Second Bite: NABLA Custom Black Tweed Overdrive Pedal

This photo shows my Marshall DSL20HR amp head on a shelf, and my pedal board on a second shelf below.

The Marshall DSL20HR is on the clean channel, and the controls can be seen as follows:

* reverb: off
* resonance: about 8 o'clock
* presence: about 12 noon
* bass: just below 10 o'clock
* mids: about 10:30
* treble: about 1:30
* volume: about 10 o'clock
* gain: about 11 o'clock

On the pedal board, we can see three pedals: the NABLA Custom Black Tweed, the MXR Sugar Drive, and the JRAD Archer Ikon.
My rig for exploring the Black Tweed, second time around.

First time around, the NABLA Custom Black Tweed overdrive pedal just fell a little bit short of what I was hoping for. While I loved the feel of playing the pedal (honestly, it’s like playing an amp), I struggled with the EQ controls and the lack of top-end presence in the overall tone.

That was last year. Six months or so later, do I still feel the same?

What’s Your Rig, This Time Around?

Last time, I ran the Black Tweed into my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6. That’s the amp I’ve been using nearly all the time for the past few years.

This time, I’m running the pedal into the Marshall DSL 20HR instead. The DSL 20HR is on the clean channel, and is running out into a pair of Victory 1×12 cabs. One cab has a 16 ohm Celestion Blue speaker, and the other cab has a 16 ohm Celestion A-Type speaker.

I’m using the same vintage-voiced Gibson Les Paul that I did last time.

Those Speakers … Are A Bit Left-Field?

Now, I appreciate that this is an unusual rig, because of those speaker cabs. There can’t be too many people out there using this particular combination of speakers and cabs with the DSL 20HR.

Normally, anyone who owns a Marshall DSL 20HR is going to be running one through either a Seventy-80 speaker, a V-Type speaker, a V30 speaker, or something like a Celestion Greenback. These speakers might be in the DSL combo amp, or in a Marshall cab, or in something like a Zilla cab. And they’ll probably be 8 ohm speakers, not the (slightly darker) 16 ohm versions that I use.

I’m simply reusing what I’ve already got. (I’ll do a separate writeup on them, to avoid going completely off-topic here!)

Why The Switch To The DSL 20HR?

I’ve had the Marshall DSL 20HR for what? – almost 2 years now – and in all that time, I’ve barely used it. I kinda figure I should really do something about that!

Switching amps doesn’t just give me a different clean tone; it also gives me more options to get the amp and pedal sounding great together. The Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 has a single tone control for shaping the sound. I set that once, years ago, and haven’t touched it since.

The Marshall, on the other hand, has all of these controls:

  • classic 3-band EQ section (bass, middle and treble)
  • power-amp resonance and presence
  • … and the Gain control on the clean channel acts as a low-mids tone control

Yup, you read that right. With the DSL 20HR, I can shape both the low-mids and the top-end of the tone. Those were the two areas that I struggled with first time around with the Black Tweed. This time, I can do something about them.

Different Amp, Different Experience!

… after a bit of tweaking, mind.

This is important: the first time I plugged the Black Tweed into the Marshall DSL 20HR, I ran into exactly the same shortcomings as before. The low-mids were lacking, the top-end was missing, and tweaking the EQ controls on the pedal didn’t improve things.

If that happens to you, don’t give up. With some tweaking, this pedal absolutely rocks through the Marshall.

So what did I tweak?

First of all, I set both the mids and treble controls on the Black Tweed to about 1 o’clock. To my ears, the mid control in particular has a very wide Q. If I set it below 12 o’clock, it starts cutting away at what little top-end there is. (This is something I didn’t grok first time around.)

Then I set to work on adjusting controls on the amp.

I started with the top-end, adjusting the amp’s treble and presence controls until it no longer sounded like there was a blanket over the tone. I had to be careful here. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of top-end to work with, and I found it easy to make the overall tone sound harsh if I boosted treble and presence a fraction too much.

Once I was happy there, I went to work on getting the low-mids sorted. To my (very uneducated!) taste, a strong low-mid character is an important part of what makes a tweed tone different to a vintage Marshall tone. Here, I worked the amp’s bass and gain controls to taste. The gain control brings out the low-mid power, while the bass provides the platform for the whole tone to sit on.

After that, I just sat back and played. Well, until the power cuts started 🙁

Raspy In A Good Way

Most tweed-tone pedals that I’ve tried fall into one of two camps: their overdrive character is either soft and growly, or snappy with a bit of bite.

Two in particular are different: they explicitly aim to capture the more broken up, raspy nature of a cranked tweed amp: Mad Professor’s Little Tweedy Drive, and their Amber Drive / Golden Cello. For me, the Little Tweedy Drive was a rare miss by Mad Professor; and I’ve spent years wanting to love the Amber Drive, but never quite managing to. (More on that in an upcoming post …)

Through the Marshall DSL 20HR, the Black Tweed is giving me the raspy sound that I hoped to get out of those other two pedals.

Now that I’ve got it, what do I think of it? That, I’m not sure about. Not yet, anyway.

Final Thoughts

I’m going to do a full write-up of the Marshall DSL 20HR later this year. I might even finish the long-promised, long-overdue Marshall Origin 20H review too! (Believe that if/when it finally drops …)

One conclusion that I will share with you now: if you’re into pedals, and into pedals that chase very different tones, you need to own multiple amps to try them through. It’s not always a simple matter of taste, either.

The NABLA Custom Black Tweed is a very different beast through the Marshall DSL 20HR. The Marshall’s powerful EQ controls made it possible to bring the best out of the Black Tweed pedal. That’s something that I simply couldn’t do with the Blackstar.

It’s kind of ironic that the pedal sounds its most tweedy through an ultra modern-voiced Marshall amp … but it really is true. Go figure.

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