Tone Stacking: Using Another Pedal To Shape The Fender MTG:LA’s Sound

In my opinion, Fender’s MTG:LA pedal is a bit of a conundrum. I think it’s got just the one sound, and if that sound doesn’t work for you or your rig, the pedal’s EQ controls can’t save the situation.

I love it with my Strat and my Tele. I don’t like it anywhere near as much with my Les Paul.

Thankfully, we’re not limited to what the MTG:LA can do on its own. We can give it some help, in the form of a second pedal to shape the tone a bit more. And I’m really liking the results.

A Quick Recap

Before I dive into pairing the MTG:LA with different pedals, let’s start by setting out what I think about the MTG:LA on its own.

  • To my ears, the MTG:LA is in the same territory as the Lovepedal High Power Tweed Twin et al.
  • It’s a big, fat sound with little headroom. It saturates early, and can really sing.
  • It can lack definition, making it hard to use for chord-style rhythms with a Les Paul.
  • Compared to other tweed-tone pedals, I was surprised at just how dark it sounded that day.

A big part of this situation seems to be the way the EQ controls affect the pedal’s overall voicing. In my experience after six months with this pedal:

  • The tone control acts as an overall tone cut, quite similar to the tone controls found on Boss pedals and tubescreamers. I run it full-on.
  • The treble control seems to act as a treble cut. Anything below 3 o’clock is far too dark for me and my Les Paul. Even fully-open, the MTG:LA lacks definition.
  • Unity bass seems to be at 3 o’clock. A couple of hairs above this, and suddenly there’s a lot of extra bass being added. A couple of hairs below this, and the bass quickly disappears.
  • The tight control is one of Bruce Egnator’s contributions to the pedal. On his Rebel 20 amp, this is a -6db cut at 180 Hz. On the MTG:LA, it’s a variable control.
  • Turning up the gain seems to increase the amount of mids too.

With the exception of the bass control, the effect of the EQ controls is to further increase the amounts of mids you can hear in one way or another.

How I’m Approaching This Pedal

Before I start throwing pedals at the MTG:LA, I want an idea of what I might be trying to effect.

Some Observations

Bear in mind: I’m no electronics engineer, no expert in this field at all. What I’m saying here is based entirely on observation as a user of the device; black box testing, if you will.

I’m focusing on the bass control, because it’s the oddity of all the EQ controls. Compared to the original signal into the pedal, it’s the only EQ control that seems to act as a boost. All of the other EQ controls seem to act only as EQ cuts. Why would the bass control be the one that’s obviously active?

I can hear a lot of difference when I switch back and forth between my Telecaster’s bridge pickup and my Les Paul’s bridge pickup. The pedal has a lot more clarity when I’m using the Telecaster. There’s a lot more note definition, and the mid-range sounds far more balanced.

No matter what I do, I can’t use the bass and tight controls to make my Les Paul sound anything like my Telecaster, through this pedal, even allowing for the extra mid-range from my Les Paul.

From these observations, I’m going to make some starting assumptions.

  • The bass control is a passive cut control, and not an active control that can boost the amount of bass produced.
  • The somewhat excessive bass is being produced by the pedal’s gain stage.
  • The bass control does not sit in front of the gain stage.
  • The treble control does not sit in front of the gain stage either.

Bruce Egnator’s tight control sits before the gain stage on his amp. I’m going to assume that it also sits in front of the gain stage on the MTG:LA.

The Approach

With the MTG:LA, I want to reduce the low-end and the mids that are going into the pedal in the first place. If my working assumptions are correct, the gain stage is exaggerating these frequencies. By cutting them back, I hope to balance out the pedal a lot.

I think I need to boost the top-end too, but I’m not sure. It might well be that the MTG:LA can produce plenty of definition if those other frequencies aren’t as dominant when the signal hitting the gain stage.

Either way, I’m going to put pedals in front of the MTG:LA first, because if my assumptions are correct, that’s where they’ll help me the most.

Trying Different Pedals

How I Have The MTG:LA Setup

When I start with a pedal, I’m resetting the MTG:LA to approximately these settings:

  • tone: on max
  • treble: on max
  • base: around 3 o’clock, aiming for unity
  • tight: on min
  • gain: just below 9 o’clock
  • volume: around 8 o’clock, aiming for unity

If I adjust the controls to suit the second pedal I’m using, I’ll mention that.

JRAD Archer Clean

I went with the Archer Clean instead of my Klon because the Archer Clean doesn’t boost the low end at all, and my Klon does. Most (not all, sadly) overdrive pedals sound great when boosted by the Archer Clean.

I’m happy to report that the MTG:LA is one of them.

To my ears, the MTG:LA definitely sounds better when boosted by the Archer Clean. It’s still big, but it’s no longer boomy. The bass is warm rather than overpowering. The treble control turns into a bit of an attack control: turn it down for rounder notes, turn it up for more crunch.

The extra mid-range boost really brings out the bark of my Les Paul. It’s not full-on honk, thankfully, but there’s no chance of getting my Les Paul to growl. I can adjust this by turning down the Archer Clean’s colour control. Doing so quickly reveals that the Archer Clean’s mid boost plays an important role in balancing out the mids.

I just need more fine-grained control if I want to dial in the MTG:LA more precisely.

TC Electronic Spark Booster

I picked the spark because it’s a popular and affordable boost pedal. Although it isn’t a treble booster, it does feature treble and bass EQ controls, along with a ‘clean’ boost mode, and we can adjust the MTG:LA’s tight control to cut the low-mids there.

