Late 2020, Wampler Pedals launched the Wampler Belle, which comes in a fetching green. They also did a limited run of these in the Claymore finish, as a tribute to the late Alex Abernathy Clay. Same circuit, just a different finish.
Here are my (long overdue) first impressions of this delightful overdrive pedal.
What Is It?
The Wampler Belle is a low-to-mid gain overdrive pedal, based on the circuit used in the Nobels ODR-1.
If you haven’t come across one before, the Nobels ODR-1 is often referred to as “the sound of Nashville”. It’s said to be a popular choice with many professional session musicians who work in the recording capital of America.
How Does It Compare To The Nobels ODR-1?
I don’t know. I’ve never owned an actual Nobels ODR-1, sorry.
If they haven’t already, I’m sure someone else somewhere on the Internet will post a comparison between the Wampler Belle and the ODR-1.
Hasn’t Brian Wampler Done This Before?
Sort of, but not really. The Wampler Underdog Drive (as found on the Paisley Deluxe) is based on the Nobels ODR-S circuit. The ODR-S is another pedal that I don’t have any experience with at all.
I do have the Paisley Deluxe, and I didn’t get on with it at all. As my First Impressions makes clear, it’s a pedal that I do need to go back and look at again. I might do that in a ‘Side By Side’ article at some point.
Tell Us About Alex
My edition of the Wampler Belle is in this rather fetching Claymore finish, in tribute to Alex.
Alex Abernathy Clay was (amongst many other things) one of the admins of the Wampler Tone Group over on Facebook. He was much loved by everyone there who knew him, and in particular is widely remembered for his part in making the Wampler Tone Group the friendliest guitars & gear forum on the entire Internet.
He died during the first wave of the pandemic, at the age of 33. He was survived by his wife and two children.
I didn’t know Alex personally. But plenty of people on the Wampler Tone Group did, and you can head on over there to see how much he meant to everyone who did know him.
Wampler released the Claymore as a limited edition pedal, with all profits going to Alex’s family.
How Does The Claymore Differ From The Belle?
The Wampler Claymore is the exact same pedal as the Wampler Belle. It just has a different finish (in tribute to Alex).
What Rig Are You Using?
I’m running the Belle straight into my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6. For today, I’m using the amp’s built-in digital reverb.
I’m playing my Les Paul: mostly in the middle position, with neck volume around 5 and bridge volume around 9; but (for reasons that’ll become apparent later on) also on the bridge position with the same control settings.
What Does The Wampler Belle Sound Like?
To my ears, the Belle has two standout characteristics: it sounds smooth, and it sounds balanced. I’ll try and explain what I mean.
With the way I’ve got it dialled in, the overdrive isn’t aggressive at all. There’s no bite or sharpness to the attack on each note. It’s just well-defined. Think that La Grange opening rhythm tone that’s in your head.
There’s no hole in the tone, a characteristic it shares with the Wampler Pantheon imho. Now, it doesn’t sound like the Pantheon, don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t sound Marshall-like at all. But (again, imho) that lack of gaps in the sound is what makes the Pantheon outshine the other bluesbreaker pedals I’ve tried.
And I think the Belle has the potential to be a big hit for exactly the same reason.
You’re A Bit More Hesitant Praising The Belle. Why?
I’m finding that the Belle can sound dark with some guitars, and I’m not confident that I understand this well yet.
I first noticed this with my PRS Custom 24. I tend to run that with the volume pot around 8, because that’s where the output more-or-less matches the output of my PRS McCarty 594. At that volume setting, my Custom 24 sounds noticeably darker than my 594 does through the Belle. Crucially, with other pedals, I haven’t noticed this much of a difference before.
What’s going on here?
When you roll back your volume control, your guitar also loses some top-end from the output signal. It happens with all guitars, and it’s intrinsic to how potentiometers work. There’s a thing called a treble-bleed mod which can mitigate this. Some guitars (notably recent Fenders) have this as part of their stock wiring. Most (including my Les Paul and my PRS) do not.
