Aclam Dr. Robert Review
Turn off your mind, relax, and float the treble stream!
Spot-on ’66/’67 Beatles tones. Unique overdrive sounds. Snappy response. Excellent build quality. Intuitive, rangy, and responsive control set.
Aclam Dr. Robert
Ease of Use:
I fell in love with the Beatles, early and hard. But among the cosmic expanse of Beatles sounds I’ve discovered since my youth, it’s the tart, trebly, and paradoxically dreamy guitar sounds of Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s… and Magical Mystery Tour that remain most constantly enrapturing.
Aclam’s Dr. Robert generates uncannily authentic approximations of the tones from these records. But as thrillingly accurate as it is, the Dr. Robert is no one-trick pony. Its overdrive, fuzz, and boost tones surprise with their richness. And when it comes to surgically slotting a guitar sound distinctly in a mix, the Dr. Robert is a very sharp scalpel indeed.
Aclam, which hails from Barcelona, used their own, very rare Vox UL730 solid-state/tube hybrid amp as reference when laying out the Dr. Robert’s topology. Where and when this amp was used in the Beatles discography is hard to pinpoint with exactitude. The band also used the similarly hybridized but much more powerful Vox UL7120 around the time of Revolver, the Vox UL430 bass amp for Sgt. Pepper’s,and the solid-state Vox Conqueror on dates spanning Sgt. Pepper’s and The Beatles (aka, The White Album). The Beatles, by the way, weren’t the only superstars using Vox’s new hybrids and solid-state models at the time. The Stones used similar UL760 and Supreme models around the Between the Buttons and Satanic Majesties sessions. And a UL730 is allegedly one of Jimmy Page’s secret weapons on Led Zeppelin II.
While we’ll probably never know with absolute certainty which Vox amps account for what tones in specific Beatles songs, the Vox amps the Beatles used in this period share many sonic attributes. Those sounds—and that spirit—are easy to source via the Dr. Robert’s simple but effective control set.
Aclam’s relatively strict adherence to UL730 topology results in a few unique pedal circuit quirks. On the UL730, Vox separated the midrange control from the rest of the EQ stack, situating it before the volume pot and upstream from the bass and treble controls. The Dr. Robert is wired in similar fashion, which means that the midrange shapes the pedal’s tone and gain profile profoundly before interacting with an amplifier’s bass/treble tone stack.
In another twist, the Dr. Robert’s gain control is situated where a UL730’s volume control would be in the amp circuit. But Aclam placed the volume pot after the pedal’s FET section, so it would work as a gain control rather than a simple volume. (UL730s had no master volume and had to be played at deafening levels to achieve saturation.) A second footswitch on the pedal called Mach Schau—German, for “make a show,” reflecting the Fab Four’s Hamburg days—boosts the entire signal to psychedelic “She Said She Said” levels of saturation and compression. It’s amazing for kicking solos into high gear when you don’t want to introduce the color of another gain pedal. But it’s also capable of shaping unique tones that extend beyond the UL730 palette.
So, how do the Dr. Robert’s tones stack up against the Fabs? Startlingly well, I must say. I managed near-perfect approximations of the searing “She Said She Said” intro lick, the meaty, honking, and propulsive rhythm textures of “Paperback Writer” and “Dr. Robert,” and the sharp, clanging rhythm stabs of “Taxman” and “Getting Better” with relative ease. Having P-90s around to chase these tones is a plus. (I got the best results from a P-90-equipped Jazzmaster.) But I extracted nearly-as-convincing Beatles tones from Rickenbacker Hi Gains and Novak Wide Range-style humbuckers.
And while everything about the Dr. Robert—from the name to the enclosure artwork by Revolver cover artist Klaus Voorman—is clearly Fab-centric, the pedal generates tones that are interesting and unique outside the Beatles canon. Anyone looking for original mid-gain and fuzz tones, or the means to cut through a dense band mix, would be well served by investigating Aclam’s Beatles-inspired box.
You don’t have to be obsessive about John Lennon’s Revolver tones to justify the expense of the Dr. Robert. But you do need to be open to the recording and performance potential of a fangy, brash, hot-and-trebly mid-’60s Vox. Preference for these tones is a very personal matter. My tones score is a 5, based on a lifelong fixation with Beatles sounds and the Acclam’s ability to deliver them. But if you strongly prefer, say, the compressed, contoured, and controlled tones of a tweed or blackface Fender, you might need to adjust that score lower. Cost is another very subjective issue. At $320, the Dr. Robert is unquestionably spendy. But the tones within are so close to the Beatles tones I’ve been chasing for decades, and so unique in non-Beatles contexts, that the cost seems rational to me—particularly given the quality and care and thought that went into this impressive design.
Watch the First Look: