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Vox Satchurator

Vox Satchurator

Summary: From grind to snarl, the Satchurator can deliver it. Built like a tank, with chicken head knobs, and a fire engine red paint job. Definitely gig-worthy! “More” switch is awesome!

Pros: Incredibly versatile, this box has the ability to deliver a wide variety of tones.

Cons: Just a nit: True character of this pedal doesn’t come out until you’re at gig levels in volume.

Price: $129 Street

Features (fr. VOX site):

  • Analog distortion pedal designed under the complete supervision of Joe Satriani
  • Controls for Gain, Tone and Volume
  • ‘More’ gain boost switch enables two footswitchable distortion sounds in one pedal. This gain boost is dramatic when gain knob is set low, and is a subtle solo boost when gain knob is set to maximum.
  • ‘Pad’ switch pads down input to allow for high gain pedals (such as modern wahs) placed before Satchurator. Up is pad ‘ON’. Down is pad ‘OFF’ for full Satchurator effect.
  • High gain, low noise design provides vintage to modern distortion sounds
  • Dynamic circuit is highly responsive to rolling off the guitar’s volume and preserves the guitar’s high end when the volume is rolled off.
  • Cream chicken-head knobs for precise positioning and high visibility on dark stages

I am not shredder; never was, never will be. It’s just not my style. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the sound of distortion and playing with a distorted sound. In fact, to me, there’s nothing like the sweet, sustained, and compressed tone of saturated power tubes, or the dirty color that comes from a great overdrive or distortion box. Thus, I’ve had several stomps over the years from DS-1’s to MXR’s to my current line up of a Tube Screamer, Bad Monkey and an OCD. Each pedal has its own unique character, and I employ all of them either individually or by chaining a couple together. It now looks like I’m going to add to my lineup.

When I first heard about the VOX Satchurator, I got excited. I figured anything that was designed and built to Joe Satriani’s specifications had to at least be something to take a good look at, if not outright buy. Plus, with VOX being known for high-quality, I knew that whatever was produced from this partnership would not be crap. So I knew that it would be a good bet that I’d get this pedal. In fact, I’m writing this review right after my test. But luckily, I’m not THAT impulsive that I left the store with one in hand – though I have been known to buy first think later. Luckily I have my trusty GAS Calculator to keep those impulses in check. 🙂 I scored a 5, which is on the high side of still considering the gear and just one point below of getting it, but I didn’t score a 6 or above, so I held back on my purchase for now (honestly, it’s a matter of available funds 🙂 ). Now back to our regularly scheduled program….

Okay… if you read no further, please read this:

THE SATURATOR WILL NOT MAKE YOU SOUND LIKE JOE SATRIANI!!!

No one sounds like Satch, but Professor Satchifunkilus himself. You may use the exact same equipment (I used a JSX for my test, but I used a PRS SE Custom Semi-hollowbody for one of the guitars and a Strat and Epiphone Les Paul for the others). You may even have incredible technique that matches or surpasses the maestro, but you will not sound exactly like him. I’m only saying this because I don’t want you to get your hopes up. What you do get though, is the same TYPE of distortion tone that Satch gets. What you do with that is entirely up to how you play; and that is a good thing. Okay, ’nuff said.

Here’s my take on the Satchurator: Forget about how cool it looks – it looks AWESOME, by the way – the Satchurator is an incredibly versatile distortion box that can serve up mild grind to unadulterated, in-your-face, lewd, crude, with a mouth full of food snarl (got that saying from Guitar Player mag 🙂 ). It also has incredible attack and volume knob sensitivity at any volume level.

The Satchurator is also not for the faint of heart. Once you switch on the box, you get breakup, even with the gain swept to zero. In other words, once it’s on, you’re committed to having even modest amounts of distortion in your signal. To coin a phrase from a close friend, “This ain’t for pussies.” But the cool thing is that the distortion is highly controllable based upon your guitar’s volume knob and how you attack the strings. From a volume knob perspective, I just DIG how the Satchurator responds to volume knob settings. Want less distortion, just sweep your volume down. Want more bite, do the opposite.

When I test pedals, I usually start out with everything set in the 12 o’clock setting. Through my test, which was about 45 minutes, I only moved the gain knob twice: All the way down to get a gorgeous bluesy breakup, then all the way up to see how bad the pedal clipped, which surprisingly enough, it didn’t do. For the rest of the test, I just kept the gain set at the centerline, then used a combination of attack and volume knob sweeps to dial in the right amount of distortion that I wanted. From a gigging standpoint, the less you have to bend over or crouch to set pedals, the better.

It has been noted that Satch actually plugs the Satchurator into a clean amp, then sweeps the gain knob. Personally, I like the sound that power tubes produce, so I set the JSX into the first gain stage, but left it pretty clean, allowing the Satchurator to drive the tubes into breakup. I do have to say that I loved that combination of tube breakup along with the Satchurator distortion.

More really is more

There’s an interesting switch on the right side of the pedal called “More.” This switch provides even more gain when you switch it on. It’s great for cutting through a mix. The interesting thing is that the boost effect is less dramatic with higher gain settings on the pedal. With the gain knob pegged, pressing More definitely adds more, but it’s just a bit more, like going from 10 to 11 on your amp. Where I had it set at 12 o’clock, the More switch was nicely dramtic, and it’s something that I’ll definitely be using when I gig.

Will play nice with the other kids...

I didn’t get to try this feature out, but the Satchurator also includes a toggle switch called “Pad.” Apparently, this allows the pedal to play well with high output pedals like wah pedals and not change your tone. It essentially “pads” their signals so the Satchurator’s tone doesn’t fluctuate wildly. I’ve never seen a pedal that had this feature. Very, very useful. Once I put the Satchurator in my chain, I’ll definitely be using the “Pad” to help tame my vibe pedal that could potentially cause wild tonal fluctuations, which it does with my OCD, which doesn’t like to be played with the vibe.

So how did it REALLY perform

I wish I had more time to try out a couple of other amps, but alas, I just didn’t. But I did try it out with three guitars, so that’s good. Here’s my synopsis:

  1. The first guitar I played it with was PRS SE Custom. This is a semi-hollowbody guitar. I’m glad I switched to another guitar because I wouldn’t buy the pedal if I just did my review with just that guitar. It’s not that the guitar was bad, and it wasn’t that the tone that was produced was bad. It’s just that the combination of this particular guitar with the Satchurator was uninspiring. I wasn’t blown away.
  2. After the PRS, I switched to a Strat, and my inspiration meter went through the roof! The sound was FAN-FREAKIN’-TASTIC!!! I had the same result with Epi LP I plugged in. In other words, at least from my perspective, the Satchurator sound best with solid body guitars. To be fair, I probably could’ve coaxed a great sound using the PRS, but with limited time, I didn’t have the patience. And in a gigging situation, the last thing you want to do is tweak.

Wrapping it up

As I mentioned above, this pedal will not make you sound like Satch, but it will give you the same kind of distortion Satch employs. I love that kind of distortion. It’s not super-compressed, but it’s also not so open that it comes across as hollow. As with Baby Bear’s porridge in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” it’s just right!

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