The Archer overdrive from J. Rockett Audio Designs isn’t exactly subtle about the fact that it’s a Klon Centaur clone—witness the distinctive oxblood-colored pointer knobs, weapon-wielding mascot, and identical controls. But the Archer is one-third the size of an original, and at $179, far cheaper.
Hype aside, Bill Finnegan’s Centaur truly was a big deal when it debuted in the ’90s. To many ears—mine included—it offered a vast sonic upgrade over Screamer-style overdrives, with greater headroom and sparkle and a more practical tone circuit. Thanks to a clever double-ganged gain control, it provided fiery overdrive in the knob’s upper range, but a pristine clean boost at minimum settings. It was also beautifully made, with a memorable color scheme and a cool, custom-cast enclosure. It was a godsend for players who found previous IC-based overdrives such as the Screamer too compressed and midrange-bloated.
Original Klons are now valued in the two-grand range, so the pedal market has been awash in “Klones,” some of which sound great. But of the half-dozen I’ve tried, the Archer is easily the most accurate. I auditioned it side by side with original Klon #309, which I’ve used on and off for nearly two decades. How close are they? Ridiculously so. The pot tapers vary slightly between the two pedals, so the knobs must be set slightly differently to create matching sounds, but there were no Klon tones I couldn’t duplicate with the Archer. Could I pass a blind listening test? Absolutely not.
It’s a well-built pedal, too. The pots, jacks, and footswitch are board-mounted, but the circuit board’s secure mounting within the hefty folded-steel enclosure makes it difficult to imagine board damage via conventional use. The board includes many small, surface-mount components, unlike the hand-wired original, suggesting that, at least in this circuit, size doesn’t matter. And while the original relies on a 1/8" power jack, the Archer employs a common barrel-type connector.
There are cheaper alternatives, notably the EHX Soul Food, which sells for well under half the price of the Archer (and sounds darn good). But the Archer is the more accurate Klone, and it boasts heftier construction. It’s been many years since the Klon and its clones were the only ways to obtain “improved Screamer” overdrive sounds, but the circuit still sounds superb—and you may never encounter a more accurate replica.—Joe Gore
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