Posts Tagged ‘Overdrive’

Bogner Wessex Overdrive

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016


What is it?
Bogner Wessex Overdrive from Amplifier Transformer series. Made in USA late 2014 at esarliest.

Bogner started to build boutique guitar amplifiers way back in 1989 by revising and modding the classic Fender Blackface schematics. Those amps have been quite highly praised specimen. Company released their first pedals in 2012 and the sky has been the only limit since. The brand just glows the word quality. The price tags are laid out respectively. Whopping at high end range, Bogner pedals have made it to many big name boards and like a stealth bomber, all the way to many not-so-big-name-hobbyist-players as well. This obviously has made the previous pedals a item of interest to the DIY community. Bogner, that has made its fortune and fame copying and making Fender Amps better decided that there should always be something hidden in each pedal, so that their “own, new and original” designs stay a secret. Previous series have a daughter board that’s joined by pin headers and submerged in goop before housing the blob in hard plastic case. So at this point it looked like the brand’s good name and reputation wasn’t on as solid basis that i had hoped for. You kno how cough*hypocrite*cough it goes.


As the opportunity arose to get one in a trade, i was of course optimistic and somewhat eager to get my hands on one. The guy who i did the trade with said at the beginning, that the unit is quite strange sounding thing. Not necessarily bad, but just different. This piqued my interest even more. Quick reading told me that the unit is a part of “amplifier transformer” series, where all the pedals utilize a Rupert Neve Design transformer. The enclosure design goes as the above photo shows – you can see the top of the transformer through a hole in the bottom plate. Elaborate and quite cool thinking. Once we screw the bottom plate open and take a look, the enthusiasm stops there. And basically turns into a yawn. There’s a massive transformer on all board mounted PCB – with a black box of obvious trade secret amount of goop.


Now, if there really is something completely new and original in play, the build method, may it use what ever type of components, will make this utter piece of trash the second the warranty date expires. Repairing the thing will be extremely painful due to gooped base circuit and special specific transformer – which i doubt you’ll be able to buy from you local component store. Anyway, decently built. I must admit that. Finish is definitely something to point out. It is a pretty pedal with decent set of controls (and control range), even thought the “unrepairable” tag.

How does it sound?
Now this i find interesting. The guy i got this unit from said that it’ll sound strange, very compressed. I figured it should have something to do with thte transformer on board. Once i wired this thing up and played first notes, i must agree. Very compressed, and thick sounding thing with lots of lows present even when those are rolled back at the bass knob. The Enhanced/normal switch seems like a clipping diode switch. It doesn’t affect the voicing all that much, just how much, or how quickly the pedal starts to distort. The gain amount is very much sufficient and the control offers everything from clean boost to near-distortion overdrive tones in decent feel of the knob. Same goes for the tone controls. There is certain high quality feel all over. But the tone. That is still fat and thick. In a sense, overly compressed. While the pedal reacts to guitar volume control in good manner, the guitar doesn’t mean anything to this pedal. I started by playing with a Tokai Love Rock model and slightly hotter than stock PAF neck humbucker. Liked the sound, but didn’t think it would see much use. Then i took my Fender Strat with single coil on the bridge – the sound was exactly the same as for LP neck humbucker. This pedal has a mind and tone of its own. It’s not “transparent” or “clear” at all. Not a bit.

It’ll serve perfectly for thoseDinosaur Jr. style, fat, overdriven tones with nice, ringing overtones and quite cool articulation. But that’s pretty much it. one trick pony with petaton of personality. Most likely this unit won’t see much use in my care, but it’ll be a definite keeper as a strange one trick pony. Just in case i need that Mascis tone from Gibson Melody Maker with a shitty single coil. Let’s just hope the pedal doesn’t ever break.

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.

Fender Yngwie Malmsteen signature overdrive

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

I know it’s been a while since my previous post, but i’ve never been away completely. Just swamped with other aspects in life. Like renovating a house to host my build desk and small recording studio and living quarters for the whole family etc…


What is it?
Fender Yngwie Malmsteen signature Overdrive. Made in china, 2014.

