39 Stompboxes Strut Their Stuff

July 1, 2009

BBE Two Timer


Inspired by the long-gone Boss DM-2 (made from 1981 to 1984), the Two Timer ($209 retail/$149 street) analog delay provides two independently adjustable delay times of up to 330ms that you preset with the Time 1 and Time 2 controls and then select between them using the Time 1/Time 2 footswitch. A master Repeat control determines the number of echo repeats for both delay settings, while a Mix control adjusts the wet/dry signal ratio. Infinite repeats are available at high Mix settings, making it possible to elicit spacey feedback effects à la early Pink Floyd. The Two Timer delivers warm-sounding delay effects at extremely low noise levels, however, the ability to preset two completely different types of echo is somewhat hampered by having only one Repeat control. Still, for what it offers, the Two Timer is a sweet deal. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Two independent delay times. True hardwire bypass. Quiet operation.
CONCERNS Can only assign one repeats setting to both delays.
CONTACT BBE Sound,(714) 897-6766; bbesound.com

Burriss Boostiest II


A combination distortion and boost pedal, the Boostiest II ($299 street) features a booster preamp with Output, Highs, and Input controls, and a “TS flavored” overdrive circuit with Gain, Tone, and Level controls. The two circuits can be used separately or combined. Power is provided by a 9-volt battery or external adapter (not included), and the voltage is stepped up internally to 16-18 volts for the Booster channel only. The Booster’s Output knob provides a huge range of clean signal, and the stepped Input control is actually a bias adjustment that sets the overall gain of the preamp. Switching to the Overdrive side brings you into familiar TS-808 territory, with gobs of touch-sensitive distortion available via the Gain control and plenty of output. Using the two circuits together, however, creates a massive overdrive sound that is beyond what even two TS-808s could achieve. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Extremely flexible distortion/overdriver. Excellent clean preamp.
CONTACT Burriss Amplifiers, (800) 513-2256; burrisamps.com

Danelectro Cool Cat CF-1 Fuzz


This diminutive orange pedal will make a lot of guitarists on tight budgets very happy. Despite its compact size and bargain price, the CF-1 ($39 retail/$29 street) sports 3PDT true-bypass switching and a metal casing with metal jacks. Inside, the unit’s modest electronics are tidily organized (though after putting the bottom plate back on, there was a small pile of metal dust on my countertop). The tones are squarely on the corpulent side, boasting sizzling highs, robust mids, and a pleasingly flabby low end—with lots of gain on tap. This entry-level pedal gets the job done at a way cool price. —Barry Cleveland
KUDOS Lots of buzz for the buck.
CONCERNS Tones not particularly focused.
CONTACT Danelectro, (805) 389-4605; danelectro.com

Danelectro Cool Cat Drive CO-1


Very possibly the lowest-priced distortion pedal on the market, the Drive ($29 retail/$24 street) offers a metal housing with metal jacks, true-bypass switching, and a set of Drive, Tone, and Volume controls. This pedal has lots of gain and output, and you can turn the Drive down for bluesier vibes and still hit your amp with a strong signal. This pedal’s distortion tones aren’t particularly inspiring, but they get the job done, and the Tone control has sufficient range for dialing-in humbucker and single-coil guitars. What’s missing here is mainly sonic detail and focus—things you expect from pricier distortion pedals— as well as the dynamic response that allows the clipping circuit to clean up when you turn down your guitar. For beginning players the Drive might be just fine, and it could also be a good back-up pedal to keep in your gig bag for emergencies. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Abundant distortion and output. True-bypass switching.
CONCERNS Removable battery door could be easily lost.
CONTACT Danelectro, (805) 389-4605; danelectro.com

Danelectro Transparent Overdrive


Though its burn quotient is less than that of the Drive, the Transparent Overdrive ($49 retail/$39 street) is more tweakable thanks to having Bass and Treble controls, which are arranged concentrically on a dual-potentiometer. The TD’s extra EQ capability is handy for getting more buff tones from single-coil guitars, as well as for doing the heavy bottom/ bright top thing when rocking out with humbuckers. This pedal’s studly output can also work in tandem with your amplifier to elicit more distortion goodies. As with the Drive pedal, the Transparent Overdrive TD doesn’t clean up well when you turn down your guitar, but overall, it’s a good choice for blues and classic rock when cost is a primary consideration. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Affordable all-around distortion/overdriver. True-bypass switching.
CONCERNS. Removable battery door could be easily lost.
CONTACT Danelectro, (805) 389-4605; danelectro.com

