Tone Box Skull Crusher Overdrive Pedal Review
February 11, 2010
|Download Example 1
Ice - Skull Crusher on the “Ice” setting. Tone set at noon, gain at 4pm. No “Turbo” engaged.
|Download Example 2
Ice Turbo - Skull Crusher on the “Ice” setting. Tone set at noon, gain at 4pm. “Turbo” engaged.
|Download Example 3
All Modes - Skull Crusher going through each of the voicings, beginning with “Clear, then “Ice”, “Chains” and “Body”. Tone set at noon, gain at 3pm. No “Turbo” engaged.
|Download Example 4
Body and Turbo - Skull Crusher on the “Body” setting. Tone set at 1pm, gain on full. “Turbo” engaged.
|All clips recorded direct into Pro Tools HD3 using a single SM57 and Chandler LTD1 mic pre. Slight amount of room added to the mix. Guitar is a 2003 Les Paul R8 with Sheptone AB PAFS. Amp is a Krank Rev Jr. Pro with a Krank 1x12 cab with Eminence Governor. Amp set to a slightly dark and clean tone.|
The Skull Crusher is totally unique in its look and it comes in four different finishes: Stainless Steel, Gun Metal, Aged, and Ancient. A stomp switch is located at the top of the skull, which when engaged lights a blue LED by the switch and simultaneously makes the eyes glow an eerie, burning red. The ins and outs are on either side of the skull, where the ears would be, and the controls are located on the back of the skull. Looking at the face of the pedal there is an AC adapter input on the right bottom and a Turbo switch on the left bottom. Controls consist of a 4-way Voicing knob, a Tone control and a Gain knob. The voicings are labeled Clear, Ice, Chains and Body. Black knobs with white pointers clearly show the position of each knob from a distance. The physical design is a work of art, and from some of the videos I saw, he’s got serious artisans working on the finish of the Skull Crusher. Let’s just say I saw something that looked like a mini-blowtorch applying the finish and aging it. And although you may think that something shaped like a skull might not sit well, it’s remarkably heavy (3 lbs) and has no problems staying put on the floor.
I had the unique opportunity of hearing the pedal in a variety of settings, which doesn’t usually occur during a typical review. In addition to playing it at my own studio, I just returned from NAMM, where it was being demoed at the ToneBox booth. Hearing it this way allowed me to check out tones I might not naturally dial up with my own rigs. It also separated me from the first-person experience of being swayed by the way it feels, which can be rather seductive. I’ll start with my own experience. Knowing that Kasha had done a lot of work with Marshalls back in the day—and that I had my JCM 800 at the ready—that was the first test. I plugged in my Les Paul Standard with Sheptone PAFs into the Skull Crusher and set the JCM 800 to a medium crunch tone (Master at 10 o’clock, Gain at noon). The cab was a Krank 1x12 with Eminence Governor speaker. This is pretty standard Marshall/Les Paul tone to my ears… enough gain for riffs but not enough to solo without a lot of work. Engaging the Skull Crusher set to Clear, and the Tone and Gain at noon, produced a slightly thinner version of the tone I had with it disengaged and actually a bit less gain. To hear the various voicings, I simply clicked through them from Clear to Ice, Chains and finally Body. Each voicing became increasingly thicker with a different midrange emphasis. It was like stepping through a very effective tone stack that revoiced the Marshall to four totally usable and very different tones. Going back to the Clear setting, I pushed the Gain up to 2 o’clock. This was where the pedal took off: great articulation and sustain while revoicing the amp to a more detailed sound and attack. With the Gain cranked up, it became a singing machine, albeit thinner than I prefer. With a simple switch of the voicing control I moved to Ice, which was thicker than Clear but still had a sharp attack. Chains and Body were my favorites, because of their meatier voices. Unlike many pedals I’ve used, the Tone and Gain of the Skull Crusher offer all usable ranges of each and let me easily dial in a super-wide range of solo and rhythm tones.
If having the Gain on 10 isn’t enough, all you need to do is toggle the Turbo Boost mode, and you go into the gain stratosphere. This mode basically pushes the front end of the amp hard and adds a ridiculous amount of harmonic character and sustain—it goes far beyond the extra tube we used to mod our amps with. For pinch harmonics and cutting through the mix, I found this to be a most useful and inspiring part of the pedal. It’s clear that John Kasha understands how important it is to voice a boost pedal so it sits on top of the band, rather than getting lost in a sea of gain. It’s easy to add a ton of distortion to your sound, but rarely have I heard a pedal that so effortlessly let you be heard through the din. It’s like stepping above the band and proclaiming, “Here I am!”
The Final Mojo
Getting back to NAMM, I had the chance to hear the Skull Crusher and Tone Box’s new 18-watt amp being played by Phil X as well as a brilliant 13-year-old guitarist named Anton Oparin. This was the extra verification I needed to conclude the Skull Crusher is a 5 out of 5, and a Premier Gear award winner. I mean, how can you beat a skull for rock ‘n’ roll?
you want cool style, rockin’ voicings and searing lead boost.
you’re afraid of the dark.
MSRP $399 - Tone Box, Inc. - thetonebox.com