ve known about this pedal for over year, and have read feedback on forums. From what I was able to gather, it’s a split-decision with how people feel about this. The people who like it, love it; there wasn’t much negative feedback that I found, but more tepid responses along the lines of “I couldn’t dial in a good sound with this pedal.” That actually puzzled me because even though I recorded playing through my DV Mark Little 40, I tested the pedal with four different amps and was able to get a great sound out of all of them.

What I came to realize is that more than any other pedal I’ve tested and reviewed, overdrive pedals are the most challenging to get to work in a rig. Dialing in EQ is usually pretty easy for meΒ  (there are exceptions, like the Keeley’s Baxandall tone stack that took me awhile to dial in because that was unfamiliar territory, EQ-wise). Where overdrives are challenging is balancing the distortion and level gain to fit with the amp. This is where I take a lot of time because I have to make a decision: Where do I want the distortion to come from? With some pedals, it’s better to get most or even all of the distortion from the pedal, with level set to unity gain. With others, I might want just a touch of distortion from the pedal, and add more level gain so that my pre-amp tubes do most of the work. Still, with others both amp and pedal may share equal duty.

With each different amp I tried the pedal with this evening, I had to go through the process of finding where I wanted the distortion to come from. With my DV Mark Little 40 (with 6L6’s), I found the best result was to let the pedal do a lot of the heavy lifting, and I set the level to just past unity gain so I could get a little volume boost, plus push my pre-amp tubes just over the edge to slightly break them up. Then I could vary the amount of drive to my heart’s content. On the other hand, with my Aracom VRX22, it was a more balanced affair, with the amp and pedal taking equal responsibility for the overdrive.

I think this is where a lot of people who didn’t really like the pedal – many claiming the tones to be too thick and harsh – may have strayed a bit in their evaluations. Quite simply, dialing in overdrive takes time because not only are you dealing with a clipping section, you’re also dealing with level gain. Add getting EQ dialed in, and it can get a bit hairy. Looking back, I’ve perhaps panned a lot of overdrives simply because I didn’t take enough time.

As for the MojoMojo, getting the pedal dialed in took less than a 1/2 hour. At first, I had everything at noon, but at that setting with my Les Paul and my DV Mark that outputs into a speaker that has a pretty big bottom end, the tone was a little muffled. Thank goodness for the voicing switch on the pedal. That cleared things up a bit almost immediately, then rolling off the Bass to about 11 o’clock and boosting up the Treble to about 2 o’clock added all sorts of clarity. With the EQ set, I was able to vary the Drive and Level, and maintain clarity, no matter where I set those controls.

How It Sounds

To me, the MojoMojo sounds killer. It’s mostly transparent, but it does have a bit of a darker color to it. There’s lots of midrange on tap, but apparently TC Electronic designed the pedal to retain lows. What has really sold me on the pedal though is its amp-like dynamics, which are superb. Here are some clips that I did:

The first clip, I wanted to demonstrate the response to volume knob adjustments. The first part is my amp with my Les Paul in the middle position with both volume knobs at 5. In the second part, I switch on the pedal, and you can hear how well the pedal’s breakup blends with the amp breakup. In the final part, I do a simple lead line with the pedal engaged, then crank up my bridge pickup. The pedal really responds!

In the next clip, I cover more dynamics; basically following the same pattern as the first: Amp only, guitar volumes at 5, then pedal enaged, then bridge pickup cranked:

The thing that’s very noticeable in the clips above is that the pedal loves a lot of input gain, and like a tube amp, with more input gain, reveals more sonic content in the form of harmonics and overtones. By the way, the pedal was set in both clips with Level at just above unity, and Drive at about 2 o’clock.

Finally, I thought that I’d try it out within the context of an actual song. In this clip, it’s the bridge section from a song that’s going to be on my next album that’s actually played underneath the vocals, which I muted here. For this, I had the Level at about 3 o’clock and the Drive at 11 o’clock, which slams the front end of my amp, plus adds a healthy amount of distortion. The result is a very touch-sensitve, singing overdrive distortion.