Demeter RVB-1 Reverbulator


Heir to the celebrated rack-mounted RV-1 Real Spring Reverb, the Reverbulator ($499 retail/$429 street) delivers wave upon wave of the same luscious sounds in a comparatively small (10" x 6" x 1.75") package. Its two Accutronics 3 springs—one set to short and the other to long decay—can be used individually or in combination, and you can reverse the long spring’s phase for a cool variation. The shielded cabinet and use of Burr Brown chips result in ultra-quiet performance, and the input Gain and output Volume controls allow you to configure the unit for use as a pedal, in your amp’s effects loop, or as an outboard studio processor—and the Reverbulator performs spectacularly in all three applications. With the possible exception of the (less versatile) original ’60s Fender tube reverb this is the best-sounding device of its kind I’ve ever heard, and it gets an Editors’ Pick Award. —Barry Cleveland
KUDOS Super-rich reverb. Quiet. Versatile.
CONTACT Demeter Amplification, (805) 461-4100; demeteramps.com

DigiTech HardWire CR-7 Stereo Chorus




Since their inception, I’ve been impressed with DigiTech’s HardWire series of stompboxes due to their bulletproof construction and great tones. Well, the CR-7 has only reinforced those good feelings, because this is one righteous chorus pedal. It features true stereo operation, seven different flavors of modulation, Speed and Depth controls, plus the all-important Level control. On an ’80s gig, I got sparkling, glistening clean sounds with a Strat into a Budda Twinmaster and absolutely bitchin’ Lifesonesque dirty tones when I mated it with some distortion. I couldn’t beat the Multi setting (a true eightvoice chorus) but the other choices—Studio, Modern, Boutique, Analog, Jazz, and Vintage— all have their charm, and several of them can even do a cool faux-Leslie tone at fast settings. There is something for every chorus lover in the CR-7, and it gets an Editors’ Pick Award. —Matt Blackett
KUDOS Eight types of lush chorusing. True stereo operation. Rock solid construction
CONTACT DigiTech, (801) 566-8800; digitech.com

DigiTech Hardwire SC-2 Valve Distortion


This natty looking member of the Hardwire clan has a cool, burnt-orange finish, a complement of Level, Low, High, and Gain controls, and a 2-position mode switch with Crunch and Saturated settings. The SC-2 is more aggressive sounding than the Hardwire Tube Overdrive, and it has quite a bit more gain, too—something you instantly appreciate when you click the minitoggle into Saturated mode. The sustain is intense here as you nudge the Gain knob into its higher realms, and between the engorgment of harmonics and spongy feel you get when digging into the strings, the SC-2 gets good marks for copping the vibe of a high-gain tube amp. The SC-2 is great for hard-rock shredding or any other style that demands tons of distortion, but this pedal’s tube-like character and ability to kick out a hot signal even at lower Gain settings makes it suitable for blues and roots styles too. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Yards of gain. Well voiced EQ. Tube-like sound and dynamic resonse. Clever battery access.
CONTACT DigiTech, (801) 566-8800; digitech.com

DigiTech HardWireRV-7 Stereo Reverb


The RV-7 Stereo Reverb ($199 retail/$149 street) is built around a Lexicon reverb chip and it sounds like it. Providing true discrete stereo I/O in addition to mono, the RV-7 offers a choice of Room, Plate, Hall, Reverse, Modulated, and Gated reverb types, along with variable reverb Level, Decay time, and Liveliness (high frequency response). There’s even a Tails Switch that circumvents the true-bypass switching so reverb tails trail off when the reverb is disengaged. Superb reverb algorithms and effective controls facilitate everything from a touch of ambience to cavernous halls, and the Reverse reverb is outstanding, sounding a lot like actual tape reverse. Stereo or mono, pedalboard or effects loop—the RV-7 delivers major vibe for minimal bucks and receives an Editors’ Pick Award. —Barry Cleveland
KUDOS Versatile. Superior algorithms. Intuitive controls.
CONCERNS Spring reverb relatively unconvincing.
CONTACT DigiTech, (801) 566-8800; digitech.com

DigiTech Hardwire CM-2 Tube Overdrive


Sporting the same beautifully designed metal case, stepped controls, and true-bypass switching found on all Hardwire series pedals, the CM-2 ($139 retail/$99 street) specializes in warm, tubeflavored distortion. Along with Level, Low, High, and Gain controls, the CM-2 has a 2-position mini-toggle switch that provides a lower gain level for crunch rhythm playing in Classic mode, and a higher gain level for lead work in Modern mode. The EQ controls are voiced well for getting rich, creamy tones from humbucker and single-coil guitars, and the dynamic response is ideal for players who prefer to keep their distortion pedal on, and control the grind with their guitar’s volume knob. The CM-2 has lots of output, and you don’t have to run the Gain control up high to get it. Also, because this pedal doesn’t overtly color the sound, your guitar’s natural tone stays well preserved. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Touch responsive, tube-flavored distortion. Great choice for blues or classic rock. Clever battery access.
CONTACT DigiTech, (801) 566-8800; digitech.com

