When Ken Schaffer called me out of the blue during a typical day in the GP office in 2015, I wasn’t immediately certain where his rapid-fire dissertation on Filippo Olivieri and the Italian guitarist’s obsession with Angus Young’s AC/DC guitar tone was going. I certainly knew about his Schaffer-Vega wireless system of the ’70s, because I had owned one at some point. I didn’t know it was the secret sauce for Angus’ classic and iconic roar, and I never thought some crazed tone hound would not only unlock that mystery, but also start a company (SoloDallas) to manufacture a user-friendly version for the rigs and pedalboards of today.
Sometimes, you’re just glad you picked up the phone.
Olivieri’s passion certainly matched his R&D chops, as the SoloDallas TSR pedal ($369 direct) won an Editors’ Pick Award in our June 2015 review. The classic and retro EX Tower ($1,333 direct) received high praise in the January 2018 issue, and it narrowly missed another Editors’ Pick Award due to its higher price and slightly fragile construction. But the Storm ($335 direct) is my new favorite of the product line.
If you’re not familiar with what these devices do, it’s kind of a supernatural input/preamp spell that transforms your guitar tone into something with more articulate midrange frequencies that are stout and blissfully savage. I’m sure there was more science going on than a wizard’s wand, but when you plug in, you’ll definitely appreciate the magic.
The Storm is actually the result of further study into the original Schaffer-Vega circuitry, where Olivieri and crew discovered they had missed an optical limiter in the wireless system’s TX10 transmitter when producing the TSR pedal. Although the TSR possesses more headroom and midrange punch compared to the Storm, if you’re one of those sonic zealots who craves the most authentic Back in Black tone possible, the Storm is your baby.
Now, I’m a huge fan of AC/DC, but I’m not interested in chasing Angus’ sound. In fact, I don’t use the technology as an “always on” input preamp, as many players (including Guns N’ Roses guitarist Richard Fortus) have done with the EX Tower and TSR. I deploy the Storm as a clean boost to push my Vox AC30 into lovely natural sustain—a sustain that can be further enhanced by the Storm’s Optical Limiter and Output controls. [Note: Earlier models have the knobs cleverly, but perhaps confusingly labeled as Power, Storm, and Snap. Our test pedal had the labels more accurately notated as, respectively, Storm Boost, Output, and Optimal Limiter.] You see, to create different textures for solos and riffs, I always have three different gain options on my pedalboard—fuzz, distortion, and boost—and the Storm’s 25dB of clean boost does the job when I want a part to rumble fiercely, clearly, and organically. All of that Schaffer-Vega midrange voodoo is part of the tonal package, as well, making the Storm not just an awesome boost with smooth compression (no audible hiccups, pops, or other gremlins), but also a soaring burst of kick-ass that inspires me to play better. This is one of those pedals that’s as seductive as a mermaid’s song that echoes inside your head forever. Use the Storm once, and be lost.
KUDOS Magical tone.
CONCERNS The beatific bewitchment comes with a steep-ish price tag.