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Review: Heavy Electronics Ascend

“After 3 years working and managing guitar stores, I saw the repeated shortfalls in pedal quality in terms of build and tone. In contrast, the few pedals that worked and sounded great were either vintage favorites or ultra high-end boutique pedals both of them carrying price tags one might expect to be hanging on a guitar. Heavy Electronics is born out of a desire for honesty in tone, construction, aesthetic, and price. Heavy Electronics makes road-ready effects pedals made with the finest components teamed with superior design…”

-Sayer Payne (Owner/Operator of Heavy Electronics)

For those of you who look for high quality, durable, transparent pedals, then you will be excited to learn more about Minneapolis based pedal manufacturer, Heavy Electronics. Heavy Electronics specializes in building boutique guitar pedals that cater to the player without compromising tone.

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Needless to say, they had us at the word TONE.

Today we’re going to look at the Heavy Electronics “Ascend”. On a basic level, the Ascend is a boost pedal. On a much deeper level, the Ascend offers a player unparalleled depth and transparency while giving your tone a kick in the pants.

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First, let’s get you some of the nitty gritty.

  • -Bypassable Tone Control
  • -Voiced Openly for Guitar & Bass
  • -True Bypass Switching
  • -Single Point Mounted PCB
  • -Flying Leads to Pots and Jacks
  • -Neutrik 1/4 inch Signal Jacks
  • -Powder-Coated Durable Finish
  • -Customer Service Ready to Help
  • -Dual Quality-Control Testing
  • -Hand Signed and Numbered
  • -Hand-made in Minneapolis Mn.
  • -Lifetime Warranty (Barring Abuse)

Power Supply:

  • 9 Volt DC 200 mA Center – 2.1mm
  • Power Consumption: 5.40 mA
  • I/O Impedance: Input = 330K Output = 5.8K
  • Dimensions: 4.37″ x 2.37″ x 1.07″ – 11.1 x 6.02 x 2.72 cm

The Build:

As you can tell from the blurb above, Heavy Electronics are built with not only the finest components, but, they are also built to last. If you ask me, that’s a winning combination.

The Heavy Electronics Ascend is certainly no exception. It all starts with a sturdy metal casing that is powder coated and topped off with a smooth grey/blue finish. Because powder coating does not have a liquid carrier, it can produce thicker coatings than conventional liquid coatings without running or sagging, and it ensures the paint will withstand every element of the rock n’ roll lifestyle. The main logo and design of the plane laid on top of the powder coat is very clean and seamlessly integrated to the overall layout of the pedal.

“…All of the pedals feature a “single point” circuit board mounting design that eliminates multiple pressure points on the PCB. Jacks are always metal Neutriks; finish is powder coated; Toggle switches are metal and are located to avoid impact. In fact, all electromechanical pieces and connectors are metal (except the 9V Jack where metal jacks simply must not be used). However, these aspects are not considered luxuries by Heavy Electronics but rather as mandatory features. High quality is a license to flourish as a company that makes its product right, NOT a license to hold guitarist’s tone ransom at an unfair price compared to cost of production. I make guitar pedals for musicians, and I play every pedal that ships to eliminate any compromises. It is for this reason specifically, that Heavy Electronics offers a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defect. All pedals are hand-made in Minneapolis. This isn’t just about pedals. It’s about your art.”

-Sayer Payne (Owner/Operator of Heavy Electronics)

The Ascend has 2 knobs; Volume and Tone. The volume knob push’s your signal, while the tone knob shapes your overall sound.  One of the most exciting parts of the this pedal, is that the tone knob is completely bypass-able in order to capture your true tone.

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“In addition to a VOLUME control with intense headroom and push, we’ve added a bypass-able TONE knob.  This way the user can choose whether to tweak and filter the boost or use it at it’s fullest in tone-bypass mode.  Simply rotate the tone knob all the way counter clockwise until the knob “clicks” into bypass mode.”

On the bottom of the pedal you will find four plastic grips and a sticker that displays the serial number and the initials of who tested the pedal. (SP -Sayer Payne).

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Below is a picture of the “single point” circuit board mounting design.

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“Discrete analog design allows this exquisite boost to be balanced and true.  Wonderfully transparent and clear, yet powerful.  As your amp gain increases to the point of saturation, the Ascend can be used to push your tube amplifiers preamp into overdrive.  Reverb tanks are fed beautifully with its strong and concise low end.   Component quality is maximized with a “Metal-Can” amplifying transistor as well as metal-film resistors and low-tolerance film capacitors.

Because boosts often end up at the front of the signal chain, the Ascend incorporates a J-FET buffer circuit on the input signal.  This guarantees better impedence reaction and long cable performance.  After all, the Ascend was made for big stages.”

Not only does Sayer test every pedal that goes out the door, but, Heavy Electronics even offer a lifetime warranty with every pedal that goes out the door.

Are you sold yet?

Gear used for these examples:

  • Diezel Herbert – Clean Channel
  • PRS Standard 22 – Dragon II pickups
  • Heavy Electronics Ascend
  • Audix i5 microphone
  • North Eastern cable company guitar cable

PERFORMANCE:

The first example is the dry signal of the guitar to the amplifier. These are basic open chords on the clean channel of the Diezel Herbert.

These next set of examples are the same basic chords as the example above, but, this time I showcase three different settings with the Heavy Electronics Ascend.

The first example has the volume knob of the Ascend turned half way up and the tone knob is turn off (bypassed). The guitar is turned to the neck pickup. You can really hear as the sound and tone start to breakup and become saturated. Listen closely to each chord and how you can still hear how transparent and clear the strings are.

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Next,  I switch to the bridge pickup of the guitar while keeping the volume at half and the tone knob on bypass. Take a listen as the tone has a little more bite to each chord. It actually is a little reminiscent of an old Marshall Plexi. You can still hear the transparency and clarity of each string.

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In the third example, I turn the volume knob on the Ascend up all the way and leave the tone knob in bypass. Maxing the volume knob really pushes the signal of your amp and lets YOUR tone come to life. Pay special close attention to how the tone warms up and let’s the amp breathe.

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Finally, in the fourth example, I demonstrate the same chords, but, this time the tone knob is maxed out. You can really hear how the tone starts to become more compressed and brightens up in the top end compared to the previous examples. I really liked that, even though the tone compresses, you still don’t lose the overall integrity of your core tone.

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In the next set of examples, I wanted to showcase how well the pedal responds to different pick attacks, as well as, demonstrate the impact of the volume and tone knob. Plus, you get to hear me butcher a classic.

In this first example I have the neck pickup selected with the volume and tone knob on the Ascend maxed out. Again, with the tone knob completely maxed out, you can really hear how the tone compresses and brightens up.