EBS TremoLo


One of the smallest true-stereo tremolo pedals we’ve seen, the Swedish-made TremoLo ($229 street) is an analog unit that gives you a choice of three different waveshapes: sine, sawtooth, and square. The TremoLo also has Depth and Speed controls and a Volume/Filter mode switch that purportedly bypasses the low frequencies for more subtle flavors of modulation. The variety of sounds that this box delivers is impressive—everything from round, amp-style modulation to helicopter chop—and at an extremely wide range of speeds. I found the Filter mode less useful overall, however, and it also pulses annoyingly when combined with a square wave setting— even when you’re not playing. That said, the TremoLo offers such a menagerie of trem textures that it’s kind of hard to imagine a situation where this pedal would not be able to deliver exactly what’s needed for the song. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Three waveshape choices. Stereo inputs and outputs.
CONCERNS Somewhat puzzling Filter mode.
CONTACT EBS, bass.se

Electratone No. 1


When I first saw the No. 1 ($749 retail/street N/A) at a NAMM show, I was pretty jazzed. I loved the idea of a distortion “workstation” with three dedicated channels—each with knobs for Tone, Gain, Volume, and roar flavor (Fuzz, Distortion, Overdrive)—as well as a Boost channel that offered from 3dB-20dB of extra gain to blast through a dense stage mix (or startle the timid). The casing is as heavy as a Harley and just as tough, and an XLR output (for direct-to-P.A. applications) is included along with the 1/4" input and output. However, the brutish No. 1 is so aggro that it’s almost unusable when you crack the Gain beyond 9 o’clock. At that point—whether you select Fuzz, Distortion, or Overdrive—the No. 1’s raspy buzz sounds as if a tube is freaking out, a speaker is busted, or a 9-volt battery is rapidly dying (the No. 1 is AC powered). The No. 1 is a fabulous concept that needs a bit more tonal R&D. —Michael Molenda
KUDOS Decent “slightly overdriven” tones. Bulletproof.
CONCERNS “Broken tone effect” at moderate-to-high Gain settings. Very expensive.
CONTACT Electratone, electratone.net

Fryer Guitars Brian May Treble Booster Deluxe


You have to love what this magical little box does, because once it’s in line, you can’t turn it off nor can you vary its output. Thankfully, I do love it. What the Treble Booster Deluxe ($185 retail/street N/A) does is slam the front end of any amp with a whopping 35dB of boost that is centered at approximately 3kHz, but it’s boosting all frequencies from 200Hz through 10k and beyond. The effect it had on the clean channel of a Bogner Alchemist was intense, musical, and just plain awesome. It produced a glorious, mid-heavy tone that was crunchy when I hit it hard, and clean when I picked softly, with almost every note on the neck singing with gorgeous sustain. Rolling down the guitar’s volume control gave me the brilliant bell tones that are on every Queen record. Also, despite the massive boost, this thing is dead quiet. To quote Freddie Mercury, “it’s brilliant, darling,” and we’re giving it an Editors’ Pick Award. —Matt Blackett
KUDOS Amazing, dynamic overdrive. Unreal sustain. Quiet operation.
CONCERNS Can’t turn it off.
CONTACT Fryer Guitars, (011)+61 2 9938 3379; fryerguitars.com

Hartman Tommy Bolin Fuzz


Reverse engineered by analyzing the same model Sam Ash Fuzz used by Bolin, and re-amping tracks from his original multi-track masters for comparison, the handwired Tommy Bolin Fuzz ($190 retail/$169 street) strives to deliver its namesake’s distinctive sound. Bolin reportedly left his fuzz on constantly, varying the amount of distortion with his guitar’s volume control, and this box excels at that, cleaning up beautifully and retaining its tight treble and solid mids and lows even with the guitar volume rolled way back. Other classic rock tones—early ZZ Top sprang to mind—were also on tap. Even with the Volume and Attack controls fully cranked, however, the output level barely exceeded unity gain, which may prove insufficient for soloing over a band. That caveat aside, this unique pedal will definitely let you get your Bolin rollin’. —Barry Cleveland
KUDOS Great Bolin and other classic rock tones. Responds beautifully to changes in guitar volume.
CONCERNS Insufficient output level.
CONTACT Hartman Electronics, (415) 652-8260; hartmanelectronicstore.com

