Side By Side: Fender MTG & Fender MTG:LA

In 2019, Fender released not one but two tube-based drive pedals: the MTG Tube Distortion Pedal, and the MTG:LA.

I’ve had both pedals for several months. During that time, I’ve also played quite a few other tweed-tone pedals from Boss, Mythos and Lovepedal, which has helped me with my understanding quite a bit.

How do they compare? What are the differences? I’m going to try and answer that in this blog post.

tl;dr

The MTG is an articulate, crunchier sound, and the MTG:LA is a fatter sound that has less definition and saturates much earlier.

They’re both what we’d call tweed pedals.

  • The MTG can do the small tweed amp thing that the Mythos Lark or Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD) do with the twist of the mids control.
  • The MTG:LA does the big tweed thing that the Lovepedal High-Power Tweed Twin (HPTT) does.

Both pedals can work with humbuckers or single coils, but for me, they’re not interchangeable.

I prefer the MTG for normal rhythm playing with my Les Paul. I like the MTG:LA for rhythm playing with my Telecaster, and boy can it sing really nicely with a Les Paul.

I’m happy using the MTG on its own. I think the MTG:LA is best used with another pedal to help shape the tone.

My Signal Chain

The signal chain is very simple:

  • guitar
  • into the MTG or the MTG:LA
  • into the Fender Tre-Verb set on plate reverb
  • into the front of my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6

I’ve got the MTG and the MTG:LA in separate loops on my Gigrig G2, to make sure that neither pedal’s colouring the sound of the other when they’re bypassed. The pedals are powered by a Friedman Power Grid 10.

For guitars, I’m playing a Les Paul Standard, an American Performer Stratocaster, and an American Special Telecaster.

Comparing Specs And Pricing

Let’s start off by covering the basics.

  • At the time of writing, the Fender MTG retails for £149, and the Fender MTG:LA retails for £159. It’s not clear why the MTG:LA is more expensive.
  • Both pedals are based around a NOS (new, old-stock) 6205 tube, and they also feature an integrated level boost.
  • Both pedals have level and gain controls.
  • The EQ sections are different. The MTG features bass, mids and treble controls, while the MTG:LA features tone, treble and bass controls.
  • Both pedals feature Bruce Egnator’s “global tight control”, which acts as an additional and powerful one-knob EQ.
  • Both pedals require a 9v power supply that supports up to 300 mA. You can’t run them off of batteries, and you can’t run these off your typical power supply either.
  • The control knobs on both pedals light up, just as they do on all of Fender’s new line of effects pedals.

So they’re the same, but different. But different how?

One Has Definition, One Has Saturation

It comes down to two things: where the energy is, and how the headroom affects the overdrive.

And, to my ears, they’re intertwined.

The MTG:LA has this immediate, big, fat, saturated sound. It’s quite a low headroom pedal. Even with vintage-voiced, vintage-output PAF-like humbuckers, it doesn’t take much for the low mids to push the pedal into sustaining. Switch to the bridge pickup on my Telecaster, and now there’s high-end to add definition.

It’s as-if the MTG:LA is voiced to beef up a Telecaster (and, presumably a Strat too). At the same time, the top-end of the MTG:LA’s output is somewhat lopped off. Even with tone and treble on full, there’s a noticeable loss of treble compared to when the pedal’s in bypass.

In contrast, with my Les Paul, the MTG has plenty of definition. At first, it sounds pretty crunchy, but compared to a plexi pedal, the attack of each note still has a nice roundness to it. There’s a lot less energy in the low mids compared to the MTG:LA. There’s also a lot more headroom, and I don’t find it dragging me over the edge into singing sustain anything like as eagerly as the MTG:LA does.

And, unlike the MTG:LA, I can get multiple sounds out of this pedal.

