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.
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.