Premier Guitar

Providence Effects Sonic Drive, Heat Blaster, Stampede Overdrive, Velvet Comp, Final Boost, Phase Force, and Anadime Chorus Pedal Reviews

August 5, 2010


Made in Japan and boutique are terms not normally associated with each other, yet that is exactly what stompbox manufacturer Providence combines in their broad line of stompboxes: boutique research, craftsmanship, and tone from an Asian-Pacific manufacturer. The line has just made it to US shores through distributor Godlyke.

All of the Providence pedals found in this review—Sonic Drive SDR-4 (an updated SDR-5 is coming out soon), Heat Blaster HBL-2, Stampede OD SOV-2, Velvet Comp VLC-1, Final Booster FBT-1, Phase Force PHF-1, and Anadime Chorus ADC-3—are rugged and simple to use. They are on the small side (think classic MXR), about 4.5" long and 2.5" wide, with 1-3 black pointer knobs and packed with tone sweet tone. Most are wired for true bypass, which has become a must-have feature, and all run fine on 9-volt batteries. The battery compartment is accessible by unscrewing the bottom plate with four tiny screws, making changing batteries a bit of a headache, but a 9V DC jack is also included on the left side of the pedal. Most of Providence's pedals are priced above $200, which is not cheap for a single function, small form factor pedal. Clearly, what you are paying for is what happens when you stomp the footswitch.

Sonic Drive

Download Example 1
Drive 3 o'clock
Download Example 2
Drive 3 o'clock lead tones
Download Example 3
Drive 9 o'clock
Clips recorded with 1988 Ibanez S540 with Seymour Duncan SH5 pickup in humbucker mode into a Blackstar HT Club 40 head on the clean channel. Speaker emulated line out to E-MU USB0404 interface into Cubase 5.
The Providence Sonic Drive is a three-knob stomper—Level, Tone, and Drive. It also has a Fat switch which focuses gain on the bottom end. With the Fat switch engaged, it was easy to dial back in any perceived loss of treble using the tone knob.

Imagine the fat crunch of a distortion pedal with the clarity of an overdrive—that's where Providence's Sonic Drive sits, tonally speaking. It also has an interesting approach for an overdrive/distortion pedal in that it gives you plenty of effect while mixing in the original guitar tone. While technically an overdrive pedal, it brings some pretty crunchy distortion at levels above 3 o'clock. Even then I could hear my guitar's natural tone, almost as if I was playing through clean and dirty channels simultaneously, though the emphasis was definitely on the dirty side. The Sonic Overdrive is a very musical pedal in this regard. With the Drive knob cranked, the pedal had a nice aggressive distortion shy of a creamy metal distortion, and again, heavy on the crunch while keeping my guitar's dry tone in the mix.

With the Drive knob set low, say 7 to 9 o'clock, the pedal sounded like a classic overdrive stompbox a la an original Boss Overdrive or vintage Tube Screamer. This makes it a solid candidate for rigs where a single pedal needs to handle all overdrive and distortion chores. The Sonic Drive employs a true-bypass circuitry with only a single switch point in the bypass signal path. As with most, if not all, of Providence's pedals, the bright blue LED also acts as a battery indicator. If battery power drops below 7 volts, the LED turns off, though the pedal still functions.
Buy if...
you're in the market for a single pedal that gives both overdrive and distortion tones of very good quality.
Skip if...
you need metal or grunge style distortion, or don't want the mix of clean and overdriven tones.
Rating...


Street $249 - Providence Effects - godlyke.com


Heat Blaster

Download Example 1
Drive 4 o'clock
Download Example 2
Drive 4 o'clock lead tones
Download Example 3
Drive 10 o'clock
Clips recorded with 1988 Ibanez S540 with Seymour Duncan SH5 pickup in humbucker mode into a Blackstar HT Club 40 head on the clean channel. Speaker emulated line out to E-MU USB0404 interface into Cubase 5.
The Heat Blaster is Providence's modern distortion stompbox, and therefore more aggressive in attack and tone than their Sonic Drive and Stampede OD. Like the Sonic Drive, the Heat Blaster has three knobs: Level, Drive, and Tone, and is a single contact true bypass pedal, meaning there is only one switch point in the true bypass circuit. This was my favorite of Providence's three distortion/overdrive pedals covered in this review, and I liked them all. Surprisingly tube-like and warm, the Heat Blaster distortion at settings of three o'clock or higher fell somewhere between a classic Marshall JCM series and a Mesa Boogie Studio 22. At drive settings around 9 or 10 o'clock, the pedal offered me very useful, Hiwatt-esque tube distortion sound.

Unlike many heavy distortion stompers, the Heat Blaster does not overly compress the signal. It has plenty of bite and presence when the distortion is cranked. There are plenty of heavy distortion boxes out there that sound great on their own, but wash out in band situations due to too much compression in the distortion circuit. The Heat Blaster does not suffer from this in the least. There is plenty of definition at all distortion knob settings.

There is also a Low Cut switch that appears to shelve low-end frequencies. The Heat Blaster manual states the switch can be used to manage the bottom end on seven string or drop-tuned guitars. On standard six string guitars, the Low Cut reduction was a bit too much for me, making my wound strings and power chords slightly crispy.

