THERE’S NO DOUBT THAT GUITAR PLAYERS HAVE A HUGE ARENA to play in when it comes to effects pedals. Never in the history of electric guitar have there been so many companies—from large corporations to one-man operations—devoted to creating compact effects for what would appear to be an insatiable market. It’s unusual to find an electric player who doesn’t have at least a couple of stompboxes on the floor, and while not all are as effects-centric as, say, Oz Noy or Omar Rodriguez Lopez, the vast majority of guitarists making albums these days are taking advantage of stompbox technology for their distortion, modulation, and just plain whacked-out sounds.
The thing is that regardless of whether you’re a seasoned pro or a guitar novice, the urge to try new stompboxes is equally irresistible. You might start out with a modest setup of distortion, modulation, and delay boxes, but the lure to add “spotlight” effects to spice up your set will almost inevitably lead you down the road toward larger and more sophisticated pedalboards. “Go big or go home” seems to be the deal nowadays when it comes to effects rigs—even many bass players are carrying boards long enough to surf on—and judging by the number of new pedals that arrive at our offices each month, stompbox makers are definitely pushing out new designs as quickly as possible to satisfy the demand.
We recently corralled 20 pedals and ran them though their paces using various Danelectro, Fender, Fernandes, Gibson, and PRS guitars. Our test amps included a Budda Twinmaster combo, a Fender Deluxe Reverb, a Kendrick 20th Anniversary BadAssMan, an Orange Tiny Terror, a Victoria VIC105, and four Blackheart heads ranging in power from one to 100 watts.
Analog Man ARDX20 Dual Analog Delay
Sporting two separate footswitchable analog delays, each with its own set of Time, Feedback, and Level controls, the ARDX20 Dual Analog Delay ($265 retail/street price N/A) basically jams two of Analog Man’s über-popular—and discontinued—AR20DL delays into one box. That’s not the whole story, however, as the ARDX20, which contains 600ms of maximum delay time, also sports an effects loop that is activated when the delay is kicked on and only effects the delayed sound. This is a super-cool feature, as it’s the perfect place in the signal chain for modulation effects, or even a volume pedal. Another reason for control freaks to rejoice is the addition of an expression-pedal jack, which can be used to control the delay time on one of the pedal’s channels. Super hip for sure, but upgrades don’t mean squat if the delays don’t sound good, right? Never fear, because the ARDX20 offers killer sounding analog delays for days. I set one side for a short, natural-sounding slapback, and the other for a long, swirling repeat, and bathed in the glory that only warm analog delay trails can give you. Red and Orange LEDs tell you which channel is active, while two LEDs near the footswitch flash the delay time. The beauty of the ARDX20 is that even without the fancy new additions, it’s a stunning dual-channel delay pedal. Well worthy of an Editors’ Pick Award. —Darrin Fox
KUDOS An amazing sounding delay with awesome real-time control possibilities.
Barge Concepts BB-1 Standard
On a tour of the Roland Museum in Japan, I was able to glimpse the rare Roland AF-100 BeeBaa boost/fuzz pedal. The first pedal Barge manufactured was a faithful copy of the AF-100, right down to the hard-to-adjust front mounted knobs. Responding to customer comments, Barge designed the new BB-1 Standard ($170 retail) to have the three BeeBaa sounds in a more traditional layout with top-mounted Boost, Volume, Tone, and Sustain controls; as well as, Bypass, Fuzz/Boost, and Tone Select switches.
According to Barge, the BB-1 is electronically a clone of the original BeeBaa. The only differences include the addition of LEDs and external power, none of which are in the audio signal path. In Fuzz mode the BB-1 offers plenty of smooth, Fripp-like fuzz. I plugged the pedal into my computer using Native Instrument’s Guitar Rig’s Twang amp model. Minimizing the sustain and stepping on the Tone switch I got a cool raspy rhythm tone. The Tone control works whether or not the Tone switch is engaged, which toggles between the two different fuzz modes. With it off, the fuzz sound is huge with plenty of low end, and the Tone control effect is subtle. With the Tone switch on (green LED), the sound is thinner and the control sweeps widely from warm tones to paint–peeling edge. With the Sustain full up you can leave your Ebow at home, as many of the notes continue seamlessly into continuous controlled feedback. The BB-1 is also remarkably quiet.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Boost mode, in which the BB-1 proffers clean, transparent boost. The Boost level control is active in this mode only. Helping a Danelectro Pro push a Reverend Hellhound, the boosted sound was identical to the unboosted sound—just more distorted. Its lack of coloration and range of drive—from line buffering to amp pummeling—makes the pedal worth owning for this effect alone. —Michael Ross
KUDOS Super transparent boost. Smooth, quiet fuzz. Gobs of sustain.
