Archive for the ‘Small metal series’ Category

Marshall RG-1 Regenerator

Sunday, March 8th, 2015


What is it?
Marshall RG-1 Regenerator multi-modulation effect. Made in china, possibly around early 00’s

Digital chorus/phase/flange multieffect in the small metal series? Apparently yes. And once we open it up, there’s very little doubt of what the design is all about. Yup. It’s exactly the same board as seen in Echohead and Reflector.


All these three are sisters with the same topology of TI DSP, Atmel and BSI chips. As we’ve seen with many other modern digital designs, the electronics are all the same, but the code burned n and the label on the top are the only differentiating factors.


Mostly the pedal is well made and definitely represents the top quality of current chinese manufacturing. It could be that the Marshall quality control is strict, or at least stricter than for what we find in many other current chinese made brands with a low price point.


I recently saw a same enclosure used with completely different brand on eBay. Sort of like when Daphon started to sell their own “soundtank-like” pedals as E10-series. Wonder how the british mother company feels about that. Anyway. The pedal has decent set of features and while the digital point makes the sound boringly predictable..

How does it sound?
It is still quite versatile sounding unit. Lacking in taste, scent and personality, but still pretty good. Two chorus modes are not surprising, as the flanger, phaser and vibe modes. The step phaser tries to mimic the random stepping of the Boss PH-3, and succeeds to a certain level. The expression pedal input is a very nice feature that adds a lot usability to the tones produced. To sum it up, this would be a nice entry level multi-modulation pedal for anyone who may need one. Nothing great, but nothing too disappointing. These are widely available and one should be able to score one for peanuts as used unit.

Marshall RF-1 Reflector

Sunday, February 15th, 2015


What is it?
Marshall FR-1 Reflector Reverb. Made in china around early 00’s.

Where all the dirt pedals in small metal series have board designs of their own, the digital ones are, well. Exactly what you’d expect from them. This fact makes the digital designs in this series the most dullest boards. This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the pedals, it’s just that the boards give out a medium intensity meh-factor when you stumble across exactly the same board design in two or more separate effect models.


As for the Echohead i posted earlier, this one holds the same boards, same chips and same filtering and mixing. Meaning that the differences between the Reflector and the Echohead are in code, screen printing and label badge on the surface. The electronics are exactly the same. While the guts contribute to noticeable meh, this still doesn’t mean there anything wrong with the design.


But since the Texas Instruments DSP, Atmel and BSI controllers are in place with crystal oscillator for the clock, i find very little to say about this unit from the electronic point of view. Sure. I could repeat everything i stated on the Echohead post, but there is very little point in that.


Besides, the design is complex and since it shares the same principles as all the other digital effect with its switching, buffering, AD/DA and so on, there’s not much to say. The real topic rises when we start playing. Electronically and by box design, this is what it is supposed to be. A solid chinese made Marshall box. Even though the pedal is pretty much the same as Echohead, the code and the modes are great. As with Echohead, the basic controls are level, or mix, followed by damping and reverb time. There is stereo output and even a place for expression pedal (which i haven’t tried with this one yet). Then, the six modes…

How does it sound?
Here’s the thing. These modes do not disappoint. Hall, plate, room and two slightly different spring modelling modes are good. Decent amount of hifi is present, but not enough to reveal the horrid truth of those too high resolution rack mount reverbs. Those rack mount units are useful for vocals and possibly drum tracks, but for guitar use, too high resolution does not sound right. This can be explained by guitar’s frequency bandwidth isn’t the same as for the instruments mentioned above. Too high resolution usually results in too bright and sharp tone. With this pedal, the brightness is in perfect balance with your guitar’s tone. Sure, the digital versus spring tank. We could discuss this for hours and still end up by saying both are good. Digital will never be able to act as the actual springs, but the effect with this and similar digital reverbs  will suffice to almost everyone. But wait a minute. There’s one more mode we didn’t cover. The reverse. I’m not going to say a lot about it, but it is fun to have a pedal with reverse reverb.

Marshall EH-1 Echohead

Saturday, February 7th, 2015


What is it?
Marshall EH-1 Ehcohead delay/echo. Made in china around early 00’s.

