For years, I’ve been attempting to emulate the savage guitar tones on Reeves Gabrels’ 2003 live album, live…late…loud. For the most part, it has been an exercise of “you can’t get there (Gabrels) from here (me).” I had given up the chase until I received the Pro Tone Reeves Gabrels Distortion Engine ($229 direct; a dual version offering two independent Engines is $359). Finally, a fighting chance at crafting that impossibly loud, barbaric, saturated, and yet coherent distortion sound! Gabrels says that he and Pro Tone’s Dennis Mollan designed the Distortion Engine to be as amp-like as possible, to produce a low-noise floor at extreme Gain settings, and to “sound authentically fire-breathing in front of a loud, clean amp, such as a Hiwatt or Roland JC-120.” It definitely achieves the latter. In front of a friend’s JC-120—and even a Fishman Loudbox Mini acoustic amp—the Distortion Engine produced a mighty and chunky yowl that could pass for the roar of a Vox, Boogie, or Marshall combo.
But the hand-built-in-the-USA Engine really came alive for me—and I mean live… late…loud “alive”—when I used it with my AC30. The variable Gain delivers a huge amount of feral, natural-sounding overdrive/distortion without veering into buzzy fuzz flavors. It cleans up nice, using guitar volume or picking dynamics, but why would you want to mess with its unrestrained wail and howl? A big part of the magic here is the three EQ controls, which are incredibly musical, interactive, and aggressive. I could get every tone I needed with a few knob twists, and a Modern/Vintage switch adds or subtracts low mids for even more tonal flexibility. I’ve now used the Distortion Engine on many gigs, and I’m always thrilled and inspired by it.
Kudos: Versatile. Dynamic. Great EQ. Ferocious.