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For the next example, I left the volume maxed out, but turned the tone knob to bypass. This should give you a solid demonstration and contrast of the impact that the tone knob of the Ascend can have on your overall tone. I thought the tone sounded a bit warmer and a little more even between the top and bottom end of the guitar.

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Finally, with the neck pickup still selected, I keep the volume maxed out, but, I dialed the tone knob back to about half in order to get a nice blend of my core tone and the Ascend. Take special notice of how transparent the tone is. I thought this did the best job at re-creating the core tone of “Shine”. You can really hear how the moving melody sits nicely within the rest of the open strings.

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For this next example, I really wanted to demonstrate how much of an impact the volume knob on your guitar  can have when used with this pedal. The first half of the example has the volume knob on the guitar dialed back about half way. The second half of the example has the volume knob turned all the way up. The volume on the Ascend is maxed out with the tone knob in bypass.

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You can hear how the signal breaks up just enough to capture the definition of the strings, yet maintains the transparency and clarity of your overall tone. Once the volume is turned up, you really start to hear how much the Ascend pushes your tone.

It wouldn’t be a true review if I didn’t butcher one more classic. So, for this last example, I once again wanted to demonstrate how much the combination of your guitar’s volume knob and the Ascend can impact your overall tone. This example utilizes the neck pickup of the guitar, the volume knob on the Ascend is maxed out, and the tone knob is three quarters of the way up.

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Pay special attention in the first half of the example to how well the signal responds to the pick attack of my right hand. Then, once the volume on the guitar is turned up, you can once again hear the warmth and clarity the Ascend brings to your tone.

As you can hear, the Ascend provides your sound with a nice kick in the pants that doesn’t take away from your core tone. The transparency and clarity of the pedal is absolutely what any TONE FREQ could ever want in a boost. Long story short, the Ascend does exactly what it’s suppose to do. It boosts your signal, doesn’t mess with your tone, and delivers on both quality and performance.

Plain and simple, this is one of the most impressive and best pedals I have had the pleasure of playing.

PROS:

  • Smooth
  • Transparent and clear
  • Tone Bypass allows you to push YOUR tone.
  • Solid construction and built to last. (Probably the best built pedal we have ever had our hands on).
  • Smooth, responsive controls
  • LIFETIME WARRANTY
  • HAND BUILT
  • Provides a nice, full, thick sound.
  • Simple and usable
  • Affordable

CONS:

  • NONE

TONE FREQ USER RATING: 10 out of 10

Pick one up from American Guitar Boutique for $129.99.

THE TAKEAWAY:

Honestly, this is a tone lovers wet dream. After all, that’s why you’re here anyway, right? Not only does it provide your tone with a nice swift kick in the pants, but, it’s HAND BUILT by someone that CARES about YOUR TONE. If you’re looking for a pedal that will give your tone a nice boost without affecting your tone, then do yourself a favor and pick up an Ascend from Heavy Electronics. We PROMISE, you WON’T be disappointed. And if you are, we’ll buy you a beer and discuss why you’re wrong.

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Review: Evil Tweaker One Knob Fuzz

Over the last year or so, the name “Evil Tweaker”, has become quite popular with custom and boutique pedal collectors. It’s a name that rings quality, creativity, and tone. Of course, we can’t forget about the picture perfect paint jobs that set his pedals apart from anything else on the market.

Each company has what they would consider to be their flagship product. Whether its Ibanez’s Tube Screamer, a Fender Stratocaster, or a Mesa Boogie rectifier, it’s the products that have helped solidify their brand as much as the name. For Evil Tweaker, the One Knob Fuzz is that product.

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In the beginning, The One Knob Fuzz was Evil Tweaker’s first step into the realm of boutique pedal building. Since then, he has gone on to build a wide array of pedals. Anything from Line Buffers and Delays, to Loopers and Reverbs, he continues to push the boundaries of his madness.

Recently, Evil Tweaker created his first production run of his flagship One Knob Fuzz, and we were lucky enough to get out hands on it first!

First, let’s get you some of the basics

The Evil Tweaker One knob Fuzz:

  • Silicon 2089 transistor
  • Germanium clipping diodes
  • True Bypass switching
  • Bass cut switch
  • Neutrik jacks
  • Runs on standard 9V power supply

What did you expect? There’s only one knob!

The Build:

On the outside, the One Knob Fuzz is exactly what one would expect. It has a footswitch, input, output, bass cut, white LED, and of course, One Knob. It’s about as simple as it gets. However, as we all know, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. For this build, Evil Tweaker uses a silicon 2089 transistor paired with Germanium clipping diodes. And, much like his custom paintings, his point to point hand wiring is second to none.

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Speaking of hand painting, we have all come to love Evil Tweaker’s ability to take a paintbrush and turn a standard pedal into a true work of art.  While we may not get custom paintjobs on these new production run One Knob’s, they still have the hand-made touch with the word “Fuzz” being painted on in black against the solid white backdrop. But hey, modern art went through a minimalism phase too.

One of the most exciting things about this pedal is that Evil Tweaker has included a bass cut switch. This is a great extra feature that adds a little more versatility that was not available on previous models of the One Knob. But we’ll get to more on that in a second.

All in all, it’s a solid build. The aluminum metal casing will be more than capable of withstanding even the heaviest of metal (see what I did there) and the rest of the pedal is built to be stepped on. Even though these are a new production line, they still maintain the hand built quality of a boutique pedal. Plus, if it breaks, we’ll give you Mr. Evil Tweaker’s home address and you can go see him personally…Tell him Tone Freqs sent ya.

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The Performance.

We all have pre conceived notions on what we want out of a fuzz pedal. Some of us want a subtle distortion to help create a little extra bite, and others may be looking for something that resembles a blown tube amp. The Evil Tweaker One Knob does a nice job at finding its own spot on the fuzz spectrum. Below is a series of sound examples of what the One Knob Fuzz is capable of producing. These examples are meant to demonstrate the overall effect this pedal will have on your tone, as well as, showcase additional features of the One Knob Fuzz.

 Gear used for these examples:

  • Diezel Herbert – Clean Channel
  • PRS Standard 22 – Dragon II pickups
  • Evil Tweaker One Knob Fuzz
  • Audix i5 microphone
  • North Eastern cable company guitar cable

This first example is a dry signal into the clean channel of the Diezel Herbert. This example is to showcase what the amp and guitar combination sounds like without any effects.

For the second example, I play the same open chords as in the previous sound clip, however, this time the One Knob Fuzz is engaged and turned all the way up with the bass cut switch off. Notice how much of a significant difference there is in the signal. Unlike other fuzz pedals, the One Knob still maintains a certain level of clarity between each open chord. I also really liked the amount of sustain this pedal provides to your signal.

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This next example is the exact same thing, only this time the bass cut is engaged. Listen closely as the bass cut switch cleans up the low end and balances out the overall frequency.

