#CoffeeAndKlon 7: Too Much Sparkle?

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

It’s #CoffeeAndKlon time again. And I want to talk about a pedal I think everyone should try – the TC Electronic Spark Booster. What, you didn’t think I’d forgotten I’d talk about this one, did you? 🙂

This boost pedal is arguably famous because it was a regular guest star in any Andertons YouTube vids. I know I got mine because of them 🙂

I guess they got tired of it? I can’t remember the last time they mentioned it in a video.

Anyway, every time I plug it back in, I think it sounds top-drawer. The ‘clean’ setting in the middle sounds flat, and I can dial in extra dirt or adjust the EQ – and keep the output volume down too.

But it’s what it does to the top-end of the frequency spectrum that I love the most.

I can’t stand guitar tones that sound like someone’s thrown a duvet over the speaker cab – or that sound like they’re coming through the wall from another room. I want a guitar tone that sounds like it’s right there in front of me.

It’s one reason (amongst many!) that I’ve gone from digital to tubes, when the trend is definitely going in the other direction.

There’s something about the presence from the Spark that sounds just right to me. I don’t know if it’s boosting the high frequencies or simply not filtering them, but I like whatever is going on.

Going back and forth between the Overzoid and the Spark, I’d say it’s the main difference between the two. The Spark has a … sparkle … that isn’t there with the Overzoid.

If I love the tone so much, why is the Spark rarely shown out on my practice board? Well, after about 10-15 minutes, that extra sparkle has caused ear fatigue for me. My ears just don’t like being blasted with sounds in the upper register 🙁

Maybe I could dial back that treble control and try and tame it? My ears need time to recover first!

I think it’s as bright as it is so that we can use it as a treble booster into an amp, where the saturated preamp should swallow up the extra frequencies? I’m guessing. I don’t know if that’s the case.

Anyway, when my ears recover, I’ll be putting the Overzoid back on the board for now.

As always, this is just personal preference. Try one for yourself. You might like what they do 🙂

So, what’s coming up next time? I haven’t talked about Tubescreamers, and I haven’t talked about the Klon’s legendary rival, the Timmy. They’re more for boosting amps than pedals though.

I’ve still got a few more alternative boost pedals to share with you before I break out a cranked amp or two. And I should talk about some more klones too 🙂

Marshall Origin and Boost Pedals

So far this week, we’ve looked at how the Marshall Origin compares to other Marshall-style amps, and we’ve looked at giving it a helping hand with affordable drive pedals from Boss and TC Electronic.

Today, we’re going to try and give it a helping hand using the oldest trick in the book: boost pedals.

Boost pedals work by overloading the amp’s input, so that the amp’s circuit starts to clip. The result is a natural-sounding overdrive that can sound saturated, with good sustain thanks to the compression that happens.

They’re a great choice if you already like the sound of your amp’s overdrive.

MXR Micro Amp

First up is the Micro Amp from MXR:

It’s marketed as a volume boost for quieter guitars, or for adding back lost volume at the end of a long cable run. But with +26db of volume boost on tap, it’s perfect for slamming the front end of an amp too.

Compared to the reference track, there isn’t much difference between the Origin’s own overdrive and what you get when you use the MXR Micro Amp. That’s exactly how clean boosts work.

Maybe the extra boost from the MXR Micro Amp is producing a slightly fatter, slightly more compressed tone. That could just be wishful thinking.

How will we fair with a different boost pedal?

TC Electronic Spark

The Spark is a modern boost pedal, made popular by its frequent use on Chappers and The Captain when it first launched.

One of the reasons why the Spark is such a popular pedal is that it isn’t just a clean boost. It’s got 2-band active EQ, a 3-way voice switch to shape the gain – oh yes, and it can provide gain too.

That provides more control over what the boosted amp sounds like. Being able to fatten up the mids and add a bit more saturation really helps with the Origin:

Again, compare it to the reference track to hear what this pedal brings to the party. To my ears, there’s a bit more drive and a fuller sound. It sounds fatter, and I think it’s an improvement over how the Origin sounds without any pedals.

Boosts = More Origin

If you don’t like how the Origin sounds, a boost pedal isn’t going to change your mind. A boost pedal is just more of what Origin already does. Yes, with the Spark we can shape it a little bit – the fatter mids are most welcome. But these pedals can’t do anything about Origin’s relatively soft clipping. They can’t turn it into a Plexi monster.

The other issue that they don’t really work at home volumes – not with Origin. It’s got such huge input headroom (the amount of signal it will accept before clipping) that I had to crank the amp anyway to get these tones with the boost pedals. You need both preamp and power amp to be providing the overdrive together to get this amp rocking.

For home volume levels, you’ll get more joy out of a traditional drive pedal like the ones I’ve already covered.

What do you think? Comments below!

Marshall Origin and TC Electronic Drive Pedals

Yesterday, we looked at how well the new Marshall Origin sounds with affordable drive pedals from Boss. Today, it’s the turn of affordable drive pedals from TC Electronic.