Harmonically rich and very responsive to picking and fretboard techniques, Providence's Heat Blaster is one of the best distortion pedals I've played all year. Again, another pedal by Providence that sounds good at a lot of different settings.
Buy if...
you need a damn good distortion pedal that is versatile within the distortion framework.
Skip if...
you need overdrive, not distortion, or you get what you need from your amp.
Rating...


Street $249 - Providence Effects - godlyke.com

Hit page 2 for the Stampede Overdrive and Velvet Comp...




Stampede Overdrive

Download Example 1
Drive 5 o'clock
Download Example 2
Drive 9 o'clock
Clips recorded with 1988 Ibanez S540 with Seymour Duncan SH5 pickup in humbucker mode into a Blackstar HT Club 40 head on the clean channel. Speaker emulated line out to E-MU USB0404 interface into Cubase 5.
Providence's Stampede Overdrive is aimed at the natural overdrive pedal market. Like the Heat Blaster and Sonic Drive, it has three knobs—Level, Drive, and Tone. Unlike the Sonic Drive, the Stampede OD stays well within the realm of overdrive no matter how hard you crank it. The Stampede's overdrive was slightly crispy on single-coils and P-90s, but not on humbuckers. Of Providence's three distortion/overdrive pedals, this was the only one where I reached for the tone knob more than once. That's not a knock, mind you—tone knobs are there for a reason. It is also the most pedal-sounding of the three OD/Distortion pedals.

I liked this pedal with the Drive knob anywhere from 3 o'clock to WFO. In this range, the pedal ranges from indie rock guitar a la Wilco to classic AC/DC blues-rock. It is definitely hotter than a Tube Screamer or Boss Overdrive, and its overdrive tone is boutique all the way—in fact, I've never played an overdrive pedal like it. With that said, it may be an acquired taste for some used to more traditional overdrives. I think players well on their way in their search for the perfect tone will enjoy test-driving the Stampede OD.

According to Providence, the pedal uses a bipolar polar power supply that pumps ± 15 volts to its overdrive circuit. That is more than three times the traditional power on most overdrive stompboxes. It also means 9-volt batteries get sucked dry faster than a can of beer in a heat wave. Providence does warn users about the Stampede OD's battery consumption in the manual.
Buy if...
a truly classy overdrive on a clean-sounding pedal belongs in your rig.
Skip if...
your aim is classic, well-known overdrive pedal tone.
Rating...


Street $249 - Providence Effects - godlyke.com


Velvet Comp

Download Example 1
Clean
Clips recorded with 1988 Ibanez S540 with Seymour Duncan SH5 pickup in humbucker mode into a Blackstar HT Club 40 head on the clean channel. Speaker emulated line out to E-MU USB0404 interface into Cubase 5.
When I first started playing, I had an old MXR DynaComp. I hated it until someone took the time to show me how to use it. Now, I miss it for certain applications, like smoothing out arpeggiations, and getting maximum slap out of funky chord progressions. Providence's Velvet Comp reminds me of that old red compressor in that it takes a bit of time to get it set just right, but when you do, it can be a very complimentary effect to your playing style.

Like most guitar compressor stompboxes, the compression is an effect and not designed to be transparent—something it took me awhile to figure out back with my old MXR. The three-knob design (Level, Attack and Sustain) should be a clue that this is an effect to be heard, and goes one-step beyond the two knob DynaComp. At any setting I dialed in, the Velvet Comp definitely flattened out my dynamic range—no surprise there. I was impressed with the sustain when playing both distorted and clean tones, and I got used to the effect quickly. I even found myself leaving it on after solos because I liked what it did for the more subtle fundamentals in my chord voicings.

The Velvet Comp can also be used as a limiter. It is okay as a sustainer, though it lacks the boost associated with dedicated sustainer pedals. There really is no magic setting as it is entirely dependent on your rig and how hot your signal is going into the pedal. I did tend to keep the Level knob jacked pretty high, as I felt the pedal lacked the gain required to recover from ample compression.
Buy if...
you need a classic sounding guitar compressor stompbox that is obvious.
Skip if...
you expect a fair amount of boost from your compressor, or you need more transparency in compression.
Rating...


Street $249 - Providence Effects - godlyke.com

Hit page 3 for the Final Boost, Phase Force, and Anadime Chorus...



Final Boost

Download Example 1
Level 3 o'clock
Download Example 2
Pedal not engaged, Vitalizer only
Clips recorded with 1988 Ibanez S540 with Seymour Duncan SH5 pickup in humbucker mode into a Blackstar HT Club 40 head on the clean channel. Speaker emulated line out to E-MU USB0404 interface into Cubase 5.
Providence's Final Boost is a one-knob job—Boost. It's one of the few Providence pedals that does not employ a true bypass design. Instead it utilizes what Providence calls a Vitalizer circuit, which, according to the manual, “was developed to counteract the signal degradation that normally occurs in guitar and bass processing systems.” The Vitalizer proved to be a bit confusing—transparency is usually one of the key components of a boost pedal—but the idea is that putting the Final Booster at the end of your effects chain will essentially smooth out any power-related or signal-related issues similar to a finalizer.