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In this next example, I dialed the fuzz back to about halfway to showcase how responsive the fuzz knob is to the overall signal. The bass cut engaged for this example. I was really pleased with how well the signal cleaned up and responded to the adjustment and maintained articulation.

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For the next set of examples, I wanted to showcase a style of playing that we most attribute with a fuzz pedal. This first example has the fuzz turned all the way up with the bass cut engaged. Listen to how warm and round each power chord sounds. Also, notice how the bottom notes have a bit more clarity and distinction to them.

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Same playing idea, only this time the bass cut switch is off. Take a listen to both examples and see if you can hear how much of an impact the bass cut switch has on the signal.

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These next two examples are sticking with the same playing style, only this time I wanted to break up the power chords a little bit so you could hear the reaction of the signal. This first example is has the fuzz knob turned all the way up with the bass cut switch off. Pay attention to the lower notes and their definition between each example to understand the impact of the bass cut.

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And here is the same idea with the bass cut switch engaged.

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For these next two examples, I wanted to showcase how much of an impact rolling off of the volume on your guitar can have on the signal of the One Knob even when the fuzz is turned all the way up. I also wanted to demonstrate how you can capture smooth, warm, creamy solo lines with the One Knob Fuzz. The first half of each example has the volume on the guitar rolled back halfway and then rolled up to full volume for the second half. This first example has the bass cut engaged.

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Now with the bass cut turned off.

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Finally, in this last example, I wanted to demonstrate that this pedal is more than capable of providing you with enough fuzz to get as heavy as you want. I tuned the guitar to “Drop D” for this example and had the fuzz turned all the way up. I did not have the bass cut engaged, so pay close attention to the response of the lower notes.

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As I mentioned above, we all have our own ideas of what a fuzz pedal should sound like; however, The One Knob fuzz does a solid job at providing you with a nice, warm, fuzzy tone. While the bass cut switch may be subtle, it’s effective. Compared to previous models of Evil Tweaker’s One Knob Fuzz, this one is by far the best yet. Whether you’re looking to get heavy, or simply add a little extra bite to your tone, the One Knob should more than have you covered.

While I am incredibly impressed with this pedal, I would like to point out one aspect that others may not find appealing. While simplicity is the name of the game with the One Knob, some may be looking for more fuzz options. Other than that, anyone should find this One Knob more than capable of solidifying a spot on their pedal board.

Pros:

  • Smooth, warm, full tone
  • Not too harsh
  • Responds well to pick attack
  • Simple to use
  • HAND BUILT
  • FIRST PRODUCTION RUN

Cons:

  • May be “too simple” for some players

Tone Freqs User Rating: 9.6 out of 10

Price: 129.99 – Available at American Guitar Boutique.

Honestly, what more could you want out of a fuzz? It’s smooth, warm, articulate, and full of character. Plus, you only have one knob to worry about! If you’re looking for a production pedal, with the hand built touch, then we highly recommend you check out Evil Tweaker’s first production run of the covenant One Knob Fuzz. We promise you won’t be disappointed.

Make sure to stop by Evil Tweaker’s Facebook page and give him a one up! Tell him Tone Freqs sent ya!

73′ Rams Head Big Muff Replica by JHS

“Close only counts in horseshoes, hand-grenades, and the ‘73 Ram’s Head.”

Yeah, you read that right. The name alone resonates with most gear enthusiasts as much as the solo from “Comfortably Numb.” It’s easily one of the most sought-after tones for guitar players, one that so many have tried to capture, only to fall short. Well, thanks to an exclusive partnership between JHS pedals and American Guitar Boutique, you can come closer than ever to capturing that iconic tone with their version of the hugely sought after ‘73 Version 2 Big Muff, otherwise known as the Ram’s Head.

First, a little history.

Electro Harmonix is responsible for the original Big Muff pedal and sound. In 1973 the Big Muff underwent a makeover and an upgrade to version 2, henceforth referred to as the “Ram’s Head” (you can thank this weird little face for the nickname).

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Legend has it that due to schematics changing so often, there is no single Ram’s Head that sounds identical.  They are close but hey, that seems to be the theme of this review.

JHS and American Guitar Boutique sought out to recreate that iconic tone of our dreams combined with state-of-the-art technology.  That means that not only are the board schematics to the exact specifications of an original Ram’s Head, but also the transistors have been upgraded to work with modern power supplies. That’s what you call a win-win.

The build:

There is something about purchasing a new HAND-MADE pedal and having the name of it written on the packaging that just feels authentic. The ‘73 Ram’s Head Replica comes nicely packaged in a JHS-labeled box and upon opening, you are greeted with an explosion of red confetti, the pedal, and nice little packet of extras from JHS.

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In the spirit of keeping things authentic, JHS captured the simplicity of the original Ram’s Head in the design. It’s your standard pedal housing painted in Dark Grey with the picture of a Ram’s Head on the front. Much like the original Ram’s Head, the JHS has only 3 knobs; volume, tone, and sustain. Honestly, what else do you need? It’s powered by a 9-volt plug-in and there is a LED indicator light on the faceplate that lets you know when the pedal is engaged. All in all, a pretty standard pedal build.

Performance:

When you first plug in, you can’t help but smile. It is it. It is exactly what you want it to be: smooth, dark, warm, FAT, fluid, and so much more. In the video below, see how drastically you can shape the tone and span a pallet’s worth of sound.

You will wonder where this pedal has been all your life.  With the volume and sustain cranked, and the tone at noon, you’ll forget what your clean tone even sounded like.  As you back off on the Tone knob, you can really hear how your sound begins to round off and take on a darker feel. If you go the opposite direction and crank the tone, you start to approach ramming speed…I know…I should just stop with the jokey puns…

Anyway…

Dialing the tone back to noon, the pedal maintains a fat, fluid quality that translates beautifully in the upper register. Even as you dial back on the sustain knob, the integrity of the tone is maintained. As you start to crank the sustain knob up again, you begin to understand how the Big Muff inspired so many iconic guitar sounds.

Don’t worry–just because this pedal is known for solidifying the tones of the 70’s doesn’t mean that’s all it can do. If you’re looking for fluid fat leads, or a fuzz filled rhythm, the Ram’s Head will have you covered. Not to mention, the Ram’s Head handles humbuckers with ease and fattens up your single coils. What’s not to love?

Below is a picture of the schematics of an original ‘73 Ram’s Head.

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Here is a picture of the JHS Ram’s Head with the back plate off.

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If you can’t tell, the wiring is basically a shot for shot re-make and, unlike “Planet of the Apes,” this remake is worthy of a standing ovation.

Time to break it down.

Pros

  • Smooth, warm, fat, rich tone.
  • Simple and easy to use.
  • Well-crafted with solid construction.
  • Great packaging and extras from JHS.
  • Hand-Made.
  • Easy to dial in.
  • Built to the specifications of the original ‘73 Ram’s Head Version 2 Big Muff.

