Aguilar designed the H.A.L.O. to get natural amp overdrive but with more touch sensitivity and response than you typically get from a stompbox.
Whether you’re a high-profile artist or a guitar hobbyist, there’s a good chance you’ve had reason to pay attention to the work of Alex Aguilar. From his time building bass amps at Aguilar Amplification to his work as a guitar columnist, Aguilar has been chasing great tone for more than 40 years.
His newest company, Alairex, is thus far a fairly small outfit, with the H.A.L.O. overdrive reviewed here being the company’s first and only product so far. But what the Alairex line may lack in quantity, it makes up for in terms of thoughtful design and engineering, because the H.A.L.O. is hardly another run-of-the-mill overdrive. Aguilar designed the H.A.L.O. to get natural amp overdrive but with more touch sensitivity and response than you typically get from a stompbox. Impressively, the unit achieves many of those aims, giving you tone-crafting power that you don’t often get from an overdrive.
The robust little H.A.L.O. weighs in at almost 1 1/2 pounds, and you’ll definitely notice how sturdy and stage ready it feels. But you’re more likely to be struck by the myriad ways you can tweak its tones. The all-analog circuit controls two footswitchable gain modes, each with its own dedicated gain and master volume controls. Three smaller knobs at the top edge let you boost or cut sub frequencies, midrange response, and upper mids. There’s also a master tone control that sweeps through a range of voicings from super bright to dark and mellow. You can also power the pedal with an 18V power supply to increase headroom if the tone is too congested for your liking.
The pedal’s 3-way shape toggle enables you to switch between two diode-clipping modes or a clean boost mode in the middle position. Most analog overdrives use either symmetrical (Ibanez Tube Screamerstyle) or asymmetrical (Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive-style) diode clipping, but the H.A.L.O. attempts to give you the best of both worlds by opening up access to the smooth, natural response of even-order harmonic distortion that’s a hallmark of power-tube overdrive, or the more fluid and compressed odd-order harmonic distortion that’s common in gained-out preamp overdrive. Its 3-way saturation toggle adds the option of piling even more distortion and compression on both gain modes, or on the second gain mode exclusively.
The H.A.L.O.’s control layout looks daunting at first, but it’s actually very intuitive and responsive once you’ve done a little homework.. There are a lot of different tones on tap, and really the only hurdle you’ll face is deciding which of the many flavors works best.
With a Vox AC30 and a Stratocaster, I set the H.A.L.O. for asymmetrical clipping and the gain and tone-shaping controls at noon. Even at these relatively conservative levels, there was a very obvious jump in volume. Turn the asymmetrical mode’s gain control up to about 1 o’clock, and you get even more volume, in addition to a thicker midrange and more robust low end—perfect for Zeppelin riffs and crunchy ’70s-rock staples. It’s not unusual for a good overdrive to send an AC30 to Page-ian heights, but with the H.A.L.O., you also notice how much detail remains intact within the snarl and grind. And the bass, contour, and presence knobs are all very effective for fine-tuning the distortion and tailoring output to your guitar and amplifier.
At extreme levels, the gain control will drive most amps into Van Halen-heavy raunch that works as well for clear chords as legato leads. But you can also use your guitar’s volume to take advantage of the pedal’s exceptional sensitivity—it cleans up without obscuring picking dynamics.
Alairex doesn’t bill the H.A.L.O. as a pedal for metal guitarists, but it works beautifully for heavy rock in the second gain mode, especially when you put highoutput humbuckers at the front of the signal chain. You’ll hear a lot of aggressive mids, though the bass can lose some of its stand-and-deliver tightness under barrages of staccato picking or palm-muted triplets. Backing off of the bass control brings back some low-end foundation and a little more softness in the bass attack, illustrating just how vital the tone controls are to getting the most out of the H.A.L.O.
Engaging the saturation switch makes the second gain mode monstrous—capable of grind that would turn the head of any metal fanatic, as well as a broad range of high-gain colors that you can transform subtly or radically with your guitar’s volume knob. You’ll also hear and feel a little sag at this point, which is great for lower-gain rhythm tones. Paired with the AC30, this mode yielded a voice reminiscent of a 50-watt Marshall JCM800.
Alairex’s Alex Aguilar is a tone-shaping veteran, and his new H.A.L.O. lives up to the lofty expectations that come with a resume like his. It’s a multifaceted overdrive machine capable of everything from velvety drive to raging distortion. But what’s even cooler is the extent to which the H.A.L.O. enables you to do much of that work yourself with pick attack and your guitar’s controls. This is the rare pedal that can move between a strong personality and a natural, near transparency, depending on how you set it up. And that makes it one of the most musical overdrives you’ll find anywhere.
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Dunable announce new Minotaur model featuring Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners.
The Minotaur's DNA is rooted in their classic Moonflower model, which Dunable discontinued in 2017. However, they have long since wanted to create a fresh take on a carved top guitar design, and various attempts to rework the Moonflower led them to a brand new concept with the Minotuar.
