It appears to be a very good year for pedal zealots. Heck, we just reviewed more than 120 stompboxes in our annual Pedal-mania issue (June 2015), and new releases just keep on coming. The latest goodies include 65 Amps interpretation of classic fuzz boxes, Rupert Neve’s collaboration with Bogner, a big ol’ tube echo from Crucial Audio, and a Binson Echorec revamp by Italy’s Gurus.
65 AMPS COLOUR BENDER
As one of my prized possessions is a Mick Ronson Signature Tone Bender (apparently worth $640 today if the web is to be believed), I was intrigued to see how 65 Amps voiced their version of the classic, mid-’60s Sola Sound Tone Bender MKII. The Colour Bender ($295 street) uses three germanium transistors like the original, and while my era-appropriate Ronson remake offers Level and Attack controls, the new Bender adds a Hi/Lo gain switch, a Voice switch (normal and mid boost), and a truly bulletproof chassis. Like the Tone Benders of yore, the Colour Bender’s fuzz sound is to die for—dynamic (especially to adjustments of your guitar’s volume knob), articulate, full of spit and grit, and as aggressive as a cornered and starving panther. The modern features simply give you more options for a tone that’s already awesome. Experimenting with the two switches and a couple of different guitars, you can leave Ziggy Stardust behind and dial in caterwauling sustain, dying-battery fizz, nu-metal-like saturation, and a bunch of sonic stops in between. The Colour Bender is one of those products that proves vintage gear can definitely be improved upon without sacrificing a millimeter of vibe or attitude.
Kudos Ronson roar. Versatile. Tough.
65 AMPS COLOUR FACE
Featuring build quality that could survive a nuclear strike, handsome styling, and awesome sound, the Colour Face ($275 street) is a more civilized germanium fuzz pedal than I expected. It always felt well behaved, even when I dialed in extreme settings. Based on the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, it sports controls for Level, Fuzz, and a Stock/ Mod switch, which changes the character of the distortion. The Colour Face responds astoundingly well to picking dynamics. My favorite setting was with the toggle switch set to Stock, Level at 1 o’clock, and Fuzz at roughly 4 o’clock. By manipulating my guitar’s Volume and Tone controls, this setup gave me everything from a ’60s sizzle to raunchy ’90s Grunge, to blistering single notes that sustained for ages. Pleasant surprises include a logo that lights up when the pedal is engaged and near noise-free operation.
— Sam Haun
Kudos Tough. Versatile.
It appears that studio genius Rupert Neve may be getting back at all those ’60s guitarists who viciously overdrove his superb recording-console preamps to craft their dirty, gritty distortion sounds. And what better payback than to partner with Bogner to produce a distortion pedal like the Burnley ($229 street)? Of course, Bogner and the sophisticated Mr. Neve couldn’t resist enclosing this true-bypass buzz box in a weighty, high-end recording-studio-quality case and incorporating one of his excellent transformers (for an extra $50, you can even upgrade your Burnley to a bubinga faceplate—see the Wessex photo on p. 110). Not surprisingly, while the Burnley’s distortion is appropriately crunchy and saturated, it also sounds like a distortion tone that has already been mastered. It has an alive and edgy quality that jumps out of the mix without being primitive—as if the timbre was compressed, EQ’d, worried over, and refined to belligerent perfection. And, beyond of all that sonic wonder, I still have to giggle with pride when I look down at my pedalboard and see Rupert Neve’s signature etched on a stompbox. Wow.
Kudos A marvelous distortion in formal wear. LED tracks your picking dynamics. Exquisite construction.
How do you make the common boost pedal sexier than the common boost pedal? Add a transparent compressor with a single control. Genius. Bogner’s analog, true-bypass booster brings Rupert Neve’s studio-design chops to a relatively simple effect with tremendous results. In fact, the Harlow ($229 street; $279 for bubinga faceplate) reminds me of my beloved Focusrite Red 3 Compressor that was so transparent I could squash the bloody hell out of a vocal and it would sit right in the mix, but sound clear and dimensional—no murkiness, pumping and breathing, or other artifacts. This puppy delivers near the same audio quality. I can crank the Harlow’s Level to get my solos over a band mix, and then dial in the Bloom (compression) until every note stands out with stout authority, but still sounds articulate, punchy, and fabulously inyour- face. There’s no “catch” where some pedal compressors grab your pick attacks, or produce pops, or cause yo-yoing volume levels, or do anything that compromises your preferred tone. The Harlow is simultaneously feral, sophisticated, high-tech, and awesome.
Kudos Killer boost. One-knob compressor. LED tracks your picking dynamics. Exquisite construction.