CONCERNS Not for fans of nasty fuzz.
Barge Concepts BP-1
The BP-1 ($165 retail, as tested) is modeled on the impossible-tofind, vintage Interfax HP-1 Harmonic Percolator, a fuzz/overdrive effect that was designed to enhance even harmonics while suppressing the odd ones. Barge has added input/output buffering and a true bypass, but vintage fanatics can disable the output buffer with an internal slide-switch and/or the input buffer using the panel mounted Drive switch. The Drive circuit is a variable-gain input buffer added to the Interfax design; the pot varies the amount of gain provided by the input buffer from 0-20dB. The model I tested came with controls labeled Drive, Output, Balance, and Harmonics, along with Bypass and Drive footswitches. I have not heard a Harmonic Percolater, but if it sounds anything like the BP-1, I can see why it’s so coveted. Suffice it to say that the controls are extremely interactive and offer an incredible range of greatsounding vintage-style distortion tones—from slightly broken up “tweed” to broken amp blat. With the Drive off, and the Harmonics control set low, the Balance control adds natural, uncompressed distortion. Increasing the Harmonics level brings on some tube-like compression for more sustain. Kicking in the Drive with the Harmonics set low acts as a footswitchable boost. Adding Drive to a higher Harmonic setting starts edging into fuzz territory in the best way. Twisting and turning the knobs I couldn’t get an unusable sound; within its parameters of American distortion the BP-1 covered it all from down home blues to smooth fusion. And if that wasn’t enough, diming the Harmonics knob offers a radical bit-reduction sound, without the usual attendant sustain loss. In fact, with the Drive and Harmonics all the way up, the sustain was virtually limitless. Through my Orange head and a Reverend Hellhound combo, whether using a Danelectro Pro, a Fernandes S-style with Van Zandt pickups, or a 1965 Fender Strat with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups, the BP-1 sounded natural, dynamic, warm, and full of character. It’s one of the best overdrive/ distortion/fuzz pedals I have ever heard and it earns an Editors’ Pick Award. —Michael Ross
KUDOS Offers wide variety of terrific sounding overdrive and fuzz tones. Natural sounding and extremely dynamic in lower distortion settings.
Barge Concepts RC-3 Compressor
Using the long-gone Ross compressor as a starting point, the RC-3 ($155 retail) is packaged in a smaller housing and sports three set-screw pots on the top labeled Volume, Sustain and Decay. The Decay control is more often called “attack,” but the effect is the same: it adjusts the amount of squash on the initial attack. An internal bass enhancement switch enhances the low-end response, and for $15 extra, Barge will install an external toggle switch to perform this function without having to remove the back cover.
I plugged in a Burns Steer with a splitable humbucker in the bridge and a single-coil neck pickup. Playing first through an Orange Tiny Terror head into a custom 1x12 bottom with an Eminence Texas Heat speaker, I found that the RC-3 was fairly transparent, trimming just a little high-end sparkle, but permitting the character of the instrument to come through regardless of the amount of compression. The Decay adjustment allowed me to emulate both Boss and MXR compression levels but with less tone loss. The bass enhancement feature is subtle but audible. Those seeking the original Ross sound, or who use hollowbody guitars that are prone to boom, may want to switch it off. Baritone players will likely appreciate the slight bass boost that comes with leaving it on. Whether your thing is classic country, ambient washes, or any other guitar style that requires compression, you should give this cool squeezebox a tryout. —Michael Ross
KUDOS Clean, quiet, transparent compression at a reasonable price.