My relationship with these effects isn’t anything too special. I just simply like them for their heavy construction and fine tones. Most of the units in this series (which i like to call “small metal series”) are relatively low on their price point and most of the designs are still available as new in 2015. I’ve already been inside a few boxes and may have pointed out that the chinese factory that manufactures these for one of the UK’s coolest brands may be the same shop that is responsible for Ibanez 7-series. At least the board manufacturing methods and and component placing do suggest that. I have absolutely zero evidence to back me up on this. It’s just a gut feeling. As it is a gut feeling to like these units. Well. A small form factor, good tones and box design that will be able to take a hit on a road.

To begin with this delay/echo unit, opening the bottom plate shows a board that reeks of digital design. This was to be expected. There is no way the design could have been analog with the set of features we have on the pedal.


The electronic design itself is rather complex. We have our Texas Instruments DSP chip, plus Atmel and BSI controllers. The motherboard is taking care of the AD/DA conversion and the effect itself, while the switching, buffering and mixing is handled on the second board.


With current, limited understanding of digital design, i have to leave with these photos and a notion that if someone wants to design a digital effect with SMD components, it surely should look something like this. In my opinion, at least.


But what about features? I said above that the amount of features made me think digital in the first place. For the connections, we have mono input  with stereo output and a jack for external momentary tap tempo switch.  In addition to DC jack, of course. The knobs are representing the basic controls required for a delay/echo. Level setting the balance between clean, or dry and processed, or wet signal. Feedback controls the amount of repeats and delay time is pretty self explanatory. And what’s more important, the delay time ranges from nothing to up to 2000ms.  2000 milliseconds in this price range is very, very respectable. Last knob is a switch for the effect type modes. I’ll say a few words about these in a second.

How does it sound?
Well. To begin with, great. Controls are well responding and the six modes offered all sound different. First mode, the HIFI, has its overall tone in Boss DD-7 direction, with still being pleasant and usable. Usually this type of pristine on digital delays ends up in emphasizing the high frequency content resulting in extremely cold and piercing repeats. This one here has great tone, even on HIFI mode. Next two are Analogue and Tape Echo modes. These have similarities, but both of them do a very decent job on modelling the types they represent. Multi-tap is next, and it’s a great feature. The repeats are handled in a different manner than on the previous modes. Sure, the mode doesn’t live up to all its potential since the controls are just basic. Nice addition still. Then we have the Reverse mode. To my ears, this reverse is better than the one we’ll find in Digitech’s Digidelay. Simpy put, usable reverse delay. The lasts mode is Mod Filter. So we do get a modulation delay in the mix too. The modulation, obviously lacking in controls, isn’t the best modulation delay i’ve heard, but still. A very good one.

This set of features with all the different digital delay tones. Usually cheap does not add up to good. This time is does. While the engineers have been forced to drop a few things out, they have still managed to squeeze a respectable amount of features in a such small package. I have very little negative to say about this pedal.

Marshall GV-2 Guv’nor Plus

Sunday, July 13th, 2014


What is it?
Marshall GV-2 Guv’nor Plus. Made in china around early 00’s. Don’t know if there is any official name for this series of pedals, so i’m calling it “Small metal series”.

The original Guv’nor design was a bit of a hit. Not in least due to Gary Moore, who was doing the best promotion possible. Either way, the success of the original unit was little off from questionable. Somehow most folks only reacted to the pedal ten or more years late. I’ll be talking more about the original Guv’nor in a post about original Guv’nor when the time comes. Anyway.

This unit is successor for the original Big Black Guv’nor. With added “Deep” control and a complete redesign, the design team must have had a goal of having the (in)famous tone intact, while modernizing the behavior and sound.


Board design matches the rest of the units in the series with its modern dull traces with autorouted visual feel to them. Otherwise the labor looks fine and this series boxes are well made. Should last your use and abuse for times to come. Schematic appears to be available online. This version of the factory schematic addresses a few issues on the board. First of all, some folks have found the tone stack to be nothing close to their preferences. So there are notes how to match yours to the original, black Guv’nor. And other thing. This addresses a considerable design flaw. There is a 470pF capacitor from after the volume control to ground. I have no idea what the designers were after, but value of 470pF will dump everything that would be called bright to the ground. Meaning that with this cap on board you are bound to lose a lot of highs. Sure. You could swap the cap for something like 47pF to have a way better higher frequency response. But is seems that many people want to omit that cap altogether. And i can’t blame them.