Hermida Audio Technology Dual Booster


As its name implies, the Dual Booster ($179 direct) is a clean boost pedal with two switchable gain levels that you can toggle between using the right-hand A/B switch. The On/Off switch bypasses the active circuitry when you don’t need any boost, and a trio of LEDs indicate when the unit is active, and which gain channel is selected. The Dual Booster is cool because it lets you dial-in a subtle amount of gain to enhance your rhythm tone and then instantly unleash a wad of signal boost to push your tube amp into sustain and/or controllable feedback. Quiet circuitry, a rugged metal casing, and an external adapter jack, make the Dual Booster a great choice for those who’d like to have the option of kicking in a little more, or less, signal boost as the song requires. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Two independently adjustable boost settings.
CONTACT Hermida Audio Technology, hermidaaudio.com

Hermida Audio Technology Distortion


There’s no mistaking what the Distortion ($199 direct) brings to the party, although having to following Hermida’s popular Zendrive pedal isn’t the easiest trick to perform. With its smooth, rich voice and abundant gain, the Distortion makes it easy to get sweet-sounding grind with pretty much any guitar/amp combination. The Voice control is the key to dialing in the mids for the clearest focus with humbuckers or single-coils, and once you’ve got this set where you want it, all it takes is a twist of the Tone knob to either fatten the lows or put a little more sheen on the top. The Volume control provides substantial boost even at lower Gain settings, which makes the Distortion very suitable for anything from blues to hard rock to modern shred. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Smooth, tube-sounding distortion. Wide gain range. Effective Voice control.
CONTACT Hermida Audio Technology, hermidaaudio.com

ISP Totally Blues Overdrive Pedal


Housed in a chromed metal case, the Totally Blues ($139 retail/$117 street) has electronic true-bypass switching, a front-mounted center-negative DC input, and Gain, Level, Tone, and Mojo controls. Sonically, the Totally Blues runs from useful texture and thickness at lower Gain settings to serious hair when you wind it up, with more than enough Level on tap to drive the amp into clipping. The asymmetrical waveform definitely adds some girth and tubey dimension to the tone, while the Mojo control proves great at tweaking your way between an eviscerating Buddy Guy-like lead tone and a smoother, Claptonesque purr. This pedal definitely colors your tone at all settings, and fans of super-smooth overdrive might look elsewhere—but that’s the idea, and it does retain good dynamics at all settings. —Dave Hunter
KUDOS Thick, full-bodied lead tones with juicy harmonic content.
CONTACT ISP Technologies, (248) 673-7790; isptechnologies.com

Jacques Meistersinger BBD Analog Chorus


The Meistersinger ($175 retail/$139 street) is buffered rather than true bypass, a state of affairs that keeps it—and everything—sounding better on a multi-pedal board, or so claims its maker. That said, there’s no noticeable degradation in tone in “off” mode, and just the tiniest bit of added ambient noise when activated. Anyone who has spent time playing the great, simple but effective analog chorus pedals of old will bond with the Meistersinger’s round, watery sound. And aside from the wobbly “carsick in the house” sounds found at the extreme end of the Rate control, there are usable sounds at just about every twist of the knob. It’s a breeze copping anything from a buoyant Andy Summers “Message in a Bottle” tone to a swirling Nirvana-esque crunch with a little dirt behind it, as is dialing in subtler textures to thicken up your own licks. Inspiring stuff. —Dave Hunter
KUDOS Great analog chorus. Straightforward and easy to use.
CONTACT Jacques Stompboxes, ts808.com

Jacques Katapult Germanium Vintage Treble Booster


Inspired by the legendary Dallas Rangemaster, Jacques has given the Katapault ($200 retail/$179 street) added versatility courtesy of a 3-way switch for Mid/ Treble/Full voicings. A relay-based true-bypass switch also makes it more desirable for players who want to go straight to their amps via this single-knob booster. Through a cleaner amp the results can sometimes be a little harsh and jagged, but inject this pedal into a tube amp set on the edge of breakup, and it yields a singing, soulful, sustaining overdrive. Full is my favorite setting, but Mid makes a good all-purpose crunch boost, and Treble is great at adding slice and bite to humbuckers or neck pickups for lead work. There’s also enough gain on tap to generate a mild fuzz of sorts up toward full whack. The Katapault definitely gives you a taste of the Marquee, London, circa 1965, and that’s exactly the intention. —Dave Hunter
KUDOS Good vintage-styled and totally obtrusive boost, from subtle to outrageous.
CONCERNS Noisy at higher gain settings.
CONTACT Jacques Stompboxes, ts808.com

