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Stomping Grounds: 25 Pedals Reviewed

Stomping Grounds: 25 Pedals Reviewed

OVERDRIVE

Barber Electronics Half Gainer

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he Half Gainer pedal is a dual version of Barber’s LTD low-gain overdrive. The first thing you notice is the cool Art Deco-style design, which makes it a very classy and attractive looking pedal. But that’s not all. This thing is built like a tank! There’s no lightweight cheap plastic here, it’s a heavy, durable pedal that is definitely roadworthy. The Half Gainer features two channels, with independent adjustments of volume and gain for each channel. The Mid Character control allows you to boost or cut the mids to your liking, and the two internal trim pots for Presence and Bass are also user adjustable. The concept of the Half Gainer is something that works well in the studio, but it excels in a live setting. This one pedal hooked up through one amp delivers three completely different, and quickly accessible, sounds. I started with a clean sound on my amp with the pedal turned off. When I switched on the Half Gainer, the first channel is then set up for a milder overdrive sound—somewhere in the middle between clean and distortion, which basically acts like more like a slight boost. I then set up the second channel for a heavier gain that would be good for heavier rock rhythms or leads, especially when the Half Gainer is turned on.

Tone-wise, I felt that initially I didn’t have enough low end using the pedal’s factory settings. I took advantage of the adjustable bass trim pot, opened up the pedal and was able to easily adjust the bass up. The only other feature I would have liked to see for tone shaping would’ve been separate Middle and Tone controls for each channel. Overall, it’s nice to be able to go from clean to “slightly soiled” to dirty in a few clicks. Barber’s Half Gainer is ideal for those guitarists who like to quickly switch between different sounds without having a lot of pedals on stage or in the studio. – GG

Buy if...
you’d like a progression of sounds that you can easily control with one pedal.
Skip if...
you need more tonal variety when switching to each channel.
Rating...
4.0

Street $169 - Barber Electronics - barberelectronics.com


T-Rex DGTM

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You gotta love a pedal that has knob controls named “Gristle” and “Gravy”! In the case of the T-Rex DGTM, it’s quite appropriate for an overdrive pedal that has such meaty tones. Denmark-based T-Rex Engineering’s new DGTM (Diabolical Gristle Tone Manipulator) offers a distinctive overdrive that will please many guitarists looking to beef up their tones. It was inspired by the “Gristle Man” guitarist Greg Koch, and goes between standard overdrive tone and a more compressed gain with the flick of a switch. The pedal has three tone-shaping parameters: Gristle controls the amount of distortion, Gravy controls the volume, and the Tone control can take your guitar from smooth to edgy.

I always like to test a pedal full on at first, especially to hear the extreme between a totally clean sound and the most overdriven tone possible. With my DiMarzio humbucker-equipped Charvel So-Cal, I got a nice thick overdriven tone with the Gristle knob all the way up, and it was nice to switch between standard and compressed modes for a variety of overdrives. I was able to get a nice vintage rock tone by dialing the Gristle about halfway in standard mode with both humbuckers on. With single-coil pickups, my favorite tone was cranking the Gristle knob up all the way with the Tone right at 12 o’clock. While using the neck pickup I was able to coax a bluesy lead tone out of it. The pedal is definitely more on the bright side. Turning the Tone knob more than halfway resulted in overdrive that was harsher and more “sizzly” than I prefer— whether I used single coils or humbuckers, or in the neck or bridge positions.

However, the DGTM works well for both blues and classic rock guitarists. Whether you want a vintage crunch or a more modern overdrive, the Diabolical Gristle Tone Manipulator can give your guitar tone a cool overdrive boost. – GG
Buy if...
you like a little variety in your overdrive.
Skip if...
you’re a metal guitarist searching for high gain distortion
Rating...
4.0

Street $199 - T-Rex Engineering - t-rex-engineering.com


Kasha KA-OOP-A 4-Channel Overdrive

Kasha Amplification was born almost 22 years ago in a small music store in California’s San Fernando Valley, ABK Rocks. It was also one of the most talked-about places amongst gearheads to have their amplifiers modified. Legendary guitarists such as Chris Impellitteri and Jake E. Lee would bring in their Marshall heads to have John Kasha go through them and make modifications. The result of all this modding was the highly praised Rockmod Preamp, one of the very first all-tube preamps, which was originally released as an easier alternative to having an amplifier altered.

As a more convenient and affordable option, Kasha has recently released the KA-ODP-A Overdrive, a four-channel overdrive pedal that was designed to house some of Kasha’s best guitar tones to date. While the pedal can be used as a stand-alone device into a clean amplifier, it was really designed for those players who don’t want to drastically alter their tone, and just want to drive the amp’s internal gain even further. This is why the pedal lacks a tone knob. Each of its four modes—Smooth, Classic, Hot and Melt—are individually voiced with distinct amounts of lows, mids, highs and gain, which have been carefully chosen to preserve the amp’s inherent tone.

