Review: KSR Ceres 3-Channel Preamp

This preamp lets you forget about what you’re plugged into and just enjoy an expressive experience with your guitar.
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Cincinnati-based KSR Amplification was founded in 2009 as a custom manufacturer. The company segued into standard production models in 2011 and has become known for behemoth tube heads like the Colossus and Orthos, which have won fans in the heavy-rock market with their searing high-gain lead channels and tight, thumping lows. Founder and proprietor Kyle Rhodes has now packed several of his most popular sounds into the Ceres 3-Channel Preamp to create a pedal that could become the cornerstone of many rock warriors’ favorite fly rig.

The first channel (Clean) is the most basic, offering controls for just level and tone. It can also be configured for simple buffered or true-bypass with no control functions. But it’s the second (Rhythm) and third (Lead) channels that will generate the most excitement, with their multitude of scorching guitar sounds. Both have five-knob, threes-witch control rows. The knobs govern gain, bass, middle, treble and level, while the switches include bright, a three-way feel switch (governing low-end tightness), and a three-way mode switch that determines gain characteristics (Ares crunch, Artemis/Gemini red mode, Colossus lead). There’s also an internal jumper to select an Ultra-Tight mode for use with potentially boomy power amps, and another for setting the brightness of the KSR logo, which lights up in use and changes color to indicate channel. The two foot switches include a Rhythm and Lead toggle and a bypass, and there’s a 1/8-inch TRS jack for remote switching. For power, the Ceres requires an external nine-volt DC supply of at least 200mA.

As with other such pedals hitting the market in recent years, the Ceres is intended to be connected to either a power amp, the FX loop return of a guitar amp, the front end of a clean guitar amp or the line-in of a cab-sim unit such as the Two Notes C.A.B. M reviewed here last issue. As such, it can also be DI’d into your recording interface, where you can add your own power-amp and cab-sim software via plug-ins in your DAW.

Using a Gibson Les Paul and a PRS DGT, I tested the Ceres into the loop returns of a Mesa/Boogie Mark Five:35 head and a Friedman Small Box head, using appropriate speaker cabs. I also tried it into the line-in of a Fryette Power Station tube power amp. To coin a phrase, the Ceres is rocktastic! I usually find something lacking in sandwich-sized preamp solutions, and to be fair, I won’t claim this feels or sounds entirely like playing straight through either of the first two amps name-checked here. But damn if this ain’t one hot, dynamic and versatile way to get your gig on when you don’t have your amp of choice handy or when you simply want to ditch the load and run into a supplied power amp. The Rhythm channel delivers great thickness and clarity alike, rolling from mild Plexi-like crunch to more saturated tones that work for contemporary blues-rock leads. Jump to Lead and there is all kinds of high-gain fun to be had, with excellent sustain, loads of thump and body, and impressive touch sensitivity.

Most importantly, though, I really liked my testing sessions, and any product that lets you forget about what you’re plugged into and just enjoy an expressive experience with your guitar is a success in my book. If anything, I’d like to hear a little more attitude and amp-ness from the Clean channel, but between the utter juiciness of the other channels and the flexible feel and mode switching, there’s a lot to love about this rugged pedal.


Ceres 3-Channel Preamp

PRICE $400 direct

CONTROLS (Clean) Level, tone. (Rhythm and Lead channels) Gain, bass, middle, treble, level. Bright switch, 3-way feel switch, 3-way mode switch
EXTRAS Two internal jumpers for selecting ultra-tight mode and adjusting the brightness of the KSR logo (which changes color to indicate channel). 1/8" TRS jack for remote switching
POWER SUPPLY External 9VDC (not included)
ENCLOSURE Aluminum, 5.7" x 4.7" x 1.7"

KUDOS A handy, versatile, and well-constructed “fly rig” preamp pedal with great-sounding Rhythm and Lead channels, particularly for the rock-minded player
CONCERNS The Clean channel could use a little more character