Bogner obviously makes some great amps, and the marriage of the company’s amplifiervoicing skills with a Rupert Neve transformer makes the Wessex ($229 street; $279 for bubinga faceplate) one hell of a natural, organic, and transparent overdrive. The Wessex appears to “collaborate” with your favorite amp, giving it more drive, bite, and crunch without hijacking the tone. It still sounds like your amp—there just seems to be more of its inherent, kick-ass goodness. What you don’t get is something that sounds like your amp with a tone-sucking pedal in the signal chain. Of course, if you want to mess around with your sound, the Wessex provides Bass and Treble controls, and an “enhanced” mode that widens the frequency range with slightly jacked-up lows and highs. In fact, by turning down the Gain, you can even deploy the Wessex as a mostly clean, colored boost. If your tastes groove to classic rock and blues—and you prefer plugging straight into an amp, rather than using a lot of pedals—the Wessex could be just the thing to add a little stank to your rig without getting too pungent.
Kudos Organic, tube-amp-like grit. LED tracks your picking dynamics (Note: Controls should be set higher than the other Bogner pedals to start the LED flashing). Exquisite construction.
CRUCIAL AUDIO ECHO-NUGGET
Wow. The Echo-Nugget ($599 direct) is one hefty pedal. The 3lb, extruded-aluminum chassis is absolutely designed to be tour tough, but the cigar-box-sized enclosure will also devour a hefty chunk of space on your pedalboard, and it can only be powered with the included 16VAC power supply. The USA-made pedal cuts a charmingly old-school look, with chicken-head knobs, boutique-like artwork, medium-sized status LEDs, and Hi and Low input jacks. Inside, you get bucket-brigade analog circuitry, and a high-voltage, low-noise vacuum tube preamp utilizing a pair of 12AX7s—an exciting prospect for players who crave vintage echo. And the Nugget does not disappoint. There’s 100ms up to 500ms of delay time on tap, with control over Time, Repeats, and Mix for the Analog Delay section, and Output and Tone knobs for the Output Level preamp. In fact, the preamp section can be run independent of the delay, if you simply want to hit the front end of your amp harder, or pump up the volume for a solo. The delays are gorgeous. Warm, clear, and with just enough sweet buzziness to showcase the vintage-like, analog sonics. An LED pulses to the timing you’ve dialed in, and there’s no tap tempo option, so you’re definitely in the world of old school—especially as the Echo-Nugget should be warmed up for ten minutes before you start using it in order to get the best sound. If you settle for nothing less than exceptional manufacturing and audio quality, this extraordinary gold box is well worth the pedalboard real estate you’ll sacrifice to make it a part of your rig.
Kudos Superb sound. High-quality. Tough. Standalone preamp.
Concerns Pricey. Big.
GURUS ECHOSEX 2º
Stuffed full of tubes, with a motor driving a spinning magnetic-recording disc, the Italian-made Binson Echorec was a secret weapon of European crooners of the late ’50s and early ’60s, and later of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and David Gilmour. Though it suffered the pitfalls of most vintage electro-mechanical devices, a good original one is ungodly expensive today. Enter Gurus of Italy, which has undertaken the challenge of making “that sound” available again in a rugged, portable package dubbed the Echosex 2º ($399 street; note that a run of 500 “guitar optimized” units celebrating Gurus’ 20th anniversary are also available).
This all-analog delay is built into a sturdy folded-steel housing with a nifty etched plexiglas top, and with a little window revealing the 12AX7 tube drive stage, backlit in green like the “magic eye” on an Echorec. Delay comes courtesy of a PT2399 processor—no moving parts here—and Gurus has gone a long way toward providing functions to emulate the original Echorec experience. Controls include Volume Echo (intensity), Echo (delay time), Bass-Treble, Length of Swell (repeats), and something dubbed “Age of Damage”—a clever function that emulates the level of “mechanical” wear, resulting in increased modulation as you wind it up. The delay range runs from 60ms to 660ms, roughly twice the longest echo of the original Echorec, and there are dip switches that affect Input and Output levels for different rig configurations, plus Delay Stop/Decay capabilities. The unit requires an external 9–12VDC supply (not included).
I tested the Echosex 2º in the front end of both a tweed Fender Deluxe and a Marshall JTM45, and in the loop of a Fryette Power Station driven by the latter. The pedal is not true bypass, so the circuit always juices your tone in a fat, rich way that was also characteristic of the original Binson, which a lot of players will dig. Rather than ranting about “Gilmour lead tones” and “Edge-like repeats,” let me just say this thing sounds superb. The echoes are lush and warm. The slapbacks I dialed in for rockabilly riffing could have come from any of several tape echoes I used to own. Longer atmospheric delays with some Age of Damage warble added texture and dimensionality. You don’t get multiple head options, and I haven’t played an original Echorec for at least a dozen years, but this unit really impressed me. Short of paying $3kplus for the real thing—and hoping it survives to the next gig—the Echosex 2º is a fab way to bring back that sweet vintage analog echo tone.
Kudos Sturdy design. Lush analog echoes. Versatile. Tube-conditioned bypass tone.
Contact gurusamps.it; 703-919-0194 (U.S. dealer)