Cons

  • No place for a 9V battery.

Price: $250.00 at American Guitar Boutique. THE ONLY PLACE YOU CAN BUY THE FIRST RUN OF THIS PEDAL.

(Price for an original 70’s Ram’s head. $650+).

User Rating: 9.8 out of 10

All in all, you can hear how the pedal takes your tone and transforms it into a wall. Perhaps even, THE WALL…If you catch my drift.

OK, I’ll stop.

This pedal is sure to please and offered at a fraction of the cost of a so-called “original,” making both you and your significant other significantly happier.

Pick one of these up from Cory, Brett or Tim at American Guitar Boutique. http://www.americanguitarboutique.com/. You won’t be disappointed. Plus, now you’re only excuse for not sounding like David Gilmour is in your playing…maybe I should add that to the cons…

Barber Electronics Compact Direct Drive

What do you look for in a overdrive pedal? Smoothness? Bite? How much gain is on tap? Maybe you just want a little extra boost. Well, we all have our own preferences. But, what if I told you there was a pedal that did all that, and then some? Intrigued? Good, keep reading.

Keeping with the theme of “does size matter,” this week we are going to look at the Compact Direct Drive by Barber Electronics.

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For those of you that don’t know about Barber Electronics, they are a HAND MADE pedal manufacturer that designs some of the most glorious pedal tones you have ever heard. They primarily customize their own designs, instead of copying old circuits, and provide greater clarity, note definition, with a wider range of tones, textures, and functions.

Some users you may recognize would be: Joe Satriani, Lee Roy Parnell, Nils Lofgren and Bruce Springsteen of the E Street Band, Jay Graydon, David Grissom, Richard Thompson, Eric Johnson, Christopher Cross, Dave Knudson, Rick Derringer, Lionle Loueke, Johnny Hiland and Jerry Cantrell.

Ok, back to the Compact Direct Drive.

Much like the TC Electronics HOF Mini Reverb, the Compact Direct Drive also has an older, fatter brother.  And like we learned from the HOF Mini Reverb, bigger, does not mean better.

Like it’s older brother, the Compact Direct Drive is designed to provide the user with a variety of different tones. These tones can range anywhere from a nice warm blues drive, to all out british overdrive and everything in between.

Gear used for this review:

  • Diezel Herbert
  • PRS Standard 22
  • Barber Electronics Compact Direct Drive

The Build:

As I mentioned earlier, this pedal is HAND MADE. It’s metal, and it’s meant to be stepped on. The deep forest green makes for a very attractive backdrop against the white decal lettering. Being this is the COMPACT Direct Drive, it is in fact COMPACT. Measuring at only 2.3″ wide, It’s designed to take up less real-estate while still providing the same great tone.

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One of the first things you will notice with this pedal, are the two toggle switches mounted at the top of the pedal. The toggle switch on the left is the “harmonics switch.” This switch allows you to go from the lower harmonics and capture the clarity of “strings coming through”, to a higher-energy “power tubes running hot” tone. The high harmonics setting (switched right) also give you a little more bite so you can make better use of your guitar’s tone control; back off a little on your instrument’s tone control and you be able to capture a nice fat and squeaky lead tone reminiscent of some of the most expensive tube amps.

The right toggle is the “gain switch.” This switch not only picks up where the harmonics switch left off, but, it offers you a whole other extension for creating the tone you want. This switch allows you to capture anything from a nice warm low gain, to an all out British distortion that would make even the biggest Marshall enthusiast take a second listen.

And if that wasn’t enough, you can adjust your sound with the volume, tone and drive knobs at the top. The volume control sets the output of the pedal; most players can find unity between 10 o’ clock and 2 o’ clock, depending on their pickup output and the guitar’s volume setting. The Tone control is a simple high-end roll-off. A good starting point for balanced sound is 2-3 o clock. The Gain control sets the amount of sustain and drive. A lower setting will give your guitar a nearly- clean gutsy-edge without losing the sound of your strings. Rotate to the middle and you start cooking with a throaty grind. Push it to the limit and you are greeted with singing sustain and harmonics. Want more? Well, just use the gain switch to take it over the top and I promise you will forget you had a overdrive channel on your amp.

Clearly, this is more than just your typical overdrive pedal.

Performance:

I must say, I was instantly impressed by the Compact Direct Drive. Whether I was looking for a smooth bluesy overdrive with the right amount of breakup, or an all out classic Marshall full stack, I was able to capture those tones and so many more with ease.

Below are sound samples that display a variety of the different tones you can capture with the Compact Direct Drive. Keep in mind, these were all run through the clean channel of the Diezel Herbert. The first four example maintain all of the same overall settings. These first four examples are more so to show the effect and differences of the harmonics and gain switch.

In this first example, I first show you a dry signal through the clean channel of the Diezel Herbert. In the second half of the example, even though the drive is set to noon, you can still hear how much the Compact Direct Drive effects the signal and supplies the user with a  substantial amount of gain.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: 12:00
  • Harmonics Switch: –
  • Gain Switch: –

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This next clip has both the Harmonics and the gain switch set to (+). This brings out more of a british overdriven tone with plenty of drive on tap. Pay close attention to each note of the chord to hear the evenness and rounded low end. I actually thought it provided a rather convincing GnR sound.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: 12:00
  • Harmonics Switch: +
  • Gain Switch: +

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With the Harmonics switch in the minus position and the gain switched to positive, you can hear how the overall drive is less saturated and you can capture more of the “string through” sound.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: 12:00
  • Harmonics Switch: –
  • Gain Switch: +

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In this next example you can really hear the saturation from the Harmonics switch being engaged.  I really thought this setting had a nice, even, full body to it that was reminiscent of a 70’s Marshall.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: 12:00
  • Harmonics Switch: +
  • Gain Switch: –

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In the next two examples, we take a look at a couple different settings of the Compact Direct Drive while showcasing some broken/chopped chords. The first example has the drive dialed back to about 9:00, and in the second example the drive is maxed. Take a listen to both examples and pay extra attention to how each setting responds to the broken chords.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: 9:00
  • Harmonics Switch: –
  • Gain Switch: –

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The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: Maxed
  • Harmonics Switch: –
  • Gain Switch: –

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In the next example, you can hear very “tube” like sound in the power chords that has a more natural sounding drive to them.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: 9:00
  • Harmonics Switch: –
  • Gain Switch: +

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In the first half of the following example, you can hear that the Compact Direct Drive is more than capable of supplying a very smooth, slightly driven blues tone that breaks up just enough to maintain articulation. In the second half of the example, the gain is once again maxed out. Pay close attention to the extra amount of sustain and fluidity this provides for your tone.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: 9:00/Maxed
  • Harmonics Switch: –
  • Gain Switch: +

