More than 20 years after the initial release of the tube-powered Real Tube Series pedals, Maxon has revamped and updated the line with a family of pedals dubbed Real Tube II. The RTD800 is the overdrive/distortion combination entry in the new line. By any standard it’s a very capable and flexible pedal. And with its Maxon pedigree it’s a beautifully built little machine that engenders a confidence in its quality and tone.
Built Like a Brick
The RTD800 is a beefy yet surprisingly light (1.5 lbs) pedal for its size (4.5”x 6”x 2”). Cast zinc construction makes it feel ultra solid and capable of protecting the tube within. The matte nickel finish and black and blue accents give the pedal an industrial down-to-business look, too. The power supply is a two-part assembly consisting of a 5’ 9-volt cable that ends in a brick that’s connected to a standard 2’ IEC power cord for 9 volts of power.
Two rows of three knobs sit along the top of the RTD800. Gain, NR (noise reduction), and Master are situated just above Bass, Mid, and Treble. Between the knobs you’ll find switches for OD/Dist and NR on/off. Boost and Noise Gate LEDs shine bright blue when engaged. At the foot of the pedal are Boost and Bypass stomp switches. The pedal is true bypass. Just behind a clear plastic window you’ll see a glowing Sovtek12AX7LP tube. And on the backside, what appears to be a battery compartment is actually an access door to a trim pot that adjusts the amount of boost function between 3-9db.
Dirty Tweeds and Metal Monsters
My partners for my first tests were a ’60s Silvertone Twin Twelve amp and a G&L Comanche. With all knobs set to noon, the OD mode the tone was smooth, thick with a little less top end and slightly lower output than the non-effected volume. You’ll also hear traces of clean tone, which you can boost or reduce with use of the master, which evens out the volume difference while lending more push. The bridge pickup on a Strat-style guitar is often ice-picky with this type of setting, but it sounded great to kick the Treble knob up just past 3 o’clock to get a little more cut—a clue to the tube circuit’s impressive contouring capabilities.
The tone controls are all very effective and have a very usable, wide range. The Mid knob proved to be my best friend in making various pedals and guitars work together, and it one of the real keys to this pedal’s impressive ability to wear many hats. Even with the Mids cut in OD mode you could get into very heavy rock territory with plenty of gain on tap. Setting the Gain to 9 or 10 o’clock and pushing the Master up higher to hit the front end is perfect for simulating the breakup of an old Fender tweed for trips into Neil Young or even early Aerosmith territory.
Moving on to a Peavey 6505+ with upgraded Mercury Magnetics iron and a Marshall 4x12 with V30s and G12H-30s, the tone became much more modern. With the knobs at noon there was better definition and more bite out of the tone than I heard in the Silvertone. I switched to a Les Paul R8 with Bare Knuckle VH2s and engaged the Dist mode on the pedal.
The difference between OD and Dist can be surprisingly vast—more volume, more bite and a much stronger and gainier distortion than the OD. The bottom end is tight and percussive but the pedal retains a sweet top that never gets excessively aggressive unless the treble is cranked. With the Gain maxed out the sounds moves into ’80s modified Marshall territory and it was easy to pull out Marty Friedman-era Megadeth tones for both rhythm and lead. Once again the Mid control gave the necessary cut or boost to sharpen or thicken the sound. I was happy to hear that the Bass voicing never got tubby or boomy.
The noise gate is simple but very functional. Engaged, it cuts out extra noise without reducing attack. It takes about two seconds to find the sweet spot and I tended to keep it engaged most times without feeling any effect on the tone. Popping off the back panel of the pedal reveals a trim pot for the boost function. It would be nice to not have to use a screwdriver to change the setting (a mini pot would have been nice) but once set I can’t imagine needing to change it.
Overall, the RTD800 does a fine job of providing the pedal-obsessed guitarist with a stacked menu of tube-driven overdrive and distortion flavors. Whether your tastes run toward the conservative or heavy side there there’s a beautiful tube-driven color lurking within. The street price of $435 may scare off some potential buyers. But this is a professional grade, high-quality pedal. And the tube power that makes this pedal sound so sweet is no gimmick. Tube power adds a load of character to what’s already in exceedingly flexible and versatile pedal. And who doesn’t like to get a little tubular in their life.
you want a wide-range of tube-driven overdrive and distortion tones out of a pedal.
you’re already full up with gain boxes.