Barge Concepts VFB-2 Variable Feedback & Blend Bypass Looper
The most unusual pedal offered by Barge is the VFB-2 ($125 retail), a buffered effects looper with a feedback option. It features a Clean Blend control and a footswitchable, variable Feedback control. This pedal worked well for taking a Fender Blender fuzz—a tone-sucking but cool-sounding effect—completely out of the signal path when not in use. The Clean Blend control let me mix my clean signal with the output of the effects loop, and then send that signal to the buffered output jack—a handy feature with my Nano Clone pedal, which has no blend control of its own. The real fun begins with the VFB-2’s Feedback switch, which permits you to kick in a feedback control circuit that adjusts the amount of signal that is fed to the send jack. A rotary knob sets the degree of feedback. This feature only works on certain effects; with the Nano Clone, as well as some standard distortion boxes, it merely removed all signal. But when it works, wow! Placing the aforementioned Fender Blender or an Ampeg Scrambler in the VFB-2 loop with the feedback engaged resulted in wild, random octave jumps. And with the Scrambler, extreme feedback settings caused self-oscillation, tunable with the Ampeg’s Texture and Balance controls. Major wackiness was achieved by plugging an Alesis Bitman (discontinued) into the loop. Feeding its signal back through the unit and manipulating the Ring Modulator and Phaser speed controls produced a blip and bleep festival, with a wide variety of sounds and effects coming off a single note struck on the guitar. The VFB-2 is a useful tool for any effect user and a must have for experimentally minded players. —Michael Ross
KUDOS Good for adding blend control and on/off LED to effects that don’t have these features. Feedback circuit great for creating unique effects.
Cornell Overdrive Special
U.K.-based amp designer Denis Cornell has been churning out a line of boutique amps for a few years now, but the dude knows stompboxes too. As well he should, as Cornell worked for Arbiter in the ’60s on the circuit for the original Fuzz Face. Cornell’s Overdrive Special ($430 retail/ $320 street) is a dual-channel pedal that offers separate Gain controls for each channel, a global Output control and EQ mini-switch, and an adjustable, footswitchable Boost function that can be used on either channel for up to +15dB of juicy boost .
With my Telecaster running through a Fender Deluxe Reverb, Channel One pounded the amp’s front-end with a merciless amount of output. With the Gain control halfway up, and the Output barely halfway, my normally twangy setup was singing like a bird with a musical distortion that sounded more like a cranked amplifier than an overdrive pedal. With humbuckers, the intense, cranked-amp-like crunch got bolder and more badass, whether I was running through a small Fender combo or through a 4x12 Marshall setup. I could even turn the Gain all the way down, crank the Output for a brutal clean boost, and then use the Boost control to kick the festivities up to a whole new level of touch-sensitive grind and sustain. Very, very nice—a slew of different tones from a buttsimple control set.
Channel Two sports a smoother midrange response and a tad more gain. This channel in cahoots with The Boost feature is where I encountered Fripp-like cartoonish sustain and more severe overthe- top distortion. However, like Channel One, all of the tones are über-dynamic, cleaning up beautifully when you roll back your guitar’s volume. The EQ toggle is rather subtle as it shaves off some high end when flipped to the right. For the most part I never messed with it. If you dig the tone of your guitar and amp, the Overdrive Special will only enhance them. That, my friends, is the sign of a killer pedal. —Darrin Fox
KUDOS Ultra-Dynamic tones from subtle grind to over-the-top sustain and a versatile feature set.
Cornell T.M. Boost
Offering Treble, Middle, and Gain controls, and a Channel footswitch, the T.M. Boost ($360 retail/$270 street) is an easy-to-grok booster with the added versatility of channel switching. When the Red Channel is engaged, only the Treble control is functional, yielding a hefty volume boost and a formidable jacking-up of your treble frequencies too. In Green channel mode, you’re afforded the Gain and Middle controls, which put forth a big volume boost with the addition of an aggressively voiced Middle control. With a Telecaster driving a mid-’70s Marshall JMP 50-watt head through an old Fender 2x12 loaded with an Eminence Red Coat and Celestion Heritage speakers, I pummeled the front-end of the amp with the Green channel as I cranked the Middle control for an ungodly amount of fat, dare I say “womanesque” tone from the rear pickup of my Telecaster! Pretty bawdy for sure. Conversely, with the red channel I coaxed some aggressive, razor-sharp tones that would be perfect on a Ziggy Stardust track. Don’t let the lack of controls fool you. The T.M. Boost gives you a ton of textures—providing you get them from your hands and picking attack rather than, say, simply turning a knob. The only flaw with the T.M. Boost, however, was the unit’s battery compartment. Although it’s the same type of compartment as the Overdrive Special, the T.M.’s compartment was simply too big, allowing the 9-volt battery to move around. I made a quick fix by folding a piece of cardboard inside the compartment to fashion a tighter fit, and if you use the pedal’s power jack, it’s a moot point. The T.M. Boost sounds absolutely wonderful and will supercharge any rig with added dynamics and roar and everything in-between. —Darrin Fox
KUDOS Tons of grind textures that are as dynamic and sultry as a tube amp.