TC Electronic are well known for their tone print pedals, especially the Hall of Fame reverb pedal and the Flashback delay. They also make a pair of drive pedals that you can find for around £40 each brand new at the time of writing.

For reference, here’s what the Marshall Origin can do on its own if you’ve got somewhere where you crank it loud:

Most of us are going to need pedals to get the amp singing at home volumes. Let’s hear how the TC Electronic pedals sound through the Origin.

The Mojomojo Overdrive

First up is the Mojomojo Overdrive pedal.

As an overdrive pedal, it gives us soft clipping with a fair bit of push in the mids. The active EQ is there to help you dial in this pedal for a wide range of amps.

The end result came out better than I was expecting.

Out of all the pedals I’ve used for this mega-Marshall Origin series, this was the only pedal I didn’t enjoy playing through. I wasn’t happy with how it felt or sounded during the recording. I’m unlikely to use this pedal again with my Origin 20W head.

The Dark Matter Distortion

The Dark Matter, on the other hand …

This pedal has been the one I’ve had hooked up to the Origin 20W the most. It doesn’t clip as hard as I was expecting it to – it’s almost soft enough to be an overdrive. It feels fantastic to play, really dynamic and responsive, and I think it counteracts the Origin’s brightness without sounding muddy at all.

Final Thoughts

The Origin is an opinionated amp, and any pedals you put through it are going to be very strongly flavoured by what the Origin sounds like.

For me, the Mojomojo didn’t suit the Origin at all – but the Dark Matter complimented it really well.

Those are just my opinions. Have you tried either pedal through an Origin amp yourself? How did you find them? Comments below!

Marshall Origin: Is It Plexi Enough?

There seems to be two debates about Marshall’s new Origin amp at the moment: is it too bright, and is it Plexi enough?

To answer the second question, here’s some sound clips to listen to:

Sorry about my ugly mug – it’s because I’m too cheap to pay SoundCloud for access to their mini player 😀

Have a listen to all four demo tracks, and let your ears decide which you prefer. 3 of the tracks were recorded with the Origin, and 1 with my Metro Plex. Can you tell which is which?

Answers below. No cheating!

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Okay, here’s what you’ve just listened to:

  1. The first clip is the Metro Plex.
  2. The second clip is the 20W Origin, with a Carpe Diem drive pedal giving it a helping hand.
  3. The third clip is the 20W Origin, this time with a TC Electronics Dark Matter helping out.
  4. And finally, the last clip is the 20W Origin on its own.

The Origin Is Vintage Voiced, But It Needs Help To Sound Like A Plexi

To my cloth ears, Marshall’s Origin has 3 key characteristics that differ from the famed Super Lead sound.

  1. It isn’t just that Origin’s a bright amp, it’s that more of Origin’s perceived volume is in those upper mids. Dial them back, and you’ll hear the amp start to thin out a bit. On its own, it doesn’t have a huge amount of meaty mids.
  2. The Plexi sound is bright and aggressive. Although Origin is bright, it’s got very soft clipping (assuming you’re in a position to crank it enough to clip at all!). That stops it sounding as aggressive as a Super Lead can.
  3. Finally, the Origin has so much input headroom that it just doesn’t saturate no matter what I try.

On its own, it’s not an affordable version of one of Marshall’s plexi reissues.  But give it some help, and it can get close. Certainly close enough for us home tone chasers.

A Little Help From My (Pedal) Friends

For me, the Carpe Diem got pretty close – in part, thanks to the harder clipping that it has. It’s not a cheap pedal, and it can be quite hard to get hold of, but 2nd hand examples do turn up on eBay from time to time.

The Dark Matter also sounded pretty good – and I thought it sounded excellent considering they currently cost £40 brand new. The clipping is perhaps a little too soft to go head-to-head against a real Plexi, but I tell you what: out of all the pedals I’ve been using this week, the Dark Matter is the one that’s been hooked up to the Origin the most.

The end result still sounds like an Origin amp, no matter which drive pedal you use. You can’t radically change the sound of an Origin using drive pedals alone. But with a little help, the end result’s pretty nice – and a hell of a lot more affordable than a real Plexi 🙂

What do you think? Comments below!

That Pedal Show: Josh Smith Board and Lesson

It’s a long one this week – even by their standards – which is why I’ve only just gotten to it.

Dan and Mick take a tour of Josh’s board, including an in-depth look at the Lovepedal Tchula. The Tchula was Josh’s idea. It’s basically two Church of Tone (COT) pedals in one enclosure, with the left hand side fixed at Josh’s favourite setting, and the right hand side adjustable to suit. I can’t think of anything else quite like it.

I loved the segment where the guys had a schwang on Josh’s Tele, which is strung with 13s (!!) It’s fascinating to listen to how different each of them sound, playing the same guitar through the same rig.

Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment in you enjoy their video.