CoffeeAndKlon #22: Who Needs Pedals When You’ve Got A Great Amp?

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good afternoon! I’m a bit late with this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon. There’s a couple of reasons why. And one of them does involve the Klon.

I’ve been a bit flat for most of this past week. Delivered a couple of workshops and a talk on the Saturday and Wednesday, and didn’t have much left in the tank after that.

So Thursday and Friday, I’ve mostly been finishing off the home studio revamp. A bit of upgraded gear, and mainly about getting the gear I already have back into use.

At the heart of that is the Synergy amp system I got way back in February last year. It’s at the opposite end of the scale from the home-tone amps I normally talk about here.

Since getting wired up again, I just can’t stop playing this thing: the Synergy 800 module. Designed by Dave Friedman, it’s the classic JCM 800 sound that I grew up with.

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And when you push it with a Klon that’s setup as a clean boost? Les Paul heaven right there. And I haven’t been able to put it down.

Then I had a thought: I’m a pedal guy at heart. How well does a pedal hold up against proper amp filth? That’s where the rest of today has gone 😀

Our contender this afternoon: the JRAD Animal. On its own, this pedal isn’t the most exciting sound in the world. Boost it, and man does it come to life. A bit like a real JCM 800 to be honest.

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After a bit of experimentation, I’ve ended up running it into Synergy’s TDLX: a blackface-style clean amp. I tried running it into the 800 module setup as a clean amp. Didn’t like it at all, and it made A/B testing a pain.

Oh, and I’m using the exact same 1×12 cab loaded with a Celestion G12-M Creamback for both amps. It’s a speaker that brings out the Marshall in everything I run into it. More on that in the long-overdue Marshall Origin One Year On review.

How does the Animal do? It sounds great. It feels great to play. And there’s plenty of satisfying crunch if I boost it with the Klon. There’s a couple of key differences though.

There’s something deeply satisfying about the mids of the real amp that I can’t dial in using the pedal. The pedal setup has crisper highs and crunch, and deeper lows which are addictive in the room. I wish I could borg them together.

The other difference is noise. The pedal setup is picking up so much more string noise than the real amp does. An indicator that the pedal setup is amplifying the treble frequencies much more than the real amp does.

I’ve just switched over to the Marshall Origin for the first time today. Man, this amp loves drive pedals. And I have serious ear fatigue after listening to the pedal setup for most of the afternoon.

I’ve just switched over to the Marshall DSL 20HR. Still learning how to use this amp. Had to really go wild with the dials, as you can see in the photo. Man, it sounds really good too.

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To finish off – and by now, I’m a long way away from trying to match the JCM 800 sound – what about the boosted Animal into a Vox? Here’s my settings on the Mini Superbeetle. Like the DSL 20HR, an amp I’m still learning.

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Through the G12-M Creamback, it’s not a sound I would go for. Stick it through a Celestion Blue though, and that sounds really really good. The mid-range might just be the best of the bunch. Makes me want to add an EQ unit to my studio to tame the top-end though.

(Suggestions for an affordable, rack-mount EQ unit most welcome!)

Now I’ve got real amp filth on tap again, am I going to give up pedals? No. The Klon into the Synergy module sounds fantastic, and feels great to play. And so does the pedal into the other amps, just in a different way.

And for me, that’s what it’s all about, at the end of the day: having a palette of sounds to choose from and experiment with. I’m not a one-sound kind of person.

I’ve worked for three companies that had a strong singular colour for their brand. Going into the office to see a single colour everywhere all day, every day for years … it’s not me. And I’m the same about sound.

I’ve spent the whole afternoon on this, and my ears need a rest. I’ll tell you what though: no matter the amp, it sounded better when boosted with the Klon.

Have a great rest of your weekend, and let me know what questions you have for me about today’s #CoffeeAndKlon 🙂

New Arrivals For June 2019

I’ve spent nearly all of June away in Scotland, enjoying a much-needed break from work out on Orkney. Just before I left, I picked up a few items to enjoy when I got back.

These are my initial impressions of the gear I’ve bought this month. I’ll delve into them in a lot more detail when I’ve had more time with them.

Vox Mini Superbeetle Amp

My friends Andrew and Adam are both massive fans of the Vox AC30 sound. Andrew loves getting all his tones by going straight in, and Adam loves driving his with his growing pedal collection. I tried one, and it wasn’t for me. Too big, too loud.

I’m hoping that Vox’s Mini Superbeetle is the compromise … something that’ll be the perfect AC30 substitute for someone who’ll only use it occasionally. It’s not a sound that I need a lot; I’m mostly going to be testing pedals with it to educate myself.

It’s a nice-enough amp, but I honestly don’t know what I’m doing with it yet. The whole Vox tone is completely new to me, and I’ve no idea how to get the best out of it as a pedal platform. I guess I’ll be watching That Pedal Show videos to learn a bit more 🙂

Boss Katana 100 Head

When my local guitar store announced it wasn’t going to be a Roland / Boss dealer any longer (it’s no longer profitable for small, independent outlets like them), I decided it was time to pickup a Katana before they ran out of stock. Good job too, as I snagged the very last one they had.

Why a Katana? Not everyone in the #HomeTone community can afford a real valve amp, and not everyone wants one. The Katana’s become a mainstay of amateur home musicians – and I’m not comfortable answering questions about them when I don’t have one of my own.

In the shop, I ran this into a Marshall SV112 1×12 fitted with a V-Type speaker. As a reference, I put Fender’s Santa Ana Overdrive in front of it. It’s one of my favourite drive pedals. I loved the results: big and fat and warm, three words I’d normally never associate with a V-Type speaker!

Expect to see a bit more of this later in the year when I finally get my #CoffeeAndKemper series off the ground.

