RECENTLY ADDED TO FULLTONE’S SPRAWLING line of distortion pedals is the Catalyst ($159 street), a booster/distortion/fuzz that features Drive and Level knobs, a Flame/Spark mini-toggle switch, and two trimmer-sized knobs labeled Bass/Mids and Treble. As with all Fulltone products we’ve tested, the Catalyst is well made inside and out. The metal case is finished in hip looking orange paint and sports knurled screws that make it easy to open for battery replacement (a 2.1mm adapter jack for external power is also provided).
Tested with a Gibson Les Paul ’68 Black Beauty reissue, a PRS Mira and SC245, and a Fender Strat and Tele, the Catalyst ignited a bunch of cool tones. With the Gain control at it lowest setting and the mini-toggle in Spark position, the Catalyst is at its clean-boost best, capable of delivering an amp-pummeling signal as you turn up the Volume knob. This is where you can get a classic “treble booster” response, which is great for coaxing wicked, ’70s-style distortion from vintage amps that don’t have a lot of front-end gain. Turning up the Catalyst’s Gain knob yields progressively more grind until a singing sustain is reached at the maximum setting. What’s cool is that the Volume control provides exactly the output level you need regardless of where the Gain is set.
Switching to the Flame setting brings on way more gain and output, and is the mode to use for heavy crunch and lead tones. The Catalyst’s excellent 2-band EQ comes into play here to dramatically shape the character of these sounds. Fuzz tones are elicited by turning the Treble up past halfway, which intensifies the bite and summons the square-wave harmonics. Pulling back on the Treble and turning up the Bass/Mids control emphasizes the even-order harmonics to yield smoother and more tube-like distortion. This control also starts adding punchy midrange when set to ten o’ clock or higher.
Once you get the Drive and Level controls in the ballpark, the EQ makes it easy to dial in whatever flavor of grind you want—be it anything from Fuzz Face-style buzz to butterysmooth sustain. The Catalyst never sounds mushy or compressed at high gain settings, and its dynamic response makes it possible to go from grinding rhythm tones to a blistering lead sound with a quick sweep of your guitar’s volume control.
The Catalyst’s ability to do everything from super clean boosting to massive grind is impressive. This pedal offers some of the best characteristics of vintage booster and fuzz pedals—including lots of in-your-face presence— yet its flexible EQ and balanced response reveal the high degree of evolution in its design. No single pedal can do it all, but if you’re hunting for a distortion box that can cover a lot of bases and isn’t just another revamp of a vintage classic, the Catalyst is definitely something you’ll want to hear.
By incorporating an authentic rendition of the Uni-Vibe circuit in a wah-sized enclosure with a rocker speed control, the MDV-2 ($257 street) is an extremely practical way to add this sweet effect to your sonic arsenal. The device features side-mounted Volume and Intensity controls, a Vibrato/ Chorus switch, a Vintage/Modern switch, and a blue LED that pulses in sync with the modulation speed. Bypass occurs when the pedal is in heel-down position, and, unlike an original Uni-Vibe, the MDV-2 has a true bypass. The pedal also defaults to bypass if the power supply is suddenly disconnected.
The MDV-2’s workmanship is excellent overall. The cream powder-coat finish is nicely done, the feel of the rocker is solid and smooth, and the circuitry is super clean with neatly routed wires to all of the connection points. An included 9-volt adapter supplies power, however, the voltage is stepped-up internally to a Uni-Vibe specification of 18 volts.
At the heart of the MDV-2 is its photocell- based phase-shifting circuit that uses custom-made photocells because, according to Fulltone, off-the-shelf types don’t provide the right response. Also, the MDV’s heeldown bypass system requires a specially made dual potentiometer for the speed control, which has the stated benefit of allowing the MDV-2 to go slower than any other ’Vibe clone, while still providing a very fast speed in the toe-down position.
I used Strats, Teles, a PRS SC245, and a Les Paul to test the MDV-2, and they all sounded excellent through it. In Chorus mode on the Vintage setting, the MDV-2 makes good on its promise of Uni-Vibe authenticity. The syrupy and slightly vocal-inflected swirl is endlessly cool, and when hit with a Strat’s neck pickup the MDV-2 is like a portal to the Robin Trower zone. In fact, Trower currently uses an MDV-2, which is probably the best endorsement this pedal can get.
The rocker control makes it easy to get just the right modulation speed for whatever you’re playing, and the MDV-2 has lots of range to play with. The crawling phase shift it produces at the slowest setting sounds great for arpeggiated chords, while at the opposite end of the pedal’s throw— and depending on how high the Intensity knob is set—the rapid pulse can inspire everything from faux-organ comping to ’50sstyle sci-fi sounds. The Volume knob adds a mild boost to the wet signal when turned to maximum (very nice), and switching to the Modern setting makes the phasing a bit brighter and louder.
Putting the MDV-2 into Vibrato mode opens the door to a whole other realm of sonic goodies. At high intensity settings, the effect has enough seesawing pitch bend to make you dizzy. However, by dialing back the intensity and working the pedal between moderate and higher speeds, you can get whirly textures that approximate the blurry pitch shifting of a rotary speaker. The Modern setting also functions in the Vibrato mode to help the effect punch through a loud stage mix.
The MDV-2 rules for its compactness, excellent sound, and savvy features. If you’ve been putting off adding a Uni-Vibe effect to your board because of size constraints or the fact that you don’t get a rocker speed control on the smallest clone pedals, wait no more. The MDV-2 is outstanding and it earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
KUDOS Super versatile. Excellent EQ.
KUDOS A hip sounding spin on the classic Uni-Vibe. Compact. Built-in speed rocker.