The Amp Chronicles; pt 3- unofficial overdrive/distortion pedal shootout

Ah… so when it comes time for decisions, things can become tough to consider. Especially when decisions mean “Selling gear to pay for new gear.” Especially when you only have 1-2 pieces of gear you actually want to sell and the rest you really would like to keep. Then you realize that… a certain amp is very, very good.

Thus, I plugged everything up, played it all, and sold some gear. Here was my thought process as I did so. (And thus– the unofficial shootout).

ToneMonk Seed of Life:

Kinda "Seedy" looking...

Ah, a boutique pedal was first up for the decision to sell. This pedal is a very interesting product- with its own particular flavor. It has a loose, jangly quality that really seemed suited for a strat, but with the 3 modes available via the switch, could fit among just about anything. I jammed a couple of times with it- great for leads, jam-bands and that sorta thing. I always had to modify the sound some for chordal work and then it didn’t sound right on the lead-type stuff. I haven’t played it it out in awhile… I need my pedal to give me a good lead and rhythm tone.
My basic music philosophy is to set my rhythm tone with my guitar’s volume in 1/2, then when I turn the guitar all the way up I have a lead tone. If I need more, I boost with another pedal. This one was a bit too finicky for my rig. Again, its perfect for that blues/jazz/fusion stuff though!

M-Audio Crunch Box:

It is red. Angry. Distortion!

This pedal is a pleasant surprise. I bought it used for about $70, and it has a sooo much tone in a little box. This thing is pretty transparent too! Not much flavor is added to your original signal, just harmonic waves that slowly feedback into distortion. At about 11-12 o’clock on the gain dial a nice overdriven crunch is had. As you rotate into the far side (toward 3 o’clock), more and more harmonics explode upon themselves, delivering waves of distortion. I was amazed at the versatility of this pedal. I would even say it feels like a more controlled, mellower version of a PaulCAudio Tim/Timmy pedal.
Also, when you open the back, there is a small pot you can turn with a pic/screwdriver to fine-tune the treble response to your rig AND the op-amp is socketed for your switching! Not bad for a not-quite boutique pedal. Man, I wish I had played this more before this shoot-out!

This1smyne “The PEARL”:

Lol... "BlackPearl" arrrgghh!

Another very boutiquey overdrive pedal– a dual overdrive nonetheless! The left side is a mild overdrive and the right is a harsher distortion. This is meant to be the only pedal you need for gain. With cascading gains, you can do almost whatever you need- all in one pedal. Very great idea… Now, the overdrive side is amazing! Its loose and jangly– much like the Seed of Life is– but kinda bright and familiar, like my Zendrive or TS9. This one is hard to describe, but the sound isn’t harsh and the feel from playing it is very loose and dynamic. Really handles rhythm and light leads well. The Distortion side is very much reminiscent of a modded DS1 to me, and was a bit treble-y. I couldn’t quite get the treble down enough. So,  yeah…. Loved one side, not so much on the other. I don’t feel I have pedalboard space for 2 pedals when i only like 1 side. (On a side note, Dan of This1smyne has started building each side separate. The od is called the “Touch Drive.” Check it out!)

Barber Small Fry:

Tone, sweet, sweet tone...

What can I say? I’ve paid more for less tone. This little box is sweeet, sweeet tone. So totally tweakable (scary so…. almost too hard to nail down what you want), but it gives the perfect mix of harmonics mixed with distortion and you can dial in exactly how you want that distortion compressed even! 4 internal trimpots plus the external dials and switch and you’ve got yourself something– if it doesn’t work with your rig, you haven’t tried!
I’ve owned several Barber effects and each one is pretty much ingenius and very playable. This thing has a definite flavor of its own, but cops tones close to light overdrive into distortion. This is a lead players dream pedal. I set it very close to my Zendrive’s voicing and used it as a lead boost. I just really love the Zendrive. In the end, I think this has a bit too much compression, but it sounds so great.  BTW, this with a long, thick delay…. Gilmour-esque tones. Yeah, not kidding.

