Posts Tagged ‘Distortion’

EHX Germanium4 Big Muff XO

Friday, July 22nd, 2016


What is it?
Electro-Harmonix Germanium4 Big Muff Pi. Made in NYC, USA in 1013.

Buzzword. Much like “cloud services” or “streamline” in some other contexts. For pedals it’s usually “Germanium”. Next and the biggest single question – how come this unit has nothing more to do with a Big Muff than its name.. Since late 60’s the Big Muff has mostly been the same four transistor circuit that can be compared to Tubescreamers to a certain degree, being somewhat a standard and a subject to numerous (hundreds, maybe) derivative clones over the years. So the marketing department at NYC has decided that in modern day it’s ok to sell anything with BMP name. Well, i don’t need to be this harsh. The designer team may have had a few people of prestige involved. But still. When i hear the name “Germanium Big Muff”, my initial thought will instantly move towards the classic four transistor circuit, with germanium transistors instead of the basic BC550C (or similar) that we see in all modern BMPs. Even the number 4 in the name would suggest this. But no.


In reality, the pedal is two separate circuits in series and there is basically nothing that would even point towards the classic Big Muff, except for the name. There is a trace at Freestompboxes forum (may not be 100% correct and to see it you’ll need to login), that’ll confirm the suspicion. Basically the distortion half uses the two NKT275s as clipping diodes in a feedback loop of a non-inverting opamp, where overdrive half has the two germs in a signal path, but still utilizing an opamp for recovery. This part has some similarities with the EHX Germanium OD released in XO series earlier. The transistors are those current repro NKT275s that EHX must have bought in as truckloads. For the rest of the components and board design, the unit is on par with all the other modern EHX pedals. Mixed SMD and through hole design.


But what comes to controls and other features, this isn’t as bad pedal as i first thought. The overdrive half offers very similar tones as the XO series GeOD, but with much wider controls. And the distortion goes with decent control set as well. To me, it seems that the biggest issue remains with “false” marketing and labeling. Another head scratcher is the price development of new and used market of these. Just a couple of years back you could score one of these used for $40€, but for some reason not explainable, the current street price is something notably higher.

How does it sound?
Not bad. Both halves are like peaches from separate cans. Neither of these may get the label of “musical”, but there are tons of those ye oldee school slightly misbiased germanium transistor tones available. Both halves activated, there is some high gainy/fuzzy sonic bliss in the air. Not enough to blast through the roof, but still very decent distortion with a vintage-like touch to it. If i wasn’t offended by the misleading marketing and labeling, i’d hype this pedal to a degeree that i rarely do. But since there is certain, slight feel of being swindled present, i hqave hard time of praising the unit.

It’s not bad, at all. It offers quite wide range of those misbiased old school drive tones that most of us love. Nevertheless, i believe this unit won’t be too popular and it’ll settle for the status it should have. A novelty, or a speciality, that’ll get one purpose covered nicely. Nice. Not shocking, but nice.

Pearl DS-06 Distortion

Thursday, September 10th, 2015


What is it?
Pearl DS-06 Distortion. Made in japan, early 1980’s.

Simply an overlooked gem. Somehow this unit has slipped through all the classic listings while the overdrive and a few others in this series is highly considered and still receive praise from time to time. It is a distortion unit, so i wasn’t expecting much. The controls did look somewhat out of the ordinary, but i didn’t bother to do much research as the opportunity rose to get one in a decent deal. Once the unit arrived, i took it for a spin and snapped couple of photos. Opening the unit up showed very neat old school traces with pretty hand drawn feel to them. The board looked also pretty full, so at this point it became rather obvious that the electronic design was not your standard rip off of any popular design.


Flipping the board showed the terminals in use, but all the rest is laid out in a beautiful manner. The heart of the driver is a JRC opamp and i mostly due to those terminal strips, i was expecting to see a stacked board setup with board mounted pots. Not the case here.