JRAD Blue Note (Tour Edition) Overdrive Pedal

Rewind to 2012. YouTube is just starting to become the place to go to learn about the vast world of boutique pedals. And the JRAD Blue Note Overdrive pedal (in its original form factor) feels like a regular guest star in many of those videos.

Since then, this is a pedal that’s largely dropped off the radar. Good for me – I was able to snag one at a great second hand price. Maybe you can too?

In person, I was surprised at just how low-gain this pedal is. Even gunned with a big fat Les Paul running into it, there’s barely enough gain to use for rhythm work. This is a pedal that needs a helping hand – or needs to be used as a helping hand itself.

As a quick test, I threw the MP Audio Brit Blue in front of it (I need to compare thees two pedals, I suspect they’re quite similar), and got a lovely fat tone out of the pair. Roll on some free time, when I can explore this pedal a lot more!

SviSound Overzoid od1 Overdrive Pedal

This is my second Overzoid. My first one died a year or so ago, and thanks to the #CoffeeAndKlon series I write on the weekend, I’ve been missing this pedal more and more. It’s such an affordable pedal, I don’t know why I waited as long as I did to buy a replacement.

I feel like I’m approaching this pedal from a better perspective than I did the first time I bought one. I think the only pedal I’ve owned for longer than this is the Forest Green Compressor. Back then, I definitely didn’t have a clue about what I wanted or stacking pedals together. You can be the judge of whether that’s changed or not over the years … 🙂

I love how I can use it to add a bit more drive to my lower-gain pedals like the Sweet Honey Overdrive, all without drastically changing the tone or slamming the front-end of the pedal with a hotter signal. Although it is a very bright pedal, it doesn’t have the ear-fatiguing top-end sparkle of something like the TC Electronic Spark.

I’m looking forward to comparing this with the legendary Timmy pedal into a cranked amp in the near future …

New Arrivals For May 2019

At a recent post-gig band rehearsal, we decided that I needed to start adding effects to my acoustic rig. The plan this month was to build out a full acoustic board – one that’ll run into the amp for shows, and also directly into a PA for open-mic spots.

Sadly, my timing’s off, and the pedals I’m targeting for the acoustic board have been out-of-stock every time I’ve gone shopping for them. In the meantime, there’s been a few unexpectedly good bargains crop up on eBay, so I grabbed those instead.

Here’s a list of all the new gear that arrived in May, along with my first impressions of each item. I’ll do a detailed writeup about each piece of gear when I’ve had a bit of time with it.

Fender Player Stratocaster, in Sage Green

I admit it – it was the unusual colour that grabbed my attention. There aren’t too many of these in sage green kicking around these parts. This particular one has one of the better-looking pau ferro fretboards – nicely-cut figuring, and very little red in it.

What kept my attention was the playing experience. The neck profile is really comfortable for me, and the satin finish means there’s nothing grabbing my hand and stopping it moving around. It reminds me a lot of the necks on the old American Special line, it’s that good.

The reason I brought it home? It sounds much better than I was expecting. It’s not a dead plank of wood like the Mexican Strat I bought back in the 90s. Dial the volume and tone down a bit to take the edge off the pickups, and it’s a very usable Strat sound.

To my ears, those pickups are a little bit bite-y, and there’s a little bit more mid-range compared to the classic American Strat sound. They’re very usable, and that extra mid-punch works well if you’re predominantly playing through a dirty amp or through drive pedals.

I am going to change the pickups at some point. I mostly use a Strat for clean tones, and I think this guitar more than good enough to justify the cost of dropping a set of after-market pickups into it. In fact, I’m enjoying this Strat so much it’s getting the set of Bare Knuckle pickups that were ear-marked for the American Performer …

Gigrig Cinco Cinco Patch Bay

I need to tidy up my cabling a bit. I’m planning on building a little practice pedal board (which is where incoming pedals will get tested), and a second little pedal board for my acoustic gigs.

With two amps to test pedals against – and two pedals to stick into the effects loop whenever I want to switch amps – it’s all a bit messy atm. I find that I’m not switching amps as much as I probably should, and when I do, I never move the cables for the f/x loops.

I’m hoping this is where adding a patch bay will make things easier. I’m just waiting for the pedal boards themselves to arrive in stock so that I can cable everything up and find out.

PedalPatch Solderless Cable Kit

I’ve been using the Planet Waves / D’Addario solderless cable kit for years, for making patch cables for my main pedal board. It’s cheaper than the stuff you’ll see featured on That Pedal Show, and for home use it’s perfectly reliable.

The one and only downside is that no-one could ever accuse it of being a compact or low-profile solution. The jacks are big (the original ones even bigger), and the cable is pretty thick. I’m looking to make a couple of small boards this month. I could use an alternative.

PedalPatch are a UK company that I first saw advertising on Facebook. Their kits are even cheaper than the D’Addario ones, and look small and compact. I thought I’d pick one up and see how I got on.

Mixed results, I’m sad to say.

The first couple of cables I made sucked tone away. Specifically, there was an audible loss of high-end frequencies. The symptom? Seems to be when you pop the shield cap onto the jack. If it takes force to get the shield cap in place, that cable won’t sound right. I found that I had to make sure that the cable was firmly in the jack and bent the full 90 degrees at the right spot so that the cap just dropped into place.

With solderless kits, I expect to make the odd cable badly, and doesn’t carry any signal at all when I plug it in. A cable that isn’t dead, that just loses some of the signal spectrum … I found that really put me off. Can’t put my finger on why it’s any different to making a dead cable, but somehow to me it is.

For my gigging board, I might just say sod it and order the proper stuff from Gigrig. I do not want to have any problems at all with that board.

Pedaltrain Nano+ Pedal Board w/ Soft Case

I’m looking to build two boards this month: one for home, for tidying up where I test incoming pedals, and another for my acoustic gigs. Both need to be very compact. The testing board needs to fit in a 19 inch space, and the acoustic board is another thing to carry to/from gigs, so the smaller the better there.

