Spot-on Fender black-panel sounds. Simple and effective controls. Excellent overdrive channel.
Expensive. Nasty pop when engaging the compressor.
Mad Professor Super Black
Ease of Use:
Finland-based pedal builder Mad Professor has invented a stompbox that can dial up a range of classic black-panel Fender sounds. It’s called the Super Black. Unlike a vintage amp, it won’t break the bank or your back. And in a blindfold test, it might just blow the minds of hard-core Fender freaks.
At $299, the Super Black ain’t cheap, but it also includes Mad Professor’s Sweet Honey Drive circuit, which is about $150 on its own and can be used in combination with the Super Black’s tone shaping tools or in standalone mode.
Into the Black
Here’s the concept: Mad Professor says it’s recreated the topology of Fender’s famed AB763 circuit— the foundation for the black-panel Deluxe, Twin Reverb, Super Reverb, and Bassman, among others—within Super Black’s 4 ½" x 3 ½" x 1 1/2" enclosure. Skeptical? I was, until I plugged in my Stratocaster and started playing. In no time I was conjuring spot-on duplicates of Deluxe, Twin, and Bassman tones—my favorite Fender flavors. (I run through those three voices in the demo video, using a Carr Vincent amp.)
The control set for the Super Black is simple. On the top row, there’s a 3-band EQ and a gain dial. Under that are volume and presence knobs. For the Sweet Honey Overdrive section of the circuit, there’s volume and drive (the “focus” control from the full-featured Sweet Honey has been omitted here). There’s also a very effective bass cut toggle for moments when more chime is in order, and another toggle for compression. The compression switch is the source of my only issue with the Super Black because flicking the compressor on or off emits a popping sound. Otherwise, it’s a blast to use. The Super Black can be powered with a 9V battery or DC.
Spanning the AB763 Family
The Super Black’s ability to approximate the dynamic range and characteristics of low- to high-powered black-panel circuits is remarkable. The pedal’s most Deluxe-like tones (attainable with EQ controls at noon and volume and presence in a tight V) have lots of boxy, small-combo definition. In a more Bassman-like mode (bass and mids cranked, a little less treble, and the compression on) the mellow lows and hard-punching midrange are prominent. And as a stand-in for a Twin (which you get by backing off the gain and keeping the EQ controls between 11 and 2 o’ clock) it was a dead ringer for the beloved 1966 black-panel I parted with last year, as a gift to my back. It’s articulate and rich, with beautifully crisp mid range, clarion highs, and wonderfully fast response. It made me sentimental. If I’d been able to fit that amp in the palm of my hand, I’d still own it today. Toss in the Sweet Honey’s growling overdrive and the age-old problem of pushing a high-powered Fender hard enough to get amp breakup is solved—all at very civilized volumes.
The Honey Drive, by the way, is a sweet deal all by itself. It’s a medium-gain OD that is touch-sensitive and really shovels on dirt the harder you dig in. When its drive dial is cranked, that’s an estimable amount of soil, and it’s good at getting loud and filthy. But blended with the Super Black section’s control set, however, there are lots of possibilities for fine-tuning the balance of clarity and distortion.
Sure, it’s costly, but the Super Black lets you carry the taste of about a half-dozen classic black-panel Fenders to a gig or the studio with one hand. And with the Sweet Honey Overdrive included, it’s a two-fer that solves the too-much-headroom issues of bigger Fenders while putting a great overdrive at your disposal. Needless to say, you need a relatively clean amp for this pedal to do its job right. Gainy or grainy amps don’t let the Super Black’s palette breathe its own rich voices. But the richness of these sounds proves there’s genuine method in the madness of this pedal’s creator.
Watch the Demo: