It’s impossible to talk about the King of Blues without comparing it to the Analogman King of Tone – because that’s the question everyone wants to know. Is it a King of Tone clone, or (at the very least) a passible substitute?
No, it isn’t. The King of Blues is its own thing. And I really dig it. Read on for the full details, including audio demos to demonstrate why.
Table of Contents
- What Did You Buy?
- Why Did You Buy It?
- Why Do People Want A Clone Of The King Of Tone Pedal?
- The King of Blues Is A Great Pedal – But It Isn’t A King of Tone Clone
- My Signal Path
- Overdriven Stratocaster Sounds
- Distorted Stratocaster Tones
- Both Sides With My Les Paul
- Sweetening Things With Compression?
- Final Thoughts
What Did You Buy?
I bought a King of Blues dual overdrive pedal. I got mine second hand. Brand-new examples are very affordable, and in good supply at the time of writing. So much so, it’s important not to accidentally over-pay for a second-hand example.
There are two known revisions of this pedal. I haven’t been able to find out what the differences are, or how to tell them apart if you buy one. I’ve no idea whether mine is v1 or v2. If you know more, please let me know in the comments below, because I’d love to know.
Why Did You Buy It?
It’s all the fault of the Marshall Bluesbreaker re-issue.
In the months since I published my initial First Impressions on the Marshall Bluesbreaker, I’ve really fallen in love with the sound of my Les Paul into the Bluesbreaker pedal. It’s become my favourite rock tone when I want a change for my beloved tweed-tone sound. (I really should record some audio examples of that at some point.)
That’s inspired me to put together a new (semi-)regular series of blog posts comparing the Bluesbreaker against its offspring: the pedals based on the bluesbreaker circuit (like the Analogman King of Tone). There’s a lot of variety and creativity in the bluesbreaker family of pedals, and I’m very interested in exploring that in detail.
For many years – especially while the Marshall Bluesbreaker was out of production – it was Analogman’s King of Tone that was synonymous with the bluesbreaker circuit, not the original pedal. And, of all the Far Eastern-made pedals out there, one more than any other gets compared to the King of Tone: Tone City’s King of Blues.
Ever since it came out, the only question that anyone has ever cared out is whether or not the King of Blues is a clone of the King of Tone. There’s just no way I could do any kind of Bluesbreaker pedal round-up without including the King of Blues.
Why Do People Want A Clone Of The King Of Tone Pedal?
When I posted online that I’d bought the King of Blues, there was only one question that people wanted to know: is it really a King of Tone clone or not? Why do people want to know that?
One of the reasons that the King of Tone originally became desirable is because every pedal is built to order via their infamous waiting list. At the time of writing, the waiting list for new King of Tone pedals is now over five years long – and it’s only getting longer. At what point is a new King of Tone direct from Analogman is effectively unobtainium for most players?
The King of Tone isn’t just a legendary pedal. Arguably, it’s the founding member of the pantheon of legendary boutique pedals – and indeed, the pedal that spawned the entire boutique pedal industry that we enjoy so much today. (I’ll let you debate in the comments whether that honour actually belongs to the Klon or not!)
It’s not just legendary because it’s an historically-important pedal. It’s actually a great-sounding pedal too (in the right hands … just not in mine 😭).
It’s also a very expensive pedal, especially if you live outside the USA like I do. I bought mine many years ago, and it’s still the most expensive pedal I’ve ever bought before adjusting for inflation (and inflated second-hand prices). To put the cost into context, if I took that money, adjusted it for inflation, and went shopping at Andertons, I could afford almost every single overdrive / distortion pedal that they currently sell.
Let’s not forget: it’s a hand-built pedal made in America, built to a fantastic standard using hand-selected parts that are starting to become difficult to obtain. The pricing (rightly) reflects that. Analogman could easily charge a lot more for the pedal, and people would still pay it. They deserve credit for not cashing in on that.
So here’s a pedal that’s almost impossible to get in the first place, costs a small fortune, and is highly desirable. If you take it out gigging and anything happens to it, how do you replace it?
- Wait 5+ years for a new one from Analogman (by which time, it may be out of production, because of parts shortages that started in 2022)?
- Buy a second-hand one, and pay the price premium that this pedal commands from sellers who have one? (Assuming you can even get a second-hand one … I’ve just checked, and there’s hardly any on Reverb UK at the time of writing.)
Or do you find an affordable pedal that’s available for next-day delivery that gets you close enough?
That’s the option many people are turning to, especially players who either can’t afford an original King of Tone or who feel strongly against paying the asking price for one.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with far-too-many Klon klones, ‘clone’ pedals rarely recreate the sound of the original pedal. And, in my experience, the King of Blues falls firmly into that particular category.
