Greer Amps could hardly be called single minded. The little company out of Athens, Georgia, builds an impressive and extensive line of amplifiers and pedals for a company its size. It is, however, a very focused company in that it specializes in overdrive and distortion in just about every conceivable flavor. Its latest offering, the Lightspeed Organic Overdrive, is a deceptively simple design that’s rich and responsive, with tones that range from clean boost to complex raunch.
Substance and a Little Style
The Lightspeed doesn’t get by on glitz. The enclosure is unpainted, its only adornment being an engraved faceplate held in place by the same nuts and washers securing the knobs and footswitch. Yet it has a rugged, elegant charm reminiscent of circa-1930s industrial design. The loudness knob is, of course, the output level control, while drive controls the gain and the “freq.” EQ control emphasizes high mids or bass presence, depending on which side of noon you twist it.
Reverse-engineers beware: If you’re trying to dissect what makes this Greer organic, forget it. Popping off the four back-plate screws leads you to the 9V battery compartment and a circuit board dipped in a foggy epoxy to protect the identity of it’s secret components. For hardcore circuit nerds, this is a bummer. But there’s certainly something intriguing about what lurks behind the muck, especially on such a simple effect.
Light to Grit, Lightspeed Quick
One of the nicest things about the Lightspeed is its ability to add a range of drive—from light boost to dirtier tones. It can be set up as a very transparent near-clean boost by dropping the drive to the bare minimum. This requires turning loudness to around 3 o’clock to reach unity gain. If you’re using a more powerful amp (in my case, an Orange OR50,) this is a great way to thicken the overall output and add sustain while retaining a relatively clean tone.
If you need an overdrive that also generates thick distortion, the Lightspeed is probably not your pedal (you might want to check out Greer’s Tone Smuggler instead). The Lightspeed starts crystal clear and maxes out somewhere in the mild drive range. The grittiest tones have a lot of character, however, and there’s more than enough attitude to enable a clean amp to take on raunchy riffs like the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Getting this kind of medium-gain grit is easy with humbuckers. And when I needed a dose of Stones- or Faces-like swagger, I loved the sound of a Les Paul neck pickup and the Greer’s drive set around 4 o’clock.
But the expansive sweep of the Lightspeed’s freq. knob makes the pedal friendly to just about any pickup configuration. Set it at high noon, and it delivers a slight increase in mids, which become more pronounced as you twist the knob clockwise. And for all the extra presence the Greer conjures, it’s genuinely difficult to get this little guy to sound harsh. Things can get a little muddy when you mix humbuckers and the lowest freq. settings, but otherwise the response to picking dynamics is superb. Same goes for responsiveness to guitar-volume adjustments: The many shades of clean—yet robust—tones you can get using your volume knob attests to the basic sensitivity and sophistication in the Lightspeed circuit.The Verdict
The only real downside to the Greer Lightspeed Organic Overdrive is its price. Compared to many like-minded boxes on the market, it’s not cheap. But this is a superb overdrive by any measure—it excels at coaxing complex dirty tones in the low-mid gain range, and it can be set up for use as a transparent boost, or to throttle a tube into full-bodied breakup. If you value clarity, definition, amp-like grit, and responsiveness, the Lightspeed may well merit a little extra investment.
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