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Next up, I take my shot at another blues type solo, however, this time the gain is maxed out with the harmonics switch set to (-) and the gain switch set to (+). You can hear how there is even more weight to each note.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: Maxed
  • Harmonics Switch: –
  • Gain Switch: +

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Finally, I decided I wanted to showcase the extremes of this pedal. Mostly because the amount, and quality of the overdrive on tap, is very impressive. In the first example, I play a basic riff on the lower strings to once again demonstrate that this pedal can very easily provide you with a new rhythm tone.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: 9:00
  • Harmonics Switch: +
  • Gain Switch: +

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So far, you may be thinking this pedal is only capable of supplying a blues/rock type sound. Well, think again.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: Maxed
  • Harmonics Switch: +
  • Gain Switch: –

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In the final example, I wanted to demonstrate how this pedal reacts when you have the gain maxed out, but dial back on your volume knob on your guitar. The first half of the example has the volume knob on my guitar dialed back to about 3. In the second half of the example you will hear the change when I open the volume up all the way and demonstrate that this pedal is also more than capable of supplying a very fluid and articulate lead tone.

The settings in this example are:

  • Volume: 10:00
  • Tone: 1:00
  • Drive: Maxed
  • Harmonics Switch: +
  • Gain Switch: –

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Like most hand made pedals, the Compact Direct Overdrive doesn’t come with a spot/ability for a 9V battery. Not a real big deal, but, some people may like the option. Other than that, I really have no other issues with this pedal.

Pros:

  • Incredible sound quality
  • Smaller than the original Direct Drive
  • True Bypass
  • Harmonic and gain switch offer a wide pallet of sounds and tones
  • Sturdy construction
  • Hand Made
  • Smooth sound control
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • No 9V battery capability

Tone Freqs User Review: 9.8 out of 10

Price at Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center: $124.95  (Cheapest price ANYWHERE).

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With it’s ability to offer anything from a smooth blues tone, to all out Master Volume that would make even Angus Young take a second look, the Compact Direct Drive is sure to please. Plain and simple, if you’re looking for a overdrive that is incredibly versatile, while still offering top sound quality, then go pick up a Compact Direct Drive from Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center. You can thank me later.

TC Electronics Hall of Fame MINI Reverb

TC Electronics is one of those brands that resonates with players in both quality and performance. They are also one of those brands that most players would feel comfortable enough to purchase a piece of equipment without even trying it.

Their Roster of featured guitar artists are the likes of; Albert Lee, Alex Lifeson, Andreas Kisser, Andy Wood, Audley Freed, Bill Kelliher, Billy Morrison, Brad Whitford, Brent Hinds, Brett Scallions, Brian May, Brian Nutter, Bumblefoot, Cory Churko, Dave Weiner, Donna Grantis, Doug Aldrich, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson, Jason Hook, Joe Perry, john 5, john Petrucci,Kirk Hammett, Mark Tremonti, Mike Mushok, Orianthi, Steve Vai, and that’s just SOME of their featured guitar artists.

Recently, TC Electronics released the little brother to the highly sought after Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame Mini Reverb-the keyword here is, “Mini.” Therefor, I think its only fair that, today, we try to answer the age old question, “does size matter?”

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Let’s get you some of the basics, first.

  • TC Electronic Hall Reverb
  • Bypass mode: True Bypass
  • Signal Circuitry: Analog dry-through
  • Dimensions (Width x Depth x Height):
  • 48 x 48 x 93 mm / 1.9 x 1.9 x 3.7”
  • Standard ¼” jack – mono/TS
  • Output Connector Type:
  • Standard ¼” jack – mono/TS
  • Standard 9 V DC,
  • centre negative >100 mA (not supplied)
  • Reverb Level Knob: FX level
  • (knob assignment can be changed using free
  • TonePrint Editor software)
  • Switch: FX On/Off
  • Input Impedance: 1 MΩ
  • Output Impedance: 100 Ω

Equipment used for this review

  • Diezel herbert
  • PRS Standard 22
  • TC Electronics HOF mini Reverb

On the outside, the Hall of Fame Mini Reverb is about as simple as it gets. But don’t let the simplicity fool you. This little guy packs a serious punch thanks to TC Electronics highly praised Tone Print technology.

If you’re not aware of TC electronic’s Tone Print technology, then let me give you a basic run down. Tone Print is a software (and an app) that allows you to download settings and presets via your computer or smartphone and upload (or beam) them to your pedal. These settings are anything from industry standards, to specially designed sounds by some of the most sought after players in the industry. Essentially, this brings you one step closer to sounding like your favorite players, and to customizing your sound.

The Build:

The Mini HOF is made out of a 1590A-sized die-cast aluminum enclosure and topped off with a cherry red finish. Weighing in at under 1 pound, the TC Electronic Hall of Fame Mini Reverb is built for even the roughest conditions. Not to mention, it’s small enough to fill that very last spot of real estate on your pedalboard.

Like I mentioned earlier, simplicity is at the forefront of this build. The Mini HOF has one foot switch, one knob, one input, one output, and of course, one spot for the mini-USB jack. Simple, right? Basically, you plug in, turn the knob, and decide how wet or dry you want your reverb signal. That’s it.

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Did I mention it’s Mini? Just so you have an idea, that is the HOF mini sitting next to an Apple mouse.

While the nano build is exciting from a space saver point of view, it should be noted, that there is no place for a battery. Again, you WILL need a 9V AC adapter in order to run this pedal. One other aspect of the HOF mini that was an instant let down, was that it does not come with a mini-USB cable. For a pedal that so heavily relies on the Tone Print technology, you would think TC Electronics would want to provide the mini-USB. Then again, who doesn’t own a smartphone.

Performance:

First things first, like any other pedal set up, you have to think about the signal chain. Below are a few basic setup examples depending on your setup.

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I chose to go through the effects loop of the Diezel Herbert.

Between the mix knob and the Tone Print software, the combination provides the user with the ability to create a landscape of different reverb. Here are just SOME of the reverbs you will be able to have at your finger tips: Room, Hall, Spring, Plate, Church, Modulated, Lo-Fi, Tile Ambient, Gated, and many, many more. Being that there are SO MANY different types of reverbs you can load onto the HOF via Tone Print, I’m just going to showcase a handful of my favorite reverbs and demonstrate how they react to the mix knob.

Before I jump into the demos, I want to mention that this pedal does sport true bypass. This, of course, allows you to maintain YOUR true signal and tone. After all, you ARE a TONE FREQ!

The first example is of the “Lost in Tone” preset. This reverb is based on a church reverb, but with the parameters backed down, so the effect is only subtle in a very noticeable way. Listen to the warmth and fullness it adds to the open chords.

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This next example is a artist preset from Troy Van Leeuwen. The idea behind this particular sound, was to create a darker version of a vintage Twin Reverb, but to also incorporate some heavy modulation. You can definitely hear the strength of the vibrato in the upper register and with single notes.

