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Choosing an overdrive is tricky business. There’s a lot of them out there. And once you’ve plowed through the plethora of reissue, vintage, and clones out there on the market, there’s a treasure trove of new, original designs. A lot of these newest overdrives have tried to carve out a niche by adorning their ODs with more knobs and switches than a synthesizer. For a lot of tone-obsessed players, that added tone shaping power is a real plus. For many of us, though, simplicity is king—especially in overdrives. And Portland, Oregon’s, Spaceman Effects, who knocked us out in the February issue with their superb Gemini III germanium/silicon hybrid fuzz, manages both simplicity and a unique overdrive voices in the Aphelion.
The hand-wired Aphelion gives you everything from the signal boost you need to tailor the output from a megawatt head, dial up thundering crunch, or give a little combo a little more punch and character. The Aphelion sounds rich in all of these situations—but you may want to make a move fast—these effects are limited run and selling out fast.
The entire Spaceman Effects line is pretty stylish and playful without coming off as kitschy. But Spaceman’s design also reveals a cool attention to detail. The Aphelion’s face is covered with a thin, black vinyl veneer that sports recessed white lettering and tiny stars. And when the effect is engaged a turquoise LED illuminates a transparent jewel indicator, which is both retro-cool and easy to see.
The Spaceman Aphelion Harmonic Overdrive uses three very familiar parameters for shaping and producing its spacious textures—Gain, Drive, and Tone. The Tone knob is a cut/boost control. The Drive control ranges from a sullied tinge to a nasty slash. The Gain control handles volume tweaks, but it also functions in a manner similar to a boost. And dramatically reducing the Drive and pushing the Gain will give your amplifier a relatively transparent thrust towards natural overdrive.
Removing the back plate screws reveals rocket-science-precise wiring beneath the cast-aluminum enclosure. The point-to-point soldering is absolutely flawless. The chrome-reflective PC board sits firmly on its posts and there’s even a few thoughtful design touches on the inside, like star etchings between resistors and caps.
My first real demo of the Aphelion was up against a full two-guitars, bass, and drums band in a sweatbox of a rehearsal studio. With a Les Paul plugged into a ’65 Twin Reverb reissue (with the volume between a third and half of full) I toyed with the Aphelion’s controls at lower settings.
One of the first things you notice is that the Gain control has an almost unholy amount of power. The 8 o’clock position gets you to unity between the clean and engaged effect, but twisting the Gain will soup up your output into enormous levels fast should you need them. Keeping the Gain low with the Drive around 11 o’clock slammed the Twin with a fistful of stinging crunch that was sharp enough to cut through some very heavy drumming and provide contrast to a wailing, reverb- and fuzz-tortured second guitar. The Aphelion is a great match for a high-headroom amp like the Twin and the Tone knob is super effective for taming runaway high-end and taking advantage of the Twin’s low-end capacity.
With a ’68 Bassman and a 4x12 in the mix and the Aphelion’s Drive around noon the Les Paul readily dished Superunknown-era Soundgarden tones with ease. The closed-back 4x12 cabinet demonstrated how effective the Aphelion’s Tone control is for tailoring the overdrive to different guitar/amp combinations. And in this case, a treble bump really helped preserve the complexity of the humbucker’s voice and the clear-but-detailed sound of the Fender amp. To be certain, you’re never stuck with stagnant midrange or piercing tone with the Aphelion in the mix.
The Aphelion works very effectively as a boost too. Reducing the Drive and pushing the Gain will get your tubes cooking. A slight increase in Tone and the Bassman and Stratocaster were sipping from Clapton waters, with exceptionally tight and dynamic attack across all six strings. Backing from the singing intensity of these settings is as simple as rolling off the guitar’s volume, and the Aphelion loses none of its harmonic richness.
If you’re left cold from overdrives with more knobs than usable tone, check out the Aphelion Harmonic Overdrive. The tight, responsive tone control makes it easy to tailor the tone to any amp or pickup. The Aphelion comes with a $269 price tag, which isn’t cheap—and there are even smaller-run variants that go for more. But make no mistake, the Aphelion is uncommonly well-crafted. And with total production around a few hundred, chances are you won’t see too many around either. Get one while you can!