Pedaltrain’s Nano+ boards are nice and small. But are they maybe a little too small for what I’m doing? The two problems are placing the power, and placing the patch bays I bought earlier for this project.

The acoustic board is the easier one. I can’t guarantee easy-to-access (or clean) mains power at a gig, so the whole board needs to run off of batteries. Pedaltrain do a rechargeable power supply called Volto, which fits underneath the Nano+ board. Earlier versions had mixed reviews, but the new Volto v3 appears to have finally cracked it. No space for the patch bay though atm.

Problem with the testing board is that I use Friedman’s 10-port power supply for testing pedals. It’s worth every penny to know I can run just about any pedal that takes 9v without trouble – even a power-hungry beast like Fender’s Tre-Verb. There’s no way that’ll fit on the Nano+, and neither will the patch bay.

This board doesn’t need to be able to travel; it just needs to sit there and help me keep that area tidy. I think I’m going to snag a 1U rack shelf, sit it under the board, and then put the power supply (and the patch bay?) at the back of the shelf.

Well, when the 1U shelf arrived, I discovered another problem: the Nano+ doesn’t fit on a 1U shelf. It’s just slightly too long to do so. How did no-one think of that when the Nano+ was designed? I’m going to have to come up with a more creative solution.

JRAD Archer Ikon Klon Klone Pedal

This one completes the family line-up: silver Archer, gold Archer, white Archer. It gives me another flavour of klone to try with different types of guitar. Am I going to enjoy this one as much as I did the silver Archer, or am I going to be as disappointed as I was with the white Archer?

I’m glad to say that I’m definitely not as disappointed as I was with the white Archer pedal.

I haven’t spent much time with Archer Ikon; really I’ve just plugged it in to make sure it wasn’t DOA. It’s not immediately obvious to me how it’s different from the silver Archer pedal. I’m going to have to sit down and A/B them both to work it out.

JHS Angry Charlie v2 Overdrive Pedal

I’ve had JHS’s Charlie Brown v2 pedal for years now, and I like how it sounds through my Marshall Origin. Where the Charlie Brown is aimed at the JTM-45-in-a-box kind of sound, the Angry Charlie is more the JCM-800-in-a-box thing. That sounds like two complementary tones that’ll go nicely together into a ToneStack. And I’m all about finding complementary tones 🙂

This pedal has gotten me thinking … is it the only drive pedal out there that targets the JCM 800 sound? Everything else I’ve ever tried either does the Plexi thing, or one of Marshall’s older / vintage / boutique amps.

I need to A/B this pedal against the JRAD Animal and my Synergy 800 amp.

Bearfoot FX Honey Bee Overdrive Pedal

Bearfoot FX is a company you might not of heard of. And, I’ll be honest, part of me wants to keep it that way, so that I’ve got more of a chance of finding their pedals at a good price on the second hand market.

They used to make hand-wired versions of Bjorn Juhl’s (of BJFe fame) legendary designs. That partnership came to an end recently, which can only mean that second hand prices of their pedals are going to continue to climb. I’ve already seen some examples going for King-of-Tone-on-eBay prices!

The Honey Bee Overdrive Pedal is considered to be one of Bjorn Juhl’s finest designs. I’ve already got the Uber Bee, which I love, and the Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive, which is related but reportedly does have its own sound.

Fender Tre-Verb Digital Tremolo / Reverb Pedal

This one is very much an impulse purchase. I’m really enjoying using the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 for clean tones. It isn’t a Fender Deluxe-Reverb Re-issue (DRRI), but it’s close enough for me. Can I turn it into a poor-man’s DRRI by adding the Tre-Verb’s emulation of the DRRI’s tremolo and reverb to the amp’s blackface-like clean?

First time I plugged it in, it sounded so much like a wet-only signal that I spent a couple of minutes hunting for some kind of ‘wet-only’ toggle switch on the damn thing. Turned out the order of the mono and stereo input jacks is different to what I’m used to, and I’d plugged into the second jack by mistake.

I’ve found this a challenging reverb to dial in. In that respect, it’s definitely like the reverb I remember from a DRRI! It’s so easy to nudge the Blend control just a hair and lost the sweet spot that seems to be around 9 o’clock. I wonder if this pedal will shine better in a wet-dry stereo rig?

In the end, this pedal didn’t stay on my practice board very long. I’m just too used to modern designs which keep the original dry signal and blend in the wet signal behind it. That doesn’t make this a bad pedal. It’s just all personal preference.

#CoffeeAndKlon 4: Before There Was Klon

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

For #CoffeeAndKlon this week, I’m continuing the these of ‘before there was Klon’, with inspiration from my local guitar shop and the mighty demo god that is Pete Thorn.

Although I promise a klone will make an appearance before I’m done 🙂

So what have I got on the board this morning? The .45 Cal is JRAD’s JTM45 amp-in-box pedal. I think it’s a nice crunchy rhythm pedal that sounds great with a Les Paul.

Next to it – a treble booster. I picked this up on eBay for a lot less than other treble boosters go for. I’m using this one today because it’s mains-powered, rather than battery powered.

In this recent video, @petethorn did a great job of showing how classic rock sounds relied on treble boosters to deliver those iconic tones.

And it got me wondering … what would happen if I ran a treble booster into an overdrive pedal?

This is probably going to be a terrible idea …

Pedals (generally) aren’t a recreation of an amp’s preamp circuit. They’re trying to produce a compatible tone. That doesn’t mean they’ll behave the same way to various input signals.

One area where pedals can differ greatly from amps is their input headroom. Some pedals will happily accommodate being slammed with a hotter signal. Others will fart out or turn into fuzz pedals instead.