CONCERNS A pedal that kicks this much ass should have a better battery compartment.
Danelectro Cool Cat Fuzz CF-2
Featuring Fuzz, Treble/Bass, and Volume controls, the CF-2 ($69 retail/ $59 street) also has a set of internal controls that alter the response of the fuzz circuit. Removing the battery hatch provides access to an Input Sensitivity trim-pot that adjusts the level of guitar signal that hits the fuzz circuit, and a 3-position DIP switch that adds LEDs to the circuit to create more compression and, hence, sustain. According to the manual, setting #1 adds two red LEDS to produce more clipping and sustain. Setting #2 activates four green LEDs to provide less clipping with a mild increase in sustain. Setting #3 brings on two green LEDS to increase compression and brighten the sound. The colors of the LEDS are meaningless because you can’t actually see them, but the DIP settings do make a difference in the sounds.
The CF-2 appears to mix straight signal with fuzz, as playing through it is like hearing the clean and effected sounds in parallel. It’s a different thing than you get from a classic Fuzz Face or Tonebender, and some players may like this more than others. With the DIP switch off and the tone control about three-quarters up, the result is skinny/buzzy fuzz that can become fartier and more “dying transistor”-like as you turn the Fuzz knob down. Conversely, putting the tone control at nine o’clock or lower thickens the fuzz for a meatier-sounding grind. Going to the DIP switch and activating setting #1 results in a squashier feel with a rounder fuzz. There’s also some volume loss (ditto for all the DIP positions) that you have to adjust for with the Volume control. Setting #2 produces the CF-2’s most “amp”-like tones, with a warmer and more gutsy fuzz sound (my favorite), while position #3 is very similar to setting #1, but with a little more edge. I found the Input Sensitivity control useful for dialing in the fuzz with different guitars, but if you go too high with it, the noise increases substantially. All in all, the CF-2 packs an impressive amount of control into a small and very affordable package. If you like to tweak your sounds, you’ll want to give this pedal a shot. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Delivers a variety of fuzz flavors and dynamic responses. True bypass switching.
CONCERNS Battery door isn’t permanently attached.
Lots of pedals have “valve” in their name, but the Nu- Valve actually uses two Nuvistors—miniature vacuum tubes introduced by RCA in 1959 to compete with the early transistors. These thimble-sized triodes (which have metal covers and are about the same diameter as transistors from the ’50s) require that the Nu-Valve be powered by an external 9-volt adapter only, and there are vents on both sides of the die-cast housing to allow heat to escape. The Nu-Valve is true bypass, and it has Volume, Gain, Tone, and Voice controls, and an LED status indicator.
Hermida says that this pedal is designed to be edgier sounding than the other solid-state pedals in the line— including the famous Zendrive—and depending on how you set the Tone and Voice controls, you certainly can get a lot of bite from it. That said, there are plenty of meaty distortion textures available here too. The Nu-Valve excels at tube-style overdrive with a British accent, and it has plenty of gain range to cover anything from blues to rock to classic metal. The dynamic response is excellent, and the Voice control doesn’t radically alter the sound, but rather functions like an amp’s presence control to allow you to fine-tune the top-end for exactly the distortion textures you want from humbucker or single-coil pickups. The Nu-Valve can also deliver a lot of output regardless of where the Gain knob is set, which makes it abundantly useful as a tube-powered booster for overdriving your amp’s front end. What a sweet pedal, and well deserving of an Editors’ Pick Award. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Excellent tube-sounding distortion.
MXR Fullbore Metal
The folks at MXR have spared no effort in packaging hellfire tones in their new Fullbore Metal ($170 retail/$99 street), which combines extremely high-gain distortion capability with an allencompassing EQ section that includes not only Low, Mid, and High controls, but also a variable Frequency control for the mids and a Scoop switch that delivers a preset boost to the lows and highs. Also included is a Gate switch that nukes high-gain noise (which there’s not much of) and facilitates tight, machine-like riffing. The gate was set very aggressively on our test model, but there’s an internal control for adjusting the trigger sensitivity. The Fullbore sports all-analog circuitry and true-bypass switching, and its compact enclosure wears a no-nonsense, brushed-aluminum finish. A 5.5mm x 2.1mm adapter jack allows use with an external power supply (not included), which might be a good option since access to the battery requires removing the bottom plate.