But don’t write it off straight away. I think it’s a great overdrive pedal in its own right. And hopefully the audio examples below will explain why I feel that way.
The King of Blues Is A Great Pedal – But It Isn’t A King of Tone Clone
Let’s get straight to it. The King of Blues isn’t a King of Tone clone. There are a lot of differences. I’ve put some of them into the following table:
|Feature||King of Blues||King of Tone|
|Both sides identical circuit?||No||Yes  |
|Left side called||Engine A||Yellow side|
|Left side circuit||Modified KoT overdrive?||Overdrive / boost / distortion |
|Right side called||Engine B||Red side|
|Right side circuit||Mid-boost||Overdrive / boost / distortion |
|Internal presence trim pots?||No ||Yes|
|Internal circuit dip switches?||No ||Yes|
|Compression||More compressed||Less compressed|
- When you order a King of Tone, there are optional factory mods available. A popular mod is to increase the amount of gain of the red side of the pedal. As it is a mod, I’m ignoring it for the purpose of this comparison.
- My King of Tone has the high-gain mod applied to both sides of the pedal. So although mine is modded, both sides remain identical. You’ll be hearing it in audio examples below.
- While I believe it’s common to set the yellow side to be an overdrive and the red side to be a distortion pedal, both sides of the King of Tone can do all three roles. Just pop the back off and change the internal dip switches.
- The back plate of my King of Blues is riveted in place; it isn’t screwed on. Even if there are controls inside, Tone City don’t want us to open it up and access them.
That’s a brief summary of the feature differences. But what are the sound differences? Let’s explore those now.
My Signal Path
To show how the two pedals are different, I’m using two guitars:
- My Fender American Performer Stratocaster
- My Les Paul R9
Both guitars are 100% stock, and are going into my regular Axe-FX based setup. Follow that link for full details.
Overdriven Stratocaster Sounds
To start with, here’s my Strat’s neck pickup into the left-hand side of the King of Blues:
I think that’s a really nice sound. There’s a slight mid-push that complements the Strat while rounding off the top-end just a little bit. There’s a softness to the end result that works for me.
For comparison, here’s my Strat’s neck pickup into the yellow side of the King of Tone. I’ve got this set as an overdrive pedal.
I like that sound too. It sounds more Strat-y to me (for lack of a better phrase). There’s more bite to each note, and the mid-scooped nature of my Strat comes through nicely.
The more I listen back to both recordings, the less obvious the differences are to my ear. Both sound great, and which one you want is down to personal preference.
Overall, I found that the left-hand side of the King of Blues can do a passible imitation of the King of Tone’s overdrive … as long as this is the kind of tone you’re after.
One thing you can’t tell from the audio alone is that I captured these sounds with the King of Blues drive control cranked, while the King of Tone’s drive control was way down. Equally, the volume was down on the King of Blues, while the King of Tone’s volume was way up.
These are big differences. The left-hand side of the King of Blues is more of a very-low gain overdrive that can deliver a lot of volume boost. I couldn’t find a way to match the amount of overdrive that the King of Tone can deliver, when using both pedals into a clean amp.
From here on, the differences in tone only grow larger.
Distorted Stratocaster Tones
Let’s switch to the right-hand side of the King of Blues next, known as ‘Engine A’. I’m still using my Strat on the neck pickup.
If that’s a distortion, then it’s the softest-sounding distortion I’ve ever heard! It’s really soft and smeary in a great way. I’m also hearing a significant mid-boost too. And it’s quite compressed too. I was holding onto notes more as I played the demo piece, and really enjoyed how it influenced my playing choices.
By comparison, the red side of the King of Tone can deliver a much ‘harder’-sounding distortion tone:
To my ears, there’s a lot more bite and note attack going on there. There’s much less mid-boost going on, and the distortion circuit compresses the signal far less than Engine A on the King of Blues.
Subjectively, the King of Tone smokes the King of Blues here. There’s just so much more clarity from the King of Tone. But, as you might have been able to tell from the mistakes I made when playing through the King of Tone, I simply didn’t enjoy it as much.
I think the differences are even clearer to hear if I switch to my Strat’s bridge pickup, first with the King of Blues:
and then with the King of Tone:
I think it’s clear how the whole ‘transparent overdrive’ moniker got attached to the King of Tone. To my ears, the King of Tone is delivering bucket loads of classic Strat tone. I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to describe it. That sounds like my Strat.
This isn’t a sound I’ve explored very much in the past (I tend to use my Telecaster with my King of Tone; this might be the first time I’ve used it with my Strat!). The more I listen to it, the more I’m interested in exploring it some more soon. It’s still a little too snappy for my tastes though. I’m going to have to experiment with EQ’ing my amp differently for this. I couldn’t find a sweet spot just by tweaking the pedal alone 🙁
And how about the King of Blues? Well, I think Engine A is very well-voiced for a Strat bridge pickup … as long as you feel strongly about taming almost everything that makes a Strat bridge pickup so unique and iconic. I think it sounds really good, and very usable. But I wonder if it’s getting too close towards the sound of a Telecaster bridge pickup perhaps?