Dunable's goal is to give the player a guitar that plays fast and smooth, sounds amazing, and gives maximum physical ergonomic comfort. The Minotaur's soft and meticulous contours, simple and effective control layout, and 25.5" scale length are designed to easily meet this criteria.
- 25.5" scale length
- Dual Humbucker
- one volume, one tone, push pull for coil splitting
- Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners
- Grover Tune O Matic bridge with brass Kluson top-mount tailpiece
- jumbo nickel frets
- 12" fretboard radius
This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
Adding to the company’s line of premium-quality effects pedals, Missing Link Audio has unleashed the new AC/Overdrive pedal. This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal – the only Angus & Malcom all-in-one stompbox on the market – brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
- Three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone
- Die-cast aluminum cases for gig-worthy durability
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True bypass on/off switch
- 9-volt DC input
- Made in the USA
MLA Pedals AC/OD - Music & Demo by A. Barrero
Energy is in everything. Something came over me while playing historical instruments in the Martin Guitar Museum.
When I’m filming gear demo videos, I rarely know what I’m going to play. I just pick up whatever instrument I’m handed and try to feel where it wants to go. Sometimes I get no direction, but sometimes, gear is truly inspiring—like music or emotion falls right out. I find this true particularly with old guitars. You might feel some vibe attached to the instrument that affects what and how you play. I realize this sounds like a hippie/pseudo-spiritual platitude, but we’re living in amazing times. The Nobel Prize was just awarded to a trio of quantum physicists for their experiments with quantum entanglement, what Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Mainstream science now sounds like magic, so let’s suspend our disbelief for a minute and consider that there’s more to our world than what’s on the surface.
I recently spent a day filming a factory tour of Martin Guitars in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. After we wrapped, we discovered that Martin has this amazing museum that showcases more than 170 historic instruments. We decided to meet at the museum at 7:45 a.m. the next morning to film a few choice pieces before catching our flight in not-too-near Newark, New Jersey, that afternoon.
These were not ideal conditions for a performance. Neither my brain nor my fingers work well before 10 a.m., plus I hadn’t slept well the night before. Even so, we loaded into the museum, met the curators, set up the shoot, and began rolling by 8 a.m.
The first guitar was an 1834 gut string, perhaps the oldest Martin in existence. It was beautiful but had some tuning issues and did not project very well, so playing it felt more like work than music.
Next was a prewar D-45 worth over $500k. The strings were ancient with that rusty feel, like you’ll need a tetanus shot after playing it. I’m sure it sounded great, but I was tired and thinking more about making our flight than playing guitar. Wonderful instrument but uninspired performance on my end.
Then, I played a 1953 D-18 coined “Grandpa” by Kurt Cobain. I picked up the deeply sacred D-18, and my hands went to an A minor. This sounds like hype, but honestly, I closed my eyes and connected with a deep, beautiful sadness. The feeling was palpable as soon as you picked it up. This guitar pretty much played itself, leading me to a sad version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I don’t know if it was any good, but I know I felt something deeply. That’s why I started playing guitar in the first place. I don’t have to play well to feel moved.
I later talked to the museum director, who told me the D-18 was given to Cobain by his 1991 girlfriend Mary Lou Lord. Cobain played it on tour before and after Nirvana’s Nevermind. It was returned to her after Cobain married. Shortly after that, Mary Lou loaned the guitar to Elliott Smith, who played it until his death.
When I’m sad, I make myself play guitar to feel better, because it usually works. This 70-year-old guitar spent a lot of time literally pressed up against the hearts and chests of two artists who were so tormented by their emotions that they ended their lives. That’s heavy. You can’t explain those feelings that make the hair stand up on your arm, or when you feel like crying for no reason … but hitting that A minor made me feel it.
We had to split for the airport, so Chris Kies and Perry Bean started packing up. As they did, I saw this cute little 1880 Martin 000 that belonged to Joan Baez. In the photo next to it, Joan looks like my mom in the ’60s. I asked the curator if I could play it, and Chris grabbed his phone to do a quick Insta video. I swear there was a happy vibe coming off this tiny guitar. It felt like watching my mom dance—like a warm hug I needed after Cobain’s D-18.
In Chinese culture, there is a superstition that antiques may hold evil spirits, and chi (energy) transfer can bring this negativity into your home. Feng shui is all about objects carrying good or bad chi. Here’s how I see it: All matter is made of atoms. Atoms contain energy. Ergo, everything contains energy, or, more aptly, everything is energy. Ever walk into a room and feel powerful emotion: joy, sadness, fear, tranquility? That’s energy. We all have felt energy coming from people, places, and things. But that’s what I love about old guitars: Their atoms spent the first few hundred years as a tree in the forest connected to nature. Then, they’re turned into an instrument that makes people happy or consoles them when they are sad. That’s the kind of chi I want around me.