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If you’ve decided you like the sound of your amp breaking up, but your guitar isn’t driving it quite hard enough to give you the grit and sustain you seek, you’re a candidate for a booster pedal like the Electro- Harmonix LPB-1 (street $39, ehx.com), an MXR Micro Amp (street $69, jimdunlop.com), or a Fuchs Plush Pure Gain (street $179, fuchsaudiotechnology.com). These pedals are designed to increase the output signal of your instrument without coloring the sound.
A pure booster pedal will have no tone controls or drive functions, but many booster pedals offer the option of desirable tone coloration or extra drive functions to expand their usefulness. The Keeley Katana (street $199, robertkeeley.com) serves up unadulterated boost, but if you pull up on the Volume knob it adds extra drive. The Xotic EP Booster (street $116, xotic.us) has only a Volume control, yet also aims to color your signal in a manner reminiscent of the old Echoplex tape-delay units used by Eric Johnson and Jimmy Page. It also offers internal switches to boost bass or treble frequencies. Many other boost pedals also offer overdrive options, leading to an overlap with effects labeled as overdrives.
One kind of coloring boost pedal that remains somewhat misunderstood is the germanium boost. Germanium transistors were employed in many of the early power boosters and fuzz pedals used by the classic British guitarists of the 1960s. One of the most famous was the Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster. Even today, debate rages as to whether a germanium transistor-based booster was ever used by Eric Clapton on the seminal Bluesbreakers “Beano” record, but there’s no doubt that driving an amp with such a device will bring you significantly closer to the legendary tones of the British Invasion era.
If you choose to use a germanium power boost like the Analog Man Beano Boost (street $175, analogman.com), 65Amps Colour Boost (street $229, 65amps.com), or Keeley Java Boost (street $229, robertkeeley.com), there are a few things to keep in mind:
- These are boost pedals: They will not impart distortion to a clean amp at unity gain (meaning the output signal of the pedal is the same level as the input signal). To generate distortion, you need to be pushing the amp with the pedal. This means the output of the activated pedal will be significantly louder than when it’s bypassed.
- They will impart a “British” sound—even to “American”-sounding amps. So if you’re looking for Robben Fordstyle, Dumble-like smoothness, they aren’t suitable.
- As with any boost pedal, germanium boosts sound best if the amp is already overdriven a little when the guitar volume is maxed.
- A germanium boost will impart its character any time it is on, even if you roll off your guitar volume and play clean.