The Fullbore has a single-minded agenda and a few twists of the knobs was all it took to make the clean channel of our Kendrick BadAssMan 4x10 combo churn out a badass metal tone with gobs of sustain, eviscerated mids, and thumping lows. Riffs sound massive though this pedal, but even better, single-note lines also sound nice and meaty. There’s no shortage of output either, which you could find handy for driving long lengths of cable and/or pushing your amp into overdrive frenzy. The Frequency knob dramatically expands the range of the Mid control, and by sweeping them both around a bit it was easy to get wickedsounding tones with all of our guitars. The name says it all, and if you’re seeking a one-way ticket to the tone zones of Metallica or Pantera, the Fullbore Metal is something you’ll want to hear. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Ultra-high gain. Powerful EQ. Lots of output.
Toshihiko Tanabe, a retired advertising executive and guitar enthusiast in Kawasaki, Japan, manufactures boutique pedals as a hobby. The Zenkudo ($310 direct), which was the first pedal that Tanabe developed, reveals in its appearance and control labeling a close similarity to the Hermida Zendrive, developed by Alfonso Hermida to elicit the sound of Robben Ford’s Dumble amp tone. Tanabe’s Zenkudo and Dumkudo pedals are, in fact, substantial redesigns of the Zendrive pedal to the point where they have become different circuits. Tanabe tell us that he redesigned the circuit to get closer to his ideal of the Dumble sound, and that he also added a 3-position switch on the side of the housing that cycles through three modes: Zenkudo, Marshall, and Dumble. The LED indicator also changes from blue to red to green to indicate which mode that the pedal is in. As an owner and player of several Dumble amps since the late 70’s, I am always anxious to compare the recent and various “Dumblein- a-box” pedals that have been appearing in the boutique pedal market. Does Zenkudo sound like a Dumble amp? Yes, as with the Hermida Zendrive or entirely different circuit architecture of the Custom Tones Ethos pedal, it excels at achieving the famed Dumble overdrive tone. If you have the chops, you can certainly sound like most of the classic 90’s Dumble players, such as Robben Ford or Larry Carlton, with the Zenkudo. To my ears, the Zenkudo is actually a bit more hi-fi and detailed sounding than the Zendrive pedal or a Dumble amp. It also sounds less compressed and responds more dynamically to your playing. Experiencing the Zenkudo, the Zendrive, the Ethos, and a Dumble Overdrive Special could be compared to visiting three five-star restaurants; each is are uniformly excellent, though you might prefer one over another depending on the situation. —Henry Kaiser
PROS Quiet. Terrific variety of tones. Responsive controls.
CONS Pricey. Low contrast between control labels and abalone background can make it difficult to read labels on dark stage.
The Dumkudo ($310 direct) is simply a higher-gain version of the Zenkudo (see page 95) designed to work better with single-coil pickups. I like the extremely high-gain tones that you can get from this pedal when using humbucking or active pickups. Fans of the highest- gain Dumble tones—as in the classic slide playing of Lowell George and David Lindley with their ’70s-era Dumbles—might prefer the Dumkudo, whereas the Zenkudo might be a better choice for those preferring subtle, more controlled tones. Again, the three modes produce quite different sounds and sonic behaviors. The green mode reminds me of the ’70s Dumbles, while the blue mode is more in the ’80s Dumble vein, and the red mode is both Marshall-y and Dumble-y at the same time. —Henry Kaiser
KUDOS Quiet. Terrific aggressive tones with higher-output pickups. Excellent modern classic tones with single-coil pickups.
CONCERNS Pricey. Low contrast between control labels and abalone background can make it difficult to read the controls on stage.
Tanabe Twin Custom
The larger housing of the Twin Custom($550 direct) is designed to accommodate any combination of two Zumkudo and Dumkudo pedals. The double Zenkudo version on review here offers a staggering range of tones. Overdriving the input of the second stage with the first circuit took sustain and timbre off into new territories that no single pedal could achieve alone. And when routed directly into the mixing console in the studio, the twin Zenkudo version sounded more like a good amplifier with a mic on it, providing outstanding note detail, dynamics, and tonal complexity. Given a choice of what to put in a Twin Custom, I would select a Zenkudo/Dumkudo pairing for classic sounds, or two Dumkudos for sheer over-the-top intensity and sustain. It’s worth noting that the Twin Custom (or any of the other Tanabes) may be ordered with a lighter colored simulated pearl top, which makes it easier to read the control labeling. —Henry Kaiser
KUDOS Quiet. Extremely versatile. A wide variety of both subtle and powerful tones.