When I ran the pedal into a Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue with a 2008 Fender American Stratocaster, I could tell what Kasha was going for almost immediately. All of the guitar’s natural attack was very present throughout each mode, with an instantly noticeable addition of sparkle in the highs. I drove the amp slightly by pushing the volume higher, and then engaged the pedal in the Hot setting. The result was impressive, with just the right amount of every frequency, none of which was too harsh. Flipping the tone switch on the top (labeled “Normal/ Turbo”) to Turbo piled on even more gain, yet the amplifier’s tone remained clear and strong, with every note audible in any chord. To call the KA-ODP-A a boost is an understatement; it not only boosted the amp, it enhanced it. For the player with the perfect amplifier setup who’s looking to squeeze a little more juice out of it, this is an excellent place to start. – JW
Buy if...
you want to preserve your amp’s natural tone, but still need more boost versatility.
Skip if...
you really, really need a tone control.
Rating...
4.0

MSRP $200 - Kasha Amplifiers - kashaamplifiers.com


Rockbox Boiling Point

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To put it mildly, there are a ton of good overdrive pedals out there. To put it simply, the Rockbox Boiling Point is one of the best I’ve come across. It’s not just the notable elements in its construction, which would take the rest of this review to enumerate, but the fact that it is at once both extraordinarily versatile and intuitively easy to use. There are so many great touches here, it’s hard to mention them all, but at the top of my list are: the detented Gain control, the 3-way mode toggle, and the amount of gain on tap, which is … well, preposterous really. I also like the high-visibility blue LED indicator, and the unique marbled paintjob is pretty cool, too. The 3-way mode toggle changes the response and tone of the pedal considerably: pushing the switch up (“Plexi”) produces a convincing Marshall-like feel; down delivers asymetrical clipping, which is edgier, like an amp on the verge of exploding; middle is a clean boost mode. There’s also a very useful Bass Contour switch that fattens up singlecoil pickups nicely and seems to tame bright humbuckers as well. There’s more, but I need to tell you how it sounds.

My first test was with an Orange Tiny Terror combo set clean. With the Boiling Point on the Plexi setting with the Bass Contour engaged, I set the Gain and Tone at about noon and plugged in a Gibson LP Studio with Burstbuckers. Using just the neck pickup with the Volume almost all the way up and the tone rolled off, I got just about the sweetest, juiciest woman tone you could imagine: sustaining and heavy with overtones, and so creamy and articulate without a trace of bite. That sold me right off the bat, but as I continued to experiment with other combinations— my Nash S63 with Lollar pickups, a Fender Road Worn Tele, a Tweed Deluxe replica and an Xits 15W Sadie combo—I discovered a veritable library of overdrive flavors that took me through several decades of my mental tone catalog. Scooped metal is about the only thing you won’t close in on here. And the pedal is oh-so-sensitive: if you park it in the sweet spot, you can go from clean to raunchy and back just by changing the heaviness of your attack. With so many overdrives to pay attention to these days, it’s nice to meet one that’ll make you wonder how many more you need. – CB

Buy if...
you want huge overdrive versatility in a small box.
Skip if...
if your band nickname is “One Tone” … or “Bloody Deathbringer.”
Rating...
5.0 

Street $389 - Rockbox Electronics - rockboxelectronics.com


Granville Copper Drive

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It is a truism that although supporting roles don’t get a lot of glory, without them the stars in leading roles wouldn’t be able to shine as brightly. Granville’s Scott Davis takes the same approach with his Copper Drive pedal—it’s meant to be transparent and supportive, so you can use it like seasoning to enhance your sound without sacrificing the tone of your A-list gear. For experienced players who’ve already put time and money into achieving their sought-after tone, this is a good thing to have. Add in the fact that Granville pedals are hand-built using topnotch materials and hand-selected components by a guy with this much experience, and it’s a great thing.

Once you’ve set the Level control for unity gain, the Tone control, which seems to work much like a high-frequency roll off, will help you get the right amount of bite or smoothness for your particular guitar and pickups, but the Tone and Drive controls are also very interactive. The Copper Drive is so transparent that it makes an ideal clean boost for more volume on leads and solos. Once you hear what it does with a healthy application of Drive, though, you’ll probably forget about that.

I tested it out with an Orange Tiny Terror combo and an Xits 15W Sadie, both set very clean. Whether it was a Gibson LP Studio with Burstbuckers, a Fender Road Worn Tele, a Nash S63 with Lollars, or a Duesenberg MC Signature’s humbucker/P-90 combination, the Copper Drive dirtied up the tone beautifully without coloring or covering over the individual character of the guitars and amps. The single-coil guitars retained all their leanness and sparkle but got raw and vigorous; humbuckers stayed fat without muddying up. The increased harmonic richness was superb. It’s highly sensitive to playing dynamics and it cleans up so well with just the guitar’s volume knob, it’s like it’s not even there. It’s so good with low to moderate gain, you might want to just leave it on, but there’s plenty of fire here, too—turn the Drive all the way up and you’ll get enough crunch and sizzle for pretty much any style except modern metal. If you asked me what could be done to improve it, this is all I’d have to say: Dual Copper Drive. – CB

Buy if...
you want a high-quality overdrive that won’t color your tone.
Skip if...
you want a distortion pedal with its own tonal character.
Rating...
4.5

Street $179 - Granville Guitars - granvilleguitars.com


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