First Impressions: Fender MTG Tube Distortion Pedal

Back in November, I bought myself Fender’s new MTG Tube Distortion Pedal. I’m a huge fan of the drive pedals that Fender’s been releasing in this new series, and I’m determined to collect them all.

These are my first impressions of the MTG … well, almost.

I’ve Waited Too Long To Do This

The problem with these first impressions is that I didn’t write them before picking up Fender’s MTG:LA drive pedal. There’s no two ways about it: my experience with the MTG:LA has changed my impression of this, the MTG pedal.

It didn’t stop there. My first attempt at writing this blog post sparked more questions than answers. I had to go back and explore the MTG some more, which involved comparing it to a couple of other pedals in my collection.

I’m glad I did. I definitely didn’t understand this pedal first time around.

My Signal Chain

I’m playing my Les Paul into the MTG, and then into the red channel of my Synergy T-DLX. That goes out to the Synergy power amp, and into a pair of 1×12 open-back cabs. One cab has a 16 ohm Celestion Blue, and the other cab has a 16 ohm Celestion A-Type.

Most of the time, I’m on the bridge pickup of my Les Paul. I’d rather be in the middle position, but I’m finding that I get the best results from using just the bridge humbucker. This is a pedal that prefers brighter guitars.

Crunchy Goodness …

When I tried this pedal in the shop (and for the first couple of weeks at home), I dialled back the mids on the pedal, and enjoyed the hell out of the crunch tone that this pedal can do.

When the pedal’s setup like this, it can really sing. It feeds off what the guitar has to offer. I’ve had a great tone of out it when I’ve used my best guitars with it. It especially suited my PRS Custom 24, for example.

… But Wait! There’s More!

This pedal’s true sound, though, is found by turning UP the mids and rolling back the treble a little. When I do that, I swap the crunchiness for a bark that sounds glorious. It doesn’t have the magical room-filling warmth of the MTG:LA, but man … that upper mids bark is my thing.

And that’s where I went digging through the pedals on my shelf. I’ve heard this sound before.

Can’t Wait (Or Afford) A King of Tone?

The lack of warmth – and just the general way the bass works on this pedal – rang a few bells. It reminds me of the bass response of the King of Tone. So I grabbed it off the shelf to compare.

It didn’t take me long to dial in the MTG to sound very close to the red side of my King of Tone (KoT for short). They’re not the same, but I’d go as far as saying that it’s close enough to be worth considering. You can’t go down to your local guitar shop and buy a KoT, whereas you can go down to your local Fender dealer and buy an MTG – and for a lot less money too.

The main difference between the two is in the mid range.

To my ears, the KoT has a more focused mid-range than the MTG. I think I’m also hearing that the KoT’s mid-hump is at a higher frequency than the MTG’s, but I could well be wrong on that.

The best way I can describe the MTG’s mid-range is that it sounds like the MTG’s mid control has a larger Q than the KoT’s fixed mid-hump does. As I turn up the mids on the MTG, it sounds like it’s boosting a wider range of frequencies, and that’s why it doesn’t sound quite as focused as the KoT.

I prefer the MTG … because it also reminds me of another great pedal.

Find The Honey Bee Too Harsh?

My go-to pedal is the Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive, very closely followed by the Honey Bee / Uber Bee family of pedals from Bearfoot FX. They’re all designed by the legendary Bjorn Juhl of BJFe.

Into a blackface-style clean amp, they can sound a little harsh.

A big part of the blackface sound is that it has scooped mids that that are perfect for clean Strat tones. Some pedals – like early Wamplers and the King of Tone – seemed to be voiced for the blackface sound, bringing extra mids to fill the gap. Pedals that are (for lack of a better description) more balanced in the mids can struggle with blackface amps.

And that’s how my Sweet Honey Overdrive, Honey Bee and Uber Bee are, into the red channel of the Synergy T-DLX. They sound harsh to me, because there aren’t enough mids to stop the top-end dominating. That’s why I play these pedals into the green channel of the Synergy T-DLX instead. That green channel aims to recreate the warm cleans of Fender Twin amps. Those pedals, into the green channel … I could live there all day.

I’ve got the MTG into the T-DLX red channel sounding very close to any of those pedals into the T-DLX green channel. So close, that the only difference I can hear is in the texture of the overdrive.

I might just prefer the tube-y goodness of the MTG. I might just have a new #1 pedal. It’ll all come down to how well it works with my favourite boost pedals.

Early Fender In A Box?

Why does this pedal get very close to both the King of Tone (which is based on a famous Marshall amp) and the SHOD / Bee family of pedals (which are based on small Fender tweed amps)? Isn’t that a contradiction?

This is where I wish I had a lot more knowledge and experience with vintage gear. Take what I’m about to say with a huge pinch of salt, just in case!

The KoT is based on the Bluesbreaker pedal, but it isn’t a Marshall-in-a-box. The Bluesbreaker aims to recreate Eric Clapton’s famous JTM combo amp. From what I’ve ready, that amp is in turn based on Fender’s Bassman amp circuit. And, just to muddy things up a bit more, I also read an article which said that the KoT is actually trying to sound like a cranked Fender Deluxe Reverb.

Fender themselves (as far as I know) don’t market the MTG as an amp-in-a-box kind of pedal. From my experience so far, it can certainly be an early Fender amp-in-a-box if that’s what you want.

Using The Bass And Tight Controls

We have to talk about the MTG’s bass response, and how the tight control works.

When I first plugged this pedal in, my immediate reaction was “where is the bass?!?”. This is one of those pedals where 12 noon isn’t a neutral starting point to work from. There isn’t much bass at all there, and that might put you off if you don’t know about it.

To my ears, the bass control actively adds bass to the signal, and the tight control takes away from the low-mids of the output signal. After a bit of experimentation, I’ve settled on this approach for dialling them in.

  1. I start with the tight control all the way off (counter-clockwise as far as it will go).
  2. Then it’s time to crank the bass control towards 3 o’clock, and I stop as soon as the bass sounds a little too much.
  3. Finally, I tame the mud by nudging up the tight control bit by bit.

A Great Pedal With Two Different Sounds

Most pedals only have one sound in them, and you use the controls to find the sweet spot for the guitar and amp that you’re using.

This pedal can do the crunch rock thing by rolling back the mids, and it can sound like a great Fender amp by cranking the mids. That’s two quite sounds for the price of one.

I need to go away and feed my favourite boosts into the MTG. If I like the results, the MTG might just replace the Sweet Honey Overdrive as my #1 pedal. It’s that good.

… and I need to redraft the article where I compare this to the MTG:LA …

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