Fulltone OCD:

Mmmm... looks like rock in roll, just understated.

This is hard to think about… this pedal up on the block. This pedal has been my lead pedal, my RAWK pedal for soooo long. Its my #2, because it can and does rock that hard when you need it to. Really works well with single coils too. It has a bit of a ‘scooped’ EQ and just keeps its highs glassy without being too brittle and ice-pick-to-the-ear. Complete opposite of the mid-heavy-settings on the Zendrive I run as my #1. This has had a mainstay on my board for years…..Yet when I played this against my others… wow. Pedals I thought weren’t as good were. I was a bit surprised at how much the OCD compresses as it drives, even on its ‘loose’ mode. Very surprisingly, this pedal got knocked down by another that I KNEW I was going to sell. Interesting when played side-by-side, huh? Still, a really good, classic pedal that can cop some great Marshally tones. This earned its rep for being one of the first boutique specialty drives.

Hermida Mosferatu:

Dark, brooding pedal vampire.

I hate to admit this since the stakes are high and I’m selling gear to buy the amp…. but this pedal isn’t for sale. I knew that when I put it against everything else. I have a fascination with Hermida Audio’s effects. I’m going to collect them all. Because I can. No other reason. They also sound good. Really, really good. And they really like what I put into them when I play. I can’t describe it; they are just that awesome. The Mosferatu is a higher gain version of the Zendrive, but the Mosfet transistors make this thing have a bit of a darker sound that really brings out aggressiveness in your playing. I don’t ROCK that hard, that much…. but if I did it would start with this pedal. You can kinda get some harmonic feedback at higher settings and that’s pretty special too.

Hermida NuValve:

mmm... Brit Rock!

Yeah, so you probably know this one is a keeper already. Part of it is that it is a Hermida product…. the other is its a bit of a novelty. This pedal has little Nuvistor tubes in it! How cool is that? Those itty tubes used to be part of the circuitry in old tube radios and now its part of my pedal and my tone! This pedal also has a bit of an aggressive nature, but more Marshally, and British flavored. I also find that it clips and compresses very strangely– the feel of it is weird. You really “play” this pedal as it responds to what you feed into it. Its kinda my back up to the OCD. I can get very similiar tones, but this cuts through the mix better when in a live situation. This really sings.

Railhead Effects: io (superdistortion):

Burn, burn, burn!

What can I say about this– a guy named Maury (friend’d him on FB through Phil @brokenheadstock.com) builds these in his house, as his own business. Made in the USA, by a Texan. Can you feel the raw rock? Seriously, this pedal is impressive. Light OD sounds on the 9 o’clock to 11 o’clock gain dial and past that is distortion territory. As you turn the gain up there is a bit of feedback response… which can be good as it is very easy to control. There are definitely some “infinite sustain” feelings in there. Best of all, even in all the gain, this pedal cleans up well with your guitar’s volume knob. Oh, and the tone range on the pedal is totally usable, which doesn’t often happen with gain pedals like this. This pedal is definitely its own thing and not close to a copy of anything else. I like it.

Jetter: Gain Stage Red (GSR):

Suave...

This pedal is hard to talk about, because I want to like it. Its a bit like a Zendrive copy, but fatter sounding. I actually think it works better for single coils since it fattens the tone up. But I’m a humbucker player and felt like my dynamics were diminished with this pedal. I also couldn’t quite dial in the ‘spark’ and ‘chirp’ that the Zendrive puts on your pick attack (which is special) and thus this pedal felt like it had less character to it. I guess I’m saying that I felt let down by this piece. Seriously, grab a Barber Small Fry for less $ and see what you can do with it🙂

Jetter: Gain Stage Blue (GSB):

Pretty pedal!

These Jetter’s look amazing though… and this GSB was more fun that the GSR was. I liked that on the gain dial as you dial in more gain, a fuzz undertone comes out. Its very interesting. Also as you increase gain the compression and sustain increase. A very nice lead pedal. I’m not so keen on the chord sounds, but love the lead character. I’m just not sure if one sound is worth it…

Hermida: Zendrive:

Yes. (or Chuck Norris. Is there a question?