I was about to place an order at one of the bigger music stores in europe and noticed that this Fender branded and Yngwie endorsed asian pedal was priced pretty nicely. So i got it as an extra side o’ fries. I was more than just convinced the insides would be nothing more than slightly modded DOD OD250 as that’s the magic to Yngwie’s tone. Or at least, has been for a couple of decades. Let’s get one thing straight before going further.. I’m not into metal at all (not any metal, unless it’s just good ol’ plain hardcore punk or some classic thrash) and thus, never been that interested in technical shredders that tend to get their names on guitars and pedals more often than my idols. Who are usually very heartful players with massive sense of style. Think Andy Cohen (Silkworm, Bottomless Pit etc.), Doung Martsch (Built to Spill), Frankie Stubbs (Leatherface), Dave Quinn (Tiltweel etc.) etc. While the shredding the scales up and down is definitely not my cup of tea, this goddamn swede is something quite different. Hats off.

Anyway. Got the pedal and for some idiotic reason i didn’t have suitable imperial hex keys to get the knobs off. At that point i tried it out and played with it for a while before packing it up to its box and let it wait for tools. Took me more than six months before i realised i had imperial keys in my desk drawer all along. Since the initial test drive was on par with my expectations of OD250 derivative, i was not in a rush to do anything. When i finally got to opening the pedal up..


Nope. That can’t be a board of a straight up 250 derivative. Way too much going on. And flipping the board over confirms it. I do enjoy it when i find i was wrong. 250 has something like 13 parts total and one single opamp. The YJM380, which is the previous signature pedal, has the same type 4558 dual opamp, but the second half is unused and tied to ground. Here it serves a purpose. Haven’t done a trace so can’t say much, but i believe the clipping stage and the main gain stage may be similar to 250/380. The switching seems to be way more complitade than what those previous models have. Still there are number of differences.


Most obvious differences come from the build methods when compared to the DODs. Everything is board mounted and overall build quality is very familiar with most of curren, better, made in china stuff. No super tiny SMD, but rather clean through hole construction. I should take on the circuit one day and reverse it to see if there really is as much in difference as i currently think.

But do the differences change the sound and feel enough to declare this a completely different sound from 250/380? Answer could go either way. For the purist end of tone hunters, who swear the tone of the Grey 250 is the only true “Malmsteen” tone, the cheaper Fender tryout won’t do. But for the rest of the folks, most of the population, this will serve well and deliver the parallel tone for the original.

For what it’s worth, i’m not that happy i keep comparing this with DOD overdrives. But then again, this is supposed to be the pedal for that “Yngwie tone” – which many of us will always connect with OD250/YJM380.

How does it sound?
Close to 250/380 (of which’ tone i assume you all are familiar to), but there are tonal differences. Output level is enough to boost your amp and the gain control works very well as it offers usable control all over the sweep. As the 250/380 do as well. I’d say that the single biggest difference is the overall feel. While the DOD predecessors have notable character and personality, this thing delivers its payload close, but it still feels somewhat tame. Like a lion versus a household cat. Same genetics, but still different animals.

Which doesn’t mean that one would definitely be better than another. Fender does not sound quite like the pedals previously associated with YJM, but it gets close. I personally find this a keeper – in addition to my 250/380.

Danelectro CO-1 Drive

Saturday, June 27th, 2015


What is it?
Danelectro CO-1 Drive from Cool Cat series. Made in china, late 00’s.

Last one i had missing from my Cool Cat series collection. Pretty rare specimen actually. Finally found one from polish auction site and a friend delivered it. I’ve seen only couple of units on sale, mostly in US and with no shipping to europe. This makes me think the number of unit manufactured before switching to V2 were modest to say at least. The rumour was (and still is i guess,) that the CO-1 Drive is supposedly straight up clone of certain OCD and due to OCD trademark owner’s active protection of his intellectual property, Danelectro was somehow forced to revise the design. All this is just a speculation i’ve seen on the web. Truth is that the unit is pretty nice pedal. Even if it was a straight up clone, (which it obviously isn’t,) the original OCD is not exactly original either.


The release of V2 sure did keep this assumption of plagiarism alive. Well. There is a Cowprez traced schematic up on FSB (link may require user an account), which shows the circuit being rather close to the one mentioned above. Plus the CO-1 doesn’t have a switch for so called hp/lp modes, so the similarities end at the base sound and parts of the topology, mainly around the main driver circuit. But then again.. How many TS style circuits are out there with minimal chages to the original?

Or i could simply take this to another direction. The electronics inside the CO-1 Drive are extremely close to classic Voodoo Lab Overdrive, with added tone control. This could probably take your mindset away from the later boutique brands.