The dual operational amplifiers are once again TL072, manufactured by Texas Instruments. It is not a bad opamp and it surely seems to be a weapon of choice for almost every Marshall pedal. The clipping diodes are in hard clipping configuration, just like found in older Guv’nor version. So there are similarities, while the overall complexity of the circuit here is noticeably higher.


The circuit inside the box is made of three boards. One for the main board, one for controls (which are, no surprise, a 9mm pots with two of them having dual separate sweeps) and one for switching. The hot glue in there doesn’t look that good. Otherwise the build quality is decent.

The controls are your standard three band hi/mid/low for EQ, wich offers nice versatility. Other standard controls are gain and volume. The “Deep” control controls lower mids of the frequency scale from scooped to boosted.

How does it sound?
Certain qualities to the sound are per the original, nowadays a classic Guv’nor. This simply sounds way more muddy and undefined due to that single capacitor noted above. Three band EQ is nice thing to have and it follows the basic principles of the tone controls found in Marshall amplifiers. With the lower mids on a “Deep” knob, the tone controls are very nice and should be enough to please any tweaker. Volume levels are sufficient and the gain range goes from mildly overdriven tone to near massive distortion. But for the muddy and undefined.. You’ll be better of with some other pedal. Or you could just simply snip the C22 cap off the board.

For the price – it is an ok pedal. Not too great, but not that sucky either. One of the worst in the series, but still slightly better than many other manufacturer’s distortion units. Go figure. I don’t see myself using this for anything though.

Marshall JH-1 The Jackhammer

Monday, June 2nd, 2014


What is it?
Marshall JH-1 Jackhammer Overdrive/Distortion. Made in china in mid 00’s.

We’ve seen a few of these units that combine two popular dirt effects – the overdrive and the distortion. So far i haven’t come across an unit that would excel in both. First analogue would be Boss OS-2, which is terrific distortion, but super sucky overdrive. But. More about the sounds later. Let’s rip this puppy open and see what’s inside.


As with all the small metal series boxes, the traces are clinical with autorouted feel to them. The soldering work is very chinese from 2005. Not bad, but i’ve seen a lot better. Lots of praise comes from using through hole components. Overall feel is a lot sturdier and these units really feel like they are built to last. The off board wiring is done with terminal sockets. Looking at the component side of the board, the opamps providing the boost and gain are Marshall’s weapon of choice number one, the Texas Instruments TL072. It is a very nice sounding opamp for most occasions, like the big black Bluesbreaker. Here, the designiing engineers have wanted to take a bit too much gain out of them – resulting in opamp clipping with not-so-great decay on the release. Sort of reminds me of main stage distortion of the transistor based amplifiers. Yup. It is that good sounding. It is, of course, masked by the clipping diodes when gain pot is set at over half of its sweep. There is a factory schematic floating around the webs…


There is two pairs of clipping diodes. The first pair are 3mm red LEDs and the second pair are your standard 1N4148s. The design doesn’t seem to offer a lot of surprises. After a quick look, it seem like the OD/Dist rotary switch is basically cotrolling the clippers.

I guess the board could be tweaked to sound, well. Generally better, but this unit will never become a DIY favourite. Why? Let me tell you why. There are six pots and a switch in addition to semi-complex circuit and one of those pots is a reverse logarithmic dual gang. So anyone trying to fit a clone of this one in 1590B sized enclosure is either insane or very adventurous. The pots control gain, volume, treble, bass, frequency and contour.

How does it sound?
If we start with the distortion side, there’s not much good to say. It’s muddy and unarticulate no matter what the settings are. That is just simply bad. But. Once we turn the rotary switch to Overdrive side. That’s when to tone opens up and controls start to feel correct. Open, bright and with enough controls to match any guitar and amp combination. The overdrive is very versatile and actually very good effect. Where as Boss OS-2 sucks on overdrive mode, but shines bright on distortion, this one is exactly the opposite. The distortion is the kinda sound that i don’t think i’ll find any use in anything. But the overdrive. That’s well worth spending the $30 on this Marshall unit. Well worth it.

