January 17, 2020
John Bohlinger tests out a handful of the compact, budget-friendly gray tone boxes designed by effects guru Stan Cotey.
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Need an affordable distortion pedal? Look no further.
We live in the golden age of boutique pedals that are loaded with advanced features—many of which were nearly unthinkable a decade or so ago. But there’s something that will always be valuable about a rock-solid dirt box that won’t break your wallet. Here’s a collection of old classics and newly designed stomps that cost less than an average concert ticket.
JHS Series 3 Overdrive
This OD is part of the company’s Series 3 line which offers affordable stomps with simple control setups. Along with volume and drive controls, it offers a body knob that tweaks the EQ and a gain switch that moves between more saturated and crunchier sounds.
Thanks to an extremely dedicated following among Nashville session cats, the other green stomp is now offered in a downsized setup. It can run up to 18V for increased headroom and sports glow-in-the-dark knobs for those extremely dark stages.
TC Electronic MojoMojo
This all-analog distortion offers classic, vintage-inspired tones with a familiar control setup of volume, gain, bass, and treble. The real secret sauce is in the voice switch, which allows you to move between a more natural sound and a bass cut.
Since 1978, the DS-1 has been a go-to for generations of guitarists. It offers a scooped sound that can take you from grunge to shred and has been affordable for decades.
EarthQuaker Devices Plumes
Although loosely based on a classic circuit, EQD has replaced the 4558 IC with a JFET op-amp for a more mid-focused sound. In addition to the standard controls, the toggle switch moves between two different clipping options or no clipping at all for a wide-open clean boost.
Electro-Harmonix East River Drive
A JRC4558 IC-loaded circuit that creates the classic symmetrical overdrive sound, this is an all-analog affair that is true bypass, housed in a rock-solid chassis, and can run on a 9-volt battery—which is included.
Fender Hammerstone Overdrive
One of the newest entries on this list is a retro-looking stomp that offers some interesting features under the hood. The original circuit allows you to control the mids before the gain stage, plus there’s an internal trim pot to wrangle the high end.
Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
One of the most popular stompboxes of all time has been shrunk down to a mini-sized wonder. With an oversized drive knob and two smaller tone and level controls, this green monster aims to cop all the classic midrange tones of the original.
Pro Co Rat 2
Is it a fuzz? Or a distortion? Or an overdrive? Well, thanks to the famous filter control, you can blur the lines between all the different flavors of dirt. It offers a totally analog signal path, glow-in-the-dark graphics, and the trademark heavy-duty enclosure.
There’s no mistaking that shade of yellow. This dead-simple setup offers output and distortion controls along with a vintage-sounding germanium clipping circuit that does everything in its power to blur the line between overdrive and fuzz.
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A lightweight, portable amp series developed after months of forensic examination of vintage valve amps.
The St. James series offers amps in two formats: an EL34 design creating classic British rock tones and a 6L6 model with crystal clean tones and higher gain, both available as Celestion-equipped combo or amplifier head with matching vertical 212 cabinet. Designed to be simple to use but highly versatile, these amps offer an intuitive two-channel setup that delivers Blackstar’s best-ever clean and overdrive tones.
These amps are ideal for gigging players in search of a great-sounding valve amp at less than half the weight of traditional valve-driven amplifiers, as well as studio players looking for elite tone with the convenience of built-in tools used for recording applications. The models’ light weight is attributable to several factors in construction and design, namely the candlenut wood cabinet and custom Celestion Zephyr speaker, all without sacrificing the all-valve signal path creating the sound and feel of a traditional valve amplifier.
All four amp models feature two-channel 12AX7 preamp tube circuitry, along with three power switch options to fit the user’s need:
- the 50W full power setting, offering the loudest clean headroom;
- the SAG setting, proving the softer, vintage-feeling dynamic compression of a power supply ‘”sag,” most noticeable on the loud transients (attack) of the sweetest tube amps;
- and a 2W low power setting for recording or smaller gigs, delivering a more overdriven power amp tone by controlling HT (high voltage) and bias in the power stage, delivering a more natural tone than the usual “power soak” load resistor method often used.
See How These Players Reacted to St. James | St. James | Blackstar
For more information, visit: www.blackstaramps.com. Blackstar will be exhibiting at Booth 5723 (Hall D) at The NAMM Show, June 3-5, 2022, in Anaheim, CA.
U.S. MAP pricing is as follows:
- St James 50 Watt 6L6 Combo Amp: $1299.99
- St James 50 Watt 6L6 Amp Head: $1199.99
- St James 50 Watt EL34 Combo Amp: $1299.99
- St James 50 Watt EL34 Amp Head: $1199.99
- St James Vertical 212 Cabinet Black: $749.99
- St James Vertical 212 Cabinet Fawn: $749.99
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