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Blackstone Appliances Mosfet Overdrive 2S Pedal Review

April 15, 2010

Download Example 1
Clean guitar, then Blackstone' Brown channel
Download Example 2
Blackstone Red channel, light then heavy overdrive
Clips recorded with 1965 Fender Strat with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups through an Egnater Rebel 30
When you hear fusion whiz Oz Noy play, you may wonder how he gets that fat, slightly broken-up but extremely articulate sound despite playing impossible flurries of notes through a Stratocaster’s bridge pickup driving a clean Fender amp. One secret to the Israeli chops monster’s tone—in addition to gobs of talent—is a diminutive black pedal. The pedal we can help you with (for the talent, you’re on your own): Toward the beginning of Noy’s signal chain is a Blackstone Appliances Mosfet Overdrive 2S pedal.

At 4.4" x 2.4" x 1.25", the Mosfet Overdrive 2S is roughly the size of an MXR Dyna Comp. It sports two footswitchable channels (hence the 2S), each with its own Drive and Level settings, and true-bypass switching. The top of the pedal contains what looks like five slot-head screws. These are the controls for the two channels and a master EQ. The flush control concept is a good one, because the controls are easily moved with a fingernail or a guitar pick, but they’re unlikely to get shifted if you throw the pedal in a gig bag or kick it around a stage. While this setup does preclude any spontaneous foot adjustments on stage, it allows five controls to fit on the minimalist housing. The Mosfet Overdrive 2S is handcrafted by Jon Blackstone in New York City with a cast aluminum chassis sporting a powdercoat finish and FR-4 (epoxy-fiberglass) plated-through-hole circuit boards. Rather than use the pair of head-to-toe diodes found in many distortion pedals, Blackstone has opted to use four gain stages of small-signal MOSFETs (metal-oxide-semiconductor fieldeffect transistors), each contributing a little soft clipping. Blackstone maintains that this avoids intermodulation and fizzy high-order harmonics in the same manner as vintage amps. Players who cascade different low-gain overdrives into each other can testify to the efficacy of this system.

What’s on Tap?
The two channels are called Red and Brown, presumably for the changing color of a center-mounted LED that indicates both when the effect is turned on and which channel is active. The light appears more orange than brown in Brown mode, and at some angles a red tinge can be confusing at first glance. Fortunately, the LED is bright red in Red mode—no confusion there. Each channel has a Level control on the left and a Drive adjustment on the right. The two Drive controls work differently: Turned clockwise, the Brown Drive boosts drive from a mild grit to a fat roar that still cleans up when the guitar volume is lowered. The Red Drive starts with a healthy crunch at noon, and then offers different-sounding distortion increases depending on whether you turn it clockwise or counterclockwise. Blackstone recommends clockwise for single-coils and counterclockwise for humbucker-equipped instruments. The different directions are essentially two differently voiced drive boosts. Clockwise adds some midrange girth to single-coils, while the other direction seems to reduce bass and emphasize some higher frequencies, preventing humbuckers from getting muddy. The fifth control is a post-distortion EQ that provides a 10dB mid cut at 750Hz.

As with some vintage fuzz pedals, the Blackstone circuit interacts with the inductance of your guitar’s pickups, translating playing dynamics into changes in waveform distortion, rather than passing them on as changes in output level. The Blackstone pedal also allows adjustment to the internal circuitry. Removing the backplate reveals (in addition to the 9-volt battery) a small switch that converts the pedal from unbuffered to buffered. In unbuffered mode, it is recommended that you place the pedal immediately after your guitar in your effects chain, like some fuzz pedals. If you need to place it after another effect, engaging the buffering prevents fizziness at high-gain settings.

A jeweler’s screwdriver can be used to simultaneously adjust Gain and Treble settings for the second stage of both channels, and the more electronically adventurous can experiment with the two replaceable, socket-mounted capacitors: One limits output presence and the other tunes Red-channel bass at counterclockwise settings.

Plugging In
The Mosfet Overdrive is not like some boost pedals that drive the amp into distortion or sound best with an amp that’s already slightly crunchy. Blackstone recommends that you use it with an amp that provides a great clean sound, and use the pedal to provide any breakup. For my great clean sounds, I chose Egnater Rebel 30 and Orange Tiny Terror heads running into a custom speaker cabinet containing a 12” Eminence Texas Heat speaker. I tested the Blackstone with a DiMarzio Virtual Vintage-equipped 1965 Fender Stratocaster and a similarly outfitted Fernandes Tele-style guitar, as well as a Stromberg Monterey with DiMarzio Eric Johnson humbuckers. Plugging the Strat into the Mosfet Overdrive and then the Egnater, I set the Brown Channel for moderate drive, flicked on the bridge pickup, and was rewarded with instant Oz Noy—the tone, not the chops.

It is always surprising when a pedal can contribute so much to a sound, but I could immediately hear how the Blackstone’s Mosfet staging contributed to the wide, warm sound that Noy gets, while its articulation and fast attack explained how he whips out flurries of individually distinguishable 32nd notes. At this setting, the Blackstone cleaned up completely when I backed off my guitar volume. In that sense, it’s very dynamic. In terms of responding to pick attack, I found it less so than some pedals I have played. Still, despite its rapid attack, the Mosfet never felt stiff to play. While not as saggy as some overdrives and amps, it “gives” enough to let you feel natural playing it. Plugging in the Fernandes pushed the drive a little harder and sounded more Robben Ford-ish.

Switching to the Tiny Terror head and the Mosfet Overdrive’s Red channel opened up a whole new world of more aggressive distortion. Tamer settings offered classic rock crunch, while maxing out the Drive served up balls-to-the-wall distortion, bordering on fuzz, with tons of singing sustain. Just because you never know, I tried the humbucker setting with the single-coils. If you have a particularly dark-sounding Strat or Tele and want a more belligerent drive, this could work, but this setting definitely felt more at home with the humbucker-outfitted Stromberg. With the counterclockwise setting maxed out, both the bridge and neck humbuckers remained tight and focused. For grins, I tried the single-coil setting maxed out with the humbuckers and discovered a great woolly, Big Muff tone.

The Final Mojo
While the Blackstone Mosfet Overdrive 2S is not the most transparent or natural-sounding pedal I have heard, it is one of the most musical. It has a sound of its own, it’s inspiring to play, and its small size makes it easy to find a niche for it on your pedalboard.
Buy if...
you want a an extremely musical, articulate overdrive pedal.
Skip if...
you seek a saggier, amp-style sound.

Street $225 - Blackstone Appliances -