CONCERNS Very pricey.
The Sunkudo ($310) is a refinement of the Burns Buzzaround fuzz, an early-’70s pedal favored by Robert Fripp, who used it in both early-’70s King Crimson and during his initial collaborations with Brian Eno. The Sunkudo’s Fuzz, Sustain, and Volume controls are highly interactive, which means that it may not be easy to dial in the tone you want in just a few seconds. But with the investment of some time you can find an incredible variety of singing vintage fuzz sounds—including those classic Robert Fripp tones. The original Buzzaround circuit was quite a different animal from the Fuzz Faces and Tonebenders of its vintage, and the Sunkudo is very different from most fuzzes on the market today. It has its own sound and behavior, particularly in the way different harmonics of the guitar signal will leap out in lovely sustained feedback at higher gain settings. Since Tanabe apparently likes to have four knobs on his boxes, he has added a fourth control to adjust the brightness of the LED. —Henry Kaiser
KUDOS Quiet. Very different-sounding from other fuzzes. Unusual vintage tones. Powerful, beautiful, and potentially scary sounds here.
CONCERNS Pricey. No external power jack (jack option is available).
Tonehunter Hot Tuna
Hand-built in Cologne, Germany, the Hot Tuna ($429 retail/street price N/A) is designed to deliver heavy grind tones that range from “plexi” to “Rectifier.” The unit features top-quality components and a rugged interior layout that includes a neat PC board circuit with chassis-mounted pots and footswitch, and hand-wired connections to the board. The Hot Tuna’s controls consist of Blow (volume), Voice (tone), and Burn (gain). There are also two mini-toggle switches labeled Chili and Dip. The true-bypass circuit features a mechanical footswitch, and there’s a 2.1mm adapter jack on the front side of the die-cast enclosure.
The Hot Tuna can unleash massive output—even at low gain settings—and jacking up the Burn and Blow controls produces a combination of distortion and output that will turn even the cleanest amp into a fierce grind machine. It has a thick, fuzzy tonality that metal players will appreciate, but the Voice control is key to getting what you want for your particular style. Settings of two o’clock and higher really bring on the fuzz rage, while turning it to ten o’clock or lower mellows the bite for a more tube-sounding presentation. The Chili switch toggles between a bold, presence-y response and a skinnier tone with less midrange, the latter of which could be perfect for sitting a part in a dense track. The Dipswitch noticeably enhances the low-end mass when activated, and is useful for getting maximum grunt from low-tuned guitars. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Kickass rock/metal tones. Excellent build quality.
CONCERNS Very expensive.
Xotic Effects EP-Booster
Based on the preamp stage of an EP-3 Echoplex— which has been used by Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Johnson and others as a guitar-signal booster/ conditioner—the EP-Booster ($145 retail/street price N/A) is a super-compact unit (3.5" x 1.5" x 1.5") that features a discreet FET preamp with a low-output impedance that makes it well suited for driving long lengths of cable (as well as other effects) without loss of highs or signal. The unit has a quality feel and it looks cool too with its clear plastic Gain knob, blue LED on a black face plate, and buffed zinc housing. A 2.1mm adapter jack is installed for those who don’t want the trouble of removing the bottom pate to change a battery. Bass Boost and Bright switches also reside inside, and Xotic recommends using the “off” positions on both for an authentic EP-3 response.
Though butt simple, the EP-Booster could easily become an essential element on your pedalboard. Even when using moderate boost with the Gain knob less than halfway up, the EP made everything sound fatter, juicier, and well, more vibey. Cranking the EP-Booster’s Gain knob to maximum pushed all of our clean amps into thick distortion that could be easily controlled via the guitars’ volume knobs. In this mode, the boost sounded perfectly balanced with no tendencies to get shrieky or splattery—even when the EP’s Bright switch was on (which actually is a flat setting). The Bass Boost switch is also useful for making single-coil guitars sound a littler thicker and tougher. No quibbles; the EPBooster is an highly useful sonic tool and it earns an Editors’ Pick Award. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Makes everything sound fatter and cooler. Minimal footprint lets it fit just about anywhere.
