In our May 2015 cover story on AC/DC, we detailed the story of Filippo Olivieri’s obsessive quest to replicate Angus Young’s guitar tone on Back In Black. The journey led Olivieri to a mid-’70s wireless guitar device—the Schaffer- Vega Diversity System—that Young used when tracking in the studio back then. That was the missing piece of the tonal puzzle, but Olivieri—who inventor Ken Schaffer of the aforementioned wireless system warmly calls a “dedicated isolated obsessive”—isn’t the kind of guy to take his prize and go home. He wanted to prove his point to tone zealots by actually manufacturing hardware versions of Young’s “secret weapon” with Schaffer’s approval and assistance. That’s dedication, all right.
If you’re as spellbound by classic AC/DC guitar tones as is Olivieri, then his superhuman efforts exist to make you a very lucky person. Last year, Olivieri released The Schaffer Replica Gold Tag Edition—which is housed in a vertical cabinet that evokes the original 1975 Schaffer-Vega 63EX receiver, and was signed by Schaffer—in a limited run of 100 units. The $999 unit sold out immediately. Poof! (A Gold Tag II edition, sans Schaffer’s autograph, shipped this Spring.)
However, the price, configuration, and limited availability of the Gold Tag Edition didn’t really help you out much if (a) you actually wanted one, (b) you wanted one that was more affordable, and (c) you wanted one you could bash around with in the treacherous world of gigging musicians. Happily, Olivieri is producing a stompbox version, The Schaffer Replica Pedal ($399 street). The pedal gives you the same all-analog circuitry as the Gold Tag Edition—a compander (compressor/expander) and a clean boost.
Now, if you’re used to conventional effects pedals, operation of TSR may take a minute or two to grok. Olivieri, while having the smarts and persistence to get all CSI about classic Angus tone, isn’t really a pedal designer, and the device is a wonderful product of his idiosyncratic outlook. For example, you might think the right jack is an input, and the left jack is an output, but it’s reversed. Look out for that one. Then, when you see a lit LED, you may be trained to determine that an effect is “on.” On TSR, a red Power LED lights up as soon as the unit is connected to a power source, but signal processing is not active. When you hit the Bypass switch, TSR is on, the Boost light illuminates, and both the Input and Output knobs activate to dial in levels. You’re not actually in a conventional “boost” mode—you’re just on, all in, and ready to rock.
None of the quirky bits matter, however, because you will be entranced by what this box does to your guitar sound—whether you love or hate AC/DC. Call it a preamp that clarifies attack and punch. Call it a dynamic boost that lets you dial in anything from chime to edge to roaring distortion. Call it some kind of magic box that brings new life to your amp. Technically, I don’t know what it is, but I do know that my guitar sound got all HD with subtle air above 10kHz, articulate mids, and enhanced touch sensitivity. I just hide the thing behind my amp and let the guitarists in the audience marvel. “That doesn’t sound like an AC30—did you hot rod it?” For his obsession, his research, and his benevolence in sharing his discoveries with all guitar players, Olivieri gets an Editors’ Pick Award for his “secret weapon.”
Pros “Oh, oh, oh, it’s magic.” Great sound. Tough construction.
Cons A bit on the expensive side. Cons A bit on the expensive side.