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Toxic Verb Twister is the next preset I want to show you. This is another artist preset on Tone Print. This one in particular is by Knox Chandler. This tone is all about twisting the signal source. In this example, even though I am only playing one note at a time, you can hear how something so simple is taken over by the depth of the modulation and reverb.

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In this next example, you’ll ear one of Uriah Duffy’s favorites, the Spooky Verb. This is a lush dynamic plate reverb that is typically used to compliment solo phrases on bass. I decided to use it for guitar. I really like the amount of air and depth it provides in between the spaces of the notes. I think it really fills in the gaps of each note quite nicely.

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Again, sticking with the Spooky Verb. This time I decided to turn up the distortion and let you hear the decay in between quick notes in a solo segment. You can really hear how the gaps fill in between the stopped notes.

Now we’re going to move onto the all mighty Steve Vai signature sound with his preset, Ocean Machine. This is a very natural sounding reverb, with a bit of chorus and Steve’s very precise parameter and EQ settings. This tone has a nice wash with a mellow bite and plenty of shine for your own tone to come through. In this example, I play a fingerpicking segment with a  moving melody on top. The first half of the example shows the “True Bypass” ability of this pedal with a completely dry signal. Once I engage the pedal in the second half of the segment, you really begin to hear the ocean sound that Steve is trying to emulate.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Steve Vai example unless I took my attempt at “For the Love of God.” Take a listen to Steve’s “Ocean Machine” tone as it’s paired with a considerable amount of gain.

Finally, we are moving on to Jona Weinhofen’s tone called, Anthem reverb. This is a long hall reverb that, when cranked, can create a very ambient ad almost spooky like effect that can take your sound into a whole other dimension. In this first segment, I play a fingerpicking passage that sounds as if it’s buried by the bass notes. It actually creates the illusion that there are two guitars playing.

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In the second example of the Anthem Rever, I decided to take a shot at volume swells and demonstrate how long the tail is on this particular reverb. Even with faint volume swells and a mild amount of distortion, you’re still able to capture a nice, ambient sound that actually resembles a violin.

As you can hear, this is more than just your standard reverb pedal. Thanks to the Tone Print software, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a reverb you like. Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised with the performance of the HOF Mini. The sounds were very convincing and natural sounding. There is a slight learning curve to using the Tone Print software and uploading each sound to your pedal, but after a few attempts, it’s surprisingly simple.

I do want to touch a little more on the Tone Print software. I used both the software that you can download from TC Electronic’s website, as well as the app for the iphone. Both have their positives and negatives. I did like that I could customize all of the parameters of each reverb with the software for the computer. However, having to go buy a mini USB was rather frustrating. Yes, they are cheap, but still annoying. Of course, if you download the app, you don’t need the USB cable to transfer the sounds to your HOF mini. You just can’t manipulate and customize the sounds. Transferring each sound to the pedal is super fun and easy though with your phone. Basically, you pick a sound, hold the speakers of your phone over your pickup, and then “beam” the sound to you pedal. You may even find yourself doing that just for the sake of doing it. Check the video at the bottom to see a demonstration.

Pros:

  • Small and compact
  • Large variety of reverbs
  • Simple to use
  • not latency
  • True Bypass to help you maintain your true tone
  • Inexpensive – $109.99
  • Solid construction

Cons:

  • No Mini USB cord
  • Can only have one reverb loaded at a time
  • Can’t adjust the parameters of the reverb without the Tone Print software

You can pick one of these up from Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center for $109.99

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Tone Freq User Rating: 9.2 out of 10

Despite its small size, the TC Electronics HOF mini reverb is capable of running with it’s older, and fatter brother. If you’re looking for a solid reverb to add to your board and still have room for EVERYTHING else you have ever wanted on your pedalboard, then you need to go pick one of these up. Plus, it comes with a smaller price tag. What’s not to love?

Make sure you check out the video below to see the pedal in action! Plus, they show you how to send the tones to the pedal via your phone!

Boss MO-2 Multi Overtone Guitar Effects Pedal

If you have ever owned an effect pedal, chances are, it’s been a BOSS. From their flagship digital delays and distortions, to their twin pedals and modulation pedals, BOSS has helped players find their tone, one step at a time.

Today we’re going to look at one of BOSS’s newest pedals, the BOSS MO-2 Multi-Overtone.

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The MO-2 is a octave manipulation pedal that allows players to achieve a variety of sounds. Octave manipulation has been an effect that has been utilized by many different artists. When used correctly, it can take your song to the next level. In most cases with octave manipulation, less is more. Keep in mind, this isn’t your typical octave pedal. Thanks to multi-dimensional processing, you’ll be rather surprised with the range of sounds you can achieve with this little guy.

But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, some of the basics.

  • Nominal Input Level: 20 dBu
  • Input Impedance: 1 M ohm
  • Nominal Output Level: 20 dBu
  • Output Impedance: 1 k ohm
  • Recommended Load Impedance: 10 k ohms or greater
  • Controls: Pedal switch BALANCE knob TONE knob DETUNE knob MODE knob
  • Indicator: CHECK indicator (Serves also as battery check indicator)
  • Connectors: INPUT jack OUTPUT-A (MONO) jack OUTPUT-B jack AC adaptor jack (DC 9 V)
  • Power Supply: Alkaline battery (9V, 6LR61) or Carbon-zinc battery (9V, 6F22) AC adaptor (sold separately)
  • Current Draw: 40 mA * Expected battery life under continuous use Alkaline: Approx. 10 hours Carbon: Approx. 3 hours These figures will vary depending on the actual conditions of use.
  • Accessories: Owner’s Manual Leaflet (“USING THE UNIT SAFELY,” “IMPORTANT NOTE,” and “Information”) Alkaline battery (9V, 6LR61)
  • Option (sold separately): AC adaptor (PSA series)
  • Dimension (W x H x D): 2-7/8″ x 2-6/16″ x 5-1/8″
  • Weight: 1 lb.

Gear used

  • Diezel Herbert
  • PRS Standard 22 with Dragon II pickups
  • BOSS MO-2

The Build:

If you have ever owned a BOSS pedal before, then you already know exactly what to expect. If you haven’t, then you can expect something worthy of stepping on. As you can see, the pedal is built in a sturdy metal casing and finished off with a beautiful blue/grey sparkle paint job. The top front of the pedal, (the part you step on) like most BOSS pedals, has a rubber grip pad to avoid any slipping while engaging the pedal. You will also find this same material on the bottom of the pedal to prevent any slipping or movement with the ground. Each knob is made out of a heavy plastic and set against a metal plate.  The knobs will allow you to manipulate the output—balance, tone, detune, and mode. Again, like all BOSS pedals, the battery is housed under the footpad. In case you don’t want to use the 9V battery, it of course has a 9V AC adapter plugin on the back.