Jacques Kapellmeister BBD Analog Flanger


The Kapellmeister ($179 retail/$139 street) promises otherworldly swirl in a smoother, more organic mood. Rate and Depth knobs govern the speed and intensity of the effect, while Regen allows you to determine the extremity of the swing between frequency notches and peaks. The Manual control is not for manually sweeping the frequency range, but lets you tweak the Q (bandwidth) of the effect to fine-tune the tone. Subtle Rate and Depth settings provide great motion and texture with both clean and dirty amp tones. From broad, deep sweeps that are perfect for dramatic “Barracuda”-style rhythm excursions, to adding just a glimmer of shine and dimension to clean arpeggios and cranked up lead runs alike, the Kapellmeister proves an able analog accomplice. —Dave Hunter
KUDOS An extremely usable and good-sounding flanger at this price.
CONTACT Jacques Stompboxes, ts808.com

Jacques Fat Burner Compressor/Booster


Compressors often have a gain circuit for boosting the output at high compression/sustain settings, but the Fat Burner ($150 retail/$129 street) goes a step further by adding a dedicated Boost output with its own Boost level knob. The dual outs let you split the guitar signal to two amps, or you can use just the Normal output or the Boost out for compression and boost. The Fat Burner is great for adding chime to jangly runs, or for smoothing out country style chicken pickin’, and it couches each note in a buoyant aura that makes lead work a lot of fun, too. The Fat Burner attenuates the front end of the notes quite dramatically, however, and rather than simply increasing sustain, it swells the output in a way that can be a little awkward to control. —Dave Hunter
KUDOS Juicy tone, excellent sustain, and a useful added booster/splitter.
CONCERNS Compression circuit can be tricky to control. Volume swells are sometimes extreme.
CONTACT Jacques Stompboxes, ts808.com

Joemeek floorQ


Despite its name, the floorQ ($249 retail/$199 street) is a compressor not an equalizer. (“I just like saying ‘floorQ,’” quips Joemeek’s Alan Hyatt). In fact, it’s essentially the same optical compressor found in the company’s twinQ and threeQ studio boxes, built into a pedal for non-studio use, particularly by guitarists. Controls for Attack, Release, Slope, and Compress serve up everything from a cool shimmer to whacky pumping and breathing effects, and a tad of squeeze enlivens any guitar tone so much you’ll want to leave the compressor on constantly. On the other hand, the 20dB of gain boost on tap can drive the floorQ’s Class-A preamp into delectable crunch and even “Revolution”-like distortion, especially when used with a tube amp, so you might also opt to use it as an overdrive or boost. It sounds good—it is good, and it gets an Editors’ Pick. —Barry Cleveland
KUDOS Versatile, studio-quality compression. Killer overdrive.
CONTACT Joemeek, (310) 323-9050; joemeek.com

Lizard Leg Effects Flying Dragon


The Flying Dragon ($169 direct) is a clean booster that’s designed to be completely transparent— i.e., it doesn’t boost or cut any particular part of the frequency spectrum. You can place the Flying Dragon ahead of your other effects to work as a line-driver/buffer (especially useful when driving long lengths of cable), or you can use it last in line before your amp as a volume booster to help your solos stand out. Used by itself, the Flying Dragon is also great for eliciting ballsy distortion from an amp that’s set for a grinding rhythm sound. The Dragon’s Boost control has a lot of range, so finding a level that works for your particular rig and playing style is just a matter of dialing it until you find the setting that makes your clean tones sound fuller and more present, and your overdriven tones assume some fire-breathing attitude. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Clean, quiet signal boost.
CONTACT Lizard Leg Effects, (225) 938-2521; lizardlegeffects.com

ModTone MT-CTChromatic Tuner


All the ModTone pedals were tested using the company’s MT-PB8 Powered Pedalboard that includes all cables and AC power for up to eight stompboxes, with everything housed in a hardy nylon road case with a shoulder strap. (Each box can also be powered by a 9-volt battery.) Test gear included a PRS SE Paul Allender, a Danelectro Dead on ’67, a Guild X-160, an Orange Tiny Terror and Mesa/Boogie 1x12, an Egnater Rebel-20 and Egnater 1x12, and a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto and Marshall 4x12. The ModTones are manufactured in China, and the road-tough metal casings are sealed and corrosion resistant. The MT-CT ($99 retail/$79 street) offers Bypass (blue LED) and Mute (red LED) modes with no option to see notes displayed while in Bypass. Tuning is accurate, but the display can be sensitive. If I cranked the guitar tuners a little too fast, the big blue LED that displays the input note went nuts, and the line of red LEDs that denote sharp or flat (in cents) zipped around like a drunken greyhound. —Michael Molenda
KUDOS Good visibility on both dark or light-blasted stages.
CONCERNS Go slow and easy on your tuning pegs.
CONTACT ModTone, modtone-effects.com

