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Posts Tagged ‘pedals’

soul-foodFor me, it’s overdrive pedals. Transparent, amp-in-a-box, tone-coloring, you name it, I love it. To me, overdrive pedals are a lot like guitars. They all have their own unique sounds. And like guitars, when your wife or significant other asks you how many overdrive pedals do you need, for me, the answer is always: Just one more

What got me on this track was the article I wrote yesterday about the Green Child G777 Overdrive. That pedal for me has a lot of promise as it’s a two-channel, stackable overdrive with its own unique voicing. It’s something I’d have to try out, but I like what I’ve seen thus far. This particular pedal got me curious about Green Child’s other offerings, and much to my pleasant surprise, even though Green Child Amplification might seem like an amp company that happens to make drive pedals, their particular specialty is drive pedals. No, this isn’t a plug for Green Child. I’ve never played any of their pedals, though I do find them extremely intriguing because their specialty seems to be creating multi-drive overdrives; that is, two or three overdrive pedals in one. Pretty cool.

I know I lingered a bit on Green Child, but this is what turns me on about overdrive pedals in general: It may seem that there are way too many overdrive pedals on the market, but to me, with all the different overdrives out there, I practically have a never-ending list of overdrive pedals from which to choose! Sure there are lots of clones out there. But there are so many others that may build on a particular foundation, then tweak them to provide their own unique tone. Others, like the EHX Soul Food, unabashedly copy another overdrive’s circuitry – in this case, a Klon Centaur – but get you at least a similar tone and dynamics for a fraction of the price.

I once questioned here on this blog if there are just too many overdrive pedals on the market. But considering what I’ve found with Green Child and even the EHX Soul Food, all I can say is, “Keep ’em comin’!

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The answer is: It depends… 🙂

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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I’ve known about this pedal ever since it came out last year, and unlike many other overdrives out there, it uses a tube for distortion, and not a clipping diode. This pedal is like putting another gain stage in front of your amp. It comes with Master and Gain and the tone controls are all independent with no overlapping frequencies, so tone shaping is pretty incredible. And being that it’s a Maxon pedal, you’re pretty much guaranteed high-reliability and fantastic build quality.

So if I’ve known about this so long, and I love all its features and pedigree, why haven’t I written about it? Well, for one, life was pretty busy at that time last year, as time went on, I got my Timmy and Little Brute Drive, and finally, and probably most importantly, I just couldn’t see paying $385 for a pedal. Hell! My VHT Special 6 cost $199 when I got it, but you can get it now for only $179, and that’s a tube amp – and a great one at that! Same thing goes for a Fender Champ 600 at $149…

Okay, okay, I know that we’re kind of talking apples and oranges, but the point is that $385 is a rather steep price to pay. Based upon the clips I’ve heard and videos I’ve watched on this pedal, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s killer. I guess for me, though it does sound incredible, it doesn’t move me enough to fork out that kind of cash.

Not that I wouldn’t pay a steep price for a pedal if it totally moved me. I paid $275 for my Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay. It hurt a bit, but it’s a pedal that I simply can’t live without now.

In any case, what got me thinking about the RTO700 was the Pigtronix Fat Drive. When I was watching videos of that pedal, I ran across references to the RTO700. I thought to myself at the time that I would get it over the Fat Drive; that is, until I saw the price tag. Then the Fat Drive seemed a hell of a lot more attractive to me. 🙂

In closing, having owned Maxon products in the past, I know how killer they are. Maxon isn’t a cheap proposition, but if you can swing it, you’ll be happy.

For more information on the pedal, check out the RTO700 product page!

 

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Here’s something funny. We all can relate…

Mind you, this was staged… but how many times have you heard some of this?

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Though I’m pretty satisfied with my current rig – actually, I’m pretty settled now as far as pedals are concerned – that doesn’t mean that I don’t look to see what’s out there. While surfing this morning before going off to work, I came across the new Voodoo TC line of pedals from Roger Mayer. These pedals feature huge knobs for changing the main pedal parameters, and they’re meant to be changed with your foot!

