Taking different approaches to revving up your guitar sound , three new pedals by EarthQuaker Devices, XenoSoneX, and Seymour Duncan span from heavy tweak-ability to almost set-and-forget simplicity. Each pedal kicks up a storm in its own way, and, depending on your style and temperament, I could see picking one favorite, or running the entire trio all together.
TWEAKER’S DELIGHT: EARTHQUAKER DEVICES PALISADES
Inspired by the classic Tube Screamer, the Palisades ($249 street) takes a superhero approach to the typical mid-boosting overdrive. This handcrafted, made-in-Akron-Ohio pedal instantly wins style points with its splash of black paint over a sparkling white-glitter finish, but it really turns on the gritty charm when it’s deployed for drive and calls upon its super powers.
First, you get two separate gain channels with dedicated level controls. Gain A is low gain for raunchy rhythms, and Gain B is higher gain for singing sustain and solos. Second, an adjustable signal-level increase is activated by the Boost switch as long as you have Gain A or Gain B activate (there is no stand-alone boost option). Third, five Bandwidth settings select the frequency spectrum and further affect gain levels. For example, setting 1 delivers a stinging tone with a touch of added gain, setting 5 provides stout lows and heavier gain, and the other settings fall between the two extremes. Fourth, a six-position voicing knob unleashes the burn as follows: 1 = No Diodes (transparent and subtle distortion), 2 = LED Clipping (soft grit), 3 = Mosfet Clipping (still slight distortion, but with hyped harmonics), 4 = Asymmetrical Silicon Clipping (tight distortion akin to a Tube Screamer), 5 = Symmetrical Silicon Clipping (still tight but heavier distortion), and 6 + Schottky Diode Clipping (call it “fuzz”).
But there’s more.
The Palisades also offers a Tone knob, a Normal/Bright switch, and a Buffer switch (“On” kicks in the shimmer and “Off” produces warmth). Given all the features and parameters, the Palisades delivers a way more than generous array of awesome distortion sounds and tonal personalities. I enjoyed being able to call up everything from sweet harmonics to grungy garage-band tones to a slick bluesy crunch to aggressively pungent drive, and loads more. Even if you’re extremely particular about your distortion tones and impact, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be able to find something you’d like here. Of course, there’s also plenty to work with if you simply like to stomp and burn, or are seeking unique timbres to keep pace with an ever-evolving playing style. Whatever your approach, the super-powered Palisades offers myriad colors to keep you experimenting and inspired.
KUDOS Powerful. Versatile. Excellent sounds. True bypass.
CONCERNS Only if you’re prone to option anxiety.
ORGANIC DRIVER: XENISONEX BLUE ICE
The Blue Ice ($189 street) is nowhere near as complicated as the Palisades, and it’s not meant to be. This straightforward, easy-to-use pedal is designed to emulate vintage tube-amp overdrive with a minimum of fuss, and it does a terrific job at it. If you find that you get a bit nervous around multiple controls, the Blue Ice’s four simple knobs—Drive, Gain, Tone, and Volume—will be refreshingly clear and concise. I started out testing the pedal with every knob set to its 12 o’clock position, and was instantly impressed with the tough, rugged crunch. The Blue Ice produces all the lovely harmonics and cool overtones of early Fender and Marshall amps, and is therefore a near-perfect tool if you want your sound to veer more towards a ’70s classic rock vibe. At ruder settings, the pedal is more than capable of delivering a thick and powerful overdrive, but the sounds stay in the “throwback” camp by never getting overly muddy or squawky. In fact, I don’t know why XenoSoneX called this pedal “Blue Ice,” because there’s nothing cold or aloof about it. It’s a warm, organic-sounding overdrive for players seeking natural amp tones, rather than extreme buzzy sizzles.
KUDOS Yep. Classic-rock amp tone here. Rugged chassis. True bypass.
ONE KNOB, ONE SWITCH:
SEYMOUR DUNCAN PICKUP BOOSTER
One + one may appear butt simple, but Seymour Duncan’s sonic chops also make one + one very versatile. Put another way, the Pickup Booster ($99 street) may seem like a two-parameter pony with its single Gain knob and Pickup Resonance Switch, but it somehow manages to get a lot of tonal mileage out of those dual controls—especially if you wield a guitar with single-coil pickups. The Gain knob produces up to 25dB of signal level, which is a nice aggressive boost for smacking solos out of a band mix or transforming a relatively tame amp into a monster. Seymour Duncan claims that even with the Gain at 0dB, some technical mojo—well, actually a discrete, push/pull output stage—clarifies your guitar tone enough to provide the “impression” of a slight boost. That’s certainly what it did do, and it’s a good trick for those times when you may want a little more articulation without adding increased edge to a favorite clean sound.
The Pickup Resonance Switch interacts beautifully with your Gain settings to craft all manner of sparkling or ballsy tones. While designed, in part, to bestow single-coil guitars with two humbucker-style sounds (vintage and high-output), the switch can also add depth, impact, and saturation to humbucker-equipped instruments. It’s kind of hard to lose here, as the Pickup Booster pretty much improves whatever you plug into it. I found it wonderfully responsive to the character of my playing, as it magnified every detail of my dynamics, phrasing, and vibrato with sensitivity and precision. (Warning: Proceed with caution if you’re not warmed up, as it may also shine a bright spotlight on any technical misfires.) Every tone I got out of the Pickup Booster was beautifully transparent, and, depending on the setting, bell-like with airy and dimensional mids and highs, or warm and thick with stout low mids. A further bonus was the sound added a little extra magic to each of my effects. To modify a quote from The Big Lebowski, the Pickup Booster “really tied the pedalboard together!”
KUDOS Awesome boost. Transparent. Versatile. Gorgeous burgundy-glitter casing. True bypass.