Zachary Vex designed the Distortron ($149 retail/street price N/A) to sound and respond like a vintage Marshall JTM45 amplifier with all of its controls maxed—and damned if it doesn’t. Sporting the same distortion circuit as the hand-painted and somewhat more expensive Box of Rock, but adding a mini-toggle Gain switch for a Tufnel-approved saturation boost, a 3-way Subs switch that lets you optimize the low frequencies to match your amp’s bottom end (setting 3 produces the same subs as the Box of Rock), and highly versatile Tone and Drive controls, the Distortron is one mean classic rock machine. True-bypass switching and simple-but-elegant silkscreen graphics enhance the package.
This little pedal impressed me from the first note, and no matter how I tweaked the knobs and switches it never sounded bad. The Volume control offers a massive boost if desired, Tone sweeps a sonically pleasing range from dark and muffled to ultra-bright, and even incremental changes to the Drive control result in different flavors of plexi-inspired goodness. But what really blew me away was how the Distortron responded to playing dynamics and adjustments to my guitar’s volume control. Slight pressure and angle changes in picking were immediately reflected in the sound, individual note definition within chords was superb, and even with the Gain set to Hi and the Drive control at three o’clock, I could go from full-on ’60s crunch to edgy midrange grind to slightly crispy clean tones by simply rolling back the guitar volume.
If you play rock, blues, or any other style of music that would benefit from old-school Marshall mojo—especially if you can’t afford an original or reissue JTM45—the Distortron may be your ticket to Tone Town. —Barry Cleveland
KUDOS Packs a plethora of plexi-inspired tones into a pint-sized pedal.
Tonehunter Juicy Fruit
‘The Juicy Fruit ($543 retail/street price N/A) is identical in every aspect to the Hot Tuna, save for its two mini-toggle switches, which are labeled Vitamin and Protein. The Tonehunter folks state that this pedal is recommended for fans of “California juice tone,” and while it’s not exactly clear what that means, the Juicy Fruit is a more laid back companion to the Hot Tuna, and is intended for blues players, rockers, and modern jazzers. The Fruit’s raison d’etre is tube-flavored distortion. It has lots of output too, and can deliver a hot signal regardless of where the Burn (gain) control is set. The Voice control offers plenty of top-end slice, but can also elicit very buttery tones at lower settings. My favorite way to use this pedal with a PRS 22 was to put the Voice knob a little south of halfway, the Burn knob nearly all the way up, and the Protein switch at its upward setting (for maximum gain and ballsiness—a configuration that nicely accommodated the 22’s slightly reduced output when using it in split mode. The Juicy’s lack of super-high-gain capability may be a dealbreaker to some, but if you like the concept of a tube-style pedal that doesn’t add a lot of its own color to the sound, then the Juicy Fruit could be a tasty addition to your tone menu. —Art Thompson
KUDOS Clear, tube-like distortion. Lots of output.
CONCERNS Very expensive.
TWA Little Dipper LD-01
With blindingly bright LEDs in the shape of a popular constellation, as well as one of the most hilarious Japan-centric user manuals I’ve ever seen, the TWA Little Dipper LD-01 ($300 retail/street price N/A) blurs the line between envelope filter, talk box, and just plain whackedout effect. Sporting Ascension, Diffraction, and Inclination controls, as well as two internal trimpots that adjust the wet/dry signal and the onboard noise gate’s threshold, the Little Dipper gets freaky the minute you plug it in. The Ascension knob controls the depth and threshold of the filter, while the Diffraction control brings on a tiny, in-the-background fuzz—this adds a bit of synth-like character, especially to lowstring riffs. The nut of the LD-01 is the four-way rotary Inclination control, which is sort of a “mode” switch that decides the overall tonality of the filter: from warm and throaty to sinewy and piercing. It’s safe to say that between these four modes and the Ascension and Diffraction controls there are hundreds of freaky, farty, funky, and squirty, tones at your fingertips. Some of the vowel-like textures can get pretty hilarious, and I challenge you to not move your mouth when you’re playing—trust me, it’s hard not to do! The Little Dipper also does a great job at delivering more subtle textures. I particularly dug the tweezed, notched midrange tones and the standard envelope filter squawks, which yielded some neat Zappa-type flavors. The Little Dipper is an excellent choice for interesting tones in the studio, and although it can be used live, its beauty is in all the knobturning sonic discoveries it offers. —Darrin Fox
KUDOS Limitless funky filter sounds, from the sublime to the obscene.
CONTACT Dist. by Godlyke; godlyke.com