In theory, any good, transparent overdrive pedal should enhance rather than transform the sound of your rig. That’s why they call ’em transparent, right? Essentially, the low-gain Limbo Overdrive is a transparent overdrive pedal. It’s extremely touch sensitive and amp-like, so you can imagine a lot of what Limbo sounds like with your own rig. But feel is what really sets most top-tier overdrive pedals apart. And this is where the Limbo packs something a little different and immeasurably useful.
Built to Roam
The Limbo Overdrive is well built. The footswitch feels rugged, the chassis-mounted pots feel stout to the turn, and the metal chassis will be as durable feeling as anything else on your pedalboard. The all-analog circuit can be run at 9 to 12 volts for a little extra headroom if you want it. There is no battery option, which may be a bummer for some players.
Controls include a familiar complement of volume, drive, and tone knobs for dialing in grit and output. And each of those controls has great range that makes the pedal musical in many applications. Limbo has plenty of output on tap to run as a clean boost. As a stand-alone overdrive, it delivers everything from bluesy breakup to cranked vintage-style amp wailing with all it’s got. The pedal is also responsive to picking dynamics and gets clean when you attenuate guitar volume.
The tone knob works much like the passive controls in a guitar or an old blackface Fender amp. All the way up, you get straight, unadulterated overdrive signal. Rolling it back cuts high-end content. But to the Limbo’s credit, it never sounds muddy. And it was particularly helpful for taming the top end of a Telecaster’s bridge pickup without sacrificing cut and definition.
The Limbo also works wonderfully when stacked with other dirt devices. The Nunomo became a singing sustain machine with a push from my Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive Mod pedal. Running it in front of my 5-watt, class-A Blackheart BH5H amp and a preamp pedal set at the edge of breakup added more harmonic content and weight to single notes and chords.
Variable Voltage Means More Feel
Additional keys to Limbo’s dynamic sound and feel are two knobs labeled positive and negative, which control the pedal’s clipping voltages and whether the clipping is symmetrical or asymmetrical. While the physics behind symmetrical clipping can be tricky to explain (and deserves its own story), the sonic effects of various settings are much more obvious. Clipping becomes sharper when you turn the dials counterclockwise, and softer when you turn the dials clockwise. I also found that with the knobs pulled all the way back, the pedal sounds much more open and airy—like a high-headroom amplifier. Every picking nuance becomes more pronounced, and highs have more sparkle and clarity. Rolling the positive and negative knobs all the way up results in a more rounded, warm, and compressed quality, better suited for thick lead tones. They’re a rewarding and intuitive way to dial in the perfect response for your playing style and can shift the character of your amp in sometimes subtle, but still very tangible, ways.
Many of us already have great overdrive pedals that we’re very fond of, but leave us wanting just for a little more compression, top-end clarity, or a bit more headroom. The Limbo rarely, if ever, left me longing for more of those attributes. And while the pedal’s low-gain transparency means metal heads and other aggressive tone fiends may be underwhelmed, it’s hard to imagine any other players who wouldn’t be intrigued by Limbo’s wide-open overdrive-shaping potential.