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A good boost pedal can be one of the most indispensible tools in a guitarist’s arsenal. Some amps, after all, have only so much to give. And even if your amp has channel switching, second channels can have completely different gain structure and voicing. Sometimes you just want a little more of the sound that you’ve worked so hard to perfect, with a little attitude on top. That’s where boost pedals come in.
Some boosters are designed with the intent of adding, say, a sharper edge to the high end, or darkening the tone to create a blusier, softer tonality. Most, however, are designed to make you louder without sacrificing any of your tone’s original voice in the process. We decided to test out four of the newest boutique booster pedals on the market to find out what they can add to the sonic brew.
To give the pedals a proper shakedown, I used a combination of a 2011 Fender American Telecaster—a real workhorse with a clear and biting voice that works well with boosters, and the clean, detailed tone of a Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic, which provided a great canvas to hear just how these pedals work.
Lotus Pedal Designs Desire Boost Pedal
The Desire Boost one of the more functionally simple devices in this roundup. It's also one of the most sparse-looking. Lotus strives for simplicity with and this single-knob booster makes do with a little red paint and a plain black label, bearing the make, model and country of origin (the good 'old US-of-A). The Desire Boost looks low-key, but there's more to this circuit than what meets the eye.
The Desire’s circuit employs a JFET gain stage, which is there to add a little grit and muscle to the boosted tone. While most boost pedals strive to provide the same original tone with simply more volume and clarity, the Desire Boost dirties things up a bit. Lotus also designed the Desire Boost to have an extremely high input impedance, which makes it handy for taming noise from noisy cables, and preserving a guitar's signal at the front of a line of buffered effects.
The Desire Boost added a lot of bounce in the low end, a quality that got more pronounced the harder that I hit the strings with my fingertips. Running through some standard country progressions, you can hear the natural feel and warmth of the Lotus. It infused the Mesa’s beautiful cleans with a bubbly low end and crisp highs, that actually found me dropping the amp’s treble knob a bit to get it under control. As natural and rubbery as the lows become, the highs retain a very hi-fi quality that makes arpeggios dazzling with a touch of extra sustain. With the capacity to boost, enhance clarity and harmonic content in clean environments and add a little dirt, the Desire Boost is a well-rounded slice of simplicity.
Pigtronix Class A Boost
You've got to hand it to Pigtronix, they sure know how to design a cool-looking enclosure. The Class A Boost sports a dignified (call it “class-ay”?) tuxedo-themed enclosure, with a single control for the boost level. It’s solid, well-built, and a look inside reveals an immaculately soldered set of internal components.
Pigtronix designed the Class A Boost around a single-ended Class-A configuration, utilizing discreet JFET transistors. The circuit was designed in conjunction with famed pedal designer Howard Davis, who designed legendary Electro-Harmonix pedals including the Electric Mistress and the Deluxe Memory Man. Pigtronix’ choice of a Class-A circuit revolves around trying to coax a warmer edge from the boosted tone, which can be set to deliver a hefty 20dB of extra push. It's also voiced to act well with an overdriven amp or overdrive pedal, and its noise floor is so low that it can be patched into the signal chain wherever desired. Battery users be warned however, as the Class A Boost doesn't accept batteries—it can only be powered from either a 9V or 18V wall wart—but it comes packed with an 18V power supply for maximum headroom.
Pigtronix's little tuxedoed wonder is all about sparkle and refinement in the high end. During bluesy runs the Telecaster’s slicing qualities became magnified and focused with a very slight cut in the low end. Bumping the gain keeps the Telecaster stayed clean, clear, and natural-sounding without any added distortion. This is thanks in no small part to the 18V power supply, which kicks the headroom to impressive heights. Switching to a 9V power supply helps soften and cut the high end of the boosted tone. But it also gives the pedal a lower ceiling that results in a lovely, slightly fuzzy drive at higher settings.