As for the rest of the pedal, we have our standard 3PDT true bypass and two small, stacked boards in a sturdy housing. In all, this is very decent driver/distortion. Pretty much exactly like with the others in the Cool Cat series.

How does it sound?
Open boutique styled drive pedal with nice amount of gain on the knob. Output level is also sufficient to actually drive your amp instead of just clipping the signal. Tone control range is also quite usable. It may very well save you from too bright amp/speaker combinations, as well as help you boost your top end. There’s very little negative to say.

DOD FX53 Classic Tube

Sunday, May 17th, 2015


What is it?
DOD FX53 Classic Tube from DOD’s FX series. Made in USA, 1991.

A unit that’s been mostly put down by the misconception about its design for decades. I know i was under the wrong impression for a long time too. The name may point to the direction of all the different tubescreamers and derivatives, but no. There is practically nothing from TS-family in here. If you don’t believe me, check the hand drawn, traced schematic up at FIS. I do get the idea for the name. The designer may have been after that certain accent on the mids, but that’s not the main thing for this design at all. Look at the first gain stage after the input buffer and the switching. It’s a cross breed with TS-style feedback loop clipping diodes and a 250 OD-style gain control. The diodes in the feedback loop is the only thing bearing any resemblance. This driver stage is then followed by a hard clipping stage before the volume and the tone controls.


Not even the tone control topology show any resemblance to TS circuits. So the design here is not like many the others. I wonder what would have happened if DOD had decided to paint these green. Since majority of players at the prime of this unit’s selling days were about to slam it as a TS-derivative anyway, the green colour would have been a nice touch. Then some folks would have possibly noticed that the TS and Classic Tube do not sound alike.

The build quality is common with all the others from this era of FX-series units and the electronic switching follows others too. And if we try to find a continuity in the design presented in the schematic, this might very well be the link between FX50-B Overdrive and FX55 Super/Supra Distortion. After all, it is brighter in red (could it be called more yellowish?) than the Super/Supra – so in a sense, also a missing colour between the FX50 and FX55. You could also check out the notes on Americas Pedal on the FX53. I believe the author in there is right about the unit trying to be a competitor to TS9, not to copy it in any way.

Even if there were similarities in the tone to the “suspected sisters”, the design does not support that claim. And again, no. Neither does the sound.

How does it sound?
There is a certain emphasis on the mid frequencies that may have led some people to think TS. To me, however, words like amp-like and smooth come to mind. Neither of these are words that i would use to describe a TS or its derivatives. The amount of gain available is quite different too.

Now i’m starting to piss myself off. Why on earth do i keep comparing this to TS, when it has clearly very little to do with that design? Because most of the world still do call FX53 a “DOD’s take on a Tubescreamer”. The design, nor the sound, have very, very little to do with it. How can i be more clear about this? Please. Stop referring to TS when you talk about this effect. I know i’m going to stop doing it. Right. Now.

Arion MTE-1 Tubulator

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015


What is it?
Arion MTE-1 Tubulator. Made in Sri Lanka, around early 00’s

A Tubulator? Yes. Can anyone guess what the base circuit design is? By the name and three controls, Level, Tone and gain, which is named as Dist, there should not be that many questions. There is a schematic up at Matsumin’s page (switching not depicted). So let’s take a look at those extremely beautiful, acid trip traces with pretty hand drawn feel to it before examining the schematic a bit.


Pretty. Isn’t it. Anyway. To read the schematic a bit, we don’t have an input buffer for the circuit input, just for the bypass path. This does look a bit strange, since it’ll mean that the circuit input is connected to your guitar at all times. It seems, however, that the input impedance of the JFET bypass buffer is higher that the gain block’s impedance. The capacitors at the input of the first gain stage (two 33n caps in series) seem a bit low in terms of letting lower frequencies in. Still on par or at least close to what we find in the design this is obviously derived from. Then for the gain block. This is very common setup for these “tube overdrives”. Noticeable and somewhat audible difference comes from 56n capacitor form inverting input to ground. This’ll shift the high pass filter created by the gain stage a hint lower, affecting the lows for the better. The value versus the value in several other “tube overdrives” is pretty close but should make a nice, subtle difference.


Then for the Tone control. This part is the same as in those “tube overdrives” mentioned earlier. Yes. I’ll be using quotation on this all the way until i say it out loud.. Then we have the Volume control, shunt to ground instead of the usual VREF. And then comes the output buffering. Simple, yet effective. I just had to snap a photo of the original retail box. Notice the short spiel – Very Intense Tube Emulation Pedal.


