Desert Island Pedals #2: Overdrive

Overdrive! An effect as old as rock ‘n’ roll, before the first overdrive pedals even existed. The sound of an overdriven tube amp has been the catalyst of many a musicians career and spawned a legion of genres. The overdrive pedal has tried to capture the sound of an amp on the point of breakup or beyond, some more successful than others in recreating that arm-hair-raising sound. We live in a golden age of effects pedals and this has created a plethora of overdrive pedals to choose from. Especially because overdrive can have so many (slight) nuances in sonic perception, being based on tones from famous amps or clones of (vintage) pedals or simply having different components (silicon, germanium, JFET, MOSFET, etcetera, etcetera), people have become very picky. At least this seems so based on the market for current overdrive pedals, judging by the amount of ‘new’ overdrive designs almost every week. I’ll admit this probably won’t make buying a new overdrive any easier if you’ve got this much options.

My experiences with overdrive have been pretty straightforward and I although I haven’t had/tried to much of these pedals in person I’m quite happy with my current assets on my pedalboard. Starting out as a bass player I somehow gravitated more towards modulation effects like flangers and delays before getting my first overdrive pedal. Actually, my first ever pedal I had was a Boss fuzz pedal but that didn’t get much use then. Relatively late I got my first overdrive pedal for use with my basses, which is still on my pedalboard. After starting out on electric guitar I needed a more guitar orientated pedal, which I found in the gray box described below.

My overdrive favorites at the moment are two boutique pedals: the Solid Gold FX Beta and the Gray Channel from Earthquaker Devices. I’m not really a boutique snob and have plenty run-of-the-mill, workingman’s pedals on my board, but these two just happened to do it for me. The Beta was my first real overdrive pedal. It is designed for bass but it works great for guitar just as well. This pedal can go from a slight Motown-like boost to a mild overdrive/distortion. It doesn’t mess up your low-end and while using it with a band it never gets harsh and always blends in with your live sound. I like the mellow tones from this overdrive, very vintage sounding, but I guess this wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

The Gray Channel is a recent addition to my pedalboard. Almost everything I have tried and heard from Earthquaker Devices is great, the Hummingbird tremolo is another mainstay on my board. Too bad these pedals are pretty pricey but they are certainly worth the extra cash. The Gray Channel is based on the DOD 250, a simple 2 knob overdrive from the 70s, ironing out some of its quirks and adding some more features. I love the 2 channel layout with the different clipping options which give very diverse overdrive types.With these switches you can approximate others overdrive pedals like the MXR Distortion+ or a Boss DS-1 (but much better). When you crank the pedal on the no-diode setting you get into op-amp Big Muff territory (Smashing Pumpkins!).

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An honorable mention goes to the Way Huge Angry Troll. Technically a boost pedal, this angry mofo can go from a slight clean boost to full distortion depending on the settings. I have tried out this pedal almost two years ago but I want to get one soon. I should make room on my pedalboard first though…

Next time I will (hopefully) be completing one of the Guitar Projects. I still haven’t had any luck finding a shortscale Fender neck for the Ronald Jones Jaguar… *sigh* The Stratocaster is ready to be refinished and I’ll likely be ready to assemble everything by the end of the month. I do need to buy a Strat neck but these are very easy to find compared to the Jag. Either way I can’t wait to finish and play both after all this time!

Desert Island Pedals #1: Chorus

Was thinking about writing about my next guitar project, but instead I wanted to talk about effects pedals. Just to vary it up a bit. In these blogs I want to tell the story behind some of my favorite effect pedal types and give examples from my own small stash of not-so-secret secrets.

After finishing the title doubt struck my mind: “I should call this “Desert Island Pedals #1: Chorus (and Flanger and Phasers)”, or not?” Choruses, flangers and phasers share a lot in common, but I’ll dedicate the blog to this specific effect. Maybe later I can add a DIP about these other effects, I do love me some good ol’ flanging and phasing!

Even if you are not an avid fan of bands like The Cure or The Police, or pretty much every (pop)song from the 80s for that matter, you will know what a chorus sound is in an instance. Explaining it to someone who doesn’t know what chorus is just by giving the dictionary definition is harder than you think. Trust me, I’ve done it, it was messy. If applied tasteful you can’t go wrong with chorus, don’t overdo it though. Looking at you, 80s musician…

My love for chorus pedals actually started with one of the aforementioned effects: the flanger. One of my first effects pedals was an old purple box from the 80s, a Japanese Boss BF-2 I bought for around 40 euros. Inspired by Robert Smith of The Cure I needed at least a good flanger on my proto-pedalboard (i.e. the floor). Still playing only bass guitar at the time the BF-2 succeeded in adding that moody atmosphere on my bass tone, think Simon Gallup during the “Faith” album from 1981. While I wasn’t using my onboard chorus that much on my tiny 1×10 Roland combo, the sound was big and lush.

Fast forward a few years later and chorus has been taking up more of my sonic real estate. My time as a bass player has learned me that the non-intrusive effects are often the best choice in a band mix or for your guitar tone (or even keyboards/vocals). Adding a chorus with any number of effects will thicken up your sound and emphasize the dynamics when you want to. Sure I wouldn’t use it all the time, but the same can be said for reverb, delay or even overdrive. Or people who don’t know how to use a distortion or fuzz pedal properly in a live situation… please don’t use it if you can’t get at least a ‘decent’ sound that doesn’t overwhelm the band or implode on itself.

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Besides my trusty old Boss flanger, these are 2 of my current favorite choruses: a 70s Boss CE-1 and an Ibanez SF-10 from the 80s. Yes, I know the Ibanez is technically a flanger but this pedal is a sleeper chorus treasure! A friend of mine bought one and after trying it for the first time I was amazed at how good the chorus sounded with the proper settings. The CE-1 is another one of my all-time favorites and is already considered the Holy Grail of choruses. This pedal is basically the chorus and vibrato section from the Roland JC-120 amplifier in a separate box. JC-120’s are famed for their lush built-in chorus and superb stereo sound. Got it ‘cheap’ several years ago, because someone painted it black (Rolling Stones fan maybe?). Don’t know why, aside from that it was done quite nicely and it saved my a lot of cash. Honorable mention goes to the Electro Harmonix Small Clone (old or new), haven’t personally owned one but I tried it multiple times on bass and guitar. Really a one knob wonder box!

Next time I will be completing the first part of Guitar Projects, featuring my first assembled-from-parts guitar. This tribute guitar is being made according to the specs of one of my guitar heroes, who nobody has heard of probably (but you should!). Raising the curtain a tad: it’s another offset, a Fender Jaguar.