The original track is actually a bit on the brighter side. But what I love about this particular track is the darkness of the tone. I feels so much richer, and though there’s a LOT of gain with the combination of the pedal and amp overdriving, there is a distinct smoothness to the tone. To me, it’s very magical.

Overall Impression

It shouldn’t be too hard to deduce that I dig this pedal! I’m a huge fan of open-sounding overdrives, of which the MojoMojo produces. But that slight darkness is absolutely killer! I think this is a pedal that I intend to keep for awhile. Can’t wait to bring it to a gig!

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The answer is: It depends… πŸ™‚

More likely than not, when I want dirt, I just crank my amp or at the very least get it to the edge of breakup, then use input volume and attack to get it. For some people, a cranked amp is all they need. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. And for a few years, I didn’t use any dirt pedals for overdrive; just my amp. But overdrive slut that I am, I eventually returned to using them. But unlike many players who use overdrive and distortion through a clean headroom amp, relying entirely on their dirt pedal(s) to give them their distorted tone, I use my overdrives, distortion and booster to enhance the overdrive tone of my amp. Here’s how I set my drive pedals up…

In front of my amp

I’ll usually have three drive pedals that I place in front of my amp. First in the chain is always a transparent overdrive. I use a Timmy for that. Next in line is an overdrive that adds color and that I can stack on top of my transparent overdrive. The longest in that position has been my Tone Freak Abunai 2, which has a great compressed tone in its asymmetrical mode, plus a nice bottom-mid. But I will also switch it out with either a GeekMacDaddy Geek Driver (based on the original ColorSound Overdriver circuit – originals sell for about $1200), a Doodad Check-A-Board Red (kind of a brighter TS-808), or when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll put my TS-808 re-issue in that position. Last in that chain would be a distortion pedal. I only have one and that is the incredible EWS Little Brute Drive.

At the end of my effects loop

I place my booster (Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 Transparent Boost) at the end of my effects loop, which means it’s the last pedal before my power tubes. This gives a modest volume boost, but if my power tubes are already overdriving, it’ll knock them into full saturation, and I can get some nice power tube compression. This is great when I want to add some drama to a lead.

Some people prefer the “amp in a box” type of overdrives, letting overdrive pedals produce their distortion. I rarely use the overdrive pedals with a clean amp as I love the interplay between the natural distortion of an amp and the distortion of the pedals. What this also means is that because I use these pedals with an already breaking up amp, I rarely crank up the gain on these devices. I think that this where the true power of the overdrive pedal resides, as it is half booster, half soft-clipping device. The boost part can push an amp into breakup, then the clipping section will add another dimension to the distortion. Using an overdrive like this, it can be difficult dialing in a good balance between amp and pedal overdrive, but once I’ve found the sweet spot, it’s total ear candy.

I’ve talked previously about how I use my booster in my effects loop, so I won’t go into detail here, but with a booster, it gives me a secondary area to push my amp: after the preamp and before the power section. I like having two independent ways to introduce more gain into my amp. It’s a little finer control.

This is what works for me right now. A few years ago, that arrangement changed practically weekly as I was experimenting with different things. But I’ve pretty much established how I like to use my pedals, and haven’t changed much other than swapping out in specific positions.

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Keeley Luna Overdrive

Summary: Two-and-a-half years in the making and combining what Robert Keeley feels are the best in overdrive pedals, tube amps, and tone stacks. The Luna overdrive is the result. This pedal covers a wide range of overdrive possibilities, from light grit to fuzz-like, square-wave distortion.

Pros: The Baxandall tone stack is KILLER and totally sells me on the pedal. On top of that though, the pedal reacts to attack and guitar volume adjustments just like a tube amp, so you’ll be right at home.

Cons: It’s pricey for one, and the tight interplay between the EQ, Drive and Master controls makes it difficult to dial in just the right amount of overdrive. But these aren’t big enough cons to give it a lower score.

