First Impressions: Mad Professor Amber Overdrive With Midas Touch

This photo is a close-up of my pedal board.

There are two pedals shown: the original Amber Drive, and the factory-modded Amber Drive with Midas Touch Mod.

The only visual way to tell the two pedals apart is the black 'CUSTOM' sticker that has been added below the footswitch on the modded pedal.

Apart from that, the two pedals look identical.

Both have 'Volume', 'Drive' and 'Tone' controls on the top, along with side jacks and a power jack next to the 'In' jack on the right-hand side of the pedal.
The Mad Professor Amber Overdrive with Midas Touch Mod, next to the original Amber Overdrive pedal.

I recently picked up a new (to me) factory-modded Amber Overdrive pedal, made by Mad Professor.

This is the third pedal in their Custom series that I’ve tried. I really enjoyed the first two. Will I enjoy this one as much? Read on for my First Impressions.

Table of Contents

What Did You Buy?

I bought a Mad Professor Amber Overdrive with the Midas Touch Mod. This is a custom version of the Amber Overdrive pedal, modded by Mad Professor themselves at the factory. It’s part of the Custom series of pedals that they’ve released since the pandemic began.

The original Amber Overdrive is probably best described as a cross between an overdrive and a fuzz. It aims to deliver the sound of a vintage fuzz into a cranked Marshall, all in the one pedal.

The Midas Touch Mod aims to add more harmonic definition to the circuit, while making the top end more silky, so that it stands out in a mix more than the original does.

Why Did You Buy It?

Of all the early-era Mad Professor pedal releases, the original Amber Overdrive is the one that I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with. I love the tones that I hear in demos, but always hate it through my own rig. And yet, I persist with it, because it clearly can sound amazing. I reckon that I’m the reason I can’t make it sound good, and if I can just figure out what I’m doing wrong, I’ll have learned something important from that.

(Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of the older Mad Professor pedals. I think they’re right up there as some of the best drive pedals ever made. Their Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short) has been my #1 drive pedal for many years.)

Given my feelings for the original pedal, I’ve waited until I could snag the modded Amber Overdrive on the second-hand market. I wasn’t sure that I’d like it, so I’ve been reluctant to pay full retail price for this pedal.

What Is Your Signal Chain?

I’m trying this pedal through:

  • my Les Paul, fitted with vintage voiced / output pickups
  • into the Amber Overdrive with Midas Touch Mod
  • into a pair of Neunaber Slate pedals (providing digital tape delay and spring reverb)
  • into my Marshall DSL20HR
  • into a pair of Victory 1×12 open-backed cabs, fitted with 16 ohm Celestion Blue and A-Type speakers

All the pedals are in separate loops on my Gigrig G2, so that I can make sure they’re not affecting the tone whenever they’re not being used.

I’ve also got the original Amber Overdrive to hand, so that I can compare both versions.

Not A Pedal For Low-Gain

When I plugged it in, the first thing I immediately noticed was that this pedal only does higher gain. I couldn’t get anything less out of this pedal.

If I turn the gain knob down, it’s basically ‘high gain’, ‘still high gain’, ‘pedal is off’.

I’m just a home hobbyist, and predominantly a rhythm guitarist. I like my rhythm tone to have an 80’s level of overdrive (ie, significantly less than is normal today). I can’t get this pedal down to that kind of overdrive level. [Not without extra help. See later on – Ed]

This Pedal Is All-In On Mid-Range

The next thing I immediately noticed was that this pedal has a very cutting, mid-range tone.

It dumps so much low-end, I took a moment to switch over to a different drive pedal that I know and love to just make sure that my amp wasn’t playing up in some way. Nope: this pedal is definitely doing that.

I guess I’d describe it as ‘mix-ready’ on that aspect?

There is an audible low-end build-up the more I turn up the gain knob. For my taste, it’s the kind of low-end that sounds more congested than foundational. I don’t know how it translates to a recording situation. It might be the kind of sound that works better when mic’d through a cab? (I’m guessing there.)

The Top-End Is Cutting And Nasty (In A Good Way)

I wouldn’t describe the top-end as silky at all. It might be silkier than the original (I’ll look at that in a moment), I don’t know. But this is as cutting and nasty as any cranked Plexi tone I’ve ever heard.

Seriously, if you’re having trouble cutting through a mix (pun intended) for lead work, you might want to give this pedal a try. On that score, the Midas Touch Mod does live up to its marketing.

So far, I haven’t been able to tame the top-end all that much. Adjusting the tone control on the pedal, or the presence control on my amp, quickly robs the tone of all that in-your-face goodness. Rolling back the tone control on the guitar is a little more successful, but not by much. I just keep making this pedal sound dull, rather than smooth.

Fighting it seems futile.

Where Did All The Noise Come From?

I’m used to Mad Professor pedals being dead quiet, with almost no audible noise. It’s one of the key things that make them (imho) the best choice for stacked pedal tones.

