ROCKTRON’S GROWING BOUTIQUE Series comprises an extensive number of pedals, six of which are covered here. The “Boutique” moniker notwithstanding, all of the pedals in the series retail for $169 and street for $119, putting them easily within reach of the average player. They feature aluminum enclosures with laseretched “retro-custom” graphics, offer truebypass switching, and may be powered by either a 9-volt battery or any standard 9-volt power supply. The pedals are manufactured in China. I tested them through Rivera Venus 6 and Kendrick Bad Ass Man amps, as well as a Fractal Audio Axe-FX Ultra amp modeler, using PRS, Fender, and Gibson guitars.
THIRD ANGEL DISTORTION
Sporting a skull with angel wings graphic and designed to deliver “heavy screaming over-the-top distortion,” the Third Angel does just that. In addition to Level, Bass, and Treble controls, a Deceive control regulates gain and Unrighteous adjusts the “waveform symmetry and definition.” Apparently, the Bass and Treble controls cut frequencies as well as boost them, as, for example, turning Bass fully counterclockwise results in transistor radio-like highs. And although Bass doesn’t add much girth in the first three quarters of its range, a ballsy bump in the final quarter adds enough low-end oomph for chunk-a-chunk-a metal rhythm playing. Treble, on the other hand, sweeps a relatively broad range from muted to sizzle.
The Third Angel has lots of personality and although it is obviously geared toward metal sounds, it is possible to get lots of different flavors due to the way the Deceive, Unrighteous, Bass, and Treble controls interact. Unrighteous, in particular, provides numerous variations on the “cocked-wah” sound. And overall operation was relatively quiet on all but the highest-gain settings. If you are looking for amp-like distortion or classic rock and blues sounds, the Angel won’t necessarily take you there, but if crafting your own monster metal tones is your desire, you’ll do well to invoke its powers.
KUDOS Produces a wide variety of good metal tones. Relatively quiet operation.
CONCERNS Doesn’t produce classic distortion pedal tones.
The Dreamstar combines two identical mono analog chorus circuits into a single stompbox. Each chorus has its own delay line and LFO modulation source, along with Rate, Depth, and Dream (effect level) controls. Rate covers a broad range from static to hyper-fast, Depth goes from subtle to sub-aquatic, and Dream spans the range between totally dry (effect off) to thick and syrupy (in a good way). The two choruses may be blended, but it isn’t possible to switch between them. The effect is reminiscent of the sounds Pat Metheny got by patching multiple Lexicon delays together back in the ’80s.
The Dreamstar has a slightly dark sound, making it a particularly good match for single-coil-equipped guitars. It can do sweet, moderate chorus effects well enough—but I preferred the sounds I got with the Depth and Dream controls turned up high (the only caveat being that it got a little noisy on the highest settings). This pedal does things that other choruses can’t—like sweeping slowly and deeply with one LFO while adding a shallow fast shimmer over the top with the other—which is obviously a plus if, like me, you happen to like those things. Some may lament that you can’t switch between the choruses, and being able to manipulate dual choruses in stereo would have been better— but at this price point you can’t have everything.
KUDOS Provides a different take on a classic effect. Creates some unique sounds.
CONCERNS Somewhat noisy with Depth and Dream maxed.
VII DEADLY SINS AUTO WAH/FILTER
Despite its name and the kabalistic graphics that adorn its surface, this pedal has absolutely nothing to do with lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, or pride. What it does have to do with is conjuring up a plethora of great filter sounds—from super-thin, toedown funk-wah to fat, throaty, low-string articulations to guttural inverted-filter moans���with very responsive envelope following on all settings. Although named differently, its three controls are essentially the same as those found on many other autowah pedals: The Mode switch positions the ADSR curve at one of three positions (Down, Middle, Up), Q Shape affects the width of the filter boost, and Deadly Sin sets the filter activation threshold.
In addition to conventional auto-wah sounds, I got some fairly unconventional ones. For example, in Middle Mode with Q Shape at three o’ clock and Deadly Sin straight up, striking a note and letting it ring out produced a modulating-overtone drone that sounded a little like a slow flange, while playing arpeggiated harmonics on that setting resulted in synth-like textural washes. And when combined with a germanium fuzz in Down Mode with Q Shape maxed and Deadly Sin at nine o’ clock, I got a humongous and very appealing grind. I really liked this pedal.
KUDOS Great-sounding filter with excellent envelope following. Good value.
The Valve Charger is a straightforward overdrive pedal—and not a bad one at that. Nothing fancy here. The Charger control adjusts the amount of overdrive, Tone tempers the highs, and Level regulates the output volume. There’s plenty of overdrive on tap and while the Tone control has limited range, it sounds good on all settings. The Level control, however, has to be up nearly all the way just to reach unity gain on moderate overdrive settings. (There’s an appreciable but not dramatic level increase with Charger cranked.) Whether adding a little rasp to a clean tone, producing a TS-style overdrive, or pushing an already distorted tone into greater saturation, the Valve Charger performed admirably and maintained a tight and smooth response while remaining very quiet. This is a good-sounding general-purpose overdrive pedal that gets the job done.
KUDOS Provides a nice range of standard overdrive tones. Quiet.
CONCERNS Limited output level.
The Guitar Silencer combines Rocktron’s single-ended HUSH noise reduction technology with the noise-gating process originally offered in the company’s rackmounted Guitar Silencer—and adds an effects loop that’s useful for isolating fuzz or other pedals that are noisy and/or lack true-bypass switching. The HUSH circuit worked as expected, masking excessive noise while playing and smoothly fading out decaying notes as they approached the noise floor (though high settings lowered the overall output level). The gate clamps down hard once a signal drops below the threshold, and by adjusting the Hush and Gate controls you can dial in any combination of the two processes. Not perfect in every situation, but damned close.
KUDOS Excellent singe-ended noise-reduction and effective gating.
CONCERNS HUSH lowers overall output level on high settings.
The ingenious Tru-Loop not only allows you to add true-bypass switching to any pedal or group of pedals by placing it/them in a switched loop, its Mix control lets you vary how much of the Effect Return sound is blended with the Direct Signal, effectively providing both serial and parallel loop operation (and the Return input can merge a stereo return to mono using a TRS connector). One obvious application is to run a distortion pedal in parallel and blend it with the undistorted sound to preserve articulation and clarity—something especially useful with 7-string, detuned, or baritone guitars. And, with Mix set to Effect Return only, the Tru-Loop also serves as an A/B switcher.
KUDOS Works perfectly.