ModTone MT-AD Vintage Analog Delay


The Analog Delay ($119 retail/$99 street) is actually a hybrid that marries analog circuitry with a PT-2399 processing chip. But the digital element obviously has no bearing on the warm, natural, and almost lush tone this pedal delivers. In fact, the sound you put into the MT-AD is pretty much the sound that comes out. There is no significant boost, or slightly hyped midrange, or any thinning or deterioration of the source sound. The 130ms-350ms range of the Time control is broad enough to allow everything from rockabilly slapbacks to Robert Fripp-like note cascades with multiple repeats. Dynamics are excellent, as well. You can softly caress a note or brutally punish it, and your attack (or lack thereof) will be accurately translated. The MT-AD isn’t a particularly vibey delay that emulates tape delay or lo-fi colors, but its toasty clean sheen is as comfy as your favorite robe. —Michael Molenda
KUDOS Warm, clear tone.
CONTACT ModTone, modtone-effects.com

ModTone MT-CH Aqua Chorus


Like its sibling, the MT-AD Vintage Analog Delay, the Aqua Chorus ($99 retail/$79 street) endeavors to simulate the sound of old-school chorus pedals, and, hey, it pretty much nails that goal. While some chorus effects tend to take center stage the moment you hit the footswitch, the MT-CH sits back in the tonal pocket. There are very small level and high-midrange boosts when the effect is activated, but these are not enough to distract your ears from the soft, elegant shimmer that almost takes you by surprise. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with more sonically aggressive chorus effects, but if you like hiding cool little colors in washes that almost surreptitiously unfold to seduce more and more aural interest, then the bufferedbypass MT-CH is for you. —Michael Molenda
KUDOS Lovely, sophisticated sparkle.
CONTACT ModTone, modtone-effects.com

ModTone MT-DS Speedbox Distortion XL


The Speedbox ($59 retail/$49 street) shifts into big, Marshall-style tone, with the Gain control providing a nice range between sharp, AC/DC-esque overdrive and more saturated classic-metal sounds. Start goofing with the Tone knob, and you can further twist your sound from a midrange burn to a bass emphasis that gets you pretty close to creamy Tony Iommi lows without bringing in boominess or mud. All the tones rock heavily with ’70s machismo, and that aggression is full-on, baby. This isn’t a particularly dynamic distortion—once you set your guitar’s volume, the Speedbox’s tonal character is about the same whether you pick softly or bang the strings like an angry gorilla. And speaking of volume manipulations, when the pedal’s Gain is full up, and your guitar’s level is down to around the halfway point, the Speedbox produces audible, howling-wind hiss. Keep this split-bypass pedal to the metal, however, and it’ll rev up like a Ferrari. —Michael Molenda
KUDOS Rowdy and rockin’ British Isles rage.
CONCERNS Audible hiss when Gain is cranked and guitar volume is low. Limited dynamic tracking.
CONTACT ModTone, modtone-effects.com

ModTone MT-PH Atomic Phaser


Get your ELO on! The Atomic Phaser ($119 retail/$99 street) nails the lush, pinging shimmer of your favorite ’70s tracks. Much like the Aqua Chorus, the Atomic Phaser gives you all the creamy effect you need without selfishly stealing the tonal spotlight. Midrange peaks deliver the ringing timbres that let the phasing effect stand out in the mix, but the peaks are not strident or overly sharp. Once again, ModTone has served up a box that gets you into vintage-tone territory without imposing boutique-pedal prices on your budget. —Michael Molenda
KUDOS Classic ping, ring, and swoosh.
CONTACT ModTone, modtone-efffects.com

ModTone MT-HT Harmonic Tremor Pulsating Tremolo


A cool variable waveform knob is one of the hipper aspects of the MT-HT ($99 retail/$79 street), as it lets you dial in subtle—or unsubtle—pulsations that can span from polite warbles to sequencerstyle stutters (with the Depth control cranked). I like to go with wide pulses that almost sound like digital edits, and the MTHT didn’t let me down. The split-bypass box also didn’t mess with my tone, add any annoying artifacts, or cause any level discrepancies. This is a fabulous tremolo at any price. —Michael Molenda
KUDOS Variable wave control.
CONTACT ModTone, modtone-effects.com

ModTone MT-OD Dyno Drive


The Dyno Drive ($99 retail/$79 street) fills in the less-overtly macho flavors not covered by the Speedbox. The split-bypass pedal serves up barely overdriven, Fender-style tones, and it can also get you up to the ballsy gronk of a cranked Deluxe. This would be a fabulous classic-blues machine if the dynamic response allowed you to get a little more SRV-style attack by digging in. However, it shares the dynamic personality of the Speedbox, and doesn’t really translate varied pick attacks. That aside, the Dyno is an excellent and natural-sounding overdrive that’s tremendously cool for rock and roll, garage rock, country, and other Americana styles. —Michael Molenda
KUDOS Organic overdrive tones.
CONCERNS Limited dynamic tracking.
CONTACT ModTone, modtone-effects.com

