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Here’s a high gain distortion pedal for anyone who’s ever driven their drive knob to the limit and wanted more. Subdecay''s Blackstar Distortion is a modest-looking little box with four knobs: volume, tone and two drive knobs. According to Subdecay, the bottom drive knob controls low frequency response (pre-gain) while the top one “increases the overall gain of these two stages through a feedback network.” In other words, you’re controlling your drive by first shaping your guitar’s sound and then applying the thickness. With this kind of variable control the effect is something like alchemy. The range of tone colors I was able to squeeze out of this little box was truly impressive. To have named this pedal “Kaleidoscope Distortion” might have been more fitting.
At the lowest settings it kicks up some dirt but doesn’t change the guitar’s tone. Moving the drives up together, the sound went from gritty to crunchy and thick. From there it took on a big, meaty rock tone before it topped out in a dense, saturated metal tone with a smooth, compressed sustain. Setting the drive and the tone controls independently produced as many different hues as there were combinations: smooth, crunchy, big and fat, lean and mean, thick warm fuzz, jagged razor-sharp squeal – it’s all here.
There are some drawbacks; the box is pretty small, with the knobs close together. I’m an incurable tweaker who likes to be able to nudge knobs with my foot, so that’s an issue for me. Also, you have to take the back off to change the battery, which frankly is a pain in the ass. There is the potential of losing four tiny screws while you’re setting up your gear. This may not be a significant problem if you’re using AC, but it could turn into one if you’re not, although battery life wasn’t an issue. The pedal is sturdy, and the bright blue LED indicator is a nice touch – it’s easy to see even in direct sunlight.
The Blackstar has great sustain and rich harmonics on top of the expansive tone shaping. It’s just as precise at full blast as it is at room volume, and the gain rolls off nicely with the guitar’s volume knob at all but the highest drive settings. It’s probably best-suited to hard rock and metal players, but anybody looking for a workhorse distortion with real versatility and attitude will really like this one.
Subdecay Studios, Inc.
Blackstar Distortion $159
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