Features:

  • Hand-made in the USA
  • Op-amp clipping and JFET gain stages
  • Baxandall tone stack
  • Drive and Master controls
  • Classic and Modded overdrive modes

Price: ~$219 Street

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ This is a great pedal. I’d give it a 5 on tone alone, but I knocked off just a bit for making it difficult to get a decent tone out of my amp. I suppose that’s part of the fun in playing around and discovering what a pedal can do, but I have to be fair. It got a little frustrating as the Drive knob is pretty sensitive.

After my beloved Timmy pedal, I thought I was done with overdrive pedals! πŸ™‚ I should know better because I’ve been a slut for overdrive pedals, and I guess there’s really no cure for that. Playing around with the Keeley Luna Overdrive has been a joy, though I will admit I did briefly get frustrated while trying to dial in the pedal. It simply took a bit of time to get used to the active Baxandall EQ. Unlike other EQ’s, it’s not a cut type of EQ, where the EQ knobs turned all the way up give you flat response. With a Baxandall EQ, the 12 o’clock position is flat response. Turn up an EQ knob and you get a boost, turn it down, and you get a cut. But the midrange is left alone. That means that if you turn both knobs fully counter-clockwise, you get a midrange hump; fully clockwise, and you get a scooped tone.

This is a totally different animal from other EQ’s, and it takes awhile getting used to. However, despite the learning curve, this type of EQ provides a much better way of dialing in your tone to fit your guitar, amp, and cabinet. For instance, for my test, I played the pedal in front of my DV Mark Little 40, which goes out to a 1 X 12 cabinet that has a Jensen Jet Falcon speaker, which has a pretty big bottom end. Putting the pedal in flat response made my tone sound really muffled because of the lows (I had my amp’s EQ completely flat). But after playing around, I found that placing the bass at 11 o’clock and the treble at 1 o’clock brightened up the tone just the right amount, then it was all about getting the Master and Drive knobs set.

About the Drive knob… it’s super-sensitive, and you’ll start getting breakup as soon as you start turning the knob clockwise from its minimum position, which is about 7-8 o’clock. I found that the sweet spot for me was the Drive just past 9 o’clock and the Master set between 2 and 3 o’clock. With my amp set at just the edge of breakup, the boost from the Master got the tubes overdriving, and the combination of distortion from both the pedal and the amp was quite pleasing to my ears.

How It Sounds

In my First Impressions article that I wrote earlier today, I said that the pedal adds some color. I’m going to retract that now because depending upon where you set the EQ’s, you can have a transparent tone, or add as much color as you want. I like to err on the side of transparency with most overdrives, and when it came down to it, this pedal was no different. I originally had a nice treble boost, but when I did some test recordings, found that I didn’t like how I had set the EQ’s because of the color. Here are a couple of test clips. Note that both of these were done in the Classic mode, and I was using my Gibson Les Paul ’58 Historic Reissue.

In the first clip, I do a quick clean rhythm riff with an almost imperceptible grit, then do the same riff with the pedal to add some dirt.

With the next clip, I decided to do a dark rhythm track then play a lead alongside it. In both rhythm and lead, the pedal was set the same way, and I vary the amount of overdrive simply by adding more guitar volume or hitting my strings harder. This clip was made purely to demonstrate the pedal’s dynamic response. I also added just a touch of reverb to grease the sound a bit,.

I absolutely love the tone of the lead track. I started out with my LP in the middle position, with the neck pickup at 5 and the bridge pickup at 6. Then when I started driving it harder, I switched to the bridge pickup entirely and dimed it. From there I just closed my eyes. The sonic content that the pedal produces is amazing. There are lots of little harmonics and overtones in the signal, and the note separation is awesome. The note separation takes a little getting used to as well. But this is a good thing because this pedal does not produce mush – even at high gain settings.

In this third clip, I just do a few seconds of a Journey riff. here the tone is scooped with both the EQ knobs at about 2 pm, the Master cranked wide open and the Drive at about 10 o’oclock. Unfortunately, my mic didn’t pick up all the little harmonics and overtones, but the point to this one was that even pushing my amp hard, and with much more gain, the note separation is still maintained.