Though finalizers generally include some multi-band compressing or other processing, Providence's Final Booster does seem to have some finalizer characteristics. On clean channels, the boost was obvious and somewhat compressed—highs and high mids had more presence. On distorted signals, the boost was felt more than heard, but the tonal changes were not subtle. In both instances, the tonal colorings from this pedal were pleasant overall, just sort of surprising. Normally when using a booster pedal I expect tonal augmentations to come from the amp being juiced by the pedal, and not the pedal itself. That said, the color it added was very usable.
Buy if...
you're looking for a booster that levels and colors
Skip if...
you want a transparent booster pedal.
Rating...


Street $199 - Providence Effects - godlyke.com


Phase Force

Download Example 1
Level 12 o'clock, Speed 10 o'clock with Mid Shift
Download Example 2
Level 12 o'clock, Speed 10 o'clock through amp's distortion channel.
Clips recorded with 1988 Ibanez S540 with Seymour Duncan SH5 pickup in P-90 mode into a Blackstar HT Club 40 head. Speaker emulated line out to E-MU USB0404 interface into Cubase 5.
The Phase Force phase shifter features Level and Speed controls, and a Mid Shift switch that emphasizes the high mids in the phaser signal path. Like the Final Boost, the Phase Force is not true bypass, and instead uses the always-on Vitalizer circuit. This made me wonder if I use more than one pedal with a Vitalizer circuit, can I get my signal get over-vitalized, or suffer from other issues like unwanted phase? I used the Final Boost and the Phase Force together and experienced no unwelcome sounds or noise, just the phase shifting. And it was good—very good if you like a classic, relatively quiet phaser.

As proven with their overdrive and distortion pedals, Providence seems to have a knack for clean circuits with plenty of high caliber tone. The Phase Force excelled in giving me classic phaser tones that inspired innovative playing, as a good effect should. The effect stops just shy of take-your-head-off phase, delivering gobs of classic ‘70s phase, only cleaner.

There is plenty of effect level to work with so you can be subtle and spacey or obvious and psychedelic with the twist of the Level knob. With the Speed knob all the way down, it gave me just enough phase cycle length for long, ethereal sweeps that sounded great on sustained chords and notes. At 9 o'clock, the phaser was classic space rock all the way, and at 12 o'clock, it was underwater or psychedelic, depending on the Level knob setting. Anything to the right of 12 o'clock was really too fast for me, though I'm sure it has its uses. The differences in switching Mid-Shift on and off were subtle but useable. It definitely added balls to the phaser effect when playing through both clean and distorted amp settings, though I preferred this combination on a clean setting.
Buy if...
you want a versatile, pristine phaser that probably won't take anyone's head off.
Skip if...
you need a take-your-head-off mod pedal, and you demand true bypass.
Rating...


Street $275 - Providence Effects - godlyke.com


Anadime Chorus

Download Example 1
Depth 9 o'clock, Speed 9 o'clock
Download Example 2
Depth 12 o'clock, Speed 7 o'clock through amp's distortion channel
Download Example 3
Depth 12 o'clock, Speed 10 o'clock with Deep
Clips recorded with 1988 Ibanez S540 with Seymour Duncan SH5 pickup in P-90 mode into a Blackstar HT Club 40 head. Speaker emulated line out to E-MU USB0404 interface into Cubase 5.
Providence's Anadime Chorus is a simple and clean analog chorus effect utilizing a BBD (Bucket Brigade Device) chip similar to Boss' CE-2, 3, and 5. It is the classic sample-and-hold analog circuit still sought after for its warmth and analog qualities (some would say artifacts). Like most mono chorus pedals, Depth and Speed are all you get for control knobs, and all you really need. Providence also adds a Deep switch, which adds resonance to the effect similar to goosing depth and detune simultaneously. The Anadime Chorus is also one of Providence's true bypass pedals.

Overall, the pedal is a very rich sounding chorus, providing excellent tone across all guitar frequencies without the over-emphasized high end associated with some classic mono choruses. In fact, I noticed a slight high-end reduction when the effect was on that added to the warmth of the pedal since chorus effects can flame out on the high-end. The pedal also noticeably adds width to your tone, which, coming from a mono analog mod stomper, is impressive.

While the pedal certainly avails itself to the somewhat heavy-handed chorus effects of popular music of the '80s and '90s, I can just as easily hear it on the more subtle John Frusciante type of chorus treatments. For lush clean tones that were not dripping with effect, I kept the Depth knob around 11 o'clock, and the Speed at around 9 o'clock. When playing single note parts, turning up Depth and, to a lesser extent, Speed, added a very deep and round chorus effect that remained tuneful without dissonance. I never once encountered tracking issues with the effect, which I can say goes for all the Providence pedals I reviewed.
Buy if...
you need a pristine but vintage sounding mono analog chorus effect.
Skip if...
you need true stereo chorus, or the purity of a digital modulation pedal.
Rating...


Street $299 - Providence Effects - godlyke.com