First Impressions: Mad Professor Super Black Pedal (Straight Into A Power Amp)

It’s not every pedal that gets not one, but two First Impressions posts here on the HomeToneBlog. In fact, I believe this is the first one that I’ve done this for.

How does the Mad Professor Super Black preamp pedal sound, when I run it straight into a power amp? Let’s find out.

Wait, Didn’t You Do This Already?

Not quite. On Saturday, I posted my First Impressions of what the Super Black was like when I ran it into the front of my Marshall DSL 20HR. If you want to know how that went, click on the link.

I couldn’t leave it there, though.

Why Are You Doing This?

While I think it’s representative of how people are likely to try it, I don’t think it’s fair to write about a preamp pedal without also trying to use it as a preamp. So that’s what I’m posting today.

The Mad Professor Super Black is a preamp pedal. It’s one of those rare pedals that you can run straight into a power amp (or two!). This way, you completely bypass the preamp of a guitar amp, and get to hear what the Super Black can do when it’s the star of the show.

What’s Your Signal Chain For This?

It’s pretty similar to my last post about the Super Black:

  • Fender American Deluxe Telecaster (known as Spot) with Fender Custom Shop Twisted Tele pickups
  • into the Super Black
  • into a pair of Neunaber Slates, providing digital tape delay and digital spring reverb
  • straight into a power amp

All the pedals are in separate loops on my trusty Gigrig G2, so that I can patch in additional pedals (like the Archer Ikon Klon klone) later on if I want to (and I probably will).

What Are You Using For The Power Amp?

I’ve tried it with a couple of amps, and ended up settling on the Marshall DSL 20HR again.

I started off by running it into the Line In on my Fryette Power Station PS-100. It’s a cracking piece of kit … but it might just be a little too honest and unforgiving to get the best out of the Super Black. No matter how I adjusted the EQ on the Super Black, I couldn’t get it sounding great.

I think the issue there is that the Fryette is designed to be very transparent.

Plan B swung into effect instead. I ran the Super Black into the FX return on my Marshall DSL 20HR, and matched the preamp of the pedal with a power amp that is designed to add colour and character to a guitar tone.

How Does It Sound Into A Power Amp?

I’m going to sound a bit uncertain here, because I don’t have any real experience at running preamp pedals directly into power amps like this.

The main reason I use real amps in general – and valve amps in particular – is to get what I call a realness to the sound.

  • I’m after something that sounds like it’s here in the room; not that it has a blanket thrown over it.
  • I’m also after a warmth that adds to the overall width of the sound without sounding artificial or added on after the fact.
  • I’m not looking for something that sounds stiff or brittle.
  • And finally, I’m after a complexity that sounds rich and rewarding.

You’ll have your own criteria, I’m sure! Doesn’t matter what kind of sound I’m exploring; if any of these are missing, I don’t enjoy playing guitar.

So how did the Super Black do?

  • As long as I crank the Treble control up to 2 o’clock, and (carefully!) bring up the Presence control enough, it definitely does not sound like there’s a blanket thrown over the speakers. The ice-pick tenancy I wrote about in the other post is still there, which is why I recommend being very careful with the Presence control.
  • If anything, this pedal puts out too much low end. I’ve got the Bass Cut enabled, dropped the Bass control to below 9 o’clock, and dropped the Gain back to around 9 o’clock too to cut out some low mids, and it’s still a little boomy on my neck pickup. While it doesn’t sound artificial, it doesn’t feel quite right, but I’m out of options to do any better right now.
  • Stiff or brittle? It’s a little stiff, but thankfully not brittle. Is anyone going to notice in a mix? I doubt it. Am I going to enjoy playing it? Not as much as playing through a tube preamp.
  • And finally … complexity. On this one, I’m not sure. I’m certainly not feeling the same mojo that I felt when running the Super Black into the Marshall’s own preamp. But neither does it sound as sterile as going straight into a recording device.

What About Overdriven Sounds?

In the other post, I had serious concerns about how the overdrive sounded. With the Super Black running straight into the power amp, things are different. I’m not sure that they’re better.

When it comes down to it, I prefer the sound of my overdrives straight into the Marshall over how they sound into the Super Black. The Super Black isn’t making my overdrives sound great, and I still have the frustration of having to fiddle with the Super Black’s controls when I want to feed overdrive into it.

Enter Player Two: The Mighty Les Paul

Is this pedal going to fare any better now, when I run my trusty Les Paul into it? Well … no. But maybe I can hear a more honest take on the situation.

Les Paul, bridge humbucker. Powerful? Yes. Bright? Also yes. And yet, even with the Bass on the Super Black turned all the way down, the sound is farting out to a point where I can’t use it at all. By this, I mean that the lower frequencies of the signal are so overdriven, they sound more like a fuzz than a drive pedal.

I can’t tell whether it’s the Super Black itself that’s farting out, or whether the Super Black is sending so much low end into the Marshall that it’s the power stage that can’t cope.

Either way, I can’t see a way for me to use my Les Paul with the Super Black. I’m all out of ideas here.

Final Thoughts

It’s inconvenient to run a pedal directly into a power amp. Does the Super Black sound good enough to be worth the hassle of this setup?

I can’t say that it does.

I’ve completely given up on the Super Black and overdriven sounds, at least for now. I can’t get anything out of it that I’d choose to use. Maybe in time I’ll figure it out? Some pedals definitely do need time and patience to figure out.

That leaves clean tones, and here I have doubts too. I think the clean tone’s usable straight into a power amp, and quite possibly much closer to the sound of an actual blackface amp. That might be important to you.

For me, though, I felt that the Super Black’s clean tones had serious mojo when they were helped by a real tube preamp. I thought it came alive in an exciting way when I ran it straight into the front of the Marshall, and that’s how I’ll use it going forward.

Final Final Thoughts

In the end, after not one but two First Impressions posts, the Super Black is going to be just a specialist pedal for me. I need to compare this to the other blackface-in-a-box pedals that I have. If it does well against those, this is going to become my go-to pedal for ultra-clean Strat tones.

While it’s always great to find a new top tool for a particular job, I can’t help but feel disappointed overall. But how much of my disappointment is in the pedal, and how much of it is really down to me wishing that I owned a real Fender Deluxe Reverb Reissue?

I think I’ve been properly spoiled by the last two months with the Tweed Deluxe amp.

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