Mad Professor Golden Cello Pedal Review
As far as stompbox names go, “Golden Cello” is a lot to live up to—evoking thoughts of singing, harmonically rich tones, muted heavenly light, and a prized relic from antiquity perhaps. There’s just no way your mind’s eye won’t weave some very grand ideas about how it’s going to sound.
In concept, the Golden Cello is aptly named. It’s designed to deliver big, singing overdrive with high-quality, tape-echotype delay from a compact pedal—which certainly sounds like a recipe for golden tone. And if doesn’t quite summon the strains of some celestial chamber quartet, it’s a powerful pedalboard tool of deliciously varied capabilities.
Heart of Gold
For all the tone-massaging capabilities it delivers, the Golden Cello makes do with just four main controls—delay, drive, volume, and tone. There’s more going on than meets the eye, however. Pop open the hood and there are four tiny holes on the PCB. They’re labeled gain, delay 1, repeat, and delay 2, and they yield access to trim pots for additional delay tweaks.
In the Golden Cello’s manual, the user is advised to exercise extreme caution when opening the pedal to make adjustments, because it’s easy to disturb the electronics and damage the pedal—a truth I discovered first hand: After opening the pedal, adjusting the trim pots, and gingerly replacing the cover, the pedal came to life and promptly died when I moved my chair to assume a better playing position.
It was hard to determine the exact reason for the intermittent signal, but I did discover that the delay section’s circuit board can make unwanted contact between the solder connections and the back plate of the pedal—contacts that ground the circuit and interrupt the signal. That means aligning the back plate before screwing it back together has to be done very carefully.
With this in mind, it’s hard not to wonder how the pedal might fare in a jostling, unventilated tour van traveling through climates that could have drastic extremes in temperature and humidity— because you’re definitely not going to want to find out in the middle of a gig that, since the last show, those delaycircuit connections have been jostled into contact with the rear plate. For a builder of pro-grade gear like Mad Professor, it’s surprising the pedal isn’t a little more bulletproof. (Mad Professor’s John Pegler tells us this design flaw has since been fixed.)
That said, the circuit design is admirably ambitious. It isn’t easy to cram such a fine-sounding overdrive with two separate delay circuits into a single chassis. And it’s pretty clear that the circuit is designed with careful consideration for component selection, including the venerable Princeton Technologies PT2399 chip. Though it’s digital, it does a great job of emulating tape- and bucket-brigade-delay tones in a very small and efficient circuit.
The Midas Touch
To test the Golden Cello, I used a ’60s Gibson Firebird with P-90s and a Fender Lone Star Stratocaster, both routed via the Golden Cello into a ’60s Fender Twin Reverb and played at volumes ranging from quiet to near meltdown.
Using the Firebird’s neck pickup, I dialed in thick, heavy distortion with a touch of delay, which enabled me to paint with some very bold brushstrokes. The pedal has a liquid, sustaining distortion that seems capable of lingering for days—just as the name implies. But it can also get quite biting for leads when you crank the distortion and tone all the way up. There’s also enough gain to drive a Twin’s speakers to a husky bark. At more aggressive settings, the distortion can border on fuzz, but it retains plenty of harmonic definition. The tone and distortion knobs are very interactive, and the former generates a lot of harmonic content in the high end, which can become very exaggerated when you crank the gain.
With a neck pickup, rolled-off tone, and delay disengaged, you can get a fine approximation of Robert Fripp’s sound on King Crimson’s “Starless.” The nicely compressed distortion, which blunts the sound of pick attack in a really cool way, can be so smooth in these settings that it nearly sounds like backwards tape. At these settings, the silky but aggressive tones of Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin’s Love Devotion Surrender album also come to mind—and the pedal is as ideal for fast, defined, single-note flurries as that association would suggest.
The delay knob brings in a solid-sounding, tape-like echo that found me indulging in ripping, ethereal solos much more than I ordinarily would—it’s real easy to find the “Comfortably Numb” zone. Though the factory-preset delay tone was perfect, tweaking the internal trim pots expanded its range in cool ways. I got nice doubled sounds with the delay trims and repeat pulled down, though my favorite was bringing out heavy delay and murky lo-fi repeats by cranking both delays pots all the way.
With singing sustain and emotive, atmospheric delay, the Golden Cello is a lead guitarists dream machine. Many players like several distortion pedals and delay textures on tap, but this pedal is a one-stop shop for guitarists looking for saturated and delayed lead tones that can flow and blur into the infinite. The overdriven tones have a foot in the ’70s, to be sure. If you want to recreate the shag-era sounds of a big amp driven to saturation, the Golden Cello gets you mostly there for a lot less dough (and in a lot less space) than a raging Marshall. The tape-delay tones are beautiful, too, although if you like to tweak settings often or need more focus, they may feel limiting.
That said, for the money, the Golden Cello’s tone is entirely impressive: If you’re set on inexpensively and easily conjuring luxurious, Pink Floyd-style ’70s lead tones, it’s a serious contender.