Ratings

Pros:
A tone-packed pedal that ably recreates both the preamp drive and lush vibrato of fabled vintage Magnatones.

Cons:
No independent vibrato.

Street:
$199

Crazy Tube Circuits Killer V
crazytubecircuits.com


Tones:


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In general, tremolo pedals ape the textures of bias and optical tremolo circuits—like the kind you find in blackface and silverface Fenders and other vintage amps. But there’s a smaller cult of stompbox creators out there that make the luscious sounds of amp-based, frequency-modulating vibrato circuits the subjects of their modulation quest. The all-analog Killer V by Crazy Tube Circuits of Athens, Greece, is one of these. But it does straight pitch-modulating tremolo pedals one better by incorporating a JFET-driven, triode-style preamp drive.

While the wider pitch-modulating amp tremolo category includes brownface-era Fender amplifiers, the Killer V specifically honors Magnatone’s distinct take on the effect. (Magnatone famously and proudly put a “V”-for-vibrato emblem on the front of their vibrato-equipped amps, and two “Vs” on the stereo 280 model to indicate its vibrato vastness). Those ’60s Magnatone amps are best remembered for their superlative vibrato. But they also generate unheralded, beautiful near-clean and overdrive tones. Crazy Tube cleverly unites the circuits in the Killer V.

Dirty Double Dose
The Killer V packs a lot of functionality into a compact stomp. The four leftmost knobs govern drive tones. They include volume (aka gain), master volume, bass, and treble. The two knobs in the rightmost column control vibrato depth and speed. A 3-way toggle switch engages a bright/normal/mellow preamp voicing switch, which was also a feature on many vintage Magnatones. A second 2-way toggle allows you to select between wet and dry/wet vibrato effects. Two silent-relay footswitches—one for bypass and one for vibrato—mean you can bypass the effect entirely, engage the amp tones exclusively, or combine the amp tones with vibrato. This setup extends the pedal’s flexibility in most applications, though the tight placement of these switches might lead ham-footed stompers like myself to unintended results on a dark stage. The Killer V’s circuit employs a voltage multiplier that increases the headroom, which is especially nice for adding extra clarity in near-clean gain settings and detail in the vibrato tones. There’s also an internal DIP switch that activates two different gain modes: normal, and more gain.

Even the cleanest unity-gain sounds reveal a little extra granularity and compression. But when ramped up to mild-to-medium-gain overdrive, the Killer V reveals a raw, vintage-y side, with a touch of sag and looseness in the low end and a cool, gnarly rasp in the midrange—just as you’d expect from cranking up a beastly, old, tube-fired Maggie.

It’s easy to sink without a trace into hypnotic lushness.

Few tones here meet contemporary standards for high gain. But with the gain control at elevated levels, there’s plenty of snarl and saturation—which induced singing, sustaining drive from a Marshall-like Friedman Small Box head and an AC15-like Carr Lincoln 1x12 combo. While setting the internal DIP-switch to “more gain” certainly increases the heat, the normal setting felt most useful and versatile. The effects of the bright/mellow switch are also pronounced. The former adds high-end sizzle that can help cut through heavier gain and vibrato settings, while mellow settings tame sharp edges in higher-gain situations. It also adds extra range to the 2-band EQ section.

Where the Wobble Lives
The LFO-generated vibrato, which drives two discreet phase-shift modulation stages, is buoyant and appealing. The all-wet setting might sound less dimensional to players more familiar with chorus and phase effects, but its deep pulsing quality arguably makes it a better stand-in for bias or optical tremolo. Flick the switch to the dry/wet setting, though, and beautiful added layers of phasing and warble enter the picture. To my ears it sounds even more like what we expect from late-’50s and early-’60s amp-based harmonic vibrato. And it’s easy to sink without a trace into the hypnotic lushness this setting generates.

Versatile as it is, the Killer V’s design has one small drawback: You cannot use the vibrato independently. In that sense the pedal is genuinely amp-like. And if you like a sparse pedalboard based on a few vintage flavors, it’s unlikely to be a problem. But it’s easy to imagine a lot of guitarists wanting to hear the lush vibrato with their own amp at the cleanest possible setting. Players should also consider whether they are married to the concept of vibrato and overdrive at opposite ends of a busy effects chain, because in some respects, the Killer V forces you to pick a lane. That said, players that are more open minded about less-than-immaculately clean vibrato tones, or prefer their modulation at the front of a chain, will have few problems with the Killer V’s configuration.

The Verdict
If you love the mild-to-raw overdrive and hypnotic vibrato of vintage Magnatones, you’ll dig the streamlined and compact Killer V. The inability to split the gain and vibrato effects to different parts of your pedal chain, or operate the vibrato independently, detracts somewhat from its flexibility. But its an impressive creation for delivering so much color and texture, and it’s likely to inspire hours of creative sound-crafting from fans that love a little grit with their pitch wobble.

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