Fortunately, the .45 Cal takes hot signals well. I didn’t know that before I started this morning 🙂

I’ve tried to set the .45 Cal up to mimic the base tone that Pete Thorn dialled in for part of his video. The .45 Cal can sound a lot better than that 🙂

Engage the treble boost, and I’m very quickly into Ride The Lightning territory. Here are the settings that I’m using to relive my childhood between tweets 🙂



Might be hard to see from that photo: the .45 Cal has plenty of gain dialled in. That treble booster needs something to work with. Dial the gain back, and this is a pairing that IMHO doesn’t do anything interesting at all.

Tell you what I am interested in though: what does a klone sound like, on the receiving end of a treble booster? I’m sure there’s a very good reason no-one has ever asked this …

I’m going to try the original Wampler Tumnus. I’ve picked it because this pedal has a bit of a following as a primary overdrive in its own right.

The first challenge is trying to make it sound dull and lifeless without overdoing it. This is the first time I’ve tried this as an overdrive. It sounds really good.

Add in the treble booster, and I’m not convinced that I’ve made the tone any better. There’s some kind of phasing issue in the end result, at least to my ears.

I do like the idea (for fun!) of trying other boost pedals with klones in the future. I’ll come back to this topic another time.

If you’ve had a play with treble boosters and pedals – or klones with boosters – I’d love to hear how you got on.

Have a great day 🙂

New Arrivals For April

Last month, I made a very unplanned purchase – the Custom Shop Les Paul Special. I got it for less than a brand-new Gibson USA Standard costs (not the first time that’s happened), but still … The next few months are going to be about exceptional bargains or rare items only – or things I need for gigging.

Not that it really matters. The 2nd hand gear market seems to have dried up quite badly this month. Even eBay “sell for £1” weekends haven’t had their normal impact. Will things pick up in May?

Here’s a list of all the new gear that arrived in April, along with my first impressions of each item. I’ll post a separate, detailed post about each item when I’ve had a bit of time to get to know it better.

Ramble FX Marvel Drive v3

Several years ago, I had a Marvel Drive v2. I couldn’t find a sound that I could use with my rig at the time, so I sold it on. Since then, my rig’s almost completely changed … so will I be any happier with the latest iteration?

If you haven’t heard of these before, they’re a Marshall-in-a-Box pedal. It chases the ‘plexi’ sound, so I’m assuming it’s more 1959 SuperLead than JTM 45? I believe that the original Marvel Drive was one of the very first pedals to offer the Marshall-style dual-gain circuits, just like the original amps did. I’m really looking forward to hearing this through the Origin and the Studio 10 6L6.

JRAD Archer (Silver) Klone

I’m a big fan of what a Klon can do to guitar tone. I’ve got a Klon KTR on my main pedal board and (along with the Lovepedal Amp 11) it ain’t ever coming off there. So I’m looking for a klone that can go on my grab-n-go board, or simply to throw on top of the Marshall Origin 20H when I’m trying out new pedals.

I’ve tried a few over the years, and they’ve all been great pedals. They just haven’t been drop-in replacements for the real thing. All the klones I’ve tried suffer from the same basic problem: they all add too much low-end. That makes them (imho) unusable for the Klon thing, as a mostly-clean EQ shift at the front of a signal chain.

When the explosion of klones started, JRAD and the Archer was at the very centre of it. Last count, they’ve made five different klones so far – and the silver Archer is the original. Will it exhibit the same issues as the competition, or have I finally found my KTR substitute?

My initial verdict: the jury’s out.

It doesn’t seem to be adding too much low-end, and the EQ lift is very pleasing to my ears. Running it into my somewhat boomy Blackstar Studio 10 6L6, I like what it does – and I like it a lot. It definitely makes that amp a hell of a lot more usable. I can easily see me wanting one of these permanently in front of one of these amps.

And yet … this second-hand copy has issues. When I stack it into a drive pedal, sometimes there’s additional noise and artefacts coming through. Depends on what I’m stacking it with, and it isn’t 100% of the time. It could be the pedal, it could be the noisy electric supply I have here (wouldn’t be the first time).

JRAD Archer (Clean) Klon Klone

As the month went on, I realised that I was really warming to the silver Archer pedal, and that I wanted to try some of the others in the JRAD Archer range. In particular, I wanted to see how they worked with my Taylor T5z, and whether they’d improve my gigging sound.

You probably know that there’s both a silver Archer and gold Archer Ikon. Did you know that there’s also a white one, called the Archer (Clean)? It’s a klone without the drive circuit. That’s how I use a Klon – as a clean boost. Is this going to be the klone I’ve been looking for?

Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope.

You may have noticed that my #1 complaint about klones is how they normally add too much bass? Not this one. It dumps so much bass, it just sucks the life right out of the tone in the room. There’s something not right with the top-end either – it’s either dull or brittle as anything.

I know plenty of folks (including several klone makers) love to take the piss out of the “magic diodes” in the original Klons. This pedal might have just made me a believer that, just maybe, those diodes actually do make a critical difference after all.

One caveat: in a mix, the tone-shaping this pedal does might actually sound great. I’ll make sure I test that out before doing a full writeup of this pedal.

Lovepedal Blackface Deluxe Overdrive Pedal

If I could only have one amp for the rest of time, it would be a Fender Deluxe Reverb Re-issue (or DRRI for short). Nothing else gives me both the cleans that I love and takes drive pedals so well.

I bought one of Blackstar’s new Studio 10 6L6 amps earlier in the year to get me into that kind of territory for practice at home. And it comes close enough for me. Just don’t try and get a driven tone out of it, because that’s where the illusion of a Deluxe-on-a-budget falls apart imho. (I’m not a fan of Blackstar’s driven tones).

Which is where this pedal comes in (I hope).

I had a lovely breakup tone within seconds, and one that puts the amp’s built-in drive to shame. Boost it with a klone, and I could happily spend the rest of the day noodling through it. Alas, my short break is over and I need to get back to it for the afternoon. But you can be damn sure where my evening is going to be going 🙂

Korg Pitchblack Advance Tuning Pedal

This is a pedal I needed for the gig I played at the start of the month.

