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Ask any gearhead guitarist what kind of pedal that they've gone through the most, and a majority of them will say overdrive pedals. Overdrive tone is almost as personal to us as our favorite guitar. There's no feeling quite like playing through an overdriven tone that has the perfect blend of range, tone, response and feel—it can make us feel more in-tune with our instrument, ultimately making us better players.
But tastes change, and all too often we dump an otherwise great-sounding piece of gear for another one, continuing the cycle of searching for that one overdrive that never fails. Andrew "The Tone God" addressed this issue for fuzz-heads with his NerFuzz programmable fuzz. Now he's tackling overdrive with the new ModestScream, which has enough tweakabilitiy to satisfy the most fickle guitarist.
A Modest Proposal
The analog-based ModestScream is capable of dishing out the type of classic tones that make the TS-9 and TS-808 a legend, but also includes four popular circuit board modifications that enable different types of diode clipping (18 in all), blending with the dry tone, changing opamps (choose between an RC4558D, TL072, TLC2272 or a NE5532), and even altering the ranges of the frequency responses themselves. In a seemingly endless sea of light to medium overdrive pedals, the ModestScream's interface sets it apart from the pack almost immediately. You’ll notice that there aren't any knobs to twist or conventional switches to stomp. Tones are dialed up from the pedal's innovative touch interface, which has three contact points that respond to skin contact only, and it serves as a way to extend the life of the pedal, as there are no parts that can easily snap off. It's also impossible to accidentally change a parameter from a careless swipe of the foot, and the parts will never need replacement from accumulating dirt and grime. The only part that moves is the large metal control plate that engages an internal relay for bypass switching.
There are seven parameters that you can change from the from panel. These include diode type and combination (silicon, Schottky, LED, MOSFET, MOSFET body, and no diode at all), cutoff frequency, opamp chip, clean blend, amount of overdrive, treble level, and overall output volume. Tapping the center contact lets you cycle through each parameter, and a large LED screen tells you the amount or selection that's being used. While it's easy to change any of the settings, it's kind of a pain to do it quickly on the fly—you have to cycle through all of the parameters before you get to the one that you want to alter.
Screaming for Vengeance
The ModestScream is a vintage overdrive lover's dream. With a PRS SE30 amp and a G&L Tribute S-500, I plugged in the ModestScream, selected the first diode and opamp (the RC4558D), and found the tone smooth and luscious. The first diode setting was for two silicon diodes, resulting in symmetrical overdrive—this is what a lot of popular overdrive pedals use in their stock configurations to produce their gain tones. Moving through each of the diode settings really made it apparent just how vast the tonal possibilities were with the pedal, with some of the combinations having more bite on the top end, less or more mids, a raspier response, and so forth. I was particularly taken with the silicon/MOSFET combo, which has a great, tubey tone—perfect for classic rock rhythm work at mid-gain settings.
And this was just the tip of the iceberg. Changing the Freq setting was great for dialing in a smooth midrange hump such as setting 3 for the FAT mod circuit. Using a different chip seemed to have the most effect on the tone overall, especially when I switched from the classic RC4558D chip to the TL072—the tone not only got louder, but stronger and clearer, though it shed some of the sweet sag that made the tone so great in the first place.
Essentially, this is the ModestScream's strongest asset, which is complete freedom to tune the overdrive to the tastes of the player. The company claims that there are 576 different combinations at your fingertips, which means there are some great tones and some more iffy ones (certain diode combos sounded a bit harsh).
The beauty of this pedal is that The Tone God knew that tastes in overdrive are wildly varied. And the ModestScream goes beyond the call of duty to offer up as much versatility as possible. It's well-built and easy to use, though it can take a little longer to change settings on the fly. For the picky player who's tired of playing the overdrive buy-and-sell game, this pedal was designed for you—all you really need is a good set of ears to mold it into what you want it to sound like.