The second board houses the switching part, but all the pots and the rotary switch are hand wired. Clean work and production must have been quite labor intensive. In other words, this is a prime specimen of japanese craftmanship of the early eighties.


To be honest, none of the pedals from this Pearl series have been poor. Quite the contrary. But. That’s not all.

No research, so the features were not familiar to me beforehand. At the first test run, the Out level and Distortion knobs acted like expected. But as for so many other distortion units, the tone controls are called “Spectrum”. Instead of just single tone control, we have a six position rotary switch for six different frequency range settings, accompanied by a Level knob. These six modes set the general, or a peak frequency for the overall tone and the level knob set the boost amount of that frequency. With this setup, the available frequency range is next to unlimited.

Sadly, no schematic available.

How does it sound?
At first, like so many other distortion units. Decent, but not great output level with well working distortion control, which ranges from well balanced overdrive to full-on thick distortion. Nothing mind blowing, until we start to tweak the tone with with the spectrum controls. Then. Boom. This beast does everything from glass shattering treble mayhem to massive mid hump that rips the heart out of any tubescreamer, to all the way to a wallpaper removing, bassy doom distortion. And everything in between. Even the worst sounding settings will serve a purpose. If i’ve been calling some distortion units versatile, this word is very much insufficient here.

Good distortion tones with one of the greatest tone control sets i’ve ever heard on a distortion pedal. The controls are not amp-like, but extremely usable. Simply, an overlooked gem.

Visual Sound V2 Son of Hyde

Saturday, June 27th, 2015


What is it?
Visual Sound (currently Truetone) V2 Son of Hyde Distortion. Made in china around mid 00’s.

For several reasons, i’ve had mixed feeling about the Visual Sound products for a long time. I’ve repaired a number of the “V1” series pedals and sadly, i’d call the manufacturing methods sub-par. (Not to mention the numerous issues i’ve come across with the company’s highly acclaimed power supplies…) Extremely thin and brittle traces are the biggest issue for me. Other, quite surprising thing with this one was with the pots. As you can see, the top end of the pedal rises above the pots, sort of like a protection ridge. But since the rise is only on the top end, the sides are not protected at all. And with this we get to a reason why i have a Visual Sound pedal in my possession at all. Bought this one used due to extremely low price tag and a mention that the pots are broken. The seller suspected a beer/juice/whatever to be the cause, but in fact, the gain and volume pots had been broken due to hard handling. Like i mentioned, the sides are not protected and thus, the gain and volume are your best bet to see broken things on any VS/Truetone V2 pedal. So the actual chinese manufacturing and certain aspects of the housing design are slightly at fault. But this doesn’t mean that the rest of the pedal was.


Workmanship is ok with professional looking joints and so on. The traces are not that ok with them being more thin and narrow than what i’ve come accustomed to. The board design consists of main board, control board and a small switch board. The jacks are handwired.


The main board is quite full with five dual opamps and two CMOS switches. The trimmers are for the bass control and the noise gate level. There is a switch for the noise gate below the noise gate control. The latter versions, presumably after 2008 have just jumper wires instead of the gate trimmer. Apparently the control didn’t perform that well. According to user manual (found on Truetone page), the pot was always set on minimum setting, so it was removed from later versions.


Another interesting thing is that the pedal is claimed to be a single version of Jekyll & Hyde OD/Dist pedal’s distortion side. I won’t agree. The Hyde on the original V1 double is a rewritten Marshall style distortion with way less component footprint. And more importantly, the tone, to me at least, is nothing alike. The thing could be as stated with V2, but i have no experience with that unit. Yet.

The reason why i’m not slamming the whole product for its obvious faults? Well. The circuit designer is one of my personal idols. And…

How does it sound?
This thing sounds fricking awesome. While it doesn’t sound anywhere near the Hyde side of the J&H V1, it is a serious competitor to most highly regarded metal distortions out there. Fat, mean and creamy. Seriously, this takes on my current favourite, HM-3 head to head with good results. Gain setting is quite useful, which isn’t the case with most metal boxes. Meaning that the tone goes from driven Marshall stack to that swedish Death Metal sound everyone knows. The bright switch can add a whole lot of highs when needed and the treble/mids controls work sort of like a age knobs. You know. The younger you are, the less mids you are likely to have in your tone. Probably the best metal style distortion in a long time. And it signs rather beautifully with leads that are not metal too.

On the downside, the bass control could have been on the outside for better control. And if the board and traces were more reliable and the housing design was more to my liking, i’d flag these things around like no tomorrow. Sounds great, but there are a few aspects that leave room for hopes. The tone does make me think if i should just buy one of the Truetone V3 series pedals. Just out of interest…

Vox V830 Distortion Booster

Sunday, June 14th, 2015


What is it?
Vox V830 Distortion Booster. Made in china around early to mid 00’s.

Sharing the box and switching/power circuitry with V810 Valve overdrive, the V830 is nothing close. Obviously one would instantly assume this to be a DS-1 derivative. What makes this assumption obvious is the fact that V810 is a Tubescreamer. And since there are just two boxes with these aesthetics, that was exactly what i was thinking before i checked the schematic or opened mine up.


By just looking at the guts i was certain this isn’t a DS-1 derivative. And after checking the schematic up at FSB this was confirmed (you’ll need to be logged in to see the attachement on the FSB post). Actually. No other distortion unit came straight up to my mind when looking at the schem. At first we have a gain stage that’s familiar from all the TS-style designs. After that there’s another gain stage that shares the control with the latter. Then a hard clipping shunt diodes and a active filter stage, BMP-style tone control and output buffering. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but still not too common.


Which also means that the behaviour isn’t that average either. Drive control is very effective and there is a lot of usable range. Tone control is what it is. Variable LP/HP filter that is cutting some of the frequency range. The previous filtering stage is most likely in place to keep the mids in tact with the tone circuit. Anyway. This look neat and…

How does it sound?
Sounds pretty damn good. The combined soft/hard clipping has nice texture to it and the the two stacked gain stages offer levels of gain that could be described simply as enough. No, this isn’t one of those “metal” distortions by far. Running this to a slightly dirty amp will give you that big and thick distortion lead tone that still has some vintage color in it. Not to mention it will keep your preamp stage alive and gives out the best of the amp. In all, great looking and sounding device.

TC Electronic Röttweiler

Sunday, June 14th, 2015


What is it?
TC Electronic Röttweiler Metal Distortion, made presumably in china, early 10’s.

TCE is quite highly regarded brand. And there are several good reasons for it. The brand’s rack units for studio use shook the recording professionals in the 90’s and they’ve been pushing solid products ever since. For example, it was TCE’s polytune that made working polyphonic pedal tuners available in reasonable price range. Which then obviously meant a hit. One that the brand was recognized by guitarists as well as the recording engineer folk.


Construction is quite solid, but i just didn’t find the interest to open this completely up. We have relay based true bypass and SMD construction under the metal shield plate. As for the controls, we have low/high EQ-knobs, volume and gain. The gain control behaviour reminds me of one found in Boss HM-2, which makes me think the circuit may very well be similar to the classic Heavy Metal box. The voice switch feels like it takes one gyrator stage on and off from the circuit. This would be rather close to a modification i’ve seen done on the mentioned idol. It’s basically an “add more treble” switch. The EQ range is sufficient, and i’m quite certain the controls are for gyrator based active EQs.

How does it sound?
And by sound too. The HM-2 definitely comes to mind. Not sure if the design is actually close or if it even has anything similar going for it. Still, the sound is close even if the design isn’t. The mids sound like they are fixed and set on a level that ok. Not scooped or boosted, so they’ll fit to most ears out of the box. Simply to sum it up, this is cheap and nice high gain distortion with adequate output level, sucky gain control that is pretty much usable only with all or nothing settings. This accompanied with decent and usable EQ-section. Nothing bad, but somehow slightly boring. Modern take on HM-2. For the price it’s very decent metal distortion.

Excalibur Holy Grail Distortion

Saturday, June 6th, 2015


What is it?
Excalibur Holy Grail Distortion. Made in china, late 00’s.

Got this one with the Tubescreamer derivative and the fake analog delay from the same “manufacturer”. The quotes are there for a reason. Since the brand is just OEM’ng stuff from chinese brand with questionable prestige, i wouldn’t exactly call Excalibur a manufacturer. Due to have been inside the two units mentioned above, i knew exactly what to expect. Not by the design, but for the manufacturing methods. The overall feel of these boxes is somewhat sturdy. Not that great, but ok. The highest points come from screws that fasten the board to the enclosure. It’s not much, but i can’t come up with much more positive to say.


Pretty standard cheap china build quality. Made for extremely cheap and fast. And of course, with cheapest solutions there is. See the jacks in the photo above? Yup. Those are not fastened to the enclosure at all. Sort of reminds me of the method found in Ibanez L- and 10-series, with one exception. Ibanez has bigger part of the jack shafts outside, so the  pressure applied when inserting a plug isn’t that hard.  Also, on Ibanezes the board fastening screw is placed so, that the board doesn’t come by too much strain when jacks are inserted. Here, the jacks jus float behind the enclosure wall and the board is fastened tight. This means that there are bound to be jack failures in the future. If the pedal sees lots of use.


The component side  Continues with the boring china stuff. While the mechanic switch tries to mimic as a basic, sturdy switch with a metal stomp, the actual switch is something quite different. LEDs for clippers and on the more positive side, the design doesn’t seem to be 1:1 clone of Boss DS-1. If i was to take a guess, the roots for this design would be closer to the 90’s Marshall distortion units. Not sure where the design comes from, and i have very little interest in finding out. Not because this would sound bad, but because everything around the schematic is just utterly bad.

How does it sound?
Not that bad. Capable of delivering decent amount of boost and the controls work well. Overall tone doesn’t cut lows too much, so in all, the overall tone is ok. Decent, reasonably clear, but powerful sounding distortion. For a unit that costs 20$/€/£ used, you can’t go wrong too badly. It’s not a great (nor even that good) distortion unit, but definitely not the worst i’ve seen. The best of the bunch. But that isn’t much said since the rest of the Excalibur pedals are very bad indeed.

DOD FX55-B Supra Distortion

Sunday, May 31st, 2015


What is it?
DOD FX55-B Supra Distortion. Made in US, early 1990.

One of the pedals that DOD sold a lot back in the day. I assume this probably was the first pedal for many people in the late 80’s and 90’s. And why not. Widely available and in a low price range. The name was originally a Super Distortion, but due to aggressive protection of the trade mark by certain DiMarzio, the name was changed to Supra pretty fast after the initial release in 1986. This was exactly the same thing that happened with Boss DF-2 Super Distortion & Feedbacker. The first units with Supra written on then came out later the same year, leaving the first 6 months of Super Distortions as collectible items. These are rare to the degree that i’ve seen only one or two for sale so far. The supra versions are very common though. And they do come cheap.


What comes to the design, there is a schematic up at Fuzz Central. To begin with, the idea of this being some sort of Boss DS-1 derivative is completely false. As the schematic suggests, there is a gain stage with diodes in the feedback loop and the gain control is derived from OD250. After that there’s a hard clipping stage, the volume control and pretty clever tone section. All this accompanied by standard DOD electronic bypass switching and 1458 with both channels used for in/out buffering. Nice design and not as common as one might have first thought.

How does it sound?
Here’s the culprit. Sluggish on the output level and the overall result is just lacking personality. Slightly cutting the lows and while the tone control works pretty well, there isn’t that much good to be said. If we take comparison out and compare this to Boss DS-1, we have a winner here. This victory doesn’t mean all that much, but still. If i had 40€ to burn for a mod base, i’d get FX55B over DS-1 for sure. Just double up on the hard clipping diodes to get a bit more volume out of it and tweak a few of the cap values. Should make a nice beast of a distortion.

As a stock pedal. Not great.

Roger Mayer Voodoo-1

Monday, May 25th, 2015


What is it?
Roger Mayer Voodoo-1 Distortion. Made in UK in early 90’s. Possibly 1993.

Got this unit in a trade from a friend (thx Jaakko!). Mr. Mayer is The Original Boutiquer, so obviously i was interested. I’m not going into the history of the man, but if you are interested, you could check out the short history up on Roger’s page. The first image on that page tells you everything you need to know.

The unit on hand has seen a lot, and i mean a lot of use. My friend had bought this in mid 90’s and had it ever since. The battery stoppers (very nice idea) and a tiny wood block to keep the DC jack in palce have been added by him. I saw no reason to take them down. Anyway. Just recently he had gone into this thing called “pickup roulette” and got himself a nice modern, hot set of humbuckers. His observation was that the unit may be broken as it can’t boost the signal like it used to do with strat single coils before. I promised to take a look and i did. And demonstrated how the design will not work the same with +15K humbuckers in contrast to ~5K singles. So it is a feature that should be taken into account.


This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the design. It’s just that when the design was conceived, over 16K humbuckers were not as widely used as they are today. Some will argue that those do not sound “better”, and i must respectfully agree for most parts (anything under 12k for bridge is a waste of time, anything over 12k for neck is also a waste of time – but that’s just me and preference in tone is definitely a subject to personal taste). As a conclusion, this unit works as a boost very nicely. All the way to having too hot pickups.

What comes to desing, i find very little negative to say. There is a traced schem up at FIS, so check it out. There is a lot of out of box thinking going on in there. While some still deem this as nothing more but a Rat derivative, the schematic shows that it is not. Only obvious thing that’s common for both is the use of LM308 high gain opamp and utilization of hard clipping shunt to ground. That’s like saying everything with JRC4558 is a Tubescreamer derivative. In that case your old clock radio that wakes you up would be a TS-derivative. So no. This is not a rat. The signal path starts with a single transistor gain stage that drives the main gain stage. The gain there is set by taking a pot between inverting input and ground. Notice how the first gain stage also acts as a reference voltage supply for the non-inverting input. This is something i do not recall seeing every day. The main gain stage is followed by two pairs of diodes shunt to ground. This will result in hard, but still still mellow sounding diode clipping, that isn’t that far off from synth-like wave shaping. After the clipping there’s a tone control that may (or may not) have its root in the infamous Big Muff tone stack. After that, there’s an output buffer. One last thing to point out.. Check the 1M6 resistor acting as a feedback loop over the entire circuit. Yup. Figured you had not seen one like that before.

How does it sound?
Fat and big, if not massive. There’s a hint of fat Rat texture in there, but not much. It’s a good and usable sounding general distortion that will suit most styles and situations. Paired with an adult style delay one should be able to get those pesky 80’s thin lead tones. But with tone turned low, this will compete with many modern high end boutique pedals in the Marshall/Brown Sound territory.

Like stated, thepedal doesn’t exactly shine with modern high output pickups, but that’s the only bigger fault in its tone. The tone control is a thing of its own. Clockwise it’ll take a lot of lows away, but it offers very good control range from 7 o’clock to noon. In all, very good distortion design with its quirks. At least i seem to like it. A lot.

Peavey HFD-2 Hot Foot Distortion

Friday, April 24th, 2015


What is it?
Peavey HFD-2 Hotfoot Distortion. I’m not completely certain about the country of manufacture, but several things point to this being US made. Around mid to late 80’s.

I recall stumbling on to the schematic of this unit a few years back. There is not much special about it. From electronic point of view, we have here just our basic LM308 Rat with tweaks to the buffering and switching. But. This pedal just isn’t all about the electronic design. The housing and other manufacturing decisions should be mentioned as well.


