All clips recorded into a 1969 Fender Super Bassman and an Avatar 2x12 loaded with Celestion V30s.
Most guitarists are familiar with the
sound and concept of the famous
Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer. But while it
has become a must-have for blues-rock players
and SRV fans, it’s easy to forget how versatile
the TS-808 was in its original incarnation.
The Tube Screamer could enhance technical
metal riffage or lend a subtle boost to
jazz lines just as easily as it could add grit to
Texas blues. That range is part of what makes
the original TS-808 so valuable and why it
spawned so many clones and variations.
The Dallas Rangemaster treble booster is
a similarly misunderstood, or underutilized,
effect in many respects. And while it’s most
famous for adding a slashing quality to solos
by Rory Gallagher and Brian May, it can lend
presence and cut to rhythm parts as well.
DVK’s Hairball brings together interpretations
of both circuits with a ton of
additional functionality that could make
it a candidate for the go-to pedal on your
board. And for any lead player who has to
play the role of ducking and diving in and
out of a mix onstage, it’s a pedal that can
make life a whole lot easier.
For all of its functionality, the Hairball
comes in a relatively compact enclosure. The
pedal’s wacky cartoon graphics (how can you
not love a pedal featuring a barfing feline?) are
applied to the face of the unit with a polyurethane-
coated dome label that will certainly
stand out on your pedalboard.
The pedal is essentially divided into two
true-bypass, discreet sections: an overdrive
section with knobs for Timbre, Level, and
Tone, and a boost section with a level control
and a Full Range/Treble Boost switch.
The pots, switches, toggle, jacks, LEDs, and
knobs all feel smooth and secure, and overall,
the pedal feels physically robust. There’s
no battery compartment, however—all
DVK pedals require a 9VDC adapter.
Driving on the Left Side
Located on the left of the unit, the
Hairball’s overdrive controls offer an
interesting twist on the standard TS-808-
style control set. Timbre adds gain to the
circuit with an emphasis on high-mid
and high frequencies. With a Gibson SG
out in front of the Hairball, the guitar
remained punchy and dynamic, but I
was able to access a more screaming ’80s
shred tone as I bumped the Timbre. At
lower settings, the Timbre control lends
an edgy and percussive spank, reminiscent
of SRV—especially when using a
guitar with lower pickup output, like a
Stratocaster. In this range, the unit also
imparts a slightly compressed, clean tone.
The Tone control enabled me to
brighten and darken the Hairball within
a really wide and useful range. At its
darkest setting, the Hairball’s Tone control
would work for jazz cats. At its maximum
the tone is more than sufficiently
bright for just about any hard rock
tone—making pick attack delightfully
pronounced. One downside of the classic
TS-808 design is a noticeable drop in
low end. But the modified tone stack on
the Hairball addresses that shortcoming.
The Level control puts a lot more
gain at hand than you’d get in a TS-808,
which makes this a great pedal for bigamp
players that like working with pedals
to kick in a more searing sound.
Right Side, Boost
With its own footswitch and indicator
LED, the boost circuit sits to the
right of the overdrive. The most critical
function on the Boost circuit is the Full
Range/Treble Boost switch. Set to Full
Range, the switch produces little or no
tonal coloration and enables you to use
the pedal as a clean boost. But a switch
to Treble Boost produces a seemingly
endless supply of bite. At its maximum
setting, the Boost circuit produces an
overwhelming +28 dB for blasting your
amp’s preamp tubes—an experiment
I very willingly undertook with the
Gibson SG and my trusty non-master
volume 1969 Fender Super Bassman.
Even at the Bassman’s lowest volumes,
the Hairball made the preamp sing
with super-potent clean tone. And as
expected, when I increased the Boost
setting, the already soaked preamp
churned up a beautiful, organic distortion.
I experienced no additional noise
from the Hairball, even with the treble
Used together, the Hairball’s Overdrive
and Boost circuits provide even more
tonal versatility. The key to using the
circuits in tandem is blending the gain
from the Overdrive circuit with the gain
produced in your amp when it is hit with
a louder signal from the Boost circuit. My
Bassman, which tends to have a spongy,
smooth attack, was sharpened up quite a
bit by slightly backing off the Boost circuit
and shifting some of the distortion
tone to the Hairball’s Overdrive circuit.
As with any effect with dual tone controls,
you’ll want to be sure that the Overdrive
circuit’s Tone knob and the Boost circuit’s
Treble boost don’t create a sharp spike in
high frequencies. In this case, you can
either lower the Tone or disengage the
Treble boost. That’s not to say that the
Treble boost can’t be used in conjunction
with the Overdrive circuit. When
engaged, the Treble boost has a broader
high-frequency lift than the Tone control,
which will push individual notes out to
the front of the mix where they belong.
The Hairball is more than just an effect.
It’s one of those stompboxes that can get
you out of jams, whether you’re stuck with
a flat and under-performing amplifier or
struggling to be heard in a band with a
cluttered and busy mix. The Overdrive circuit,
which nails the best sonic aspects of
the legendary Tube Screamer, makes dialing
in a delicious overdrive tone dead simple,
while the addition of the Boost circuit
adds versatility to a well-designed distortion.
Balancing the pedal’s overdrive tone
with the gain that’s produced by boosting
your preamp can give you the ability to
explore your amp in new ways. For all the
oomph the Hairball can put behind your
signal, this is more than just a great rock
’n’ roll pedal—it’s practically a Swiss Army
Knife of overdrive tones that even jazzers,
metal heads, and country pickers may ultimately
you’re looking for an excellent
variation on the classic Tube
Screamer matched with a huge
independent boost circuit.
you don’t use pedals or only
play modern metal.