First Impressions: Fender MTG:LA Tube Distortion Pedal

I’m a huge fan of Fender’s new line of drive pedals – and I’m on a mission to collect them all. I’ve just bought the MTG:LA from my local guitar shop, and I’ve spent this evening exploring what it can do.

What Is It?

The Fender MTG:LA Tube Distortion pedal is a drive pedal for guitar. It’s part of the third round of pedals that Fender has released since the start of 2018.

That’s all well and good, but what is it? Is it an amp in a box, or is it a variation on an existing circuit? Or is it something else entirely?

Unfortunately, Fender don’t really tell us – other than it’s an original Fender circuit.

A Welcome Surprise

From the name, I was hoping for that 80’s LA sound: that modded JCM 800 tone. Not more gain, just a warmer tone with more clarity and roundness than a JCM 800 delivers. I was going entirely from the name. This is a pedal that no-one’s talking about online at the moment.

Now I’ve got one, I don’t think it’s a modded JCM 800 tone at all. It’s something better.

‘My’ tone, if you like, is the tone of the Sweet Honey Overdrive, the Honey Bee, and the Uber Bee. They’re advertised as the tone of a small American amp pushed hard (but not too hard). This is often called the Tweed tone. I’ve never played a Fender Tweed amp, so I don’t know for sure.

To my ears, the MTG:LA is in that ballpark. And, for me, that’s great news.

The Control Range Is Fiddly

First off, this pedal is LOUD. Unity volume is actually somewhere around 9 o’clock, depending on how you set the gain control. The volume control is a lot stiffer than the other knobs on the pedal, and I quickly found out why. The usable range on the volume control is very small. It’s not terrible – I don’t feel like it’s impossible to get the volume I want – but it is fiddly.

It’s not the only control that’s only usable across part of its range.

The MTG:LA has four EQ controls: Bass, Treble, Tone, and Tight. Bass and Treble do what I expect, Tone acts like a low-pass filter to my ears, and Tight is supposed to reduce some of the low end if things are sounding a bit muddy.

So far, I’m running the pedal with the Tone control pretty much on full. It doesn’t take much for the Tone control to suck the life out of the signal; anything below 3 o’clock doesn’t suit humbuckers at all. It sounds great otherwise though.

The Tight control takes out low mids, or at least that’s what I’m hearing. I’m finding that it sounds best when the Tight and Bass controls are set pretty close to each other.

With humbuckers, the usable range of the gain control is also quite limited. By 9 o’clock, the gain doesn’t have much attack left at all. It doesn’t get fuzzy, it just loses any definition or articulation. Just below 9 o’clock though, and you’d have to pry this pedal out of my cold dead hands.

It Sounds Great

I’m trying this pedal into my Synergy T-DLX. It’s a bit too fat for the green channel, but my word, it’s perfectly suited to the blackface-clean tone of the red channel.

Despite what I’ve said about the controls, it isn’t difficult to dial in a great sound. I don’t mean ‘good’. This pedal delivers a beautiful fat sound that fills the room in a really nice way. And it feels like playing through a dirty valve amp.

I can thin the sound out by turning up the Tight control. The problem is that (so far) the pedal doesn’t have enough initial attack and definition for that to work.

As I write this, I’m going back and forth between the MTG:LA and the Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short). They’re very similar sounding pedals. The SHOD has better definition, while the MTG:LA is a fatter sound.

I know from experience that the SHOD is an excellent pedal to record with. I’m a little worried that the MTG:LA will prove to be a little too fat on recordings, and that it’ll need a lot more work to sit well in a mix. I need to try it.

Compared To The MTG Distortion Pedal

I haven’t had time to compare both of Fender’s MTG pedals yet. Are they going to be Fender’s equivalent to Mad Professors’ Little Tweedy Drive and Big Tweedy Drive?

I’ll stick both on my board in the next couple of days and see how they stack up against each other.

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