THE CAR CLUB VIBE OF VOX’S NEW TONE GARAGE ANALOG effects brought back memories of my all-time favorite sports coupe—a midnight blue Triumph Spitfire. I adored that machine, but it was a quirky little bugger. I found myself in much the same driver’s seat with Vox’s Double Deca Delay, Flat 4 Boost, Straight 6 Drive, Trike Fuzz, and V8 Distortion. These are interesting, uniquely designed, and, at times, brilliant stompboxes that also possess some quirks. Although some elements may have you scratching your head, nothing about the Tone Garage crew will likely diminish your joy at plugging into them—just as with my beloved Spitfire.
All five pedals are powered by six AA batteries or an optional 9-volt DC adapter. The reason a standard 9-volt battery is MIA for the series is because three of the pedals—the Flat 4 Boost, the Straight 6 Drive, and the V8 Distortion—are driven by 12AX7 tubes, and Vox’s propriety Hi-Volt technology needs the AAs in order to run the tubes at 200 volts for optimum performance. (By the way, like a guitar amp, you need to wait for the tube to warm up before you’ll hear sound from the pedal.) The Double Deca Delay and Trike Fuzz possess the same see-through tube chamber as their tube-powered siblings, but the view here is of an LED-illuminated circuit board.
As the tube pedals draw a lot of power—and chart a seven-hour battery life as opposed to 80 hours (Double Deca) or 280 hours (Trike)—they are likely the reason for the line’s smart, but potentially frustrating Standby/On switch. You’ll increase battery life by putting the pedal on Standby when you’re not actually playing, but then you have to remember to switch the pedal on before hitting the stage. I fooled myself a couple of times, as my uneffected signal was output during pre-curtain line checks (“Okay— signal path is a go”), only to be greeted by silence when I stepped on an “on Standby” pedal during the show. D’oh! My advice is to power up the pedals with an AC adapter and leave them on to prevent such memory glitches. (Another option is to simply be young enough so that you’re not as forgetful.)
From an industrial-design standpoint, the Tone Garage series idles a bit outside of the usual retro-fabulous Vox mystique. The boxes are rather wonky looking, and the quasi-boutique-style artwork is kind of a “love it or hate it” toss up. (Although how could anyone hate the tiny chicken-head knobs used for the controls?) However, the die-cast aluminum pedals are built like battleships. I tossed a few around on club floors—even the tube-loaded ones (though not recommended)—and while a knob came off here and there, there were no ill effects to operations, sound, or signal processing.
Operating each of the pedals is pretty much a manual-free, plug-and-play affair if you have any stompbox experience at all. The on/off switch kicks in or out instantly without any drag, and even manages to work if you hit it sideways at a panicked trot because you forgot your solo was up next. Whew. Battery access on the bottom of the pedal is easy via a removable plastic panel and latch. When I dropped the pedal from a height of around three feet, the batteries buckled forward a bit, but the panel did not open. All the pedals are true bypass. In addition, each model offers a dedicated “extra” feature or so (Mid Shift, Mid Boost, Bright, etc.) that adds to their tone-shaping power. From a “team unity” standpoint, these revved-up sonic engines embrace another automotive sensibility—that of garage rock. The foundational sounds of the boost, overdrive, fuzz, and distortion are aggressive, on the bright side, and even a bit edgy and wild, in a rockin’ take-no-prisoners way. The exception is the delay, which is transparent and warm. So that’s the team—let’s look under the hoods of each of these tonal speedsters.
DOUBLE DECA DELAY
This is actually more of a “triple deca” as it utilizes three V3205 BBD bucket-brigade chips to do its thing. The Double Deca ($159 street) gives you two delay modes: Short (which employs one BBD chip and offers up to 300ms of delay time) and Long (which uses all three chips and provides up to 900ms of delay). The “extra” on Double Deca is a Both option that blends the short and long delays together (the Level, Modulation, Feedback, and Time settings correspond to whatever those knob positions would produce when in Long or Short mode). The delay sounds are sensual, clean, and musical, and adding in some Modulation provides a nice bit of dimension and “wobble” to the tone. Those qualities alone would make this a cool delay to add to your pedalboard. But the Both feature is a stunner—a real killer app. Having long and short delays cascading around your notes or chords is an awesome effect to experience. Solos and riffs sound more expansive, and while you have to take care not to clutter your guitar sound with fluttering echoes, the effect can also add some vibey fascination to even the most basic and conventional chord progressions. Another plus is that you can go subtle or crazy ambient by adjusting the Level knob. I got lost for hours riding this bus—which is why it gets an Editors’ Pick Award.
Kudos Lush analog delay sounds. Both feature mixes long and short delays together.
FLAT 4 BOOST
The Flat 4 ($159 street) is an “uncolored/colored” boost that offers three ways to blast your solos and riffs out of a band mix. The clean boost is reasonably transparent, and it nicely coaxes tube amps into more grit, bark, or sustain, depending upon your amp settings. Not enough? You can hit the Mid Boost switch for some extra sheen and punch. If you’re missing a bit of that rockstar impact, you can dial in some edge and drive with the Gain knob. The boosts tend to be a bit high-endy, but a tweak of the High EQ knob can calm things down. This is a multi-purpose boost that can solve quite a few “more me” challenges.
Kudos Clean boost with ability to add some edge. Versatile.
Concerns A tad bright.
STRAIGHT 6 DRIVE
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the makers of the fab AC30 put some stout British overdrive character into the Straight 6 ($159 street). The tone is very amp-like, and only some high-end emphasis keeps it from sounding totally natural and organic. Unless you’re really buried in a mix, I doubt you’ll need to activate the Bright switch. One small quirk here is that the Tone knob is actually a high-midrange control. Why not call it that? The most impressive aspect of the Straight 6 is its dynamic quality. It cleans up wonderfully when you use a softer pick or finger attack (or reduce your guitar volume), and when you pour on the heavy-handed attack, you instantly get all the grit and kerrang you’d ever want.
Kudos Very dynamic overdrive.
Concerns A tad bright.
Oh, this three-wheeler is just nasty! The Trike ($159 street) does what a good fuzz should do—unleash a virulent, messed-up beyond all recognition, ear-catching onslaught of majestic spittle. The effect is aided and abetted by the ability to add one octave up, two octaves down, or both at the same time. You have the ability to adjust the blend of the low octaves and the tone of the high octave (which is a little bizarre, as blending both levels would seem more desirable) to craft simultaneously pummeling and searing tones. This fuzz may not be something you use every gig (in fact, the effect is too intense to work with complex chords—two-note power chords are your best bet), but when you want to drop shock, surprise, and awe upon an audience, the Trike delivers the savagely cool goods, and, for that, it deserves an Editors’ Pick Award.
Kudos Fuzz-tastic! Can run low and high octaves simultaneously.
Wow. Perhaps Vox should have called this a turbo V12. The V8 ($159 street) is an absolutely feral distortion that’s perfect for modern metal, or any kind of maniacal, blistering in-your-face musical warfare. It’s also great for soaring solos that sustain for decades. As with the Straight 6, the Tone control tweaks upper mids. The Mid Shift switch adds even more attack to a tone that’s already veering on tearing your eyebrows to shreds, but, let’s face it, if you’re running this pedal, you’re out to conquer the world, so such trifles hardly matter. A surprise, however, is that the V8 is very articulate, so note-to-note clarity is excellent even during full-roar episodes.
Kudos Ferocious! Concerns A tad bright.