Premier Guitar

DVK Technologies The Hair Ball Pedal Review

June 14, 2011

Listen:



All clips recorded into a 1969 Fender Super Bassman and an Avatar 2x12 loaded with Celestion V30s.

Most guitarists are familiar with the sound and concept of the famous Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer. But while it has become a must-have for blues-rock players and SRV fans, it’s easy to forget how versatile the TS-808 was in its original incarnation. The Tube Screamer could enhance technical metal riffage or lend a subtle boost to jazz lines just as easily as it could add grit to Texas blues. That range is part of what makes the original TS-808 so valuable and why it spawned so many clones and variations.

The Dallas Rangemaster treble booster is a similarly misunderstood, or underutilized, effect in many respects. And while it’s most famous for adding a slashing quality to solos by Rory Gallagher and Brian May, it can lend presence and cut to rhythm parts as well.

DVK’s Hairball brings together interpretations of both circuits with a ton of additional functionality that could make it a candidate for the go-to pedal on your board. And for any lead player who has to play the role of ducking and diving in and out of a mix onstage, it’s a pedal that can make life a whole lot easier.

Jam Packed
For all of its functionality, the Hairball comes in a relatively compact enclosure. The pedal’s wacky cartoon graphics (how can you not love a pedal featuring a barfing feline?) are applied to the face of the unit with a polyurethane- coated dome label that will certainly stand out on your pedalboard.

The pedal is essentially divided into two true-bypass, discreet sections: an overdrive section with knobs for Timbre, Level, and Tone, and a boost section with a level control and a Full Range/Treble Boost switch. The pots, switches, toggle, jacks, LEDs, and knobs all feel smooth and secure, and overall, the pedal feels physically robust. There’s no battery compartment, however—all DVK pedals require a 9VDC adapter.

Driving on the Left Side
Located on the left of the unit, the Hairball’s overdrive controls offer an interesting twist on the standard TS-808- style control set. Timbre adds gain to the circuit with an emphasis on high-mid and high frequencies. With a Gibson SG out in front of the Hairball, the guitar remained punchy and dynamic, but I was able to access a more screaming ’80s shred tone as I bumped the Timbre. At lower settings, the Timbre control lends an edgy and percussive spank, reminiscent of SRV—especially when using a guitar with lower pickup output, like a Stratocaster. In this range, the unit also imparts a slightly compressed, clean tone.

The Tone control enabled me to brighten and darken the Hairball within a really wide and useful range. At its darkest setting, the Hairball’s Tone control would work for jazz cats. At its maximum the tone is more than sufficiently bright for just about any hard rock tone—making pick attack delightfully pronounced. One downside of the classic TS-808 design is a noticeable drop in low end. But the modified tone stack on the Hairball addresses that shortcoming.

The Level control puts a lot more gain at hand than you’d get in a TS-808, which makes this a great pedal for bigamp players that like working with pedals to kick in a more searing sound.

Right Side, Boost
With its own footswitch and indicator LED, the boost circuit sits to the right of the overdrive. The most critical function on the Boost circuit is the Full Range/Treble Boost switch. Set to Full Range, the switch produces little or no tonal coloration and enables you to use the pedal as a clean boost. But a switch to Treble Boost produces a seemingly endless supply of bite. At its maximum setting, the Boost circuit produces an overwhelming +28 dB for blasting your amp’s preamp tubes—an experiment I very willingly undertook with the Gibson SG and my trusty non-master volume 1969 Fender Super Bassman. Even at the Bassman’s lowest volumes, the Hairball made the preamp sing with super-potent clean tone. And as expected, when I increased the Boost setting, the already soaked preamp churned up a beautiful, organic distortion. I experienced no additional noise from the Hairball, even with the treble boost engaged.

Used together, the Hairball’s Overdrive and Boost circuits provide even more tonal versatility. The key to using the circuits in tandem is blending the gain from the Overdrive circuit with the gain produced in your amp when it is hit with a louder signal from the Boost circuit. My Bassman, which tends to have a spongy, smooth attack, was sharpened up quite a bit by slightly backing off the Boost circuit and shifting some of the distortion tone to the Hairball’s Overdrive circuit. As with any effect with dual tone controls, you’ll want to be sure that the Overdrive circuit’s Tone knob and the Boost circuit’s Treble boost don’t create a sharp spike in high frequencies. In this case, you can either lower the Tone or disengage the Treble boost. That’s not to say that the Treble boost can’t be used in conjunction with the Overdrive circuit. When engaged, the Treble boost has a broader high-frequency lift than the Tone control, which will push individual notes out to the front of the mix where they belong.

The Verdict
The Hairball is more than just an effect. It’s one of those stompboxes that can get you out of jams, whether you’re stuck with a flat and under-performing amplifier or struggling to be heard in a band with a cluttered and busy mix. The Overdrive circuit, which nails the best sonic aspects of the legendary Tube Screamer, makes dialing in a delicious overdrive tone dead simple, while the addition of the Boost circuit adds versatility to a well-designed distortion. Balancing the pedal’s overdrive tone with the gain that’s produced by boosting your preamp can give you the ability to explore your amp in new ways. For all the oomph the Hairball can put behind your signal, this is more than just a great rock ’n’ roll pedal—it’s practically a Swiss Army Knife of overdrive tones that even jazzers, metal heads, and country pickers may ultimately find indispensible.

Buy if...
you’re looking for an excellent variation on the classic Tube Screamer matched with a huge independent boost circuit.
Skip if...
you don’t use pedals or only play modern metal.
Rating...


Street $289 - DVK Technologies - dvktech.com