First Impressions: Carl Martin PlexiTone Lo-Gain Overdrive Pedal

I recently picked up a Carl Martin PlexiTone Lo-Gain overdrive pedal.

This photo shows two pedals on my pedalboard.

On the left side is the Carl Martin PlexiTone Lo-Gain Overdrive pedal. It has three controls: Level (set at around 10:30), Gain (set at around 1:30) and Tone (also set at around 1:30).

On the right is the Mad Professor Little Green Wonder overdrive pedal, BJFe's version of a Tubescreamer. It has three controls: Volume (set at 4 o'clock), Drive (set at 8 o'clock) and Body (set at 3 o'clock).
The Carl Martin PlexiTone Lo-Gain Overdrive Pedal and Mad Professor Little Green Wonder Overdrive Pedal

What does it sound like? And what do I think of it? Read on for my First Impressions.

Table of Contents

What Did You Buy?

I bought a Carl Martin PlexiTone Lo-Gain Overdrive pedal. I got mine from the second-hand market.

Carl Martin describe the PlexiTone Lo-Gain as a boost pedal or a drive pedal to add “British Black and Gold” tone to a signal chain. By that, they mean that the pedal chases the sound of Marshall’s legendary plexi amps.

This Lo-Gain model is based on the regular PlexiTone overdrive pedal that Carl Martin launched in 2012. I couldn’t find any official documentation describing the differences between the two.

Why Did You Buy It?

I already own the “regular” Carl Martin PlexiTone overdrive pedal, and I wanted to try its Lo-Gain sibling.

How Does It Sound?

I Found It Harsh At First With My Les Paul

I did the same thing with this pedal that I do with every new (to me) pedal that I try: I dialled up my homemade USA-voiced pedal platform preset on the Axe-FX 3, and grabbed my Les Paul.

Here’s how that sounded:

Les Paul > PlexiDrive Lo-Gain > Axe-FX 3 (default USA pedal platform preset)

With a plexi-tone, I’m looking for something with a cutting note attack, without being too cold or aggressive. To my ears, I’m not just getting a cutting tone out of the PlexiDrive Lo-Gain. I’m finding that top-end quite harsh and uncomfortable to listen to.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect every pedal to sound fantastic through the exact same amp setting. I’m going to tweak the amp, and see what I can learn.

Dialling In The Amp To Suit

My default pedal platform preset is based around a Fender blackface amp kind of tone. It’s a little mid-scooped, and it lets through quite a wide frequency range. Both of these seem to be the problem here.

I tried a few things to address the harsh top-end:

  • turning down the tone on the pedal didn’t help; it just took away the pedal’s mojo,
  • turning down the treble on the amp didn’t help either

In the end, I turned the amp’s presence control down to 0. That seemed to do the trick.

Next thing I did was experiment with turning up the mids on my amp. (I’ve never had to do this before with anything I’ve run through the Axe-FX 3. Quite a novel experience!)

This is what I settled on:

Les Paul > PlexiDrive Lo-Gain > Axe-FX 3 (tweaked USA pedal platform preset)

Now it’s sounding a little metallic to me (for lack of a better description). I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong (virtual mic placement, perhaps?), but I’m struggling to get a sound that I would personally use.

So let’s try something different.

Works Much Better Through A Marshall-Style Amp

I’ve built a second pedal platform preset. This one is based on the Marshall JTM45, and is inspired by the sound of my Marshall Origin amp and the summer launch of the Marshall JTM Studio amp.

Here’s what the PlexiDrive Lo-Gain sounds like through this preset. I haven’t touched the settings on the pedal at all, but I have added my Mary Cries compressor into the signal chain. Oh, and I’ve repeated the amp tweaks from earlier too: presence set to 0 and mids turned up.

Les Paul > PlexiDrive Lo-Gain > Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3 (tweaked UK pedal platform preset)

That’s more like it! I don’t hear any harshness at all, nor the metallic tone when I ran it through my blackface-voiced pedal platform patch. That’s just a really nice rhythm tone.

Now that I’ve got it paired with the amp, I want to try it with other guitars.

Great For Clean(ish) Strat Tones

I’ve gone back to my default version of the UK pedal platform patch (presence is back, and the mid control is back below 12 o’clock), and I’ve switched over to my 2022-spec Silver Sky (aka The Fox).

Here’s what that sounds like:

Silver Sky > PlexiDrive Lo-Gain > Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3

(Please ignore the audio noise in the recording. That’s coming off our electricity supply, not the pedal!)

I was worried that it would sound too harsh, but I don’t think it does. It’s nice and gritty without losing definition, and it retains the percussiveness that I look for in any Strat tone.

I’m sure it would sound even better with some amp tweaks or post-EQ, but I really like it as-is.

Great For SuperStrat Bridge Humbuckers Too

I’ve switched guitars to the other Strat-style guitar that I regularly play, my Paoletti. This guitar has a lot less output than the Silver Sky, so I’ve had to use the Axe-FX 3 to add 4db of boost into the front of the PlexiTone Lo-Gain.

