Review: Jacques Bete Noire Scan  Distortion

The Bête Noire is an aggressive OD machine that lives up to its name as a killer choice for hard rock and metal.
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Combining multiple effects in one box is a good way to maximize pedalboard space and can result in better interaction between effects than chaining two or more single-effect pedals together. The new Bête Noire ($300 street) pairs distortion and analog phasing in a convenient package that features a Variac (gain) control, a switchable brown mode, Chomp (bass) and high controls, a scan switch for activating the modulation, sweep and speed knobs, and mix and level controls. The metal enclosure has a silent true-bypass footswitch, an external-power jack, and a board-mounted receptacle for a 9-volt battery that is accessed by removing the bottom plate. There’s an LED for bypass status and another LED that illuminates when the phasing is activated and blinks in time with the speed setting.

Although the term bête noire (literally translated as “black beast”) has come to mean something that is detested, the pedal itself is very much the opposite. Auditioned with a Tele and a pair of new Teye Gypsy Queen guitars (one with dual humbuckers and other with a trio of P-90s), the distortion sounds were meaty and savage, in a good way, of course. Activating the brown switch adds tube-like richness and girth that is super satisfying, but if you prefer more upper-midrange emphasis and less compression, just leave brown off.

Gain adjusting is done via the Variac knob, and this circuit — which simulates the effect of lowering an amp’s operating voltage to increase distortion — provides a ton of sustain when turned up. EQ-wise, the passive high control is nicely complemented by the Chomp knob, an active “bass attack control” that delivers low-end mass to the point that I never needed to turn it more than halfway up.

The Bête Noire is great for players who like that juicy combination of phase shifter and overdriven British amp. The pedal sounded cool with a Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue as well as with smaller tube amps, such as a mid-’60s Champ and a ’50s-era Premier. With a few tweaks, it also did a good job of replicating the badass-ness of an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff driving into an MXR Phase 90. The Bête Noire’s depth and speed controls work beautifully in tandem with the OD circuit to unleash harmonically engorged swirl at speeds that can travel from blurry fast to sloth-like crawl. Having the ability to blend the phasing and distortion in just-right proportions is very handy, and while a slight drop in volume was noticeable when the phasing was switched on, it’s barely an issue because this pedal has output to spare. Bottom line, the Bête Noire is an aggressive OD machine that lives up to its name as a killer choice for hard rock and metal.

KUDOS A potent pairing of distortion and analog phase shifting