MXR ’76 Vintage Dyna Comp


The MXR ’76 Vintage Dyna Comp ($299 retail/$174 street) is a meticulous Custom Shop recreation of the original, right down to the hand-screened “script” logo and (NOS) “metal can” CA3080 integrated circuits. This two-knob wonder sounds remarkably like its predecessor, aggressively squashing signals without eviscerating tone, particularly highs—and it is actually quieter. Turning up the Sensitivity control increases the compression ratio while maintaining a relatively slow attack time (giving the pedal its characteristic pluckiness, as the initial part of the waveform gets through)—a combination that’s great for everything from funk rhythm playing to chicken pickin’ to heavy power chording, which helps explain the pedal’s cross-genre popularity. As with the original, there’s no status LED, true-bypass switching, or external power adapter jack— but who really cares? —Barry Cleveland
KUDOS Faithfully reproduces the original.
CONTACT MXR, (707) 745-2722; jimdunlop.com

MXR M159 Stereo Tremolo


The M159 ($298 retail/$169 street) uses analog circuitry to work its stereo modulation magic. The device runs on 18 volts for increased headroom and requires two 9- volt batteries or an external supply (not included). The Shape control lets you dial in everything from smoothly rounded pulses to staccato effects, and at all settings the sounds are warm and enveloping. The M159 sounds great in mono, but through a pair of amps it really comes alive—especially with the Pan footswitch engaged, where the pingponged pulses create a gorgeous sense of dimension and motion. The Depth and Speed controls allows you to slather the tremolo on as thick as you want, at everything from a swampy crawl to a galloping aural assault that sounds like it could crumble walls if the volume were cranked high enough. The M-159 gets an Editors’ Pick Award. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Awesome stereo effects. Very compact. Stereo I/O. Quiet operation.
CONCERNS Unattached battery door can be easily lost.
CONTACT MXR, (707) 745-2722; jimdunlop.com

Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone


The adroitly named Philosopher’s Tone ($209 retail/$169 street) possesses seemingly magical powers, most notably its ability to sustain single notes and chords nearly indefinitely without the tone squashing or noise common to most “clean sustainers.” And the versatile Sustain (threshold) and Blend (ratio) controls let you dial in everything from subtle compression to brick wall limiting, while the Treble (2kHz) and Volume controls compensate for any reduced highs or gain. There’s also a Grit control for adding smooth overdrive with or without compression, and with Grit and Sustain turned down, the Volume control provides a de facto clean boost. The pedal sounded great alone, but patching various fuzz and distortion boxes before and after it yielded truly amazing tones, sustained and otherwise. The first 100 pedals feature a handpainted, gold sparkle finish. The Philosopher’s Tone’s supernatural sustain, capacity to blend compressed and overdriven sounds with the straight tone, and Treble control set it apart from the competition, earning it an Editors’ Pick award. —Barry Cleveland
KUDOS Uncanny clean sustain. Brilliantly implemented controls.
CONTACT Pigtronix, (917) 941-2861; pigtronix.com

Roadrunner Supersonic Fuzz


Hailing from France, the Supersonic Fuzz ($320 direct) seeks to recreate the sound of ’60s-era fuzzes—in particular the three-knob Sola Sound Tone Bender. Housed in a rugged aluminum case, the pedal’s cleanly wired and neatly organized electronics include true-bypass switching and an internal trim-pot for finetuning output volume. An LED lights green when the pedal is powered on, changing to red when the effect is engaged. The wide-ranging Tone control sweeps from dark and beefy to a tight and smooth midrange to a crisp but not harsh high end. The versatile Fuzz control dials in relatively clean amp-like distortion to fat “Sunshine of Your Love”-type tones to a quirky sound reminiscent of a vintage Octavia. Cool old-school fuzz with a few fresh twists. —Barry Cleveland
KUDOS Authoritative ’60s-type sounds. Plenty of personality.
CONCERNS Pricey. Potentially confusing LED.
CONTACT Roadrunner Guitars, +33(0) 383 35 64 03; roadrunner-guitars.com

