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Distortion pedals

It’s been ages since I owned a proper distortion pedal. Other than a one-night stand with the Vox Satchurator about 10 years ago, I think you have to go back all the way to 1997, when I sold my Boss Metal Zone. During the years, I’ve owned several overdrives, but that’s not the same thing. When I say distortion, I’m talking about a pedal that has enough dirt that you can put it on top of a really clean tone and get a chugging heavy metal-type rhythm sound. An overdrive for me is something you put over a tone that is already distorted, either just to add more filth and sustain, or to change the EQ curve somewhat, or maybe a little bit of both. For many years, I’ve been sticking to the principle that the best clean sounds are actually a tiny bit distorted, so maybe I’ll stretch my definition of an overdrive to something that can help a clean tone acquire some glow, compression and sustain. The gist of the matter is that when I want a distorted tone for metal rhythm and leads, no pedal comes close to the sound of an amp. It is a pity, because I totally see the utility of a distortion pedal. Indeed, that was actually why I bought the Metal Zone all the way back in 1994. I had a series of sessions coming up, and I knew it was not going to be a practical option to schlep my Marshall stack all over town. I wanted a pedal where I could get my sound no matter what I plugged into. Another advantage with a distortion pedal is that it can simplify your signal chain. When I had my Marshall rack between 2006 and 2011, there were six long cables littering the floor underneath my feet: amp channel selector, guitar to pedalboard, pedalboard to amp, effects send to pedalboard, pedalboard to effects return and finally the AC cable for my pedal power supply. If there were a distortion unit that could have replaced the amp distortion, I could have done away with two of those cables straight away, since I would have put my chorus and delay directly after the distortion pedal. But the Satchurator never worked in my rig, quite likely because it was made to juice up a tube amp and not my transistor-based setup, so back it went on the next day. I was set on the Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion on the strength of a number of impressive demo videos and sound clips, and would probably have bought one had Guitar Center in Tonawanda kept one in stock. But when I got back to Sweden, I had the opportunity to try one, and it failed the critical A/B test against the amp I ran it through. It is a good distortion pedal, but it couldn’t even best a Peavey!

The Boss MT-2 Metal Zone has an undeservedly bad reputation. Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I get the feeling that what everyone is sneering at isn’t necessarily the sound of the pedal, but the way other people use it. Granted, it is possible to dial in some really sick and completely unusable sounds on the thing, and I’ll be first in line to admit that I’ve also been there and done that. But when its knobs are twiddled in moderation, it is actually a fairly good distortion pedal. I’ve even used it on a recording with my old pop/punk band, I seem to remember running it through one of those old Music Man combos, and got a fairly mellow crunch sound. I did a big Boss distortion pedal shootout back in 2008 or 2009 at a Guitar Center, where they have one of those big boards with every current Boss pedal, and the Metal Zone was easily the best of the bunch. There is just something with that smooth, fine-grained distortion that appeals to me, it comes closest to my ideal guitar tone. I didn’t have the opportunity to compare it to the DS-2 since they didn’t have one at all (it came up as discontinued in their computer system), but I gravitated toward the DS-2 mostly because I had already owned an MT-2 and besides I liked the idea of a footswitchable boost on the DS-2. Even now I find myself drawn to the Metal Zone, I’ll probably pick up a used one in the foreseeable future, for fun and nostalgia and to prove to myself that you actually can get usable tones out of if you’re careful.

I’m currently GAS-ing over a whole bunch of distortion pedals, and I owe myself a long session at various music stores to actually try them out through various amps. I want to compare the JHS Angry Charlie and Charlie Brown, toss in a Fulltone OCD, I am curious about the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver, not to mention the Angry Driver. I want to bring along my collection of fuzzes and overdrives, because I want to know how either distortion pedal reacts to my Mini Tube Screamer, Spark Booster and Soul Food, and while I’m at it, I want to find an amp that not only takes all these pedals well, but also gives me usable tones with my Fuzz Face and Nano Big Muff.┬áThis is a solution without a problem, because for my only real band, Namlar, I have an amp that I love to death, and for my home studio, I have a cornucopia of modelling amps, pedals and even plugins. What I find myself worrying and fussing over is what to get to play covers and sessions, which simply is not an issue anymore. I quit the party band four years ago and haven’t got the slightest inclination to rejoin. I haven’t played a session since before that, and if I recall correctly, I used my Blackstar ID:30 for that session with great results. When I analyze the situation I realize that this is in fact a manifestation of my constant itch to get back on the stage, and of course I would by lying if I didn’t also admit that I just love buying gear.

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Posted by on 22 October, 2017 in editorial, gear

 

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Review: Mesa/Boogie “Throttle Box” distortion pedal

All I did was to to wear my Dream Theater shirt while visiting one of the local music stores. The guy immediately said, you gotta check this pedal out, it’s John Petrucci in a box!

I opened the box, and there was no teeny-tiny JP inside. That kinda would have creeped me out. Instead, you could say that it is more of a Dual Rectifier squeezed into a rather small and nimble, yet sturdy distortion pedal. It has four knobs and a toggle switch. Three of the knobs are your standard garden-variety controls that every dist pedal comes with: level, dist and tone. The fourth is a midrange sweep control that scoops out everything between the rumbling bass and cutting treble for a really threatening sound. Or leaves it in for a more snarling, aggressive rock tone. The little toggle switch selects low or high gain, it basically takes the pedal from standard to insane.

So, how good is it? Judging by my most recent Boogie experience, I’d say: really good. This pedal delivers an obscene amount of distortion! It also completely takes over the signal chain – there is not much left of the actual amp tone. I was able to plug a Les Paul into a small Fender combo and without much fiddling nail a solid Petrucci lead tone. I’m not necessarily a Boogie freak, but if I were into that sound, I would definitely take this pedal into serious consideration before shelling out the massive amounts of cash a Mark or a Recto commands.

 
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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in gear, review

 

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Review: Bogner “Ecstasy Blue” distortion pedal

The Bogner Ecstasy Blue is a combination distortion and boost pedal. It comes armed and ready with lots of potential settings: I counted seven knobs, four toggle switches and two footswitches. The distortion section comes with your typical level and gain controls plus a 3-band EQ. The toggle switches enable you to switch between 1) regular and Variac, 2) Plexi and Blue, 3) three different pre-EQ voicings and 4) EQ and gain shifts. There are also two very small knobs that control the gain and volume of the boost function; these small plastic knobs double as on/off status lights for the boost.

I have to say I was pretty amazed by this pedal. It managed to preserve some of the feel of the amp I ran it through (some form of modern Fender tweed amp) and at the same time sound very classic and British. It was extremely responsive to my pick attack and the volume settings on the guitar. On one hand, I’m the sort of guy who prefers MXR pedals just because there are fewer settings that I can mess up, and therefore I felt rather bewildered by the plethora of adjustments possible with this pedal. On the other, there is no doubt that anyone looking for a classic rock tone might not have to go further than the Bogner Ecstasy. Even without the boost, it would be a darn good distortion pedal. With the boost, you basically have two distortions in one.

 
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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in gear, review

 

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