I don’t think there is any doubt to what I think of this pedal after reading this post (or any of this blog really). This drive is my main, go-to overdrive. I even use it first for most distortion needs. Even at higher gain settings this pedal remains dynamic- if you pick lightly you get some cleanish sounds. Pick hard for the great chirpy-bite of the note followed by beautiful decaying harmonics. I typically set this pedal for a nice rhythm at 5 on my guitar’s volume knob. Then I turn up to 10 for a lead sound. Simply lovely!
The voice knob is what makes this pedal special. As you turn the voice up, compression increases and the gain is affected- highs are brought into the tone. For a smoother sound, decrease the voice, and increase the tone to add some treble. Really, there are several great tones in this box if you just use them!
I’m not sure why this was in the shootout unless I use this as my ‘control’. As in, in this experiment, this is what is unchanging. Match this!

Catalinbread: DLS (Dirty Little Secret):

I had only played this one out a few times before this ‘shoot’ out. Honestly, I had kinda forgotten about it. I wouldn’t call this pedal distortion, wouldn’t call it glassy. Its very dynamic, and the more you feed into it, the more it drives (like keep boosting it!). It has a very ‘spongey’ feel to it. I like the fact it doesn’t get too much treble to it. This pedal was made for stacking overdrives, for boosting. By doing so, the pedal sets a baseline tone for you to build upon. What I didn’t expect was the amount of headroom this thing has. It competes easily with the OCD, and the feel of this pedal is what makes it. You can feel the ‘sag’ and response as you play it. Again, this is a very pleasant surprise. Best of all, it beat several pedals costing more…. way, way more.

The Verdict: I hate having 3 pedals that pretty much do the same thing, unless they do that thing completely different or just have a different feel. For example I felt like I had the OCD tone nailed with 3 pedals (OCD, DLS, NuValve) and picked the one with least compression and the wierd one (NuValve) for fun. So here is my verdict.

Sold:
Tonemonk Seed of Life
MI Audio Crunchbox
This1smyne The Pearl
Barber Smallfry
Fulltone OCD
Jetter Gain Stage Red
Jetter Gain Stage Blue

Everything else I kept as it was unique, original, fun, toneful and inspiring. I think I did that. I want to thank Hermida Audio, Railhead Effects and Catalinbread for making good quality stuff that really works and rocks!

PS: 2 weeks later: I really miss my OCD. I shouldn’t have sold that thing. And… I’m wondering If I should’ve played the Crunchbox out before I sold it. And…. I probably won’t play the DLS that much. It was better to my ear and the ‘feel’ was good, but Its not cutting it for me. Us guitarists are sooo dang wishy-washy sometimes!

7 Responses

  1. a man has got to do what he has got to do … and you did. don’t start second guessing yourself, ’cause you won’t stop thinking about it! lol😉

    remember when you asked me why i sold my DLS? exactly the same reason as you, didn’t get much playing time … thanks to the Zendrive! hehe

  2. @Rhoy– DLS is a great pedal, but it seems its just not ‘my’ style. Even though it compressed more etc… the OCD really fit me. I’m stupid for selling it!

  3. Paraphrasing the words of Jack Black : “Would you make Picasso sell his pedals?” Lol I have trouble getting rid of ANY gear, especially pedals.

    I’ve been enjoying reading about your search for a new amp. Leaning towards which?

    Btw, it’s kind of cool to see another OD into gear and guitars as much as I am. Small world.

  4. @Corm: I miss the OCD. I really, really do.
    Both those amps rock, basically the fundage I’ll have with the permission of the wife will determine what I get🙂

  5. You owe us a review of the Toneczar Dove!

  6. i most definitely agree with Jeff😆

  7. alright, alright… i’ll try to make it my 3rd next post. Only cuz you guys asked!

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