Here’s how the bridge humbucker sounds. I haven’t changed the pedal’s settings nor the amp settings from the last audio demo.

Paoletti > 4db Boost > PlexiDrive Lo-Gain > Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3

This really shows off the ‘Lo-Gain’ nature of the pedal. You can probably tell that I’m struggling a bit to play with this, because I’m getting a lot less gain than I’d normally go for.

I still really like it, though.

Makes me wonder: can I get a lead tone out of it too?

Struggling To Saturate It For Solo Tones

Sticking with the Paoletti as my guitar of choice, I’ve thrown the Mad Professor Little Green Wonder (BJFe’s take on the Tubescreamer – LGW for short) in front of the PlexiTone Lo-Gain. Here’s the best that I could get out of it:

Paoletti > 4db Boost > LGW > PlexiDrive Lo-Gain > Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3

Admittedly, I’m quite a bit out of my wheelhouse here. I’m a rhythm player. I almost never dial up lead tones, and I’m a complete beginner at doing so.

Still, this is quite interesting.

With the LGW slamming the front of it, I was hoping that the PlexiDrive Lo-Gain would start to saturate and compress, to give me a creamier lead tone. Instead, the harshness from earlier is starting to creep back into the tone.

That gives me an idea …

Faking A Plexi’s -6db Input Sorts Out The Les Paul

Those old plexi amps didn’t just have one input, they had two: a high and a low input. I’m not sure what the signal reduction was on a plexi amp’s low input, but it’s -6db on my Tweed Deluxe amp. I can emulate that in the Axe-FX 3, by reducing the signal out to my pedalboard by 6db.

And this is how that sounds into my regular pedal platform preset with no tweaks to any amp settings:

Les Paul > -6db Boost > PlexiDrive Lo-Gain > Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3 (USA pedal platform)

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s better. Much, much better. Now it sounds like a low-gain pedal, and all that harshness and issues with the mid-range have completely gone. I probably still need to tweak the amp a bit to get the best out of it? Even so, I think that’s now a very useable sound.

For completeness, here’s what it sounds like if I switch over to my Marshall-voiced pedal platform preset:

Les Paul > -6db Boost > PlexiDrive Lo-Gain > Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3 (UK pedal platform)

Oh, that’s nice. That’s making me want to dust off my old Marshall Origin amp and crank it through my Fryette PS-100 attenuator. Maybe it needs a bit more gain dialling in somewhere (pedal? amp? both?) to be a great rhythm tone.

In both demos, I’ve got the Mary Cries compressor after the PlexiDrive Lo-Gain. I tried it both with and without, and hands-down I preferred both the tone and the feel with the Mary Cries switched on.

Tested: The Buffer Isn’t Causing The Harshness

I just want to throw this in for completeness.

In all the demos that I’ve recorded for this blog post, my signal chain goes:

  • guitar
  • Axe-FX 3
  • pedalboard
  • back into the Axe-FX 3

This means that there’s always a buffer before the Carl Martin PlexiTone Lo-Gain Overdrive. (The Axe-FX 3 acts as an always-on buffer.)

Some pedals don’t like being behind a buffer. I’ve no reason to think that the PlexiTone Lo-Gain is one of them, but let’s make sure.

I’ve changed my signal chain to be:

  • guitar
  • pedalboard
  • Axe-FX 3

so that there’s nothing between my guitar and the PlexiTone Lo-Gain overdrive. I can’t hear a difference. It sounds just like it does when I’m going into the Axe-FX 3 first.

Final Thoughts

I do like coming across pieces of gear that challenge how I’m approaching my signal chain. They force me to learn a little more about how to dial in the amp, and they make me question whether there’s a problem with my whole approach at times.

That was certainly the case here.

Regular readers can correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t think I’ve done this -6db low-input trick before in a blog post? I need to incorporate this into my Axe-FX 3 pedal platform preset. I’m going to need it again, I’m sure.

As for the pedal itself … tone-wise, I think I got there with it. Since recording the demos, I’ve also dialled in a mild top cut at around 3K on the Axe-FX 3, and that’s really sweetened the tone with my Les Paul. I’m pretty happy with the sound now.

I wish it saturated and compressed more when I dig in, for sure. Especially the compression bit. The pick dynamics are a bit different to what I’m used to from other pedals. It’s one thing that would make me audition other pedals first, or perhaps have a second pedal on the board to switch to when I want a bit more.

And I’m not sure how I feel about it working best through a Marshall-style amp, given that it’s a plexi pedal. I’ve had the Marshall Vintage Reissue pedals through my regular blackface-voiced pedal platform. I didn’t need to put any of them in front of a Marshall-style amp.

So overall, I’m left with mixed feelings about the PlexiTone Lo-Gain overdrive pedal. I haven’t (yet) found a reason to pick it over anything else out there. Maybe that’ll change if I do some plexi pedal comparisons next year.

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