Toadworks Barracuda Analog Flanger


The Barracuda ($300 retail/$250 street) is designed to replicate the sound of the custom- made flanger that guitarists Howard Leese and Roger Fisher used on Heart’s 1977 debut album Little Queen. The all-analog Barracuda sports co-designer Leese’s signature along with Level, Depth, Regen, and Rate controls. It also has stereo outs and an expression pedal input for manual control of the sweep. Power is via 9-volt battery or 2.1mm AC adapter (not included). Sonically reminiscent of the classic ADA Flanger, the Barracuda practically demands that you immediately set the knobs to replicate that vibrant, over-the-horizon swooshing effect on its namesake song. Varying the Rate and Regen controls takes you to plenty of other flange zones as well (though not quite to steel-drum territory), and having a Level control helps ensure the effect doesn’t get lost in a dense band mix. The Barracuda gets an Editors’ Pick Award. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Beautiful sound. Stereo operation. Quiet operation. Expression-pedal jack.
CONTACT Toadworks, (415) 462-5539; toadworksusa.com

Toadworks Texas Flood


Following on the theme of naming pedals after classic tunes, the Texas Flood ($190 retail/$150 street) is designed to deliver tube-sounding overdrive in the ilk of the famous Ibanez TS-808, while optimizing the response a bit where needed. The Drive, Tone, and Level controls elicited juicy and well-balanced distortion tones with all of our test guitars, and the slightly boosted gain is something Strat players will certainly dig. The output level is strong enough to overdrive the front end of an amp, though, as with an ’808, you have to keep the Drive turned up to obtain the maximum output. The Flood’s Tone control is also voiced so that it’s not necessary to set it to zero to elicit those buttery, EJ-style tones. —Art Thompson
KUDOS A smart redux of a classic distortion box.
CONTACT (415) 462-5539; toadworksusa.com

ToneCandy Sweet Drive


The Sweet Drive ($250 retail) gets high marks for its tank-like construction, top-quality parts, and smooth, solid knobs. I tested it with a Strat and a Les Paul into a Bogner Alchemist and a VHT Standard 18. The first thing I noticed is that it packs a ton of output—this cute purple box will definitely bring any solo to the front of the mix. The overall voicing is dark, although not in a bad way. With a Strat on the bridge pickup, I needed to crank the Tone control to three o’clock or higher, even with the Bright Boost Switch engaged. The Sweet Drive’s gain structure is more in the overdrive camp than full-on distortion, but there’s plenty of grind on tap. The O-Drive and Intensity knobs work in tandem to regulate the amount of dirt. For me, the sweet spot on the Sweet Drive was with both of them around one o’clock, which was punchy and throaty. —Matt Blackett
KUDOS Quality construction. Punchy overdrive. Loud as hell.
CONCERNS Voiced on the dark side.
CONTACT ToneCandy, tonecandy.com

Vox Big Bad Wah


Co-designed by Joe Satriani, the Big Bad Wah ($280 retail/$219 street) features two separate wah circuits: Wah 1 is a fixed wah that’s based on a classic Vox design, but modified to Satch’s specs. Wah 2 can be customized to your specs via the Drive control (which adds up to 10dB of boost) and the Voice switch, which has bright and dark settings. There’s also an Inductor button that selects between “U.K.” and “U.S.” type inductors. The Japanese-made pedal is activated with a toe-down footswitch and is powered by a 9-volt battery or optional adapter. LEDs provide clear indication of which wah circuit is active and the inductor you’ve selected. The Big Bad Wah offers a great range of effects— from Tibetan-monk throatiness to ultra-funky stabs and shimmers—and it has a very smooth and musical sounding sweep courtesy of a custom-made potentiometer. Switching between the two inductors is a fairly subtle event, though the Drive control provides a substantial kick in volume when needed to help you stand out in a band mix. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Like having two wahs and a booster in one box. Excellent range of sounds. Nice construction.
CONCERNS Wide footprint could crowd an already tight pedalboard.
CONTACT Vox Amplification, (631) 390-6500; voxamps.com

Xotic Effects Robotalk 2


Envelope filters are cool for adding wah-like expression to your sound, and the Robotalk 2 ($289 retail/$249 street) ups the ante by featuring two independently voiced envelope-filter channels. This analog, true-bypass pedal has dual sets of Sensitivity and Decay controls, along with smaller Resonance and Volume knobs. Both channels share a Direct Volume control that adjusts the wet/dry mix. A pair of internal switches also lets you vary both the filters’ frequency range and the input sensitivity. Each channel has its own on/off footswitch, making it easy to preset two different envelope-filter sounds and toggle between them to distinctly embellish rhythm and lead parts. You can also activate both channels simultaneously for dynamic effects that have a slightly phaseshifted quality. The Robotalk 2 is tweakable for optimum response whether you pick lightly or bash with abandon, and the Resonance and Decay controls can elicit everything from deep vocalized rumbles to ultra-squirty funk tones. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Two envelope filters in one box. Funkier than James Jamerson’s insoles.
CONCERNS Control labels are difficult to read.
CONTACT Xotic Effects, xoticeffects.com.

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