It’s definitely a workable pairing.

In the classic 10:2 setup (bass on 10 o’clock, treble on 2 o’clock), the Spark already adds a lot of clarity and bite to the overtone tone. There’s definitely more crunch here than I was getting out of the Archer Clean. It’s not excessive, just that the notes aren’t as round as before.

Turning up the MTG:LA’s tight control to around 2 o’clock gives a similar feeling sound to the pedal’s mid-range. It doesn’t bark quite as much as it did when boosted with the Archer Clean, although you might find the difference to be subtle. I think it’s a nice alternative, and it might work as a classic rhythm tone a little more.

The only real downside is that this pairing seems to be a little noisier than pairing the MTG:LA with the Archer Clean. Again, nothing excessive.

Paul Cochrane Timmy v2

The Timmy is a legendary pedal for boosting and tone-shaping overdriven amps, partly because of its innovative EQ design. I just had to try it with the MTG:LA. Unfortunately, it turns out that my Timmy v2 is dying. The pedal keeps cutting out on me, and even when there is a signal, there’s often a volume drop.

When it was working, I thought the results were quite similar to using the Spark.

I do prefer the effect that the Timmy has on the bass frequencies, but I only noticed the difference when I A/B’d both boost pedals. If I turn up the gain on the Timmy, the end result sounds somehow metallic to my ears. And I had to turn the tight control on the MTG:LA up to around 10 o’clock to balance out the mids a bit.

The softer top-end from the Timmy feels nicer, while the hyped top-end of the Spark adds a little more crunch and a pleasing amount of definition. If I turn down the treble control on the MTG:LA a bit, I can address the ear fatigue that the Spark induces, without affecting the character of the overdrive at all.

I don’t think there’s a clear winner between these two. Both pair well with the MTG:LA, and if you didn’t have them side by side to compare, you probably wouldn’t have a preference between the results.

SviSound Overzoid od-1

The Overzoid od-1 is one of the secret weapons in my tone locker. If nothing else is doing the trick, the od-1 is normally the answer.

I think the MTG:LA is the first pedal I’ve ever come across that sounds worse when boosted by the od-1. Its mid-boost just sits in the wrong spot for me. I don’t think it suits the sound of the MTG:LA at all.

I’ll tell you what, though. Dial the gain down on the od-1, and it makes for a nice underdriver pedal. That’s something I didn’t know before today.

Mad Professor Forest Green Compressor

This is a bit of a left-field option. Mad Professor’s Forest Green Compressor was the very first pedal I bought to do tone-shaping, which makes it the very first pedal of my current collection.

Unfortunately, what it’s really good at is fattening things up, and that’s the exact opposite of what the MTG:LA needs, in my opinion.

For shits and giggles (and science!), I did this pairing with my Stratocaster. This might be workable – I’ll need to put a lot more time into it to decide – but I think the MTG:LA sounds great on its own with my Strat.

Boss GE-7 Graphic Equaliser

This one surprised me the most. Despite the greater control it offered, I ended up with it sounding almost identical to the Timmy – just noisier.

I ended up making small cuts at 100, 200, 400 and 800 hz, boosting 1.6 khz the most, and tiny boosts at 3.2 khz and 6.4 khz. On top of that, the GE-7 includes a buffer that’s adding some additional top-end to the overall sound.

Going back and forth between this and the Timmy, I had to keep checking my G2 switcher to see which pedal I was boosting with MTG:LA with. There is a difference – that 1.6 khz boost adds a nice something – but I bet I couldn’t tell them apart in a mix, or any sort of blind test.

Pedals I Didn’t Try, And Why

Wampler Tumnus Deluxe

Wampler’s Tumnus Deluxe features a 3-band EQ with active bass and mid controls. (The treble control is based on the Klon circuit; the bass and mid controls are Wampler additions.)

I imagine that it would produce a similar result to using the Archer Clean. Not identical for sure, but same ballpark. I didn’t see the point of trying another pedal with only one mid control.

MXR Micro Amp

MXR’s original Micro Amp is the cleanest clean boost ever made. Seriously, this pedal literally set the standard for a flat, clean boost.

I didn’t try this pedal because I want to shape the tone that’s going into the MTG:LA, and, by definition, that isn’t what the MXR Micro Amp does.

Xotic EP Booster (and similar pedals)

I did actually try this, along with a whole bunch of similar one-knob boost pedals. They all had the same two problems:

  • They boosted the problematic bottom end and mid frequencies, making the MTG:LA sound like mud with my Les Paul.
  • The boosted input signal was too hot for the MTG:LA, and it just turned into a fuzz pedal.

Treble Boosters

I tried a couple of these, and the results were not for me at all.

Apart from (once again) hitting the MTG:LA with a signal that was too hot for it, they didn’t clean up the low-end at all. The gain stage of the MTG:LA seems to produce its best results when starved of low-end.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, the MTG:LA already sounds great with the bridge pickups of Stratocasters and Telecasters. With a little bit of help, I reckon it can be a good option for us Les Paul players too.

Out of all the pedals I’ve tried today, I think the Boss GE-7 suited me the best. It was the only pedal that offered any real help when switching between different guitars.. Unfortunately, mine’s a stock GE-7, and its high noise floor has worn me down.

All of this has left me wanting to get even more out of my MTG:LA. I’m just not entirely sure what that next step is right now, though.

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