I’ve been using TC Electronic’s Polytune headstock tuner, and by and large it does an okay job. It has a habit of switching itself over to the chromatic mode when it gets confused – which seems to be quite a lot of the time. With our set list requiring 3 different tunings (so, 4 retunings in total to return back to E Standard) in 30 minutes, that was time we felt we wanted to avoid losing.

I picked up this pedal because it was all that they had in stock at my local shop that afternoon.

I’m delighted with the Korg Pitchblack Advance. The all-black aesthetic meant it wasn’t at all eye-catching for the audience. The display is nice and big – much bigger than the Polytune pedal – making it easy for me to see during the gig. It’s true bypass, so it didn’t interfere with the signal at all. And I’ve no complaints over how accurate it is, or how quickly it worked out what note I was playing.

I will probably sell my Polytune pedals, and use the money to get a couple more of these to stick on my pedal boards.

Fulltone Plimsoul Overdrive Pedal

This is the Captain’s favourite drive pedal. He’s been using this on the Andertons videos for years, and it’s the one he always comes back to. As you can imagine, it’s hard to snag one of these at a great 2nd hand price. This month, I finally did.

It’s unlike any drive pedal that I can recall trying out. That’s a Good Thing(tm).

At its heart, there are two separate gain stages. Adjust the amount of each, and there’s quite a variety of tones to be discovered. It’s a bit like the bright-vs-normal channels of plexi amps and pedals, only the different gain stages seem to be in series rather than in parallel? They definitely offer different types of clipping.

I can see me using this pedal a lot.

JRAD Animal Tour Edition Pedal

It’s possible that there might just be even more Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB) pedals than there are Tubescreamers out there, especially when you consider that most TS-style pedals are attempting to be clones rather than improved circuits.

The JRAD Animal Tour Edition pedal is JRAD’s 2nd attempt at nailing the sound of a late 60’s Marshall plexi amp. The original pedal (in JRAD’s larger, rather unique form factor) is much-beloved online. This 2nd attempt is simpler (no more voicing switch) and tweaked to get closer to the sound that JRAD is chasing.

Plugged it in, dialled in a crunch tone in seconds … and felt a bit underwhelmed by it at first. Then I looked up and realised that half an hour had just flown by. Wow factor be damned. I can see why other people choose this as their workhorse Marshall dirt box. It delivers that tone and then just neatly gets out of the way.

I’m willing to bet that this pedal records really well.

JRAD .45 Caliber Overdrive Pedal

JRAD’s .45 Caliber is the low-gain counterpart to their Animal pedal. This pedal covers the Marshall JTM45 territory, with the Animal covering the 1959 SuperLead plexi tones. Together, I’m hoping they’ll make up quite a versatile tone stack.

Running it into my Marshall Origin 20H, the first thing I had to do was check to see if the pedal was actually on. With the gain at 10 o’clock and the EQ controls at noon, I couldn’t hear any difference between the amp on its own, and the amp + pedal. I’m not sure whether that says more about the Origin, or the pedal.

Turn the gain up to 2 o’clock, tweak the EQ a little, and there’s a great overdriven not-quite-crunch tone to be had. Gun the gain, and the sound thickens more than anything else.

Seems that this is what I’d call a foundational pedal – and that’s no bad thing at all.

Seymour Duncan Dirty Deed Distortion Pedal

This will be my very first Seymour Duncan pedal. The name implies an AC/DC, Angus Young kind-of-vibe – so maybe another Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB) to explore? It’s not a pedal that I’ve seen people really talk about, and – given the bargain price I managed to get it for – it’s not a pedal that’s sought after at the moment.

New Arrivals For February

February has been a very strange month for gear.

The Winter NAMM announcements are over, and now we wait for actual stock to appear in the shops. Some items – like Marshall’s new Studio line of heads, combos and cabs – have arrived quickly (and largely sold out just as quickly). Other pieces – not so much.

eBay started slow, but in the middle of the month, there was a lot of great gear up for grabs at surprising prices. I was expecting most people to be waiting for the “free for private sellers” changes coming at the start of March. I was wrong.

Here’s a list of everything I’ve picked up in February, along with my initial impressions. I’ll write up a full article on each of them once I’ve had a bit of time with them.

Mad Professor Stone Grey Distortion Pedal

I love Mad Professor. By far, they’re my favourite obtainable pedal brand. Many of their earlier offerings were designed by the legendary Bjorn Juhl (of BJF / BJFE fame), and they’re all designed with ultra-low noise floors and ultra-high headroom inputs to support stacking pedals together to find your own tone.

Even so, when I plugged it in for the first time, I was surprised at just how dynamic and responsive this pedal was. It’s billed as a high-gain distortion pedal for modern metal, but in seconds I’d dialled in a lovely light drive tone that really suited single coils and P90s.

I can see this pedal getting a lot more use than I’d planned on.

Mad Professor Golden Cello Pedal

With this pedal, I’ve definitely reached the point where I’m now buying early Mad Professor pedals to complete my collection. It came up on eBay at a great price for a Mad Professor pedal – possibly because it came sans original box 🙁

One thing I didn’t realise when I bought this pedal: they don’t make these any more. Looks like they weren’t a great success first time around. But a niche sound can still be a great sound in the right context.

I’m really looking forward to comparing it with the Bluebird Overdrive pedal that has been on my pedal board for several years now. Both pedals feature a built-in delay, and are aimed at lead tones. Maybe – just maybe – they’ll work out as complementary lead tones for recording?

Mad Professor Mighty Red Distortion Pedal

I’ve had one of these before, and flipped it (in part) because I was just getting into the whole vintage-voiced thing – pickups and pedals alike. I’ve picked up another one because it completes my collection of early-era Mad Professor drive pedals.

