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We’ve grown accustomed to stompbox companies big and small using pedal housings themselves as a canvas to differentiate their wares with a little rock ’n’ roll visual craziness. But it would be hard for a pedal to convey its intent through graphics more accurately or effectively than the Malekko Plus Ultra 213. Resplendent in orange metallic flake and a washed-out image of a Mustang Cobra II (Farah Fawcett and Cheryl Ladd’s ride of choice in Charlie’s Angels, natch!)—this pedal screams haze-of-smoke, Sabbathoid, desert-highway-shimmering-with-heat, shag-lined custom-van/muscle-car rock.
What’s cool about the Malekko Plus Ultra 213 is how well it delivers on the promises the fancy graphics make. Like many Malekko boxes we’ve tried, the Plus Ultra 213 is deep with functionality and tones. And what’s doubly awesome about this groovy-looking stomp is how readily and wonderfully it performs outside the most obvious applications—using a combination of an all-pass filter and wide-ranging tone and sustain controls to put burly overdrive and searing hornet-buzz fuzz at your fingertips, as well.
Though it’s flashy, to say the least, the Plus Ultra 213 is a pretty un-fussy and elegant piece of pedal design. Four knobs line the top of the pedal, and the three rightmost controls—sustain, tone, and volume—will be familiar to anyone who’s ever used a Big Muff or similar fuzz. The last remaining knob on the left controls the resonant frequency of the filter and unlocks the more mind-expanding tones within. Apart from the four knobs, there’s a switch for bypass and one for activating the filter circuit.
Not surprisingly, the addition of the filter circuit makes the Plus Ultra 213 a little busy under the hood, but it’s also very tidy and carefully put together. Perhaps the only complaint you could make about the Malekko’s construction is that the excellent graphics are a decal rather than screen printed, which dulls the sparkle of the metal flake paint and diminishes the air of top-shelf quality that otherwise distinguishes the pedal. On the other hand, if using a decal makes sounds this cool more affordable, it’s most definitely a smart trade.
Mean, Muscular, and Malleable
Were the Plus Ultra 213 a simple fuzz alone, it would stoke any rocker obsessed with the sounds of Iommi, Randy California, Clapton’s Cream–era tones, or the desert rock and neo-psych of Kyuss, Fu Manchu, and Tame Impala. At fairly neutral settings, it’s naturally geared toward the boxy-but-harmonically-rich and wooly tones that define a lot of late-’60s and early-’70s riffery, as well as the work stoner-rock acolytes. What’s remarkable about the Plus Ultra 213 in these sonic environments, however, is how much definition and harmonic content it retains through the murk. And players who’ve tossed their Muffs across the room in frustration over losing picking nuance and midrange in these furrier fuzz zones will be thrilled at the extra grind that the Plus Ultra 213 lays on top of it’s more corpulent, Muff-like foundation.
But one of the real treats of the Malekko is how easy it is to deviate from the desert-rock template. Cranking the tone control all the way clockwise makes the Plus Ultra 213 sizzle and buzz more like a Maestro FZ-1, Tonebender Mk 1, or Fuzzrite, but with more body—a tone that’s fantastic for rising above a power trio or lending a little mid-’60s biker rock or Stooge-punk attitude. Keep the tone up and roll back the sustain all the way, and the Plus Ultra is a sweet high-gain overdrive that works beautifully with single-coils in particular, and can lend a little extra sass to blues-rock leads or country rock.
As tasty as its fuzz voice is, it’s the all-pass filter that really makes the Malekko special. Once you’ve introduced the filter circuit into the mix, the filter knob shifts the filter’s resonant frequency—emphasizing treblier points on the harmonic spectrum as you move the knob clockwise and creating an effect akin to parking a wah in a given position and adding a subtle phasing effect. Depending on where you set the resonant frequency, the filtered fuzz can also seem a lot more present and louder, which is a real asset if you play in loud band where it’s tough to get a lead out over the mix. The benefit here is twofold—you get a boost in your signal and a sonically arresting, psychedelicized fuzz tone that will stand out and float above the most punishing cacophony.
The filter function is most fun and expressive, however, when you add an expression pedal to the mix. Moving the filter through its range with a foot controller emphasizes the all-pass filter’s phasing qualities and opens the door to heavily lysergic mutations of phase, fuzz, and wah sounds that are typically hard to deliver and control this effectively without the help of an analog synth circuit. It’s a function that makes the Plus Ultra 213 a very versatile fuzz weapon capable of delivering genuinely show-stopping and out-of-the-ordinary tones—particularly when you take advantage of the way that it interacts with the tone control.
While the Plus Ultra 213’s strengths and emphasis are ’70s-style and desert-rock fuzz tones, it’s the pedal’s range that distinguishes it from the rest of the heavy fuzz pack. And given the Malekko’s potential to move between searing bumble-bee fuzz and creamier near-overdrive tones, it’s easy to imagine players across myriad styles making this a go-to fuzz or abandoning the two-to-three fuzz strategies that clutter a lot of pedalboards. Really cracking open the Malekko’s potential demands the addition of an expression pedal, and given that it’s already priced right around 200 clams, the most complete version of the Plus Ultra 213 experience will cost you if you don’t have a spare expression pedal around. Still, even without the sweepable filter capability, the Malekko can do the work of multiple fuzzes, which makes the expense considerably more palatable. And if you’re out for the ultimate muscle-car-barreling-down-a-barren- two-lane-road fuzz tone, the Plus Ultra 213’s ability to deliver on the promise of it’s hot-rod-emblazoned exterior may alone be worth the price of admission.