Obtaining greater tube-like sound and feel is an unending quest for many stompbox makers, and while these new boxes from Dunlop go at it somewhat differently, both deliver quality valve simulation and have features and sonic characteristics that will appeal to a wide range of players. I tested these pedals using a Gibson Historic Les Paul, a PRS Mira Semi-Hollow, and a Buzz Feiten T-Pro—running everything into a Fender Deluxe Reverb and a vintage Marshall PA 20 head driving an Alessandro 1x12 cab.
MXR IL TORINO
Using MOSFET technology to deliver the tonal and dynamic characteristics associated with overdriven tubes, il Torino ($120 Street) is a high-gain preamp that features Bass, Mid, and Treble controls; Gain and Master knobs; and an OD/Boost switch that optimizes the pedal for use as a classic booster (red LED) or as a distortion box (blue LED). Sonically speaking, the differences between the two settings aren’t dramatic, but in “red” mode the sound is a touch cleaner and less saturated than the spongier feeling “blue” position.
The il Torino packs a lot of instant gratification factor, and I could kick it on and very easily dial in tones that had a nice liquid feel. It tracked picking dynamics so well that in many situations I’d just leave the effect on and use my guitar’s volume knob to swing between a dirty clean rhythm tone and a distorted lead sound. The distortion sounded natural and well implemented into my amps’ core sounds, making for seamless transitions between straight and effected tones.
A lot of output is available via the Master, and you don’t have to run the Gain knob high to get it either—which makes il Torino well suited as a booster if you’re driving into an amp that’s already in clipping territory. The Torino’s 3-band EQ makes it easy to get your sound on with humbucker and single- coil guitars, and the distortion range is suitable for everything from blues to heavy rock. Bottom line: If you want one pedal that can handle a wide range of OD tasks, il Torino is definitely worth an audition.
Kudos Boost and distortion in one box. Excellent EQ.
WAY HUGE SAUCY BOX
A proven way to obtain clearer sounding distortion is to use discrete clean and distorted signal paths that are combined at the output stage, and this is at the heart of the Saucy Box ($185 retail). But instead of having individual controls for the clean and OD signals, this pedal automatically sets the optimum clean/distortion ratio and puts it under the control of a single Drive knob.
I thought I’d miss not having more knobs to futz with, but the Saucy Box has everything needed to get distortion tones that sound great for just about anything you throw at it. When I set Drive low and turned the Volume knob up, this pedal dished out a hot signal with just a mild amount of grind—perfect for overdriving my Marshall PA 20. Turning the Drive up fed in more juicy harmonics, giving a dynamically responsive tone that was excellent for gritty rhythm playing and lower intensity leads. Keeping the Tone knob at 11 o’ clock and setting Drive to around two o’ clock yielded a sweet, buttery tone that nailed it for fired-up solos and slide playing—sounding rich and stringy through my Deluxe Reverb—and very inspiring for everything from alt-country to fusion jazz.
Higher Drive produced beautifully voiced tones with gobs of sustain that still cleaned up admirably by rolling back my guitar volume. And no matter how dense the distortion, the Saucy box always kept the fundamental sounds of my humbucker and single-coil guitars intact, adding just the right amount of upper-midrange presence to cut though clearly, even at lower stage volumes. All considered, this is a great distortion pedal and it earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
Kudos Wide distortion range. Great clarity in highly overdriven settings.