Denmark's T-Rex Engineering is best known for their high-end pedal line that was launched internationally in 2002. Pedals like the Replica delay and Mudhoney distortion/overdrive have earned devoted fanbases, while high-profile tonehounds Mark Tremonti and Greg Koch gravitated to the company for their signature pedals. In 2009, the company introduced their lower-priced ToneBug line of pedals with Overdrive and Reverb. The company expanded the line this year with the Distortion, Phaser, and Chorus + Flanger. T-Rex sums up the design philosophy for the ToneBug line as, "to provide the best effects on the market for reasonable money." We got our hands on the new ToneBug Distortion to see if it lives up to the tagline.
What the Bug
Unpacking the ToneBug Distortion, it's clear this pedal is built to last with its sturdy unpainted cast metal housing with smooth corners, metal knobs and switch. The huge, red status light makes it easy to see if the pedal is engaged, even during bright outdoor shows. Input, output, and power jacks are all located at the top of the pedal, comfortably spaced apart so connecting to your other pedals and power supply is a breeze. The pedal is powered by the standard 9 volt DC plug-in (center pin negative, 8V min. to 12.5V max.) or battery. The battery hatch is located on the bottom of the unit and is easy to access--no screwdrivers needed. This is a clean, simple pedal with three knobs to tweak your noises: Level, Tone, and Gain. One minor complaint on the pedal's aesthetics is that the dots on the knobs are quite small and hard to see against the convex chrome tops, especially when maneuvering in the dark. The overall dimensions of 4.75"L x 3"W x 2.4"H present a rather friendly footprint for precious pedal board real estate.
An adequately featured distortion effect, this unit wants to scream and be unleashed. As I plugged this into my amp and played a few riffs, I had the uncontrollable urge to dig out my best pair of spandex, stretch my leg muscles, and keep edging the volume up more and more as the night wears on. The ToneBug Distortion is a fairly bright sounding pedal, and the bias towards the upper and harmonic frequencies makes it a sheer delight to fire off false harmonics. If you fancy hitting pinch harmonics, this pedal makes it an easy ride, and you'll be thinking Randy Rhoads in no time. At the full gain setting, notes can sustain for nearly as long as you can manage to grip the fingerboard and can seamlessly transition into some agreeable harmonic feedback.
When working this pedal in conjunction with your guitar volume knob, it takes some effort to roll back the volume enough to clean up the saturation if you like to do that--it wants to growl until it's asleep. On the flip side, if you like to do volume swells, you get a relatively smooth and consistent transition from fully attenuated to fully open.
If you are seeking a darker sounding, low gain overdrive tone, this pedal is not your game. While this pedal can get some tube-type sounds with tweaking, it has a hard time trying to sound like a slightly driven tube amp and is clearly designed for higher gain.
Single Coil vs. Humbucker
This pedal seems to do best with humbucking pickups, which makes sense for a higher gain distortion. When played with humbuckers, the sound is quite even and full. When played with single coils, the higher frequencies become a little more strident and the midrange a bit less full. Don't get me wrong, there are some very useable sounds with the single coil setup, but the high timbre needs some taming and attention with that configuration.
The tone knob is a bit more useful with humbucking pickups as well, and allows you to capably adjust the timbre to your liking. With single coils, the tone knob seems to mostly affect the mid frequencies, leaving the high frequency content mostly intact. Dial counterclockwise and the tone starts to become somewhat brittle and thin sounding.
Overall, there are plenty of useable tones to be conjured from this beast using both humbuckers and single-coils, but it seems to be voiced more for humbuckers.
The Final Mojo
For the street price of $99, the Tonebug Distortion is a good, solid piece of gear that offers up some very useable high gain sounds with build quality that will last a long time. If you are a classic rocker, metal aficionado, or just a weekend shredder, this piece of gear may suit you and your wallet handsomely.
you are looking for a solid, higher gain, bright sounding distortion pedal with rich harmonic overtones eager to transform your sound into false harmonic rapture
you are looking for lower gain overdrive sounds with a darker timbre more suited to single coil pickups.