Delivering thick, chewy endless sustain and willing feedback it’s mayhem in a box, and a wild ride, for sure
Extremely powerful and controllable distortion, fuzz and booster in a single package
Control functions take some getting used to
You can trust Guitar Player. Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing guitar products so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
The Sunn Life Pedal is a collaboration between Akron-based effects manufacturer EarthQuaker Devices and the Seattle ambient metal band Sunn O))) (opens in new tab).
It effectively reproduces the sound created when the group’s guitarists slam their multiple stacks of vintage 100-watt Sunn amps with excessive fuzz, overdrive, octave and boost, creating a demonic wall like no other.
Now in its third incarnation, the Life Pedal has been modified to re-create the analog octave effect from a vintage Shin-Ei FY2 fuzz and FY6 octave-fuzz into a white-face RAT distortion, with a MOSFET booster following, to allow plenty of amp slamming from a single pedal.
The controls can be a hair confusing, since, in the spirit of many old pedals, they don’t follow a logical right-to-left order.
Amplitude, far left, is the output for the distortion side, while distortion is rather obviously the gain/drive for that stage, and filter is a RAT-like EQ.
A three-way rotary switch labeled clip selects between op amp, asymmetrical and symmetrical clipping.
Octave blends in the octave fuzz, and magnitude is the boost.
With all this in mind, the three foot switches for amplitude, octave and magnitude become self-explanatory, though it’s worth noting that they are soft-touch true-bypass, using EarthQuaker’s proprietary Flexi-Switch Technology. Hit and release them for traditional on/off, or hit and hold for momentary on.
The single input and output are on the pedal’s front face, along with an expression pedal jack for remote control of the octave blend, and a standard center-negative jack for your nine-volt DC supply.
The Life Pedal V3 comes in a rugged, black textured metal enclosure that’s not overly huge considering all it contains.
I don’t happen to have a 100-watt Sunn full stack on hand, but a silverface 50-watt Fender Bassman head and 2x12 cab stood in well for testing, played with a Gibson Les Paul (opens in new tab) and a Fender Jazzmaster (opens in new tab).
As such, with the Life Pedal engaged and dialed in, I can’t imagine better or more immediate access to doomy, droney art-metal escapades.
The pedal still sounds eviscerating and appropriately menacing even at lower volumes, but the full-bore experience requires big decibels to approach the band’s fully transcendental sonics.
With the Bassman’s volume wound up beyond one o’clock, the pedal delivered with thick, chewy endless sustain and willing feedback. It’s mayhem in a box, and a wild ride, for sure.
The voicing and character of the distortion side are quite familiar, yet EQD has rendered them with impressive girth, texture and relative clarity, and the three-way clipping option is a cool bonus. It’s subtle, but definitely effective at zeroing in on the dirt of your dreams.
As with any traditional analog octave effect, this one is most prevalent playing higher up the fretboard with the neck pickup selected, where it functions for single-note runs only. But it can add oddity and interest to other settings and playing positions too, and makes a cool addition to your dirt arsenal.
Hitting the magnitude (boost) switch can slam the amp as intended, but it’s also great when used subtly, adding not only a perceived volume lift for soloing but enhancing articulation in the process.
And while the Life Pedal excels at foundation-rumbling excess, it also proved a great multifunction distortion pedal into my 1x10 Princeton combo, easily converting it into a proto-metal rig for the small stage, so don’t rule it out if you’re shy an earth-quaking, big-bottle stack.
- CONTROLS: Amplitude, filter, distortion, clip, octave, magnitude; foot switches for amplitude, octave, magnitude
- EXTRAS: Input and output, Exp jack (Octave control), true-bypass, Flexi-Switch switching, LED indicator for each foot switch, center-negative 9V DC adaptor input
- SIZE: 5.75” x 5.25” x 1.5” (excluding feet and knobs)
- BUILT: Assembled in USA
Visit EarthQuaker Devices (opens in new tab) for more information.
Dave Hunter is a writer and consulting editor for Guitar Player magazine. His prolific output as author includes Fender 75 Years (opens in new tab), The Guitar Amp Handbook (opens in new tab), The British Amp Invasion (opens in new tab), Ultimate Star Guitars (opens in new tab), Guitar Effects Pedals (opens in new tab), The Guitar Pickup Handbook (opens in new tab), The Fender Telecaster (opens in new tab) and several other titles. Hunter is a former editor of The Guitar Magazine (UK), and a contributor to Vintage Guitar, Premier Guitar, The Connoisseur and other publications. A contributing essayist to the United States Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board’s Permanent Archive, he lives in Kittery, ME, with his wife and their two children and fronts the bands A Different Engine and The Stereo Field.