If your guitar loses top-end pretty quickly as you roll back the volume knob, the Belle will make sure that you hear it. The overall tone darkens up very quickly, and the overdrive drops of just as quickly too.
My current thinking is that there isn’t a whole lot of colouring and boosting going on, and as a result, the guitar’s going to have a bigger impact on the overall tone than it might do with other pedals you’ve got.
Now, I can crank up the Color control to around 3 o’clock to compensate. It doesn’t sound harsh (maybe a bit plinky), but that’s where (for me!) it starts to lose the balanced tone that I love about this pedal.
If the middle position on a Les Paul sounds dark through the Belle, I can mitigate it by using the bridge position instead. During my time with it, I’ve found myself doing that more and more.
Another option is to stack the Belle behind a boost pedal of some kind. That also works, and I’ll talk about more later on in this blog post.
What Does The Button On The Left Hand Side Do?
I’m going to (semi-jokingly) refer to it as the Telecaster Bridge switch.
Put the button in if you’re playing your Telecaster on the bridge pickup, and make sure it’s out for all other pickup positions, and for all other guitars.
So far, that’s the rule of thumb that’s working for me and my particular rig and tastes. Take it with a punch of salt, and experiment for yourself.
To my ears, the button causes an EQ shift which (in turn) also affects the overdrive.
- With the button in, the EQ shifts towards the lower frequencies. There’s more bass, the high-end is reduced, and that reduction in high-end results in less gain from the overdrive circuit.
- With the button out, the EQ shifts towards the higher frequencies. There’s less bass, more high-end, and that extra high-end produces more gain from the overdrive circuit.
I find it particularly effective for sweetening up the sound of my Telecaster’s bridge pickup. With the button out, the Belle sounds great in my Telecaster’s middle position, but then the shift over to the bridge pickup is too much of a jump for my taste. Push the button in when I’m using my Telecaster’s bridge pickup, and it sounds spot-on to me.
Does It Klon?
Yes it does. There’s plenty of input headroom to work with (yay!), and no problems with the noise floor whatsoever.
Normally, I have my KTR set as a clean boost. With the Belle, I actually prefer using something like the Tumnus set as a dirty boost instead. Cranking the gain up on the Tumnus reduces the bass, and that produces a nice clear result with the Belle.
The thing to be aware of is that you’ll really hear the mid-push and treble boost that your favourite Klon or klone produces, perhaps more than you’re used to. You might want to use something like the Tumnus Deluxe, which gives you more control over the mid-range than a typical klone does. And you’ll probably want to turn the treble on your klone down to below unity too.
My personal favourite? I think it sounds wonderful with the white Archer (Clean) from JRAD. But honestly, it does sound really good with the original mini Tumnus pedal too.
What About With Tubescreamers?
For this, I’m using the Mad Professor Little Green Wonder (LGW for short) pedal, a Tubescreamer-like pedal designed by BJFe. Why? Because I put a poll up on Twitter, and it got the one and only vote.
An important caveat: although I’ve owned the LGW for many years, I don’t know it very well. I rarely use it, and this is probably the first time I’ve had it on the board since I started this blog.
I’ve got the LGW setup in classic Tubescreamer boost mode: drive all the way off, volume up above unity to push the Belle, and the body control around 9pm to complement the fat tone of a Les Paul.
The first results are very encouraging, and I think I prefer it over boosting with the Tumnus.
For me, boosting with the LGW produces a more precise sound than boosting with the Tumnus. Both add clarity, for sure. The LGW adds a sharpness to the attack that I really like, and I’m not hearing that from boosting with the Tumnus.
I’m very curious to hear how they’d sound together in a mix: LGW + Belle on one rhythm track, and Tumnus + Belle for the other rhythm guitar track.
I like it a lot, and I think it’ll become a classic pedal.
And the world would be a much better place if we were all a lot more like Alex.