I know, I only have a couple of clips, but admittedly, I’m still playing around with the pedal. I want to try it front of one my Plexi-style amps to see how it performs.

I did take it through its paces with the Modded mode, and that mode with my amp just past the edge of breakup created some real aggressive overdrive; not over the top, but I have to play around more with this mode and cranking up the gain to experience the upper limits of the pedal.

Overall Impression

As I said above, this is a great pedal. It’s a little steep in price at $219; Keeley pedals have never come cheap. But that said, I’d totally add this to my board to stack with my Timmy (hmm… going to have to try that out). It has been a long time since I’ve been jazzed about an overdrive, and I’m really jazzed about this one.

Interestingly enough, besides a few video reviews out there (that do nothing but blues licks), and one that I saw done by Musicians Friend staff member, there’s not much in the way of reviews, which is surprising. Some of the feedback I saw on a couple of forums said it didn’t work well with people’s amps. I think that has more to do with not playing around with the pedal enough. That Baxandall EQ takes some getting used to, but once you “get it,” this pedal rocks!

For more information, visit Keeley Luna Overdrive product page!

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One of my bandmates showed up at our weekly church gig this past weekend with the Keeley Luna Overdrive on his pedal board. He normally plays clean, and wanted to have something that he could get a gritty sound with, but he hadn’t really set it up, and frankly, it didn’t sound all that good, but I knew that it had more to do with the pedal being new and him not having time to dial it in than with the pedal himself. So I gave him a few pointers on how to set up his amp and the pedal, and we were able to get some real usable overdrive tones out of it.

After service, Dave handed me the pedal to do a test drive on it. He wasn’t sure he’d keep it, as it was pretty expense (he paid $219 for it and wasn’t sure it was worth it), but wisely, he wanted to get my feedback on it before he made a decision. It’s still a bit early to give him a definitive answer, but I’m probably going to recommend that he keeps the pedal after I had a chance to play around with it last night. Or if he still doesn’t want to keep it, I’ll take it off my hands and add it to my board to play after my Timmy. πŸ™‚

So what’s so special about this pedal? It’s the same thing that I find special about the Timmy: It’s the tone controls. With the Timmy, to get a flat response you keep the tone controls wide open, then bleed off the highs and lows to adjust for amp/guitar. The Keeley on the other hand uses a Baxandall tone stack. Flat response is with both bass and treble knobs at noon. Moving either knob past noon adds boost, and vice-versa for moving the knobs before noon. Turning them all the way down will give you a big mid-hump, and cranking them will give you a scooped tone (though note that you’re boosting, so you’ll get more gain as well).

And it’s a different overdrive sound altogether. I detected a slight coloring, even at low gain settings, but it was very pleasing. High gain settings get you into fuzz/square-wave stuff, but nothing like a real fuzz pedal. Furthermore, try as I might, I couldn’t get any compression in Classic mode; even the Timmy compresses ever-so-slightly. This is a different overdrive animal entirely. Though it does add a bit of color (I heard it as a little top-end sparkle; almost like the sparkle you get with an optical compressor), it’s really made to work your amp, and your fundamental tone doesn’t really change all that much. That’s what I dig about the Timmy, though the Timmy is pretty transparent.

No, I don’t have any sound clips – yet. I just spent an hour twiddling knobs and finding the sweet spot on my LP. One thing that I can say that also impresses me is that it’s VERY responsive to input gain and pick attack, and it’s truly a joy to play with low gain settings. Then turning up volume knobs adds more grit and drive – very responsive and VERY expressive.

With respect to the Classic/Modded switch, since I didn’t have any documentation on hand, I can only tell you that it seemed to me that the “Modded” side added more gain and a bit of sustain. I suspect a little compression is also happening as the tone seems to be much more full and “in your face” in Modded mode.

I have to admit that before I played it, I really was trying to be unimpressed with this pedal, but after just playing with it for a short time, I can’t help but to be impressed. Just when I thought I’d heard everything with respect to overdrive, the Keeley Luna Overdrive provided yet another way of looking at overdrive.

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