What a cool concept! No more bending over to change the drive on a drive pedal or the intensity or pulse of a vibe. Not only that, the Voodoo TC line has this retro, art-deco look, and sporting colors that were apparently inspired by 1950’s Chevy’s!

There are nine pedals in the line thus far, and from what I can tell from the descriptions, they’re heavily inspired by Jimi Hendrix tones, with a few drive pedals, a vibe, and an octavia. But there is one specifically geared towards bass distortion.

For more information, check out the Roger Mayer TC Series page. There are a couple of videos on the page from the Japan Music Fair, with one of the videos being an interview with Roger Mayer, explaining the motivation behind the pedals.

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Awhile back, I posted an article discussing Overdrive vs. Distortion, discussing what I believed were the fundamental differences between the two, but also pointing out that the end result – no matter the source – will be distortion. The only difference between the two being how the signal is clipped to create the distortion sound. Overdrive pedals normally produce a soft-clipping distortion, whereas distortion and fuzz pedals create a hard-clipping distortion. Here’s a great diagram I found that describes the differences between soft and hard clipping:

As you can see from the diagram of the waveform above, soft clipping clips the peaks somewhat, while hard clipping pretty much lops of the peaks leaving a narrow dynamic range. This article describes clipping quite well. So what does this have to do with drive pedals? Well, let’s take stock of the types of drive pedals available to you.

First up is the booster pedal. Basically this is simply a gain boost that will add gain to your signal. It’s either used as volume boost or, if you’ve set your amp at edge of overdrive, the booster will take it over the edge into overdrive. Note that a booster is most effective with a tube amp. This will produce a soft-clipping waveform, and the distortion will come entirely from your amp.

Next we have overdrive pedals. These pedals come in LOTS of different flavors, but typically combine a gain boost plus a soft-clipping circuit. Most designs out there are based upon the venerable TubeScreamer design, though there are several that use proprietary approaches, such as the Paul Cochrane Tim and Timmy pedals (the Timmy is the best OD I have every played). Here, the distortion can come from both pedal and amp.

Then we have distortion and fuzz pedals. I’m lumping them together because they’re both hard-clipping devices, though fuzz really gets into that square-wave distortion where the signal gain is really amplified then severely clipped, with really aggressive emphasis on harmonics and overtones. You can get some pretty far-out sounds with a fuzz. Also, just like with overdrive pedals, many distortion pedals also provide a gain boost knob, though to produce distortion, they don’t really need it. Once you turn a distortion pedal on, it produces distortion right away with no help from the amp.

So which do you choose? Well the only good answer I can come up with is this: It’s the one that sounds most pleasing to you and fits your application, and notice I’m not putting on my normal smiley-face to indicate a “jk.” To come to my own “comfort zone” with drive pedals, I probably played a couple of hundred of them – maybe more – to finally arrive at the four drive pedals that I have on my board. I have 5 or six drive pedals that are actually collecting dust; a couple of which are worth a pretty penny, and I’m not using them at all – craigslist here I come!

In any case, I have all three types of drive pedals on my board: Timmy Ovedrive, Tone Freak Abunai 2 Overdrive, EWS “LBD” Little Brute Drive (distortion), and a Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 booster. I’ll describe how I use each so you may perhaps glean some insight on making a choice.

For my overdrive pedals, the Timmy and Abunai 2, I use them like an additional gain stage before my amp to soft-clip my signal before going into my amp. Typically, I have the amp at the edge of breakup and the combination of the overdrive pedal and the amp overdrive sounds are quite nice. The Timmy is a fairly transparent overdrive, whereas the Abunai 2 provides just a bit of color and compression, and it also includes a switch to choose the wave symmetry. I look at OD pedals as little “amps-in-a-box.”

