There are moments, believe it or not, when I relate to those old-school dudes who wouldn’t touch a pedal with a ten-foot pole. Even as an acknowledged pedal fiend with a sideline seat to the parade of pedals that passes through this magazine’s clutches, some days I can’t be bothered with all the minutiae. Boost, overdrive, fuzz, distortion? Dude, I don’t know—I just want to kick out the jams.
If you’re similarly inclined—whether just for today, or for the whole of your guitar-playing life—the Black Cat OD-Boost may be one pedal you can live with. It certainly kicks out the jams. But it also rocks out in many shades, reminding you just how many flavors of overdrive, boost, and distortion you can get from a relatively simple circuit. It’s a pedal for players who like the fewest pedals possible, yet it’s bound to impress dyed-in-the-wool stompbox heads with its range and flexibility.
Mean Ol’ Copperhead
The Black Cat OD is a compact affair. With its three knobs, two footswitches, two LEDs, and single toggle crammed into a 4 ¾" x 2 ½" copper metallic enclosure, it may seem a bit more complicated than it is. While a more spacious layout would have advantages (not least in the case of the perilously close footswitches), it’s a smart and compact arrangement.
Drive and volume knobs control the overdrive section (essentially a Black Cat OD-1 circuit). A third knob sets adjusts the boost level. Each section has a dedicated footswitch. Between the orange and red “eyes” of the LEDs resides one of the keys to the Black Cat’s shape-shifting powers: a toggle that swaps the order of the boost and overdrive stages.
Many Shades of Dirt
You can almost categorize the Black Cat OD-Boost as a boost/OD/distortion for all the gain it can produce. The OD side in particular is ready to get rowdy. Even at low gain settings it’s a growling little monster, so plan on using your volume knob or the boost for anything close to the near-clean, jangle-plus-grit tone of, say, a TS-9-style pedal at low gain settings.
There’s all kinds of upside to having such gain available at modest levels. A little Blues Jr. amp turns into a barking street thug without twisting the amp volume past three or the Black Cat’s drive control past 10 o’clock. Even at these lower volumes you can exploit the Black Cat’s pick sensitivity for dynamic lead lines and loud-to-soft chord passages. In the Black Cat’s higher gain zones, chords still sound clear, spacious, and defined, rich in overtones and free from excessive compression. Players who tend toward mid-gain ’70s rock tones may find that the Black Cat is all they need for everything from Black Sabbath grind to clean Santana tones, provided they put their guitar volume and tone pots to good use.
You add even more air to your overdrive when you toggle to the boost-after-overdrive setting. This excites the overdriven sound, adding sharpness (particularly in the midrange) and providing a more panoramic feel. On the other hand, boost before OD generates more focused overdrive/distortion tones, with an emphasis in the high mids. Adding enough gain provides acidic near-fuzz textures perfect for psychedelic garage punk jams.
Switching between these settings mid-song or mid-solo is tricky, but can make for cool and dramatic mood shifts. You must pay close attention, however, to the relationship between the boost and volume controls. Set to identical positions, the boost and OD levels are about the same. But you can create great contrast between toggle settings by setting the boost high and the volume low, or vice versa.
The Black Cat excels as a clean boost. The high headroom compensates for the filthier tendencies on the OD side. It adds much body and sustain, and lends a cool mid and high-mid presence that enlivens rhythm parts and arpeggios. This is the kind of boost you might leave on throughout a set.
We’ve seen some extraordinary fuzzes from Black Cat (especially the Super Fuzz and Bee Buzz), so the range and aggression of the OD-Boost are no surprise. It’s great how beautifully the aggressive OD and the clean boost contrast each other, yet work together. The effect-order toggle is a genuine bonus. Tuning and balancing the two stages provides myriad shades of overdrive. The Black Cat OD-Boost may be the only dirt pedal some players need.
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