I sure do hope all of you got the point for this design without me saying it? Yes. It is an ever so slightly modified, Yet Another Tubescreamer.

How does it sound?
Close to the ye oldee Maxon design. Nothing new, nothing special, but still slightly more pleasing in its overall tone when compared to TS808/9. If it wasn’t housed in plastic (which in this case isn’t that big of a minus), this would probably stand out nicely form vast majority of all the other Tube Overdrive (un)designs. Maybe not much, but a bit. It acts close to TS808 and TS9 with its relatively sluggish output level and mid-honking cold, dead hand slapping you on to top of your head. Subtly more content on lows, but not much. Reasonable controls too. As with 98 per cent of all TS derivatives, the overall tone shines on vintage output pickups, but goes from horrible to completely unusable with modern pups with over 12K DC resistance. For the price, this is very decent TS-derivative.

Vox V810 Valve Tone

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015


What is it?
Vox V810 Valve Tone. Made in china, early 00’s.

The brand name is sometimes so big and trustworthy that anything released under that brand will become a collector’s item and a classic. Were the title warranted or not. I’m more than certain this is the case with Vox. In the early 00’s, Vox released couple designs in a housing like this. The box is pretty neat looking and visually there is very little negative to say. Strong moulded metal with thin tin plate at the bottom. Reminds me a lot of the bottom plate we find in Cry Babies. Plus the screwed on tin plate at the top too. Visually, the two pedals are a lot like each other. The “Valve-Tone” text is punched to the front of the pedal.


These are well built pedals and i’ve had a few units come in for repairs before. The thing that may cause issues is the switch. If the pedal is in heavy use, the mechanical switch is about to give in at one point. This doesn’t mean that the issue is that common or you should worry about it. It just means that all switches are subject to worn. Some can take 15 years of stomping while others give in in a few short years. The circuits are stacked, so the main circuit has its own board and the board mounted pots have their own. Boards are connected with pin sockets. Higher level of excellence is present than what we see is out usual chinese mass produced masses. Well built.


Point i raised in the very first sentence becomes clear once we take a look at the schematic. Valve-Tone. In other words, a YATS. For those not that familiar what YATS stands for, i’ll spell it out for you. Yet Another TubeScreamer. No modifications. Just a “millennium bypass” and slightly more stable power section. That’s it. No changes to the signal path (except for the weirdly huge value for the output cap and the missing electronic switching, of course). I’m sorry, but i find it rather difficult to understand the value folks ask for these these days. Sure the box looks cool and there a text “VOX” on it. But come on. Maybe i should have left a sub tag for all the TS pedals i come across. Must be the most copied design in the history of all effects.

How does it sound?
Exactly like the schematic lets us believe. It’s a mid-honking overdrive with nothing new. Works and sounds pretty with low(ish) output pickups. In other words, still just a tubescreamer. I’m tired of writing tubescreamer with a capital letter. There are just too many of these around. VOX didn’t have one before, so i guess it was about time. Sort of an disappointment, but then again. Why wouldn’t i want to have a VOX tubescreamer in my collection.

Just know what it is and do not pay the asking price. It is still nothing more but a tubescreamer.

Excalibur TS-4558 Tone Screamer

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015


What is it?
Excalibur Overdrive TS-4558 Tone Screamer. Made in china as an OEM for german brand Excalibur, around 2007.

As i got a bit burned with my not-doing-my-homework and hoping for something decent from the delay sold side by side with this one, i must say that my enthusiasm was not very high to deal with this. These come relatively cheap and as the color and the name suggest, it’s a screamer. Didn’t even bother to open it up to show the flux residue of the chinese toaster oven.


Why would i. It’s nothing more but a JRC4558 hearted, ever so slightly modified tubescreamer that acts exactly like all the other 1500 TS derivatives out there. Add this to floating plastic board mount jacks and you got your Tone Screamer. If there ever was a pedal to give out extreme case of meh, this makes the top three by any standards. Funny how the word “Germany” is retained on the bottom rubber. It’ s not “made in”, but simply “Germany”. At least the lying and cheating mode on this one isn’t nearly as high on this one than on the delay. At least on this one they say it straight to your face by calling the unit a Tone Screamer. This way there won’t be any doubt about what the unit does and what it sounds like.