Different Approaches To Each EQ Control

I can only get the one sound out of the MTG:LA. I found that the EQ controls seem to be there to tune the pedal to your guitar and amp: adjust treble to suit the amp, and adjust bass and tight to suit the guitar. Maybe it’s the amps I use, but the tone control just seems to make everything sound worse, so I leave it on maximum.

By and large, the MTG’s EQ controls are also there to tune the pedal to your guitar and amp. Only, instead of that tone control, it’s got a mids control, and I’ve been able to use that to get two pretty different sounds out of this pedal.

With the mids down around 10 o’clock or so, I can get the MTG to sound pretty close to the Mythos Lark. It doesn’t have the Lark’s mix-friendly EQ shelving, but otherwise it’s right in the ballpark. Turn up the mids to around 2 o’clock or so, and the MTG does a good impression of the Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short).

Which leads me on to what I think these two pedals are …

Two Very Misunderstood Pedals

Fender’s own website doesn’t really say what either of these pedals are. The focus of their own copy is all about the features, not the benefits. If Fender’s ever done a comparison of these pedals, I haven’t managed to find it.

That’s left the community to fill the vacuum (pun intended).

I’ve seen the MTG consistently described as a Marshall-in-a-box pedal, a shredder’s pedal, and even as a metal pedal. A lot less has been said about the MTG:LA; the one that stood out was a comment in a Facebook group that the MTG:LA is like a ProCo Rat pedal.

My opinion’s a bit different to those takes. I think that what we’ve got here are two pedals taking aim at two of Fender’s most iconic driven tones: the small tweed amp, and the high-powered tweed twin.

Two Tweed-Tone Pedals Separated At Birth

I need to insert the usual caveat here: I’ve never played the vintage Fender amps I’m about to talk about, so I’m left to base my conclusions on the kinds of tones and character that other, well-documented pedals have said that they are chasing.

To my ears, the MTG:LA is chasing the same kind of tone that Lovepedal’s High-Power Tweed Twin (HPTT) does. As a Les Paul player, I prefer the HPTT’s take on it, but the way the MTG:LA sings at stupidly-low home tone volumes is a thing of beauty.

The MTG is more the 5e3 / smaller tweed amp sound, I’d say with a bit more attack to each note than competing pedals. It’s no Marshall-in-a-box; the attack of each note is still rounded, just as much as your average tweed-tone pedal’s attack is.

Some Controls Are Too Fiddly

This applies to both pedals.

I find that the usable range of some of the controls isn’t very large at all.

  • Unity volume is somewhere between 8 and 9 o’clock. It only takes the slightest of touches to make the pedal go really quiet.
  • Bass unity is somewhere around 3 o’clock. It only takes the slightest of touches to make the pedal produce far too much bass, or far too little.

The Tre-Verb has similar issues. But their earlier drive pedals do not.

I don’t know if these are design issues that didn’t get caught during the prototype stage, or something that only showed up in the final production units. Either way, I hope that Fender revisits this in a “mark 2” release.

Final Thoughts

I like them both, in very different ways.

The MTG has quickly become one of my go-to pedals for playing rhythm guitar with my Les Paul. It’s probably the most aggressive tweed-tone pedal I’ve played to date, and sometimes that’s exactly what I want. In the end, it hasn’t replaced my Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short) on my board, but it does give me another option for when the SHOD is just too polite.

I didn’t form that same initial bond with the MTG:LA, but I’m starting to.

As part of writing up this blog post, I’ve just started exploring using the MTG:LA with the gain turned as far down as it will go. That produces an edge-of-breakup tone that I’m finding really rewarding. Interestingly, the mids are a lot less prominent with the gain right down, which means my Les Paul also sounds great through the MTG:LA on this setting.

The other thing I’ve started doing is experimenting with giving the MTG:LA a bit of help. I think the tone controls on the MTG:LA are its one major weakness. That got me thinking. Why not use another pedal with the MTG:LA to shape the tone for it?

So far, the early results are very promising. I’ll say more about it soon in a follow-up blog article.

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