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Custom Tones Ethos Overdrive TLE

September 1, 2009
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WITH HALLOWED MODELS SUCH AS THE STEEL String Singer and Overdrive Special, Dumble amplifiers have enjoyed a mythical status typically reserved for the Hope Diamond or a Yeti sighting. So seeing as how there are only an estimated 300 Dumbles on earth—and how they fetch upwards of $40,000—it’s not surprising that a cottage industry has emerged, determined to impart Dumble sonic signatures such as endless touch-sensitive sustain, huge crystalline clean tones, and highly refined grind, for a fraction of the cost of an actual Dumble.

The Ethos Overdrive TLE ($395 direct) aims to capture some of the elusive Dumble mojo in a two-channel stompbox/preamp. Cosmetically the Ethos emits a heavy Dumble aroma, right down to the mini “Tone Stack” toggles for each channel. And although the Ethos is somewhat large for a typical pedalboard, it’s not excessively so, and it’s very light. A 12-volt power supply is included, although the Ethos can be powered via a single 9-volt battery for approximately 15 hours—pretty nice for when a wall wart is a pain in the onions!

With various Fender Telecasters and Strats as well as a Gibson SG, I plugged the Ethos TLE (TLE stands for “tight low end”) in the front a variety of amps, including a Fender Deluxe Reverb, a Reverend Goblin 5-15, and a mid- ’70s non-master 50-watt Marshall powering a 2x12 Fender cabinet. The Ethos’ Clean channel is fairly easy to dial-in, though its many tonal options can be overwhelming at first. This is a good thing, however, as there is nary a bad sound to be found. The Tone Stack switches afford a cornucopia of textures and shades depending on your guitar and pickup settings. For instance, I dialed up ultra-glassy clean tones that simply popped out of my amp’s speakers with a delicately detailed presence that made even my Gibson SG a formidable clean machine, especially on dual-pickup settings. Conversely, with a Tele and Strat, my already glassy-sounding Fender amp became even more crystalline, with a tight, blooming low-end response, even with low settings of the Ethos’ ultra-powerful Bass control. With the Gain cranked, I conjured biting, barely distorted chunk that is particularly delicious with humbuckers, as the grind comes in only when you lay into your strings. I harvested some especially succulent clean tones by simply backing off my guitar’s Volume control, or lightening my picking attack. Very nice!

The global HC control, located on the side of the unit, is key to getting your preferred treble response, while the Treble, Middle, Bass, and Tone Stack switches allow you to fine-tune to the nth degree. The Brite switches on each channel are voiced remarkably—useable with my keening Telecaster or the more mellow sounding Gibson SG—while the Modern/Classic switch adjusts the EQ curve ever so slightly. The Jazz/ Rock switch is the most vociferously voiced control, as it takes the Ethos demeanor from smooth and polite (Jazz) to snarling and in-yourface (Rock), as the gain and mids are upped substantially.

Speaking of gain, the Ethos TLE’s Overdrive channel has a ton—enough for insane sustain bordering on the silly, and notes that gently fade into sultry, musical feedback—at bedroom volume levels! However, the Ethos is not a metal machine, as its overall character is designed to deliver silky-smooth grind with humbuckers or single-coils. Think Robben Ford, not Robin Fink. Make no mistake, the Ethos delivers perfectly manicured distortion that allows complex intervals to speak with a clear, ultra-musical voice. And when you engage the Boost function, you’re greeted with exactly the some tone, just a shade louder. Sweet.

The Speaker Simulated output makes the Ethos TLE insanely versatile, providing you with a home recording tool, as well as a direct-to-the- P.A. conduit to give you total control over your front-of-house tones. Plugging straight into my laptop for quick demos was not only easy, it sounded great as well. Its excellent utility, as well as its ability to impart boutique-amp tones, make the Ethos a sure-fire winner.

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