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Roundup! 7 Pedals from Big Joe

January 30, 2014
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Named after 9-string Delta blues kingpin Big Joe Williams (1903-1982), Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Big Joe Stomp Box Company was founded in 2011 by David and Paul Christian, the designers of the Pocket Rockit headphone amp. The Christian’s mission is to “capture the tonal history of blues/rock guitar” with their product line. bigjoestompboxcompany.com

B-401 Saturated Tube
$189 street

Sporting a sound reminiscent of a famous diamond-grilled British amp, this box roars with a ballsy, yet bright and articulate overdrive. High frequencies are front and center, and engaging the High Boost switch makes the highs even more aggressive. If the shimmer is too much for you, backing off the Presence/Tone control tames the spikiness. The pedal is pretty sensitive to picking dynamics, so hard or soft attacks affect its sound as well. Although the B401 doesn’t stray too far from the bell-like raunch of ’60s Brit Pop, I managed to also dial in some excellent classic rock and melodic-metal tones.

B-402 Classic Tube
$189 street

The B402 is chunky and harmonically rich with a distinct Texas blues quality when using a guitar with single-coil pickups, and an early ’70s Pete Townshend overdrive flavor if you’re rocking humbuckers. Either way, however, I found great tones at all settings. The B402 also offers a 2-position speaker simulation switch that cuts some highs and evens out the overall attack when plugged into an amp. The cool thing is this switch also lets you plug the pedal directly into a recording device or P.A. system and still get some of that amp-like sonic impact.

B-403 Vintage Tube 1
$189 street

The most transparent pedal in the Big Joe line, the B403 packs a lot of dynamic response. The harder you pick, the more grit, bite, and kick you’ll get, but the pedal always maintains its vintage vibe by never going into heavy overdrive. The sound reminded me of an old Fender Twin. The Shape switch was great for crafting classic Freddie King licks in its Round position, as well as providing some country twang in the Sharp position.

B-404 Vintage Tube 2
$199 street

The B404 shares the dynamic sensitivity of the B403, but adds a very cool Amp Contour knob, which delivers four different EQ settings that go progressively from bright to warm. With the Drive knob dimed and Amp Contour on a bright setting, I got a gritty-clean Exile on Main Street raunch that will get a classicrock lover’s rocks off. Going for a warmer Amp Contour setting and tweaking the Presence knob got me in B.B. King/Robben Ford territory.

B-405 Hard Tube
$199 street

Looking for blissed-out heavy overdrive with a sultry, yet crystalline texture? Here it is. Great tones are available at almost all settings. I found my sweet spot with the Gain knob at 2 o’clock, which yielded juicy, hard-clip distortion brilliantly complemented by great note definition—even from full barre chords below the third fret. From Nirvana to Smashing Pumpkins to Zakk Wylde, the sounds are all there, and much more—thanks to the extremely beneficial semi-parametric midrange EQ and hefty output. The B405 made my Vox AC30 combo sound like a tower of 100-watt stacks. Wow.

B-406 A/B Switcher
$89 street

The B406 is simple to operate, the mechanical switch is whisper quiet, and overall noise is almost non-existent. It’s also tough. I abused the switch by hitting it every two beats at 120bpm for several minutes, and it responded perfectly each time. Two bright LEDs (one for each channel) are a nice touch and really help you verify that the right amp is “switched in” during noisy gigs. I also routed two test guitars into one amp using the B406, and switching between them was trouble free.

B-408 Phaser
$149 street

It’s nearly impossible to get a bad sound out of this pedal. The B408 starts with the vintage sound of a famous script phaser, and then adds controls for Depth, Feedback, and wet/ dry Mix. I was able to dial in everything from a slow, flange-like phase, to a sultry chorus, to a fast, rotary-like warble, and each sound was lush and striking. But the real killer app was using the Mix control to blend in just the right amount of effect to maintain both pick attack and tone. A definite Editors’ Pick Award winner here!

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