(Belated) First Impressions: Boss HM-2w Heavy Metal Distortion Pedal

Back in July, I picked up a Boss HM-2w Heavy Metal distortion pedal.

The Boss HM-2w and Ibanez Mini Tubescreamer on my pedalboard

I’m finally getting round to trying it out.

What Did You Buy?

I bought a Boss HM-2w Heavy Metal distortion pedal. I got mine from the second-hand market.

Mine is the Waza Craft reissue. As I understand it, Waza Craft is Boss’s premium pedal line, featuring improved parts choice and custom modes for improved / alternative signals.

I picked up the Waza Craft-version of the pedal as it was cheaper than the original HM-2 pedals on the second-hand market. That worked out well for me, because it means I can try out the HM-2w’s custom mode too.

Why Did You Buy It?

The original Boss HM-2 pedal was released back in the 80s. I’m pretty sure I had one back then: I was playing metal, I was definitely using pedals to get all of my dirt, and the MT-2 Metal Zone wasn’t out yet.

I’m not playing metal these days, so why get one?

Firstly, I’m very prone to nostalgia. I want to revisit pedals that I’ve had (or, in this case, think I’ve had) in the past, to see how I get on with them today. Think of it as unfinished business, perhaps.

Secondly, I’m on the hunt for a good lead tone. As you’ll hear in a bit, I suck at lead guitar, but I’m the only lead guitarist who is available for any music I want to record, so 🤷‍♂️ 😁

The HM-2 For Non-Metal Lead Guitar?!?

No, I haven’t gone senile just yet!

I read somewhere that David Gilmour of Pink Floyd used a HM-2 for his lead guitar tones (amongst many, many, many other pieces of gear over the years). I don’t sound like him and I certainly can’t play like him, but if I can dial in a lead tone that suits my playing, I’ll be a happy bunny.

And, if I can’t, these pedals seem to hold their value really well. I’m sure I can sell it on without losing too much money.

How Does It Sound Into My Regular Pedal Platform Patch?

Today, I’m playing my PRS Silver Sky (aka The Fox).

Here’s how the Boss HM-2w sounds into my regular pedal platform patch. In this clip, I’m just messing around, and switching between neck, middle, and bridge pickups.

Silver Sky > Boss HM-2w > Axe-FX 3 (USA pedal platform patch)

First off, I don’t think that’s terrible. It’s a little too grainy and messy for me, but I’ve cooked up far worse tones over the years.

Let’s see if I can do any better.

How Does It Sound When I Throw All The Toys At It?

Choosing A Better Signal Chain For The HM-2w

I read somewhere (I’m sorry, I don’t remember where) that the trick to taming the HM-2 / HM-2w is to run it into an already cranked amp. Apparently, that helps to smooth out the top end, because it can’t distort any further. I’ve no idea if the theory is sound, but let’s give it a go anyway.

What’s the classic way to get a creamy lead tone? I’m told that this can be done by throwing a Tubescreamer in front of the main source of dirt. This isn’t something I’ve much experience in!

Finally, I’m going to throw in two separate compressors:

  • one of the Axe-FX 3’s compressors, running between my guitar and the Tubescreamer
    • this adds sustain on the guitar, to overcome the noise gate I’ve got in the Axe-FX 3
  • and my PRS Mary Cries, running between the HM-2w and the amp model in my Axe-FX 3
    • this smooths out the tone, making the mid-range more prominent

This is a long way outside my comfort zone!

The Revised Signal Chain

My signal chain is:

  • PRS Silver Sky (aka The Fox)
  • into the Axe-FX 3
    • with a compressor enabled
  • out to my pedalboard
    • into the Ibanez Mini Tubescreamer
    • into the Boss HM-2w on the standard mode
  • back into the Axe-FX 3
    • JTM-based amp simulator and cabs
    • digital delay
    • plate reverb emulation

… and into my DAW.

Neck, Middle And Bridge Pickup Demos

To demonstrate my ‘ideal’ signal chain, I’ve recorded three demos, one for each pickup position. Here’s how they sound:

Silver Sky (neck pickup) > Compressor > Ibanez Mini Tubescreamer > Boss HM-2w > PRS Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3 (UK cranked amp patch)
Silver Sky (middle pickup) > Compressor > Ibanez Mini Tubescreamer > Boss HM-2w > PRS Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3 (UK cranked amp patch)
Silver Sky (bridge pickup, tone on 7) > Compressor > Ibanez Mini Tubescreamer > Boss HM-2w > PRS Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3 (UK cranked amp patch)

Which one do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.

To my ears:

  • The neck pickup is fat and singing, but still has note definition.
  • The middle pickup has a bit of a cocked-wah kind of thing going on.
  • The bridge position is a more conventional tone, and is really great for the double-stops that I love to incorporate into my playing.

Final Thoughts

I haven’t tried any of these tones over a recording yet. In a mix, they may well sound just plain horrible, or be difficult to work with. I’m not at-all experienced with that.

Got to say, though, that I’m glad I’m trying the HM-2w now, when I’ve got a Silver Sky to try it with. The two seem to go very well together.

I’m definitely going to be auditioning the HM-2w if/when I eventually come to lay down some dodgy lead guitar in the future.

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