The breadth and quality of Pigtronix output in recent years has been impressive. And for its efforts and ingenuity, the Long Island-based stompbox company has garnered the favor of such diverse heavyweights as Andy Summers, David Hidalgo, Dweezil Zappa, Joe Perry, and Stu Hamm. Given the knob- and toggle-bedecked pedals that first put the company on the map, it’s easy to peg Pigtronix as one of those outfits that’s always working on the fringe—creating warbly, wild, whacked-out pedals that experimental players love. But while Pigtronix does that stuff very well (check out our reviews of the Tremvelope and Echolution at premierguitar.com), the new FAT Drive proves this is a company that can cover the nuts and bolts, too. It reflects a keen understanding of what goes into making tube overdrive sound great.
Like many overdrives, the FAT promises tube-like crunch while enabling your guitar’s true character to shine through. Pigtronix says it uses cascading gain stages that round and compress the signal as it begins to clip, whereas classic designs cut off the top and bottom of the waveform. The result is a very tube-like overdrive that’s at home with many different guitar and amp combinations and can move readily from subtle to raging.
Lean Cut, Fat Tone
Players accustomed to the plethora of controls on Pigtronix’s more out-there offerings will either be pleased or incredulous that the FAT drive is stripped down to a traditional 3-knob overdrive setup—volume, gain, and tone. But there’s also a toggle between the three controls that delivers a heavy dose of gain when flipped to the More position. It’s a feature you see in a lot of aftermarket TS9 and TS808 mods, and it adds a lot of versatility and the ability to range from classic, TS-style tones to full-bore distortion. The side-mounted input and output jacks are of durable plastic, while the truebypass on/off switch is of sturdy metal.
The inside of the FAT Drive is packed head-to-toe with wiring and circuitry. There’s also no battery. Instead, Pigtronix includes an 18V power supply. You can also operate the pedal using your own 9V power supply, though you lose a lot of the headroom and transparency that are such a strong suit for the FAT Drive. However, 9V operation does increase the gain potential, so if you find you’re in need of more crunch, try swapping out the supplied 18V and increasing the volume to match the previous output.
While the FAT looks straightforward enough on the surface, its tone control is more than the simple bass/treble blend you find on a lot of overdrives. Utilizing a variable low-pass filter, the FAT rounds off higher frequencies but retains lows and mids when you turn it counterclockwise. Turning tone all the way clockwise turns off the low-pass filter for a cleaner, more transparent voicing.
Extra Butter, please
To get an idea how effective the tone control is—and the degree to which it enhances the FAT Drive’s cool voice—just hook it up to a biting Telecaster and a 6L6-driven Bassman. Set the FAT to the point of breakup with gain a hair above 9 o’clock, keep tone around 4 o’clock, and set the toggle to low-gain mode, and you’ll get a cool, smoked-glass sustain that’s both cutting and meaty—perfect for the kind of nuance in Clapton’s Blind Faith leads. Rolling the tone counter-clockwise really fattens up the lowend output, which works great for working with a heavy rhythm section. Such settings retain the essence of Fender amp overdrive, while careful adjustment of the tone control overcomes the loss of definition that some players don’t like in 6L6 circuits. And it’s easy to dial in a satisfying crunch that can cut through any mix.
With a Les Paul in the stew along with a Fender amp, you can keep the FAT’s tone control just above the low-pass filter’s shut-off point to deliver an almost tweedlike, Chicago blues tone. Dialing tone at or below 4 o’clock delivers a TS9’s punch and gives the midrange a little more room to breathe. But rolling too far into the filter really accentuates the inherent darkness of a Les Paul’s humbuckers, which may be a bit stifling for lead players. These extremely dark tones are great in the right context though, and it’s easy to see the FAT gaining a foothold among the stoner-rock contingent that likes to drive high-power amps and humbuckers into the sludgiest zones possible—this thing will get woolly and big, if that’s what you need.
With a 10-watt, EL84-driven CEC Toll Free Express, the Pigtronix becomes a different cat entirely. The amp already delivers massive amounts of drive, so pulling down the FAT’s gain and increasing its volume gives you a natural-sounding boost for crunchier leads. Engaging the effect kills a bit of the amp’s Voxlike chime but leaves the full-bodied Marshall weight very much intact. And if you really want to torque out a smaller amp, flip the toggle switch into the more position. This had the CEC howling with fuzzy, string-sectionlike sustain that accentuated lows and mids.
If you need a bit more than classic TS-style fare from your overdrive, the Pigtronix FAT Drive can take you into more expansive territory without straying from timeless overdrive tones or your guitar’s most basic personality. It can move from campfirewarm tones to blazing jets with the flip of a switch, and the plentitude of tones and sturdy build make this pedal a very fair deal. Some minimalists may be turned off by the lack of a battery input, but the 18V adapter opens up the potential and headroom of the FAT—a nice tradeoff for players who need a more transparent boost.
Guitars with single-coils benefit most from its range, but coupled with the right amplifier, the FAT can enable humbucker fans to squeeze both nasty and civilized tones from the Pigtronix circuit. But whatever guitar you go to most, one thing’s for sure—the FAT drive will give your tone a ton of extra muscle.