Amptweaker founder James Brown has been scrupulously—and delightfully—over-engineering pedals since 2009. I often think there’s less versatility in a Space Shuttle than in an Amptweaker pedal, but the brilliant aspect of Brown’s technical virtuosity is that whatever you can imagine doing with a FatRock, TightFuzz, SwirlPool, or any of his other awesome boxes, there’s likely a knob or a switch for making it happen. However, those babies are pretty hulking, so anyone wishing to explore the Amptweaker line has to commit significant pedalboard real estate to the cause. But Brown listens to his users, so requests for a mini series did not go unheeded. Recently, Amptweaker released the Jr. Series—which currently includes the TightDrive Jr., TightMetal Jr., and TightRock Jr., as well as bass versions of each with added Dry and Low Blend knobs—which is based on the company’s Pro models, but jettisons some space-gobbling features such as effects loops, multiple LEDs, battery switches, and boosts.
Another benefit of the “slimming process” is that Jr. Series pedals are about half the cost of the Pro pedals. And you still get true-bypass switching, a near-indestructible metal chassis, 9-volt to 18-volt operation (9-volt sounds ballsier and more compressed, while 18-volt is cleaner and airier), an onboard noise gate, and Amptweaker’s five-year limited warranty. I tested the pedals in the Guitar Player sound-room—with assistance from editors Art Thompson and Matt Blackett—with a Gibson Midtown Standard, a Gretsch Chet Atkins, and a John Page Classic Ashburn through a Bad Cat Hot Cat 100 head and 4x12 cabinet. (The Tight- Rock Jr. was reviewed in the June 2016 “Pedalmania” issue of GP.)
As with its other versions (Original and Pro), the TightDrive Jr. ($159 street) produces a natural, amp-like overdrive. Brown’s previous experience designing amps for Peavey, Kustom, and others certainly pays off here. But if organic isn’t where you want to be all the time—or if you need your guitar to bust out of a band mix for solos and heavy riffs—there are options for getting meaner and edgier. The Tone knob provides a musical cut/boost for high midrange frequencies, and switching the EQ switch to Plexi adds further belligerence. Feeling like your single-coils are sounding a tad frail and weedy? Click the EQ to Smooth, and the Tight switch to Fat, and you’ll start strutting like Schwarzenegger in his prime. Whether you veer warm or edgy, the TightDrive Jr. definitely speaks classic ’70s Marshall tone.
Kudos Organic amp tones. Musical EQ options.
Matt Blackett clicked through a couple of settings on the TightMetal Jr. ($159 street) and said, “That’s Iron Maiden and that’s Metallica.” He could have gone on—well, if he actually wanted to, and if we had a week to write this review— because this pedal is like some kind of encyclopedia of metal guitar sounds. Considering the insane output level available via the Volume knob, the punchy midrange you can boost or cut with the Tone control, the EQ voicings (Thrash/Flat/Smooth), and the Tight settings (Fat/Flat/Tight), you can pretty much run a tone party from Black Sabbath to Kyuss to Avenged Sevenfold and beyond. This is a fantastic distortion to experiment with, because every twist and turn seems to produce new vistas of shred-olicious growl, snarl, and/or singing sustain.
KUDOS Aggressive. Versatile.