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MXR isn’t shy about throwing its weight around in the high-gain game: The pedal-pioneering company has released a multitude of savage stompboxes that have helped metal heroes shape their signature tones—going as far back as Randy Rhoads and on up to Zakk Wylde, Dillinger Escape Plan, and My Chemical Romance. And though the company’s classic early distortions had minimal knobs for simpler control, MXR has of late proven that it isn’t afraid to break the mold: Its new generation of crunch machines tend to be bedecked with EQ controls, mid scoops, noise gates, and boost switches.
The newest member of this growing family is the M75 Super Badass Distortion, a thoughtfully conceived balance of overdrive and modern-metal mega-tonnage with a 3-band EQ and a very dynamic and touch-sensitive circuit.
An EQ for Everyone
In terms of general design sensibility, MXR stompboxes haven’t changed much since the first one rolled off the line in 1972. That’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that MXR’s signature carapace is, for most players, an ideal cross of robust armor and compact footprint. Recently, MXR reduced the box’s thickness one some of their pedals (the Super Badass included) to make them a little lighter than the old dogs, which players who take a full pedalboard on the road will appreciate. Personally, I miss some of that gold-brick heft found in older pieces, but in practical terms, the new enclosure is more than sufficiently sturdy—unless you play in some noise project that involves tossing your pedals into open flame, you should be fine.
Super Badass controls are, for the most part, standard fare for a distortion, but the highly tweakable EQ is an excellent addition and does much to distinguish the M75 from the distortion hordes. The separate bass, mid, and treble knobs are powerful and enable control over a very wide frequency spectrum.
From Blues to Thrash
A lot of distortion pedals are one-trick ponies—even many classics have a certain sweet spot that infuse a glorious and thundering output when you get it right, but go mushy or thin when you don’t. That kind of inflexibility may be okay if you use one type of guitar for a whole set, but if you move between single-coils and humbuckers, it can be a major hassle. The Super Badass and its EQ all but obliterate this hurdle, and while the pedal was named with heavy distortion consumers in mind, there’s an overdriven tone for nearly every taste hiding within.
With a humbucker-equipped DeArmond and the MXR set to lower gain settings, I explored the softer side of the Badass first. With distortion around 10 o’clock and a boost in the mids, I got a brawny overdrive similar to the output from a TS9. However, unlike the Ibanez—which has a rather restrictive EQ curve—the Badass has room to range in the upper and lower frequencies, which enables you to accommodate a greater number of amp and guitar pairings from a single distortion setting. A ’65 Twin Reverb reissue—a fantastic platform for just about any stompbox—was a natural fit for the MXR. The darker 6L6 circuit and open-backed cab generated a smoky, leather-tough overdrive at most of these modest settings. And turning up the bass knob gave the output a more compressed howl akin to a cranked Deluxe. But each note still resonated clearly and responded to picking dynamics.
A lot of overdrives sound great when you turn up the output and kill the gain for a boost-type effect. Thanks to its flexible 3-band EQ, the Super Badass excels at this—especially with a clean, high-headroom amp that’ll let you shape and color the output from mellow to hot and spiky. Using the Badass like a boost is perfect if you want extra kick from a high-gain amp, too.
With the Super Badass out in front of a 45-watt Dr. Z Antidote and a 4x12 cab loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s, I kicked up the pedal’s distortion to maximum. At this level, you’ll hear a fair amount of white noise from the pedal—especially with single-coils in the mix. Here again, though, the EQ proves invaluable: Rolling off the highs reduces sizzle and helps control unwanted feedback. But nixing most of the mids and pumping up the bass enables you to shape these heavy-duty distortion sounds into a menacing torrent of sludge. With humbuckers driving the pedal at these settings, I could generate something close to Matt Pike’s grim power-chord assault on “Madness of an Architect.” And if the girth of the chords at these settings is massive, the sustain is positively otherworldly—a mile-long red carpet of soaring, singing, searing output that teeters, quite musically, at the edge of feedback, depending on how you ride the volume on your guitar. Single-coils work just as well at these aggressive settings, though they’ll feed back much sooner. Set this combination up right, though, and you have a perfect pairing for nasally metal-punk spittle, especially if you neutralize the bass.
While the Super Badass lives up to its name on the basis of the savage distortion and authoritative overdrive that’s on tap, it’s the powerful EQ that makes this pedal truly badass. Many of us have blind-ordered a distortion or overdrive only to find out that it’s totally incompatible with our rig or has a limited range of use. But the EQ on the Badass makes the pedal equally at home with single-coils or humbuckers, high-gain amps or high-headroom clean amps, metal leads or roots-rock crunch. There’s a modern color at the root of the MXR’s voice that might scare off some old-school devotees, but if you need a new gain pedal that covers all the bases, it’s worth giving the Super Badass a try—chances are, you’ll easily find a useful and inspiring flavor of growl and have plenty of room left to explore overdrive and distortion realms you hadn’t even considered. And for right around 100 bucks, you’d be hard pressed to find more distortion flavors for the money.
Watch our video demo: