Hello, boys and girls: Today’s word is “heat.” The folks at Quinnamp describe the new Dirt & Ernie distortion and clean-boost pedal as “akin to a 3 inch elephant playing an electric tuba.” With illustrations on the pedal by graphic artist David Medel that are strikingly similar to Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie—except one is tattooed, pierced, and filthy while the other is squeaky-clean in the tub (rubber ducky included)—I didn’t know what to expect. But I couldn’t wait to find out.
Handmade by Quinnamp in Phoenix, Arizona, the Dirt & Ernie is an extremely simple pedal. Possessing a clean/dirty toggle, two knobs, a footswitch, and a jack for an optional DC adapter, it’s packed into a concise metal box with 4-screw access to the guts for battery changes. For the test, I used a Dean V79 with Seymour Duncan Distortion humbuckers through a Marshall MG100HDFX amp and a Line 6 Vetta II cab with a pair of 12" Celestians. The amp’s EQ was set mostly flat, with just a slight drop in the mid and a small increase in the high.
I was extremely impressed with the distortion. While Quinnamp calls it “Dirt,” it also adds a lot of heat. At its maximum level, notes were still distinct and clear, chords were full and solid with smooth changes, and the pedal put out just the right amount of breakup. Skynyrd-like to Frampton-esque to something more Green Day-ish, the Dirt & Ernie produced a wide range of tones with only small adjustments to the Dirt knob. It also worked extremely well with the amp’s onboard EQ, and minor adjustments to the amp’s treble and bass controls were reflected accurately in the distortion.
Attack plays a big role with the Dirt & Ernie. A strongly played note or chord had an initial burst of energy with bright, but not tinny, volume and heat that were deep, but not muffled. With a smooth and even decay, the sustain was good and pinch harmonics seemed easy. Because the pedal responds extremely well to attack and playing style, a less aggressive attack will yield a tamer initial burst. Decreasing the Dirt control lowers the max burst, but retains much of the sear available when played hard.
In Clean Boost mode, both knobs act as volume controls, but it seemed one was more of a traditional volume and the other more of a drive boost. To match the amp volume, I had the pedal’s Volume knob at about 75 percent, and going the rest of the way did add some volume without changing the original amp tone. But turning up the Dirt knob added much more volume and boost, and as it neared 12 o’clock, some distortion was present. The Clean Boost also responded well to attack, however, so a lighter touch can avoid much of the added distortion while still keeping the increased volume—making it different than simply adding drive to the amp’s clean channel. Bastardization of a sweet childhood memory aside, the Dirt & Ernie pedal provided a decent, clean boost and a smooth to searing, yet very clear distortion with a lot of nice middle ground.
The Dirt & Ernie is a nice change from mass-market distortion pedals. It has a wide tonal range, despite its playful look, from boosted clean to country-rock twang to hard-rock power. Also featuring true bypass, it’s there when you want it. And the fact that it’s handmade in the US also gives the Dirt & Ernie a thumbs-up. While the price is up there, the pedal’s original tones make it a worthwhile investment that can cover a broad range of styles.
you’re looking to boost your clean sound and get versatile distortion that doesn’t sound like all the rest.
you want your clean totally clean, or you’re on a budget and want more of an average distorted tone that doesn’t fluctuate as much with attack.