ToadWorks Matt Buster’s Death Rattle

The name is a nod to the designer—not an implication the pedal sounds like Mr. Buster’s imagined final exhalation. Still, it’s a menacing name to be sure, and ToadWorks describes the Death Rattle ($284 retail/$230 street) as “something dark and twisted—pure evil.” I was expecting some form of super-freak metal distortion on steroids, but the reality was a hair underwhelming.

The pedal is a very good sounding dual-mode overdrive with individual Gain, Tone, and Level controls for its two independent circuits (Tweed and Plexi), plus a Boost level that can be switched in on its own or in either mode—pre- or post-distortion—for added lift. The Version III sample on review has a more logical control layout than prior Death Rattles, as well as a clearer and more dynamic sound. It also adds a Pre/Post Boost switch, which lets you choose whether you want to ram the gain of the Tweed or Plexi mode, or just make the overdrive sound louder. The Tweed channel is warm, round, and fat, with slightly muted highs, and Plexi is flutey, sizzling, and more saturated, and it certainly possesses an element of EL34-like crackle. Both are vocal and expressive. The independent Boost function is a useful feature. It offers enough gain when maxed to push many amps into breakup, without noticeably altering the raw guitar tone. At lower levels, it’s perfect for gentle volume lifts on clean solo breaks. You can’t link the two channels—which I think would be kind of nifty—but the Death Rattle still provides seven flavors of boost and overdrive (once you account for the Pre/Post Boost options), and some serious crunch-to-wail gain levels.