When I want crunch; I mean rock crunch at any volume, I use my EWS Little Brute Drive. I look at this as a classic distortion pedal. It has a single knob to adjust the internal gain and can produce some pretty wicked distortion sounds. I use this typically with a purely clean amp, and let the LBD provide all the distortion.

With my booster pedal, I use it a few different ways. When I just want my amp tone alone and just want my distortion to come entirely from my amp, I’ll use my booster to take it into overdrive. I find it most useful when I’m playing a Strat and want to do a quick lead. But I also use it with my overdrive pedals and LBD. With my overdrive pedals, I use it to stack on top of my overdrives so I’m really slamming the front end of my amp. With my vintage Marshall-style amps, this gets the pre-amps totally saturated, and in turn drives my power tubes into saturation and compression. It’s a cool effect.

Used with my EWS Little Brute Drive, since the amp is clean, I use it for lead breaks to boost my volume just a tad so I can play over the rest of the band (and no, I don’t stomp on them, but it’s easy to get lost in the mix when we’re all together 🙂 ).

Please don’t take my mention of the pedals above necessarily as endorsements. I love ’em all, which is why they’re never leaving my board. But I arrived at this combination of pedals literally after years of evaluation. These are the pedals that I found work the best with my guitars and “go-to” amps (which are vintage Marshall-style amps made by Aracom Amps). YMMV… For my Fender amps, such as my Hot Rod Deluxe, I typically only use my LDB, especially with my Hot Rod Deluxe, which doesn’t have a very nice overdrive sound to my ears – it’s much better clean.

Just as I mentioned in my previous article about making your decision on a tube amp with respect to your particular application, the same holds true with drive pedals. You have to think about what you want to achieve before buying one. But here’s an extra piece of advice with respect to drive pedals: Because drive pedals generally run under $200, it’s easy to get them; and that’s the problem. You want to be extra careful in your buying process because you will end up like me, having a couple of grand worth of drive pedals that end up collecting dust.

I know it sounds rather mundane, but in order to rock, you have to do your homework! ROCK ON!

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I get lots of press releases, but there are some that compel me to share. This is one of them:

Pigtronix announces release of the Class A Boost – Elegance In Tone

Pigtronix Class A Boost is the final word in high performance guitar preamps. This pedal’s elegant exterior and single knob layout cloth an ingenious “Class A” J-FET design that will fatten up the sound of any instrument or sound source.

Featuring discreet transistor topology (no opamps) this device can boost passive or active pickups and even line level signals up to 20db without ever clipping. Perfectly flat frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz ensures that your instrument’s tone and expressive character remain intact as signal power is increased.

The Class A Boost’s noise free performance allows you to put the effect anywhere in your pedal chain. It adds punch and extra output when placed after a classic overdrive or will happily push your gain pedals into new levels of saturation. The Class A Boost is also ideal for hitting the front end of a tube amp to achieve an added layer of sweetness and fat tone without unwanted clipping or noise.

The Class A Boost runs fine on a standard 9-volt supply, but ships with a Pigtronix 18-volt adapter in order to achieve superior headroom and maximum punch. Make your sound 1 louder with this handsomely dressed, J-FET masterpiece from Pigtronix.

“Pigtronix Class A Boost is crucial to my sound because it makes my guitar tone clearer and louder, without adding distortion.”  – Eric Krasno (Soulive)

Pigtronix Class A Boost carries a list price of $149 and is available now at Pigtronix dealers everywhere.  Check out the Class A Boost and the whole line of 2011 Pigtronix effects at http://www.pigtronix.com.

I’m a big proponent of boost pedals, especially when used to slam the front end of a tube amp to push it into full-on overdrive. What’s attractive about this particular pedal is that it is Class A – at least from an audiophile’s perspective – which means that it will not clip throughout its operating range. Don’t confuse this with the definition of Class A for an amplifier. They’re two different things. Here’s a great explanation of Class A operation with respect to amps.

In any case, this could be a VERY cool pedal to have…

For more information, visit the Pigtronix Class A Boost page!

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