The modded Amber Overdrive, though, surprised me with how noisy it is. It’s no worse than any other pedal (if you were to crank the drive on that other pedal first). If I was using this pedal regularly, I’d certainly want to try it with a noise gate pedal to see if that was worth it.

(By the end of writing up this blog post, I barely noticed the noise from this pedal any more. Maybe a noise gate pedal isn’t needed after all.)

How Does It Compare To The Original?

Now this is where things get really interesting, I reckon.

Switching back and forth between them, there’s no doubt at all: I prefer the modded Amber Overdrive over the stock circuit. All the things I’ve just talked about above (well, the mid-range and top-end) fix things that I didn’t like about the original Amber Overdrive pedal.

What are the differences that I’m hearing?

  • There’s a lack of mid-range punch to the original pedal. Now, that might be because it still retains a fair bit of low-end, I’m not sure. The modded one is a lot more in-your-face, and should cut through a lot better.
  • The original pedal is much duller than the modded pedal. I’ve got the tone on max on the original, and just below 11 o’clock on the Custom version, and the Custom version has a lot more bite to the attack. The attack on the original pedal is blunt at best.
  • The top-end on the original pedal can completely disappear at times. The original circuit seems to rely on pick dynamics to bring out the top-end. Normally, I’m a huge fan of dynamics. In this case, though, going back and forth between the two, I’m finding the original much harder to play.

If I wind up the gain on the original to about 9 o’clock, then it gets a fair bit more top-end. The attack is still blunt, as we’re clearly into fuzz territory now. It’s not my kind of tone for playing rhythm. For lead / melodic stuff, though, I can see the appeal.

After trying them both together, I could see how they’d complement each other on the same pedal board. I’m thinking of the Amber Overdrive with Midas Touch Mod as a pedal I can use for rhythm tones, and the original Amber Overdrive as the pedal I’d maybe use for a corresponding lead tone. Except the modded version has more cut. Arrggghhhh.

Using Gigrig G2 To Starve Both Pedals

This is a trick that I do with Wamper’s Velvet Fuzz. And it works really great with both versions of the Amber Overdrive too.

Gigrig G2 has a built-in preamp, which sits first in the signal chain. I believe it’s there to help you match volume levels between different guitars (before Dan invented the Gigrig 3-in-1 pedal).

I can also use this preamp to turn down the signal from my guitar – to effectively starve the pedal of input signal. It’s different to turning down the volume on the guitar, because I don’t lose any top-end this way.

I like the results. In fact, I’ll go further, and say that I think it transforms both pedals.

  • On the original Amber Overdrive, it softens and smooths out the tone in a really pleasing way. I think it helps the pedal sing. Does it have enough cut to be a lead tone? That I’m not so sure of, but in the room, I love it. I reckon it’d be an interesting rhythm tone too if I dialled out some of the low mids using an EQ pedal in front of the Amber Overdrive.
  • On the modded Amber Overdrive, I get the amp-like crunch rhythm tone that I’ve been after.

With both pedals, the gain range is now more to my taste. (I keep wanting to write ‘more usable’, but it just feels too much of an absolute statement.) I can wind both pedals up to 9 o’clock or so and still stay within the amount of gain that I enjoy.

Trying Different Guitars

(All this is done while still using G2’s preamp to starve both pedals of input …)

Swap out the raunchy tone of a Les Paul for the surgical precision of a PRS Custom 24, and things get … well, better. With less low-end going into both pedals, I hear more clarity and a little less of the fuzzy nature of each pedal’s drive tones. This might be the sweet spot for me.

Going over to an all-single coil Strat, the original Amber Overdrive in particular is really singing for me. I do have to turn up the gain to add in more top-end definition. It’s a tone that I don’t know what to do with. I play with a lot of double-stops, and I don’t like how they sound. But hey – if fuzz pedals and Strats are your thing (paging Mick Taylor!) – this might just be your thing.

Finally, I didn’t really get on with the original Amber Overdrive and my Telecaster. There wasn’t enough top-end on the neck or middle pickups without winding up the drive control, while the mid-range doesn’t bring the best out of my Telecaster’s bridge pickup (imho). Switching to the modded Amber Overdrive, though, makes things sound much better.

More than anything else, I think the Amber Overdrive with Midas Touch Mod (+ G2 signal starving) sounds pretty amp-like. It’s got that upper-mids energy and clarity that the original Amber Overdrive lacked.

I think I’d recommend the original Amber Overdrive to all-single coil Strat players, and the modded Amber Overdrive to Telecaster players. If you got something suitable to starve both pedals, then I think that they both work well with a Custom 24 too (albeit in different roles).

Final Thoughts

Above all else, this pedal has made me think.

As I’ve worked on this blog post, my opinion of the Amber Overdrive with Midas Touch Mod has shifted a lot. I’ve gone from an initial “oh God, this is worse than the original,” to really enjoying what I’m getting out of it.

It isn’t going to displace the SHOD, Wampler Pantheon, or JRAD Animal as my go-to rhythm pedals.

So the next thing for me to do is to work out which pedals it can complement, to add bite and clarity into a recording. That’s not going to happen any time soon, though.

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