It’s Mad Professor’s entry into the whole EVH / “brown sound” world, that slightly hot-rodded JCM800 tone from the days of hair metal (and my youth!) Like many of these kinds of pedals, it’s somewhat a one-trick pony. Doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of fun with it though 🙂

Plugged it in, and I’ll be honest … not feeling the fun. It’s a pedal that needs dialling in, and today’s not the day to spend on that.

Barber Electronics LTD Overdrive Pedal

This caught my eye because it isn’t a pedal brand that I recognise.

A quick bit of research suggested that this discontinued pedal is a low-gain overdrive that folks either absolutely love or are totally ‘meh’ about. Sounded like it could be my thing, so I chucked in a minimum bid amount and left it at that.

I’m so glad that I did. It took a couple of attempts to dial it in (it didn’t like my V30 speaker, but it absolutely loved the Celestion Blue) and there it was. A wonderful, clear, articulate mild overdrive tone. Absolutely perfect for the kind of rhythm riffs I play of my Les Paul. And it sounds fantastic with a Strat too.

When I’ve got time to devote to this pedal, I’m very curious about how it compares with the King of Tone (is it the perfect complementary tone pedal?) and how it takes boosts in front of it. I’m also wondering what it sounds like in the boost role too.

Kemper DI Box

I have a love/hate with my Kemper. Back in 2017, I called it one of my 3 worst purchases of the year (along with the King of Tone!), and I promptly went out and bought a dual-amp Synergy rig as soon as they were available here in the UK.

So what am I doing buying Kemper’s own DI box for a unit I should have flipped 12 months ago?!? I ask myself that every day …

Kemper units are in professional recording studios world-wide. They’re a tool that many professional guitarists use. I feel that I can’t just ignore that, that all these folks who rely on the Kemper to pay their bills do so for a very good reason. If I want to understand guitar tone better – if I want to get better at producing great guitar tone – getting better results out of the Kemper is one way for me to learn.

Hyperion Clone Fuzz Pedal

This (and the other fuzz pedal I’ve snagged this month) also belongs in the “why are you spending more money on things you hate?” category.

It’s not that I hate fuzz, it’s just that I’ve never enjoyed playing through the kind of raspy, broken-speaker kind of fuzz tones that people buy fuzz pedals for. I’ve always gone for the fuzz-as-overdrive tones (Velvet Fuzz, The Pelt) up until now.

Meathead Clone Fuzz Pedal

One reason for picking these pedals is that I’ve had clones from this guy before, and I’ve loved each one of them. The drive and boost pedals I’ve already got are well put together, have zero noise issues, and sound every bit as good as American-made (and priced!) boutique pedals.

I might not get on with these two fuzz pedals, but I’ll know it’ll be me, and not the construction of the pedal. And that’s important. These two pedals are an affordable way for me to explore something I know little about and haven’t gotten on with previously.

OKG (One-Knob Gain) Boost Pedal

I got this from the same guy who made the two fuzz clones listed above. He also made the Little Pink Wonder (my name for it!) boost pedal that I absolutely raved about last year on Twitter. Whether or not I like the tones, all his pedals seem to be well made using quality parts. I’ve no hesitation in trying out anything he puts up on eBay.

I don’t know what pedal this is based on. I believe it’s meant to be different to the LPW boost I already have. If it’s actually the same circuit, honestly I win either way. The LPW boost is so good I would be very happy to have a spare in my collection.

This OKG boost (my name for it) is different from the LPW boost. It doesn’t sound like a full-frequency boost like the LPW does. Through the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6, the sweet spot gives this wonderful vintage vibe: crunchy on chords, clear (and a little thin) up the dusty end of the neck.

I dug out my MXR Echoplex Pre to compare it against, and whilst I can’t say for certain that the OKG is a clone of this style of circuit, there isn’t much in it to my ears. The MXR is a little warmer, a little sweeter on the top-end, but that’s not to say the OKG boost sounds bad. I think you could use both for complementary tones when recording.

It’s definitely not an EP Boost clone. This is the first time I’ve compared the EP Boost to the MXR Echoplex Pre, and I was surprised at how different they sound. That’s certainly food for thought.

Ibanez Mini Tubescreamer Pedal

This is another pedal that turned up at a really great price on eBay this month.

I picked this up because I don’t own a genuine tubescreamer atm. I’ve got a few pedals that are based on the tubescreamer circuit, but not an actual TS pedal. It’s going to be interesting to compare them, and see whether the genuine article can push the pretender off my pedal board.

The first thing I’m going to do with it? Strat + ZenDrive + TS. That combo normally sounds very special indeed.

Xotic SL Drive Pedal

I’ve had one of these before, and ended up flipping it. So why have I gone back to it? It certainly isn’t for nostalgia’s sake.

Whenever I can find them at great 2nd hand prices, I’m going to revisit pedals I’ve had before to see whether I can get on with them better now that I’ve improved my rig. (This all started with the Mad Professor Amber Drive …)

This time around, I found it much easier to dial in. It seems to react well with the Marshall Origin’s brightness and insane input headroom. It still seems to work best for driving rock rhythms, rather than more laid-back styles.

I’m looking forward to spending more time with it.

Keeley 1962x Pedal

It’s hard to get one of these for a great 2nd hand price. They’re quite sought-after, and rare enough that they might only be one going on eBay at a time – a perfect storm if you have one to sell in normal times!

Robert Keeley is a legend in the guitar pedal business. It’s past time that I finally got one of this pedals. And this gives me yet another Marshall-in-a-Box flavour to add to the palette of tones.

Online, everyone raves about the KT88 mode of this pedal. Tell you what, though, I’m loving the KT66 mode with a Strat and the gain dialled back. I don’t think my Strat has ever sounded better.

