(Belated) First Impressions: MXR Duke of Tone

Back in February, I finally got myself an MXR Duke of Tone pedal.

This photo shows the MXR Duke of Tone mini-pedal on my pedalboard.
MXR Duke of Tone pedal, sandwiched between my Analogman King of Tone and my Boss BP-1w pedals.

What do I think of it? Read on for my First Impressions.

What Did You Buy?

I bought an MXR Duke of Tone boost / overdrive / distortion pedal. I got mine from the second-hand market.

The Duke of Tone is MXR’s officially-licensed take on the legendary Analogman King of Tone pedal. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s MXR’s version of the Analogman Prince of Tone.

Why Did You Buy One?

When I tried Mirage (my Fender Journeyman Telecaster) out in the shop, it was through a Duke of Tone into a Blackstar Studio 10 6L6. There was something about that exact combination that really inspired me.

I’ve wanted one ever since.

But You’ve Got A King of Tone. Why Bother With The Duke of Tone Too?

I already know that the overdrive channel in the Duke of Tone sounds nigh-on identical to the overdrive channel in the King of Tone. When the Duke of Tone came out, my local guitar shop borrowed my King of Tone and made this comparison video:

Adam Fear from AStrings.co.uk demos the MXR Duke of Tone

And then we have Mike Piera of Analogman, explaining how the Duke of Tone’s distortion mode is the same as the Prince of Tone’s (not the King of Tone’s):

Mike Piera explains the MXR Duke of Tone

So that’s one reason to get the Duke of Tone: it offers something different to my King of Tone.

Another reason is this: Dan’s side of the D&M Drive is based on the Analogman distortion circuit. But is it based on the King of Tone or the Prince of Tone / Duke of Tone? Now that I have a Duke, I can try to answer that in a future blog post.

But it turns out that there’s another reason to own a Duke of Tone, one I hadn’t known about until I recorded the audio tracks for this blog post.

How Does It Sound?

Today, I’m playing Mirage (my Fender Journeyman Telecaster) in the middle position (neck humbucker + bridge single-coil).

First off, here’s how the Duke of Tone’s overdrive channel sounds:

Fender Telecaster (middle position) > MXR Duke of Tone (OD mode) > Axe-FX 3

and, for comparison, here’s how the King of Tone’s overdrive channel sounds:

Fender Telecaster (middle position) > Analogman King of Tone (OD mode) > Axe-FX 3

To my ears, they’re almost identical. Same mid-range, same top-end (even though I haven’t tried to match the internal trim pots!), and same overdrive character.

So what’s different? I’m hearing more low-end in the Duke of Tone. It sounds a little fuller than the King of Tone does. I like this difference. One of the reasons I was disappointed with my King of Tone was because of how much low-end it shelves off.

Interestingly, if I throw on my Mary Cries compressor between the pedalboard and my amp, this difference disappears:

Fender Telecaster (middle position) > MXR Duke of Tone (OD mode) > PRS Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3
Fender Telecaster (middle position) > Analogman King of Tone (OD mode) > PRS Mary Cries > Axe-FX 3

Now, I can’t hear any meaningful difference between the two pedals at all. Even the extra low-end in the Duke of Tone has disappeared.

This strongly suggests that it doesn’t matter which pedal I use for recording; I’m going to get the same result.

The Feel Is Different, Though

I don’t know how to demonstrate this to you. All I can do is describe it.

Under the fingers, the Duke of Tone feels a little bigger, a little bolder, as-if it’s got a bit more compression going on. It’s still super-responsive and dynamic; I really don’t feel like I’m missing any picking dynamics at all.

Looking at the audio I recorded for this blog post, I got more sustain out of the Duke of Tone … which kinda supports the idea that the Duke of Tone might be a little more compressed than the King of Tone.

Now, it might just be that I didn’t get the two pedals dialled in close enough. That’s always a possibility.

All I can say is that, with my Telecaster, I prefer the Duke of Tone over the King of Tone. The differences are subtle, but they do it for me.

What About The Distortion Channel?

I don’t really use that, so I’m not going to get into that today.

What I’ll do instead is dig out my D&M Drive, and put together a dedicated side-by-side comparison of all three pedals’ distortion circuits. That way, I’ll make the time to figure out how I want to use the distortion channel in the first place.

Which Should You Get?

To buy a new King of Tone, you have to join Analogman’s waiting list. At the time of writing, the waiting list for new King of Tone pedals is approaching 6 years.

The waiting list process is … chaotic (he says, trying to be polite). When I bought mine, there was no confirmation that Analogman had accepted my request to join. I only knew that I was successful when the email arrived to tell me that it was my turn to place my order. That level of uncertainty is not for everyone!

In contrast: two brand new Duke of Tones will cost you less than a second-hand King of Tone off of eBay, and you don’t have to wait: you can go out and find the Duke of Tone on the shelf in your local MXR dealer. today.

Heck, today I can buy two brand new Duke of Tones for a lot less than what I paid for my King of Tone back in 2017. That’s partly because shipping the King of Tone to the UK + import duties adds a lot on top. The price difference will only be larger now.

And do you really need two Duke of Tones in the first place? Are you really going to run one into the other, like you can with the King of Tone? Or are you going to settle on using just one circuit (overdrive or distortion), perhaps with your favourite boost pedal?

Given all that, why join the waiting list for a King of Tone in 2024, especially when it probably won’t arrive until 2030? I don’t have a good answer to that question.

Maybe if you want to support Analogman by buying direct? That’s definitely a worthy reason.

Problem is, even if we assume Analogman will still exist and will still ship King of Tone pedals in 2030 (a reasonable assumption!), 6 years a very long time for a musician. I don’t know about you, but my tastes and tones have changed a hell of a lot in the last 6 years. If you decide to wait, will you still want one by the time you get to the front of the queue?

Maybe the thing to do is this: pick up a Duke of Tone or two first, and only join the waiting list for the King of Tone if you find that your Duke of Tone is a keeper. You can enjoy the Duke while you wait, and then sell it on when your King of Tone arrives.

Final Thoughts

Like the MXR Timmy that I picked up a couple of years ago, the MXR Duke of Tone is another quality, licensed boutique design for anyone who can’t get the original pedal.

I have a slight preference for the Duke of Tone over the King of Tone. I think it feels nicer to play, and I like that both pedals sound identical once a little bit of compression has been added.

Truth is, I rarely use my King of Tone, so I expect that I’ll rarely use my Duke of Tone too. But who knows? Once Mirage has been repaired under warranty (a story for another blog post!) maybe that’ll change.

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