How does it sound?
Like a Tubescreamer. Is there anything more to add? In the vast ocean of the units built around this late 70’s circuit, i see very little point in getting this one. It tries to look like a german made high end product, while it is nothing more than your average chinese, mass produced unit with questionable quality. Soundwise the difference is slightly more output and a hint of more gain. Nothing to write home about. There are a lot of good TS derivatives out there. Get any of those instead. I’d go for Nux green overdrive instead of this in a heartbeat. Same tone in more affordable package. And no bullshit.

There is very little positive i can say about this unit. Again. Do your homework before you buy into “The quintessential overdrive pedal.”

DOD FX101 Grind – Rectifying Overdrive

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015


What is it?
DOD FX101 Grind – Rectyfying Overdrive with EHO (Even Harmonic Overdrive). From FX-series, made in USA between 1996 and 1999.

I was under the impression that the circuit found here would be exactly the same as for FX100 Even Harmonic Overdrive with just very slight changes. Reason for this belief is due to America’s Pedal page for these two effects. Both released at the same time and sharing features, such as speaker emulated output and.. Well. The board design is the same. While the board is the same for both models and thus, they share parts of the topology, there are noticeable differences between the two. Just check the photos for the boards at America’s Pedal. FX100 and FX101. The label on the unit says “with EHO”, so there are many things that are the same – but not all.

I heard about Grind from a friend who told me that it was awesome when used in a feedback loop. This notion puzzled me a bit, since i was pretty certain the effect was the same as the sister pedal, EHO. Once i had a chance to aqcuire one, i went for it.


Saddly, there’s no clear schematic available, factory or otherwise. It still is a distortion unit with two dual opamps. What comes to controls, we have imaginative names in place. Blast is out volume control. Rumble and Burn depict lows and highs. Gain/distortion control is called Fear. As the schematic is missing, i can’t confirm with much certainty, but i believe the EQ controls are gyrators. May the electronic design be whatever, the best part is…

How does it sound?
Fat and usable, good distortion that handles mild overdriven, boosted tones and goes all the way to glass shattering massive Marshall stack. The marketing puts more weight on the metal aspect, but this thing can really go from bluesy to cruel. Usually boxes with preception of being able to do these kind of things leave us half way, with at least second part of the two features either sounding bad or not working at all. Here, the effect is capable of handling modern output pickups too, without sounding bad. Sure, the tone is bigger with moderate/vintage pickups, but still. Good EQ-section and i’ve found myself using this much more than i expected. Mostly for doing my home demo recordings. But in case like this. The pedal being capable of giving out decent tones for base and leads. I don’t see much wrong with it.

As almost non-related side note – the label is definitely “with EHO”, not “with Echo” as some sources seem to refer.

Digitech XTD Tone Driver

Thursday, February 12th, 2015


What is it?
Digitech XTD Tone Driver Overdrive from X-series. Made in china around late 00’s.

Usable and quite frankly, decent sounding cheaper drive pedals are pretty common nowadays. This is one of those that you can score as used for peanuts. Or next to peanuts at least. Got the unit for cheap and after trying it out, i wanted to see what was inside. Screwed the bottom plate off and first thing to jump out was the PCI-style connection on the lower corner. No doubt about it. The circuit shares the same base with all the other X-series pedals with a pot as the right hand side knob instead of a switch.


As far as i can see, the board design is exactly the same as for the other driver pedals in the series. Only things that differ are the code inside, colour of the box and the printing on it.


We got our basic controls with volume, tone and gain. And the Digitech exclusive, the “Morph” which acts like a voicing control. Morph shifts the overall frequencysort of like a wah or parametric EQ would do. In essence the unit is pretty much digital equivalent of D-series Bad Monkey or Screaming Blues. Meaning that the D-series pedals act like analog effects do, while this one here…

How does it sound?
The first impression on the tone was pretty pleasing. But after a few short minutes i noticed the overtones had a pattern that just didn’t feel right. That was of course due to digital nature of the unit, making the tone just slightly duller than what we find in the most generic and dull Boss effects. I’m not deeming this unusable. Mainly because it’s not. It is quite boring without scent or taste, but it gets the job done. If the job is to slightly boost your tone, then you can’t go too wrong with this cheapo. Will this ever see much use in my possession? No. Like for all the drivers in this series, there is nothing you can’t get out of your post 2002 digital multieffect. For fusion jazz player, this is recommended unit. Use it for fusion jazz, and i don’t have to listen to its tone. Works and sounds decent, but not great in any way.