Keeley Oxblood Overdrive Pedal

Is it another in a long line of klones, or just a really great dirt pedal from the legendary Robert Keeley? It’s certainly pitched as a pedal that can kick both your Tubescreamer and your klone off your board. It can also act as your main dirt pedal too, something those other pedals aren’t so good at.

Klon klones (and their rivals) interest me a lot. I like pedals that shape the overall tone in interesting ways, as long as they stack well with whatever’s next in the signal chain. It can be as subtle or as over-arching as you want. And, increasingly, the klones are often even better as the main dirt pedal than they are doing the Klon thing.

Quickly testing it out on its own, it seemed to suit the bridge pickup of my Strat better than it did the neck pickup. Switching over to humbuckers, I was surprised at how similar they all sounded through the Oxblood. That might be a very useful thing if you’re gigging and changing guitars mid-set.

Exact same settings through my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 and the exaggerated mids from the Oxblood sound just right with a Les Paul. More experimentation needed!

Keeley Super Phat Mod Pedal

It’s rare to see Keeley drive pedals going 2nd hand (other than the D&M Drive). I couldn’t believe my luck when a third one came available at a great price.

When it comes to low-gain pedals, the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver pretty much defined that whole genre. It’s a pedal that’s been modded to death (including by Keeley), cloned to death, and rivalled almost as much as the Tubescreamer itself.

With the Super Phad Mod, Keeley have taken their original mod for the BD-2, and made it a full pedal in its own right. I’ve seen people talk about this as the ultimate BD-2-style pedal, so when one came up at a great price, I couldn’t resist my curiosity.

I plugged it in, and struggled with it a little. The drive control is clean, and then within a hair it really isn’t clean at all. With my Strat, I just couldn’t find the sweet spot on my first go. Switch over to my McCarty 594, and it was a completely different story.

Keeley El Rey Dorado Overdrive

That’s right … sneaking in at the very end of the month is a fourth Keeley drive pedal. And it’s YAPP (Yet Another Plexi Pedal) to add to my collection.

I remember when these first launched in the hand-wired format as an exclusive to Riff City Guitar. They’re now available in factory format, as it were. I haven’t seen many turn up on the 2nd hand market recently, but doing my research before buying this 2nd hand unit, it seems there’s no shortage of stock of brand new items at aggressive discounts. Make of that what you will.

What am I expecting? A one-trick pony that’ll rival the JHS Charlie Brown v2 as a JTM 45-in-a-box. One-trick because it’s widely reported to have very limited adjustment ranges.

Yeah … it’s incredibly limited. The gain starts at crush-your-soul and only needs a nudge to go into smoother-with-mud territory. The tone is either covered-in-blankets or brittle-as-can-be; if there’s a sweet spot in between, it’s so small that I can’t find it. And this is with vintage-voiced, low output pickups!

However … dial it in just the other side of covered-in-blankets, then roll back both volume and tone on the guitar, and there’s a really nice crunch tone waiting for you. I’ve had more fun with a Strat rather than a Les Paul so far. I think I need to stick something in front of it (an EQ pedal perhaps) to get the very best out of it.

JRAD Tim Pierce Overdrive

This is a pedal I’ve been after ever since it was launched.

Tim Pierce’s YouTube channel is one of the very best for learning how a professional musician approaches his craft. He’s played on more hit records than you can shake a stick at – and he’s been doing it for decades, one of the best indicators that he really knows why things work.

This pedal doesn’t disappoint. Right from the go, I was able to dial in a great fat clean sound for my Strat. It was warm, dynamic, articulate. I can easily see me using this and the Keeley 1962x together on tracks.

JHS Morning Glory v4 Drive Pedal

The Morning Glory isn’t just JHS’s biggest success, it’s also one of those pedals you’ll consistently see folks put on their “legendary pedal” list. A lot of folks lump it in with klone pedals, although it isn’t sold as a reproduction of the most infamous circuit in pedal land.

Hardly any of these pedals this month arrived in boxes. This is the first time I’ve received a pedal sent in a recycled takeaway meal container though!

I’ve only tried it as a main drive so far – I don’t have things wired up to try it as a Klon-style boost atm. It took a few minutes – and some swapping back and forth to compare it with other pedals – before I found a tone I liked.

With the tone knob above 10 o’clock, my rig sounds brittle and plagued with electrical noise from the mains. Turn it down to 9 o’clock, and all the life gets sucked out of the signal. Find the sweet spot, though, and suddenly it’s other pedals that sound brittle or harsh.

Very interesting.

Wampler Pantheon Overdrive

The Analogman King of Tone (KoT) is as famous for its unusual ordering procedure and lengthy waiting list as it is for how much Dan of TPS loves his. Just like the Klon before it, this kind of demand and hype has created a market for people to bring their own take on this sound to market.

After being down on my KoT for a long time (it was in my Top 3 Disappointing Purchases of 2017), I’m finally at a place where I really like the KoT. So when a friend borrowed mine to help him decide if he wants one for himself, it got me wondering what the KoT alternatives sound like. And the same night, a 2nd hand unit turned up at a price I was happy with. Fate? Coincidence? I’ll take it either way.

Holy smokes. From the very first chord, this thing impresses. There’s something about the tone – and I can’t put my finger on it atm – that just sounds quality. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Some pedals sound raw. Some sound focused. This just sounds like a million dollars.

Snouse BlackBox Overdrive 2

This pedal is another take on the bluesbreaker circuit. It isn’t as famous as Analogman’s legendary King of Tone, and it isn’t as widely-stocked as Wampler’s new Pantheon pedal (I don’t believe there’s any retailer in the UK who stocks it), but it does have its fans.

The bluesbreaker (BB) circuit was originally a Marshall design, yet (to my ears) the King of Tone is at its best through a mid-scooped Fender-style amp. I’m half-expecting the Wampler Pantheon to fall into that category too. Where will this pedal fall?

