First Impressions: Earthquaker Devices Special Cranker Overdrive Pedal

Towards the end of last month, I picked up one of these:

The Earthquaker Devices Special Cranker Overdrive Pedal

Read on for my First Impressions.

What Did You Buy?

I bought a Special Cranker overdrive pedal, made by Earthquaker Devices. I got it brand new from Andertons.

The Special Cranker is effectively a version 3 of the old Speaker Cranker overdrive pedal. It separates out the Speaker Cranker’s original 1 knob into three:

  • Output volume
  • Tone
  • Gain (labelled ‘More’)

It also has a toggle switch, for selecting germanium or silicon clipping diodes.

Why Did You Buy It?

I’ve had both versions of the original Speaker Cranker overdrive pedal. I’ve still got a Speaker Cranker v2 somewhere at the back of the shelf. It’s a fun pedal. So when I saw that Earthquaker had launched another variant earlier this year, I was certainly interested in trying it out.

And then, last month, I missed out on a second-hand example on eBay. I was a bit gutted about that – I was expecting these to be pretty rare over here in the UK. To my surprise though, at the time of writing there’s loads of these in the shops, and they’re pretty cheap by Earthquaker Devices standards.

What Is Your Signal Chain?

I’m trying something new for this review:

  • various guitars
  • into the Axe FX 3
  • out into the Special Cranker
  • back into the Axe FX 3
  • and recorded directly into my DAW of choice.

The first trip into the Axe FX 3 is mostly so that I can use the tuner. I do have a noise gate and a bit of EQ to roll off the low-end on a couple of my fatter-sounding guitars, but these are switched off for most of the recordings.

The second trip into the Axe FX 3 has:

  • digital tape delay & digital spring reverb in parallel
  • into the ‘Prince Tone Reverb’ amp model that I’ve configured to sound like the clean channel on my Marshall DSL 20HR
  • into a pair of cabs that sound very similar to my Celestion A-Type and Celestion Blue speakers that I normally use for these blog posts

It’s not exactly the same tone that I’ve been getting for my recent audio demos, but it’s close enough. I did check the sound of the Special Cranker through my usual Marshall DSL20HR setup too, just to make sure that what you’re about to hear is definitely the pedal and not because I’m using a digital modeller.

I’ll do a full blog post on the Axe FX 3 setup (what, why, etc etc) soon.

With A Stratocaster

The first guitar I’ve reached for is Stripe, my Fender American Elite Stratocaster fitted with Kinman noiseless pickups. Noiseless pickups are a godsend for recording with, but they can shave off a little bit of the top-end that makes single-coil pickups special.

Here’s a little bit of clean playing on the neck pickup:

Fender Stratocaster, no pedal

To my ears, that’s already sounding pretty good (apart from the electrical noise that the Axe FX 3 is picking up …). I’ve dialled in a clean tone that has plenty of snap and mids, without being too muddy.

I can get a tone that’s more cutting – and arguably has more character – by using the Special Cranker’s ‘Si’ mode:

Fender Stratocaster into the Special Cranker on Si mode

I left a bit of the noise in that recording, so that you can hear that the pedal itself isn’t very noisy. There’s about the same amount of noise in the first record, where the pedal was off.

So what does the ‘Ge’ mode sound like? These are the exact same settings, just with the toggle switch to the left:

Fender Stratocaster into the Special Cranker on Ge mode

To my ears, that’s a much smoother sound. If I dial back the tone a little bit, I could definitely see me trying this out on tracks where I don’t want the rhythm guitar to stand out too much.

With A Les Paul

I rarely play my Strat – I’m much more a Les Paul or McCarty 594 kind of player these days. When I’m playing my Les Paul, I prefer to be in the middle position. That’s where the magic is, for me.

Here’s how the Special Cranker’s ‘Ge’ mode sounds with my Les Paul in the middle position:

Gibson Les Paul into the Special Cranker on Ge mode

Hrm. That sounds very grainy to me, with an overdrive that sounds like the speaker is going to tear itself apart. Oh well, I guess it lives up to the concept of the original pedal then 😂

Just for completeness, here’s the same Les Paul, same middle position, into the Special Cranker’s ‘Si’ mode.

Gibson Les Paul into the Special Cranker on Si mode

I’m sorry about the louder volume of those two clips. It does give you an idea of how the pedal reacts to different types of guitars. If I was using this on a pedal board at a gig, that’s something I’d want to take into account.

I wonder … what does the Special Cranker sound if I don’t crank it? What if I just set it to the lowest gain setting?

Gibson Les Paul into a decidedly not-cranked Special Cranker on Ge mode

I think it’s still too grainy to use for featured parts, but I tell you what: I reckon I could use that for rhythm parts where I’m mostly playing simple chord shapes with a bit of palm muting.

Not As Generic As I First Thought

When I mentioned this pedal on the New Arrivals post, I said that the Special Cranker is “in the running for most-generic-overdrive-sound ever”. Now I’ve had the opportunity to listen back to it, I take that back.

Yes, tone-wise I think it’s pretty generic. It sounds a little tweedy not because it’s a tweed-tone pedal, but because my speaker choice is commonly found in real tweed amps.

But, even with the gain turned all the way down, it’s just a little too grainy to be in the conversation for most-generic-overdrive-sound for me. It’s not going to replace (say) the Wampler Belle / Claymore after all.

I’m alright with that. Regular readers know that I collect pedals because I’m always looking for new options. The Special Cranker certainly gives me that.

Final Thoughts

In their marketing at the time of writing, Earthquaker Devices say: “Complex chords will remain distinct and complex, as the Special Cranker is designed to preserve your tone’s integrity without muddying up the low-end or smearing the midrange.”

I don’t agree with that, at least when using a Les Paul. The pedal’s just too grainy (I believe they use the term ‘ragged’) for my chord work to remain clear. Lord knows how it would cope if I actually knew any complex chords. But don’t take my word for it – listen to the audio clips and decide for yourself.

I do like what it does to my Strat tone. I like it a lot. That’s one reason why it’s staying around for now. Despite the simple controls, I feel like there’s more to be had from this pedal, given time. And I’m happy to give it that time.

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