The housing is sort-of a wrap around. The thick bottom rubber is the same that goes around the pedal’s axis and also acts as a stomp rubber. This seems to be molded to the metal parts which makes the enclosure design extremely solid. There are two separate boards, one for the main circuit and the other for the connectors and pots. Two boards are connected via ribbon cable and pin headers.


There are nice thick, white plastic films used as insulation for the boards. Not that those would be in real need as everything is fastened with screws and there’s plenty of room between the boards and the metal parts of the enclosure. Looking at the board itself, i can’t help but to think if the same PCB factory has been involved with these and the ones found in Morley Jewel Box series. Even the time factor could suggest this. Also, the traces and a few other manufacturing methods could point to the same manufacturer. I’m not certain if this is the case. With very little hard facts available, i’m just making guesses based on what i’ve seen.


Idea of having all axial board will always look great. In this case it also means quite a few links between the components. My guess is that for a board this size the Rat-like design could have been laid out way prettier and with way less link wires. It’s not an ugly design by any means.


In all, the housing looks very pleasing and the build quality is very high and to put it mildly, solid.

For some reason, completely unknown to me, this unit has been listed in the Pro Guitar Shop’s “worst effect pedals” blog post a few years back. The reason could be that the author of that post had the unit back when it was cool to play with super crappy amplifiers. May that be the case or not, i must strongly disagree with PGS on this one. Why? Let me tell you why…

How does it sound?
If someone calls this a bad and mushy sounding distortion, they must hate the ProCo Rat too. There are only very few and slight changes to the design, so the sound is exactly what to expect. A Rat. That great, almost fuzzy distortion tone, just with a slightly smoother switching mechanism and a reverse log pot to get the original “filter” control in reverse – you know. As more traditional “tone”. Very nice and fat sounding Rat derivative. Nothing new or special, but this will look even more mean on your board than any of the current Rat reissues.

Calling this one of the “worst” effects ever made makes the person making the claim a person with wooden ears. Just my opinion, but should be justified.

Arion MDS-1 Distortion

Sunday, April 19th, 2015


What is it?
Aria MDS-1 Distortion. Made in Sri Lanka, possibly around mid 00’s.

As plastic, low price point pedals come, i’ve found Arion to be one of the best. The housings are way more solid than what we find in Rocktek, Aria and similar 80’s/90’s cheapos. Earlier Arions were made in japan, but the more current production is done in sri lanka. The designs are the same, more or less, as for those 80’s classics. And the quality assurance is probably still over seed by japanese mother company. At least the build quality is very good. After all, sri lanka may not be the biggest exporter of guitar effects.

It’s always pretty cheap to move the manufacturing to somewhere else once the design has been proven to be on spot. As the circuit board below shows, there is that certain acidy feel to the traces and the board design could possibly be traced back to earlier versions of Arion Distortion. And it can. There are still “UKM Japan” prints on both sides of the board.


At first i just thought this would be nothing more but a dull sounding, plastic feeling remake of Boss DS-1. Quick glance at the component side does not support this assumption. And quick eyeballin’ the internet didn’t yield a schematic, so this would make it to my list of units to trace. One thing’s for certain. There are LEDs in there, and i’m thinking those are at least partly, doing the clipping.


A plastic housing that’s ok, decent build quality and neat design. I feel like these “re-issues” do not come far off from the original japanese units. Biggest culprits are the weak(ish) pots and their knobs, which have a tendency of simply falling off without any agitation. Also the battery compartment door is good to mention. It’s not holding on to the enclosure by anything but just quite brittle plastic clamps. I do not find much wrong with the rest. This, including…

How does it sound?
The big, boosting and solid sounding distortion we get out of it. The texture is very pleasing and there’s no broken quality to the tone usually associated with simple diode or LED clipping. And the output level. Oh boy. This thing can boost even your modern high output humbuckers. So no. It doesn’t sound anything like the Boss DS-1, but it’s very usable, thick sounding distortion. Almost sonic bliss. This here is the reason why the plasticky overall feel doesn’t matter that much for Arion boxes.