Well, I lost a whole evening playing this through my Marshall Origin 20H and a Strat. Even started coming up with some new licks whilst I was doing so. That’s always a good sign!

Empty Cardboard Boxes

One of the downsides of getting a 2nd hand bargain is that the pedal often arrives without its original box. And boxes are really handy.

The box doesn’t just keep a pedal safe from dust, it also makes it much easier to stack a collection of pedals up on a shelf out of the way. Plus, when the time comes to move these pedals on to their next lucky owner, the box offers added protection against the modern postal experience.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find anywhere around here that sold suitable boxes for keeping pedals in. So I found somewhere that makes boxes to order, and that will do so in small quantities. I’ve got 25 plain white boxes (20 standard pedal size, 5 large pedal size) on their way from Italy, and if I got the dimensions right, I’ll soon have all my loose pedals packed away 🙂

On the dimensions side … mostly right. Turns out a couple of the pedals I’ve picked up recently have protruding jacks that I hadn’t taken into account. I have managed to get them all into these boxes, but I would probably add a few extra millimetres to length and width next time.

The boxes themselves … very white, very glossy, and quite thin card. They’re definitely not as sturdy as original pedals boxes are. But for keeping the dust of the pedals – and making them much easier to stack on the shelf – they’re perfect.

There’s something to be said for having all the pedals in boxes of a standard dimension. It’s a bit like switching to pedals with top-jacks. Maybe I should get some more, and get rid of all the original boxes I already have?

Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 Amp

If you’re part of the Les Paul player community , you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only amps launched at NAMM are Marshall’s new 20W studio amps. It’s all anyone wants to talk about – or wants to bash, depending on whether or not they believe that Marshall stopped making “proper” amps back in the 70s. That’s Internet forums for you!

Blackstar also released some amps, including a line of simple (1 preamp value, 1 poweramp valve) 10W combos aimed at home volume players like myself. There’s 3 amps in the lineup – the KT88 (which I haven’t seen in the wild yet), the EL34 (does the Marshall thing) and the 6L6 (which does the Fender cleans thing).

I’ve been looking for an amp that does exactly this for the last couple of years. I’m delighted that someone has finally made this kind of amp, aimed squarely at someone like me. My only question is: why isn’t it Fender doing so? Oh, and why does nobody make something like this as an amp head?!?

In person, the Studio 10 6L6 stands out for its extended range: there’s plenty of low-end (perhaps a little too much?) and good clear highs. Dial in your volume, switch to the neck position on your Strat, and there it is – that clean tone that no Marshall will give you.

Oh, and Les Pauls absolutely rock through this thing with a pedal.

And, it has to be said, some pedals just sound better through this amp. American pedal designers predominantly play Telecasters or Strats through Fender amps. It shouldn’t be a surprise if some of their pedals suit a Fender-style clean tone more than the mighty mid-range roar of a dimed Marshall.

That’s why I wanted both styles of amp to hand. Yes, I’ve already got this through the Synergy rig, but (for reasons I’ll go into another time) it’s not a rig I want to run all the time. I’m really enjoying being able to switch between this and the Marshall Origin when exploring different pedals.

My Strat is getting a lot more playing time too.

Synergy Plexi Module

Exactly 12 months ago, I went over to Peach Guitars and built out a dual-amp Synergy rig to be my pedal platform for the next 10-15 years. It’s soddingly expensive to buy into – especially for a dual-amp setup – but by the time you’re up to 3 or 4 different preamp modules, you’re way ahead of what it would cost to own all of the original amps they’re based on.

I’ve had the Metro Plex module right from the very beginning, and it’s one of my favourite amps for dirt. I used it in last year’s “Is It Plexi Enough?” challenge involving the Marshall Origin, and everyone loved the sound of it. Synergy do their own-branded Plexi module too, and I’ve always been curious about what the differences are between the two. Just not curious enough to buy one brand new.

One finally came up on the 2nd hand market over here. I don’t believe that there are many Synergy users in the UK atm – in part because the stuff was out of stock for most of 2018 – so not only are 2nd hand pieces rare, there’s only a small pool of people around to bid on them.

From the get-go, I was surprised. The Plexi module sounds much more like the Marshall sound in my head than the Metro Plex does. And I absolutely love my Metro Plex. Just like with Synergy’s 800 module, I bet you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this and an actual equivalent Marshall in a blind test.

One thing’s for sure. Because I’ve got this and the 800 module, I can’t see me buying either of Marshall’s new 20W Studio amps. With my Synergy rig, I’ve already got those tones covered. In that respect, Synergy lives up to its promise.

Attack Of The Klons!

Chappers and The Captain have done a shootout between ten Klon-like pedals.

If you’re not sure what all the hype around the Klon is all about, let me explain …

The Klon is low-gain pedal that (in its day) did something unique. Set as a clean boost, it lifts the guitar in the mix (or in a live setting) thanks to the way it increases the upper mids. And yet – it also does something to the bass response that makes clean tones sound fuller, without making drive tones muddy or boomy.

The hype is partly because, for many years, the only way to get this tone was to get a Klon Centaur. They were hand-built by Bill Finnigain, and due to limited availability they started changing hands in the second hand market for eye-watering amounts of money.

Eventually, klones (with a ‘k’) started appearing. Bill himself created the Klon KTR as a mass-production version of the Centaur, did a deal with JRAD to make them, before JRAD went on to create their own klones.

The most important klone is the Soul Food. It wasn’t the first klone, and I’d argue it is amongst the worst, but it did bring awareness and availability to the mass market. Since then, there’s been an explosion of interest in klones and the Klon thing. Today, there’s plenty of choice to suit all tastes and budgets.

I’ve got three of these on my boards, including the (for me) unmatched Klon KTR. It’s the only one that I’ve tried that doesn’t add a huge bass bump to overdrive tones. That’s something that doesn’t come across in this demo, to be honest.

Watch the video to choose your favourite, and then please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment..