The brainchild of amp designer Reinhold Bogner, the La Grange ($249 street) is intended to emulate Marshall tones from models manufactured in the mid and late ’60s, as well as their descendants stretching into the ’80s and ’90s. It also boasts a clean Boost wired in series after the overdrive section, which may be used independently or in combination with it. The pedal is solidly constructed and features fancy components such as German WIMA and Japanese Nichicon capacitors, Carling Technologies switches, and even gold-plated relays and circuit boards. The input feeds an op-amp, followed by five discrete Class A gain stages, with germanium diode clipping. The audio circuitry is entirely analog and the switching true bypass.
La Grange is powered by a 9-volt battery or a 9VDC power supply, but the internal voltage is ramped up to increase the dynamic range and provide a more amp-like feel (therefore any power supply above 9VDC could harm the circuit). When the battery level drops below a certain point, the two LEDs begin flashing, and soon thereafter the pedal automatically switches into bypass mode. Nice.
Besides the usual Volume, Tone, and Gain controls there are Boost level and Channel Blend controls. Channel Blend simulates the Bright and Normal channels of late-’60s four-input plexi amps, and the control allows you to choose either or combine them in any proportion.
There are also four mini-toggle switches for Gain (medium, low, high), Presence (high, low), Structure (three varieties of gain structure from tight and focused to loose and fat) and Variac (on, off). You can also vary the gain using an optional expression pedal (a 25kΩ volume pedal, connected via standard cable to the EXP input)—which would be a neat trick on even the most drastically modified vintage Marshalls.
With all of its knobs straight up and the Gain switch set to Low, the La Grange breaks up much like a cranked up ’60s-era Marshall. The sound is crisp, clear, and bristling with classic rock character that makes it difficult not to lay into a fat first-position A chord while swaggering around the room making your best guitar face. And rolling back the guitar’s volume control produces the same slightly hairy rhythm tones that grace countless records.
Switching between High and Low Presence alters the overall sheen, adding appealing sizzle to humbuckers and taming overly aggressive single-coils respectively. The three Structure settings affect playing feel and response as much or more than the sound, while Channel Blend really does reproduce the differences in sound between the Normal and Bright inputs on an old Marshall. The Tone control, too, is expressively voiced, spanning an unusually wide range from dusky to steely. Selecting Medium or High Gain rockets you beyond the plexi realm entirely, even without maxing the Gain control or deploying the Boost—which also sounds wonderful on its own—but do one or both of those things and the pedal sounds like it could literally burst into flames, even with the Variac engaged.
Whether playing a Strat or a Les Paul through either a Fender Twin or a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL, the La Grange sounded fantastic and responded beautifully to playing dynamics—which is why it receives an Editors’ Pick Award.
Kudos Excellent build quality. Versatile controls. Nails classic Marshall tones and beyond.
Concerns Too much fun.