Caroline Guitar Company Haymaker Review
This wildly versatile overdrive ranges from organic amp OD to tough and fuzzy sounds.
On the little card that functions as the Caroline Haymaker’s user manual, the Caroline crew hilariously asks, “Does the world need another overdrive pedal?” Our answer: “If it’s an overdrive as versatile as this, then why the hell not?”
Designed by Caroline’s Philippe Herndon, the Haymaker is a lot of overdrive for about 200 bucks. The three-mode circuit can deliver shades of drive ranging from super-dynamic and organic TS-meets-Fender-amp flavored OD to late ’70s pedal distortion. And the multitudinous overdrive colors in between make this a pedal that can get you out of just about any stage or studio fix.
Order In The Hayloft
We’ve had the pleasure of checking out some of Caroline’s other wares including the Olympia Fuzz and Kilobyte Lo-Fi Delay over the last few years and been impressed with the quality, sound, and imaginative approach. The Haymaker is no exception. Inside you find an exquisitely ordered circuit board that’s economically organized given the number of components. A TL074 quad op amp sits at the heart of the circuit. Elsewhere, Caroline’s abundant wit and welcome sense of humor is evident in a wet/dry trim pot labeled “Don’t even think about it,” and a polite request to circuit detectives not to post the circuit online.
The control set is a fairly simple affair once you get to know it. But apparently taking a page from the vintage Orange amplifier playbook, Caroline elected to use a set of what we might as well call South Carolina hieroglyphs to denote the function of each knob. It makes adjustments tricky in the get-acquainted stage, but the control’s actual names (speaker, punch, stacks, and shape) do little to clarify matters.
For the record, the punch control is for gain, the shape control adds dirt and presence, stacks is a low-pass filter that functions as a tone control, and speaker is master volume. The mini toggle in the center switches between soft clipping overdrive, a setting with more volume and headroom, and a third, hard-clipping stage.
Rollin’ And Tumblin’
In general, the Haymaker circuit puts a lot of headroom at your disposal. At any of the three-mode switch settings (and with everything else set to dead noon) unity gain is right around the 10 o’clock mark and there’s ample extra volume beyond that depending on the mode you use.
Mode C is the most striking, if you approach the Haymaker expecting a run-of-the-mill OD. This hard clipping stage is capable of mid-gain drive that gets surprisingly nasty. With the punch, shape, and stacks controls maxed it’s muscular and fuzzy—like a more panoramic, less fizzy version of a lower gain fuzz such as a Mk I Tone Bender. It just as readily churns out crunchy, complex chord tones like an old MXR Distortion +. In this mode the Haymaker occupies a cool sweet spot—fuzzier than your average overdrive, fatter, less gated and more harmonically complex than a fuzz, and less aggressive than a distortion pedal. It doesn’t clean up with volume level changes as readily I might like, but it remains harmonically responsive to changes in pick dynamics.
Mode B is where the Haymaker’s headroom is most apparent. It’s also where the effectiveness and utility of the shape and stacks controls shine brightest. These controls, and the B mode in general, can really reduce the terror of approaching a mystery backline situation. There’s a lot of clear, high-headroom volume on tap if you’re playing with a smaller amp.If you’re taming an amp that’s too bright you can use the low-pass filter of the stacks control to soften spikes in the 2 kHz-and-higher range while using the shape control to excite those frequencies with extra grit and heat. The stacks filter has great range in mode B, and it’s so effective as a treble booster that I wish the knob were a bit bigger so I could add it in more readily on the fly.
While Mode B gives single-coils a heavier, wide-angle-vista character, it can make humbuckers bossier than I like. If you’re in a heavy power trio and like a bass-heavy sound, mode B can add additional fatness and midrange from the stacks control. If, however, you’re the kind of humbucker player that hogs the mix to the chagrin of your bandmates, mode A will probably much better for inter-band relations.
Mode A is really the most civilized and vintage sounding of the three modes. Here, it’s easy to dial in the sweet, natural amp compression of a blackface Fender Deluxe or Princeton. It’s in this mode the pedal is most sweetly responsive to guitar volume adjustments. This is also the mode where you’re most likely to use the pedal as a set-and-forget part of chain. With everything at noon it sounds great—adding muscle and exciting the high midrange with color is great for jangling verse accompaniment, melodic hooks, and low-gain leads. It’s also worth noting that this mode sounds great in conjunction with a vintage-style germanium fuzz. And if you’re adept and comfortable with actively using guitar volume and tone adjustments on the fly you’ll be dazzled by the range of tame-to-insane drive tones the combination puts at your fingertips.
If there’s any drawback to be found in the Haymaker, it’s that, with just a single footswitch, it can be hard to utilize all of the Haymaker’s functionality on the fly. Switching from a jangly “mode a” setting to a fuzzy “mode c” setting mid-song is more or less out of the question—an issue compounded by the otherwise delightfully sensitive pots. That said, switching settings from song to song in a set is well within the realm of possibility. And if you’re approaching a live situation with an unfamiliar backline or fine-tuning your rig for an unusual studio situation, the Haymaker and it’s myriad overdrive colors could be the best friend you ever had.
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