Founded in 2006 by former studio musicians J. Rockett and Chris Van Tassel, J. Rockett Audio Designs (JRAD for short) has earned a great reputation on the back of several creative, professional-grade pedals that have wormed their way toward the top of the boutique pool. In this review, we check out JRAD’s two new offerings from either end of the stompbox spectrum—overdrive and modulation—which ably represent what this Tennessee- based maker is capable of.
Billed as “a sort of two-in-one pedal” capable of both clean boost and medium-gain overdrive, the Archer ($179) has far more storied origins, which are hinted at by the Centaur archer logo and oxblood-colored pointer knobs. After retiring his hand-wired original rendition of the famed Klon Centaur a few years back, Bill Finnegan first hired JRAD to undertake a mass-production unit. The venture fell through after significant investment and R&D from Rockett and Van Tassel, and the Archer has arrived in its wake, a pedal JRAD describes as a detail-perfect “klone”.
Before plugging in, let’s note that, while the Output knob is straightforward and packs a lot of clean gain, and the Treble does what you’d expect, the Gain control is dual-function: Fully off, it’s out of circuit, but as you turn it up it acts as a mixer of sorts, reducing the amount of clean boost in the output while increasing the amount of grind. Also, props for the build quality, which is stellar right from the compact, folded-steel exterior to the pristine circuitry within. A transparent buffer allows for long cable runs with no signal loss.
Tested with a Les Paul, a Stratocaster, and a Telecaster through a RedPlate Magica’s clean channel and a semi-cranked Komet Aero 33, the Archer quickly proved to be one of the sweetest overdrives I’ve played in a long while, both in function and in character of tone. With the Output knob at 10 o’clock, Gain at minimum, and Treble at noon, the Archer was right around unity gain and sounded virtually identical to my straight guitar-to-amp tone, other than perhaps just a hint of subtle sonic enhancement. Rolling Output up to noon induced a superbly clear, dynamic clean boost. Winding up the Gain slathered on more and more harmonic overdrive, but it all remained outstandingly transparent and delightfully touch sensitive. This is riff-all-day lead guitar goodness, and really hard to put down. I didn’t have an original Klon Centaur on hand, but have played them in the past, and the Archer certainly took me straight into that rarified zone. Maximum cool and an easy Editors’ Pick Award.
KUDOS Sweet, transparent, and surprisingly versatile boost and overdrive tones.
MARK SAMPSON REVOLVER
A sturdy brick of a pedal, yet impressively compact, the Revolver ($289) hides a stunning wealth of aural variety. This new member of JRAD’s Signature Series is a recreation of a stereo amp designed by Matchless founder Mark Sampson—and created in conjunction with him—with a few added bonus features. To give it its full description, the Revolver is a “stereo splitter boost/EQ with vibe and tremolo effects,” and you can use several of those features independently, or in combination. Stomping the on/off switch brings in the boost/EQ section, while Effect on/off engages the tremolo/vibe, according to whether one mini-toggle is set to Std or Pitch, respectively. A second mini-toggle selects Odd/Even (aka ping-pong or same-both- sides), and there are knobs for Volume, Tone, Speed, and Depth. You can engage the preamp without the vibe/trem effect, but not vice-versa. Extra coolness: In stereo/vibe mode, output “A” delivers a pitch/wah based vibe, while output “B” provides a standard vibe with slight pitch modulation. Choose one output or the other for either version in mono.
Tested with a Les Paul, a Stratocaster, and a Telecaster through a RedPlate Magica combo and a Komet Aero 33 with 1x12" cab for the full stereo effect, the Revolver proved a nifty box of tricks. Engaging just the preamp and tweaking the Volume and Tone controls to suit issued a thick yet jangly boost that did indeed put me in mind of Sampson’s class-A amp creations. Bringing in the modulation effect really expanded the sonic horizons, though, from a subtle, trenchant wobble at lower Depth settings, to a swirling, ping-ponging, sea-sickening throb with max stereo mayhem at advanced Depth settings. The stereo bounce of this thing really envelopes you and sends you spinning, and it proved an outstanding effect for anything from gentle texture to broad, multi-dimensional atmospherics to faux-Leslie tones, and more. Set to Std, it gives up a solid traditional tremolo, too. I could see some players wanting to access the effect without the boost, but the Revolver is a rich-sounding and cleverly conceived pedal, with near-boundless creative possibilities.
KUDOS Superb multi-dimensional vibe and trem sounds, and a juicy boost.
CONCERNS Would be cool to achieve boost and vibe/trem independently.