First Impressions: Xvive Golden Brownie Distortion Pedal

I’ve picked up another pedal of eBay to try. It was only £25. I don’t mind taking a chance on a pedal when it’s that cheap. Especially as they often turn out to be well worth the money.

Will the Golden Brownie follow the trend? Here’s my first impressions of it.

tl;dr

The Xvive Golden Brownie is a Marshall-in-a-box (MIAB) pedal that gives you Marshall JCM 800-like tones – only it seems to be voiced for Stratocasters. (It also sounds great with Telecasters.) It’s got too much low mids to suit a Les Paul, in my opinion.

The pedal’s got a certain amount of built-in compression that seems to be placed after the gain circuit. This keeps the overall volume pretty consistent no matter how hard or how soft you pick. You might find that helpful for playing live.

I think this pedal’s good value for money. There aren’t many other pedals out there that are chasing the JCM 800 tone, and by and large those are voiced for Les Pauls or Telecasters.

If you’re prone to strapping on a Strat, this pedal’s been made for you.

What Am I Using?

I’m using my Gibson Les Paul Standard, into the Golden Brownie, and straight into the front-end of my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6. I’ve still got the Anasounds Element hooked up to give me proper classic amp reverb tones.

I would normally try a pedal like this through my Marshall Origin too. Right now, though, I don’t have it wired up for use. I’m in the process of making some shelves to put it on, and I’m just not up for wiring it all up only to have to do it all again once the amp’s moved onto the new shelves.

What Is This Pedal?

According to Xvive’s own website, the Golden Brownie is trying to deliver that classic 80’s Marshall rock sound in a pedal. It’s yet another Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB) pedal. This one’s chasing the JCM 800 sound. There aren’t too many of those around.

It was designed by Thomas Blug. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s been designing amps and the like for many years. He’s also a great guitar player, and is known as the Strat King of Europe. Seriously, it’s a thing. If you ever get the chance to see him live, do it. You’ll be in for quite the treat.

How Well Does It Do It?

I’m finding that difficult to answer.

Everyone thinks 80’s Marshalls had this thick and heavy driven tone, but I don’t agree. There’s a reason people boosted those amps with TubeScreamers or Boss SD-1 pedals back in the day: on their own, they didn’t have all that much gain to them.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Go and listen to 80’s rock songs. Listen to how little distortion there actually is on the guitars. Even better: go and listen to the original recording of Sweet Child o’ Mine, and then listen to a modern-day live performance of it. There’s a huge difference between the two.

And, to me, there’s a huge difference between what (say) my Synergy 800 module sounds like, and what this pedal sounds like. (The 800 module is a real tube amp that sounds almost indistinguishable from a modern-day JCM 800.)

So What Does This Pedal Do?

With the controls around 12 o’clock, this pedal delivers a thick, compressed (but not creamy!) boosted Marshall lead tone. Only it still has all the bottom-end in, that sounds great at home but makes things sound muddy as anything live or in a mix.

Dial back the gain to around 10 o’clock, crank the tone and presence controls up to around 2 o’clock, and that’s where I’m starting to get interested. Now, I’m finding something that reminds me a lot more of those classic rock tones. It’s still got plenty of gain – arguably too much – but now the mud has gone, and the note separation is starting to kick in.

The manual claims that this pedal delivers amp-like dynamics. I’d describe it as the behaviour of a cranked power amp section. The pedal cleans up a bit (not as much as I prefer) in response to my picking, but the overall volume doesn’t change all that much.

I imagine that’s actually quite helpful if you’re playing a live gig. And, equally, quite frustrating if dynamics are a huge part of your style.

This Is A Pedal For Strats, Not Les Pauls

If I put it up against the JHS Angry Charlie – arguably the industry’s leading JCM 800-in-a-box kind of pedal – it’s an interesting comparison. The Angry Charlie has more crunch and attack, and the Golden Brownie’s got a thicker sound.

Thicker sound … thicker sound … thicker sound.

And then the penny dropped. Thomas is a world-famous Strat player. What’s the betting that he’s voiced the Golden Brownie for Strats, rather than for the Les Paul I’ve been using while write this blog post? Let me grab one and take another go at this.

All of a sudden, the thicker lower mids from the Golden Brownie make a lot of sense. With my Strat’s bridge pickup, they don’t sound thick any more. They sound balanced. And the reduced crunch and attack, compared to the JHS Angry Charlie? That stops the Strat from sounding sharp and nasty.

It doesn’t get ice-picky with a Telecaster either. I think the Golden Brownie sounds even more Marshall-like with a Telecaster, thanks to the more forward mids.

It’d be a good choice for either kind of Fender guitar.

Final Thoughts

I’ve had this pedal on the board all afternoon, while I’ve been exploring the Anasounds Element that arrived today. It didn’t really grab my attention at the time, and I almost didn’t put in the time to give it its own First Impressions blog post.

I’m glad I did. In the world of MIAB pedals, the Golden Brownie offers something different.

It’s a JCM 800(ish) pedal, that seems to be voiced for Strats rather than Les Pauls. I can’t think of another pedal that does both of those things. There aren’t that many MIAB pedals that chase the JCM 800 sound in the first place, and all the ones I’ve tried love a Les Paul.

The closest alternative that I can think of is Fender’s Pugilist pedal. That (to my ears) is another MIAB-like pedal that’s voiced for Fender guitars (except it also sounds great with a Les Paul).

How do the two compare? I’ll try and answer that question another day.

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