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At a glance, you can see everything is labeled and very easy to read for the user. The MO-2’s input accepts signals coming from a guitar or other musical instrument, or another effects unit. The INPUT jack doubles as the power switch. This is both convenient and inconvenient at the same time. If you have an AC adapter, great, no issue. However, if you run this with just a  9V battery, you’ll more than likely burn through 10 batteries before you remember to unplug it after each use (we’ve all done it). Again, if you use this with a 9V battery, make sure you unplug from the input after each use to avoid battery consumption. The MO-2 also has 2 outputs (A and B) to allow either a mono or stereo output.

All in all, it’s built to last.

Performance:

It’s fair to say that this isn’t quite a plug and play kind of pedal. There is a little bit of a learning curve to it, but, with a quick glance at the preferred settings, you’ll be at a good starting point. The MO-2 is capable of producing a wide variety of sounds, from subtle doubling, to making you sound like an organ at baseball game. CHARGE!

I was rather impressed with the performance of the MO-2. Whether I ran the effect on a clean, crunch, or distorted tone, I was able to capture sounds that were appealing and usable. Each mode has it’s own characteristic to it. In the sound samples below, I will take you through each mode with some of the sample settings for the BOSS MO-2.

Starting with mode 1:

Mode one is designed to produce a multi-string sound. Thanks to BOSS’s multi-dimensional processing, and solid chord tracking, you can really hear a convincible replication of a 12 string guitar. You can hear how mode one adds a lot of depth and dimension to just basic chords and a clean setting. There’s a nice overall weight to open chords in mode one. I did find myself having to roll back on the tone knob to avoid a harsh treble sound. With the pedal engaged against a single line guitar riff and a little added crunch, you can hear how this pedal starts to alter the overall feel of what is being played. It actually starts to resemble the sound of a ring modulator. Then, on the third example, you can hear how mode one works when played against a blues style lead on the clean channel.

It should be noted, that, as you increase the detune knob, the thicker your guitar tone will get on mode one. For all three of these examples, the balance, tone, and detune were all set to noon.

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Moving onto Mode 2:

Mode two produces a bright overtone sound.  You will also hear an organ like ‘leslie’ sound that can be really fun for single line playing. In the first example, you can hear the rotary like organ sound fill in the gap between each chord. This is the point when someone yells FREE BIRD! Mode two is really capable of manipulating a standard guitar line or chord and taking it to a whole other level. In example 2, you can hear how mode 2 reacts to a little added crunch and a single guitar line.  You can really hear how the tone starts to thicken up and become a little brighter for more presence. In example 3, I play a finger picking segment. Listen carefully how mode 2 reacts to finger picked chords and a moving melody. You can hear a low rotary like drone underneath the notes in the upper register. While the upper register sounds as if there is a church bell ringing at the stroke of each note, you can hear that the brightness can start to get a little overpowering if not dialed back enough.

Keep in mind, the settings used for these three examples were Balance at 10:00, Tone at 2:00, and Detune at 10:00. 

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Finally, Mode 3:

Remember when I said you could achieve the sound of an organ with the MO-2? Well, mode 3 is where it’s at. Keeping the tradition of open chords for example one, you can notice how the chords become very swimmy and space like. It actually even creates the illusion there of a small amount of reverb (no reverb was used). Moving on to example 2, it becomes apparent that the “general settings” are not meant for every tone setting. With the Detune turned up as high as suggested, you can really hear a choppy, un articulate sound. However, when I switched back to the clean setting, I could really hear my dream of becoming an organist for a major league baseball team come to life (Example 3).  Keep in mind, mode three is capable of creating notes that are a full octave below the fretted note.

The settings used for these three examples were: Balance at 2:00, Tone at 10:00, and Detune at 4:00.

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Rolling off the tone and cutting out the detune function can make you lead lines sound enormous. Take a listen to the last couple examples to hear how you lead lines can thicken up and gain a little extra bite. Pay special attention to the clarity and smoothness the MO-2 provides for the lines.

The settings used for these two examples were: Balance 2:00, Tone 10:00, Detune ZERO.

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Side note: Should you choose to use the MO-2 with a distortion pedal, make sure to place it before the MO-2, otherwise you’ll lose some definition.

As you can see, you can do a lot with this pedal. When used in the right way, with the right settings, you can achieve sounds that truly do allow for a new level of creativity. However, there is always room for improvement, right?

Pros:

  • Like having three effects in one. Nice to have the ability to blend in each effect.
  • Simple design
  • Durable construction
  • Option of mono or stereo output
  • Nice chord tracking
  • multi-dimensional processing allows for a variety of different sounds.
  • Affordable ($140)

Cons:

  • Slight learning curve to achieve the kinds of sounds you want.
  • No way to have presets.

Tone Freq user rating: 8.4 out of 10

Price at Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center: $140

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As I mentioned, this isn’t just a one trick pony. It’s actually rather difficult to classify this pedal. It has the qualities of a octave pedal, the abilities to be a harmonizer, yet maintains the identity of a modulator. Is it a new staple for your lineup of pedals? Well, you’ll have to be the judge of that. I guess what I’m trying to say, is the BOSS MO-2 is capable of being three pedals in one. If you’re looking for an octave pedal, a harmonizer, or a simple modulator, then you may want to take a look at the BOSS MO-2.

Roland GR-55 Review

Since electronically-charged music has become a widespread phenomenon across nearly all genres of music, maybe you’ve been thinking the only thing missing from your most recent creation is an 8-bit synthesizer.

Well, thanks to Roland, you can inject your music with the sounds of 8-bit synthesizers, along with percussive sounds, pianos, voices, brass, woodwinds, and anything else your little musical heart desires. Guitar synthesizers have always had a bad rap for not working as they should (justifiable). Whether it was extreme amounts of latency, or the lack of authentic sounds, guitar synthesizers were destined for the clearance rack, at least until the GR-55 made its way to the shelves.

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The Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer is designed to expand the realms of your creativity while flirting with you inner music schizophrenia. This unit allows for unlimited possibilities and combinations to help any musician find the right sound they are looking for (as long as you have the rest of your life to search for it).

Many notable guitar players have started to use this unit as well. Eric Johnson, Steve Stevens, Jeff Loomis, Gary Willis, and even Slash. Slash has  been utilizing the GR-55 for scoring movies, and approves: “The GR-55 has been a great tool for me to use in a movie scoring capacity. There is an endless range of sounds/instruments I can transpose onto the guitar very effectively.”

I guess if anyone is going to make a good guitar synthesizer, it may as well be Roland, right? We’ll be the judge of that. Here’s our review of the GR-55 from Roland.