Marshall BB-2 Blues Breaker II

Sunday, April 27th, 2014


What is it?
Marshall BB-2 Bluesbreaker from small metal series. Made in china around early 00’s.

The Marshall pedals are are strange phenomenon. I feel like i’ve talked about it, the same thing earlier. Where nearly every single Marshall amplifier ever made has a status that every guitarist knows about. Even the floppiest, bad amplifiers are good for the purpose they were designed for. I think Jim’s passing in april 2012 did affect a lot of people. Not as much as S. Jobs’ but still. Jim wasn’t as controversial character and i think it would be safe to say that everyone liked him and loved his work. For reason unknown to me, the Marshall pedals did never gather the mass admiration like the amplifiers did. Of course, the early pedals have become super rare gems and the big black box series is nowadays highly praised. Which it wasn’t when the series was originally released. Same thing applies for the small metal series. No one was hyping the series when it came out. But if i’m being truthful, the series is well made even though it’s of chinese origin, the designs are not bad at all.


Well made, but dull modern traces that are found in every design of the series. Lots of outboard wiring, but almost all of those are done with terminals instead of hand wired connections. Standard, non-surprising selection of components – TL072 dual opamp and red LEDs for clippers. Someone has posted a factory schematic here. There are noticeable similarities with the original Bluesbreaker, but with some added features. Mainly the Boost option.


The basic topology here is buffer -> boosting stage -> clipping amp (LEDs in feedback loop)  -> recovery stage (which is something to check out) -> tone control -> volume control. The boost mode bypasses everything from boost stage output to volume control. So the design is quite versatile.

How does it sound?

Fairly nice. The boost mode is what it says – a clean(ish) boost with enough gain. Sadly, the clipping LEDs on the clipping amp in this configuration tend to sound a bit broken. Otherwise, it has similar overall feel as the original, big black unit. It is nice overdrive with hard, big sound. Is it even remotely a “blues” overdrive? Not sure. But it still sounds nice. And you should be able to find one for cheap. At least for now.

Marshall VT-1 Vibratrem

Monday, February 17th, 2014


What is it?
Marshall VT-1 Vibratrem, made in china around 2005.

The Marshall pedals are curious things. The hits in the 60’s and 70’s , another hits in early 90’s. After that the big black box series went through massive inflation. The next generation of Marshall pedals were introduced in early 00’s, while the players rediscovered the original Guv’nor and the original Bluesbreaker. While all the earlier Marshall pedals were just fuzzes, overdrives and distortions with one wah in the lineup, the “next generation” offered wider range of sounds. The nine effects in the next generation series have a few distortions, but also a reverb, delay and a few different modulation effects. This is one of them.

First of all, the idea of pairing a tremolo and a vibrato to a single box is a splendid idea. The controls are your standard depth and speed, with addition of LFO waveform control that can take the wave from square to saw wave. And then there’s a switch with two modes, a tremolo and a vibrato.


Board looks like most modern designs. Dull and not too eye pleasing. But the overall construction with all the wires does look pleasing. Even though the wires all have terminal sockets to minimize the labour. Also, the through hole components does give us a hope that not all big name designs are done with baking the surface mount components in chinese toaster ovens with litres of flux residue all over them.


It is quite complicated design that i’m not going to unravel more at this point. This would be a pain to reverse, not to mention how massive undertaking it would be to clone it. Quick searching did not reveal a a schematic, but it did point me to a reported fault.

Apparently  some units tend to come over unity level with sort of boosting the output level. At those brief test runs i had with my unit, i didn’t notice it. Guess i’ll need to revisit the testing. ..Or it could be one of those psycho-aural or psycho acoustic phenomenons often affiliated with tremolos and their output levels.

How does it sound?
When it comes to tremolos and vibes, i appreciate the fat and thick sounds. This heavy hitter provides those both with two distinctive wave forms. The sound is somewhat overwhelming, but still it keeps your guitar’s tone well in tact. Tremolo part is thick and juicy. Vibe is a lot brighter than most of the vibrato effects i’ve played with. That’s not a bad thing.

I’d say this makes a very usable effect in both modes. Personally i find the tremolo part to be more to my liking than the vibe, but it does sound good all the way. Recommended tool.