Hopefully, this has demonstrated how the right hand side of the King of Blues is quite different from the King of Tone. Sonically, they produce very different results.
If I grab my Les Paul and run both sides at the same time, the differences become stark.
Both Sides With My Les Paul
The whole point of a dual overdrive pedal is to cascade one side into the other; to combine them to get a sound we can’t get from just a single pedal.
This is where the tone and compression differences between the two pedals really stands out to me. I’ve switched to my Les Paul, because I think it does a great job of showcasing these differences. I’m playing in the middle position, with volume and tone pots all rolled down a little bit to my personal taste.
First up, here’s the King of Blues:
If that isn’t the sound of a tweed-like amp, I don’t know what does. It’s got that rounded top-end and that soft-but-strong mid-push. All it lacks is the solid low-end foundation that I prefer – and I can get that by tweaking the EQ and proximity effect inside the Axe-FX 3.
This tone alone is worth the price of admission for me.
Now, let’s switch back to the King of Tone. I’ve kept the red side as a distortion, and I’m cascading it into the yellow side, which is still set to be an overdrive:
That is not my cup of tea. It sounds harsh to me in the top-end, gritty and irritating in the mid-range, and there’s a low-end build up that I’m finding difficult to ignore. No thank you.
(There’s 9 different combinations of cascaded sounds available in the King of Tone, compared to just one in the King of Blues. I don’t have time in this blog post to explore them all. If you’d like me to do so, leave a comment below!)
The other thing that really stands out to me is the transients on the King of Tone. Transients are the initial parts of each note. I find them much much louder than the rest of the note. They made it really hard to volume-match this recording with the King of Blues.
That reminds me of another important point: to get that sound out of the King of Blues, I ended up with quite a loud signal coming out of the pedal. If I turned down either side of the pedal, it just wasn’t the same. With my rig, I can compensate for that without changing the tone at all; I just turned input 3 down on the Axe-FX 3. With a real amp? That extra output from the King of Blues might be problematic, especially if you’re switching away and using other pedals in a live setting.
But maybe there’s something we can do to polish things a bit more …
Sweetening Things With Compression?
(This is a new (to me) technique that I’m debuting in this blog post. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on it.)
Folks like That Pedal Show run their pedals into cranked amps that are on the edge of breakup (rather than into crystal clean amps). Running an amp like this adds (amongst other things) some post-overdrive / post-distortion compression.
Let’s give that a go.
Rather than crank the (virtual) amp, I prefer to throw in a compressor pedal between my pedalboard and the Axe-FX 3 to chase the same result. For this, I’m using my Mary Cries optical compressor pedal.
Here’s what the King of Blues sounds like when I run it into the Mary Cries. I’m still using my Les Paul in the middle position, so that we can compare it to the recording that doesn’t use the compressor.
The King of Blues is already quite compressed (at least, compared to the King of Tone). Does it really benefit from what the Mary Cries is doing to the tone, or is this a bit too much? I can’t make up my mind, which probably means that the compressor is doing a little too much here.
There is a big improvement, though, when I run the King of Tone into my compressor pedal:
To borrow a phrase … oh my. I think that sounds much better than the uncompressed version. Without touching anything on the King of Tone or on my Les Paul, I’ve gone from a sound that I’m extremely down on to a sound that I really like.
I wish I’d tried this technique sooner with the King of Tone. It makes sense: the King of Tone was originally designed to push a Fender Deluxe Reverb into singing overdrive at lower volume levels. You’re not going to do that into a totally clean, uncompressed amp.
I’m going to be exploring that a lot more very soon!
The best analogy I can come up with is that the tonal differences between the King of Blues and the King of Tone are like the differences between a Tweed Deluxe and a Deluxe Reverb.
When I bought the King of Blues, I didn’t expect it to be another tweed-tone pedal for my collection. But that’s what both sides together give me. And in my opinion, it’s a tone that happily competes with – and perhaps beats – some of the most expensive boutique tweed-tone pedals that I’ve played in the past.
This pedal’s a keeper.
It’s also helped teach me more about how to get better (for me) tones out of my King of Tone. I’m far happier with the KoT than I was when I started this blog post 🥳. And I’m looking forward to exploring that even more in the future.
Finally, I just want to say how nice it is to finally be recording audio examples for you once again. That’s been very difficult to do for the first half of this year. I feel a lot more confident about publishing my opinions and experience about gear when I can back that up with a recording for you to hear.
Now I just need to clear the backlog of tone demos that’s built up 😂