First, the basics. (From Roland)

  • A revolutionary fusion of guitar synthesis and powerful COSM® guitar modeling
  • Up to four sound sources at a time: two PCM synth tones, plus COSM guitar modeling and normal guitar input
  • Easy to use and easy to play with hundreds of great, ready-to-use sounds for rock or pop guitarists
  • Advanced Roland technology provides superb sound quality and lightning-fast processing
  • Over 900 of Roland’s latest fully editable PCM sounds, including pianos, organs, strings, vintage synths, and much more
  • COSM guitar and amp modeling
  • Two types of multi-effects engines, plus global reverb, chorus, and delay effects, and an onboard looper
  • Built-in USB audio player with foot control
  • Available with or without GK-3 Divided Pickup

Gear used for this review.

  • PRS Standard guitar with Dragon II pickups
  • Diezel Herbert amp
  • Mesa Boogie 4×12 cab with Vintage 30 speakers.
  • Roland GR-55
  • Roland GK-3 pickup

I’m sure some of you are already wondering what the Roland GK-3 pickup is, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that. First let’s talk about the construction of the unit.

The unit itself is built as something you should step on. With it’s metal casing and blue powder coated paint, this thing is sure to outlive most band careers. The expression pedal was a little stiff, but with a simple adjustment of the nut, we were able to get it to our liking. Much like the rest of Roland’s products, this thing is road ready. One potential issue we found: With the amount of electronics on board, you’re going to want to invest in a sweat guard or some Saran Wrap. Again, easy fix.

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Remember that GK-3 I told you not to worry about? Well, let’s talk. You can’t use this product with a guitar that has not been configured for a guitar synth. In other words, this unit does not have a 1/4” jack to plug a regular guitar in. Don’t worry though, Roland has your back. You can either purchase the full package with the GK-3 included for roughly $700, or you can purchase the GK-3 separately for roughly $220 (just in case you have a guitar equipped with a 13 pin input). Regardless, the GK-3 is the secret to this unit’s success. It mounts right to the back of your guitar with the pickup sliding right between your bridge and back pickup. The pickup is capable of mounting to any steel stringed electric guitar without causing any actual damage to the guitar (but I wouldn’t put it on your brand new custom shop Les Paul). Speaking of Les Paul’s, the GK-3 comes with a special mount attachment plate designed for Les Paul style guitars (again, leave it off the custom shop).

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I suppose we’d better talk about the sounds and tones the GR-55 is capable of.  The GR-55 has two separate sections that allow you to combine and add effects to. The first section is the COSM modeled guitar.

COSM – “Once a musical instrument generates sound vibrations, it reaches the human ear through various mediating objects, each of which significantly affects the sound. The material and configuration of the instrument, the electric/electronic/magnetic amplifying system, the air and the reverberation of the room all affect the final sound. Sound modeling, the latest DSP technology, ‘virtually’ reconstructs these objects. Roland’s breakthrough Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM) uses the advantages of multiple modeling methods and succeeds in accurately emulating existing sounds, as well as producing sounds that have never before been created.”

This is not a synthesizer, but it does allow modeled approximations of instruments including Telecaster, Stratocaster, Les Paul, ES-335, nylon, steel string guitars, and even COSM-based synths. Thanks to the COSM technology and the GK-3, you will have NO LATENCY ISSUES. This technology also allows you to play in different tunings without actually altering the tuning of the guitar. Now, I know what you’re thinking: You don’t want to rely on the tone or sound of the GK-3 pickup when you already love the tone that your current pickups produce. Well, Roland is one step ahead of you. The GK-3 allows you to blend your regular pickup’s tone with the GK-3. We must say, it did a really good job at it, too.  Most of the sounds are incredibly close and authentic, however, there were a few sounds that were thin and audibly unappealing.

The next section of the GR-55 is the synthesizer section. The GR-55 is able to account for things like picking dynamics, strumming, finger picking, bends, and all other physical factors, making it far superior than any other MIDI capability for guitar.

The GR-55 includes two banks of synthesizer voices. In other words, the GR-55 allows you to combine two different voices at once. This enables the user to blend two unique sounds to make a wall of sound (e.g. woodwinds and strings). With 910 different voices, you should be able to find at least a couple combinations you like. It does take you off guard the first time you play your guitar and it sounds like a piano. You can also assign the expression pedal so when it is in the “up” position you have one sound, and when it is “down” you have another sound. The GR-55 comes with two USB ports. “Wait, why do I need two?” you ask? The first USB port on the rear of the unit is for loading MIDI/audio data. The second port on the side of the unit is dedicated to real-time playback of audio files from a USB device. Again, this is also something that can be assigned to the expression pedal. You can also go to Roland’s site and download custom patches of your favorite artists so you can try to sound like them.

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The GR-55 also allows you to go through sections of effects banks and pick your amplifier of choice. Whether it’s a Fender Twin or a Mesa Triple Rec, the unit does a good job at re-creating some of the industries signature tones. Should you wish or even have the capabilities to, you can route the output of the GR-55 in a variety of ways. You can even separate the synth signal from the guitar sounds which can go directly to your amp. Roland also allows the user to go directly to a separate output jack just for the regular guitar pickups. This enables the user to plug in to another guitar amp for your natural tone.

Without a standard 1/4″ guitar input, the unit does have certain limitations. If you want to play a gig and need to use any guitar other than the guitar that’s equipped with the GK-3, you’ll  have to have a separate amplifier. If the GR-55 had a regular guitar input, you could use the internal effects and the amp modeling of the GR-55 to run through the outputs of the GR-55 into the amp of your choice.

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Like any multi-FX pedal board, there is a sizable learning curve before you figure out the interface. Luckily, Roland has made it a rather intuitive user interface for ease of navigation. You will need to configure the GK-3 the first time you play it. If you skip this step, you will hate yourself and probably return the unit. Just do it.

OK, I’m out of breath, let’s bullet point this.

PROS

  • No latency issues – As long as you calibrate your guitar when you first use the GK-3
  • Compact – Relatively small and portable.
  • Built like a tank – Very sturdy construction.
  • Intuitive interface – Cuts down on the learning curve of the unit
  • Expression pedal
  • Multiple USB
  • More effects and possibilities than you will ever need
  • Versatile
  • Does wonders for creativity and your writing approach

CONS

  • Some of the sounds (acoustic) are not as authentic as others
  • Without a standard 1/4″ guitar input, the unit does have certain limitations
  • Steep price

TONE FREQ USER RATING – 7.9 out of 10

At the end of the day, this unit is nice to have, but not necessary. The sounds are great and the possibilities are endless. Given the right application, this unit would be irreplaceable. However, for the price, it just doesn’t seem like a necessary piece of equipment for the average band. When you throw in the aspect of having to have a 13 pin guitar, it just doesn’t make sense to buy it. Just depends on what you’re going for. With that said, if you have the extra cash to blow, go for it.

Here is a great video of the types of sounds and tones you can get with the GR-55