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Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Pedal Review

The Holy Fire is an overdrive/distortion pedal with a world of tones

Download Example 1
Neck pickup.  Amp set to near clean.  Holy Fire settings.  Gain: 4, Overdrive: 5, Distortion: off, Hi Cut: full up (set to no-cut
Download Example 2
Same as 1 but Overdrive at 7
Download Example 3
Bridge Pickup. Same as Clip 2 but Distortion set at 3
Download Example 4
Same as 3 but High Cut set to 5 (half-cut) and Gain at 6
Download Example 5
Amp set to crunch tone.  Settings same as Clip 4 but Distortion on 10
Download Example 6
Amp set to crunch tone.  Gain: 10, Overdrive: 7, Distortion: 0, High Cut full (0 position, full cut).
All clips were recorded with an Epiphone Sheraton with Tom Holmes PAFs, Reissue Marshall JCM800 through Krank 1x12 with Eminence Governor. Shure SM57 1” from cone into Pro Tools HD3. 
Every once in a while, a product comes around that brings something different to the table. Sometimes, it’s a clever variation on a common theme done in a way that seems new. At other times, it’s a radical departure— something truly unique. In the case of Creation Audio Labs’ Holy Fire overdrive/ distortion pedal, it’s a little of both.

The Look
The Holy Fire comes in a heavy, brushed stainless steel box with lettering that is punched through rather than painted or stenciled on. This lets the fire-orange light inside the pedal backlight the words, giving it an evil-meets-holy look. (CAL even cleverly arranged the Gain, Overdrive and Distortion labels to spell out “GOD” on the top of the pedal.) They’ve branded the pedal with “Holy” on the left and “Fire” on the right side of the stomp switch. Much like a treble cut control on an AC30, the Holy Fire features a hi-cut knob, which is signified by a “~” symbol. It does just what you’d think and backs off the highs as you turn it up. It also runs on a 48V power supply that comes with the pedal. Those 48 volts are put to great use in creating a sound unlike most gain/overdrive/distortion pedals on the market. Finally, a very cool feature of the pedal, and one I haven’t seen before, is the dual-colored LED that switches from red to yellow as you go from a clean signal to wave-shaped overdrive… kinda like having a useful but vibey lava lamp built into the pedal.

The Voice of G.O.D.
I ran the Holy Fire through just about every guitar and amp I own, and it did an outstanding job with all of them. One thing that sets this pedal apart from any other gain or overdrive pedal I’ve used is that it always makes the sound bigger. Along with that, there was never a loss of bass response with an increase of gain, overdrive or distortion. It’s a very different experience to have a pedal do this, because it doesn’t really sound like a pedal at all when using just the Gain control. With a Strat and Fender Cyber-Champ, it turned a rather anemic sound into a bold, SRV-style tone that had a depth and character the amp never could have revealed on its own. I’m not sure what CAL’s secret is, but the company says they use late- ’50 and early-‘60s analog computer technology to reshape the waveform. They say that it emulates a tube, but not in any traditional way that we’re used to with pedals. Whatever it is, it’s highly addictive. The way the Gain works is slightly different from a normal pedal as well: the counterclockwise position is off—as in no volume at all. This comes in handy, since you can dial in huge amounts of overdrive and distortion (more on that in a minute) and then pull back the Gain so the volume is tailored to whatever level you desire. I found this helpful in setting up a lead tone that was just slightly louder than the pedal in bypass mode but still had all the overdrive and distortion I needed. The Overdrive and Distortion controls work together, and you can easily use one on top of the other.

The Overdrive sound is thick without being muddy, and you can bring it up to the highest settings without adding significant noise. In fact, this pedal has got to be the quietest OD pedal I’ve ever heard. With my Les Paul through the Cyber-Champ set to a clean sound, I was able to get Zeppelin-style tones just by combining the right amount of Overdrive and Distortion. The only place where things got smeared was with both controls maxed out, but even that sound offered a fuzzy, stoner-rock tone that was perfect for a track I was working on. Plugging into my ENGL Ritchie Blackmore signature head allowed me to hear the Holy Fire work its magic with an already great sound. I had the amp set conservatively on the gain side to establish a solid AC/ DC-style rhythm tone. With the addition of just a little extra gain (set at about 2 o’clock) the sound was huge. It’s actually a bit of a spoiler to take the Holy Fire out of the chain, because everything sounds small after hearing it the other way. Bringing the Distortion control up to about 4 o’clock added an enormous amount of distortion that once again had all the body you’d ever need, with endless sustain and no added noise. Seems impossible, but there it is. As if all of this weren’t enough, I was pleasantly surprised to roll off my volume on the guitars to reveal the amp’s true tone and clarity. It was as if the rolling off of the volume made the pedal disappear. Over time, I got very comfortable with leaving the pedal on all the time and working the volume knob to expose twice as much tone from the amp as I had previously achieved. The fact that the Holy Fire is so quiet made it feel out of the way until I needed it and pushed my guitar’s volume past 7.

The Final Mojo
There is a world of tones tucked away inside the Holy Fire. Not only is it a clever design, it’s a useful design. It offers up thick and bold gain, overdrive and distortion with the unique ability to bring the best out of your guitar and amp. Maybe it’s the 48V power that gives it the type of sound I’ve not heard in a pedal before, or maybe it’s that very different way of using analog computer technology to create the sounds. Either way, it’s pure gold, and this one is staying right here with me.
Buy if...
you want a big sound that’s natural and new.
Skip if...
you’re 100 percent sure your tone doesn’t need an upgrade.

Street $195 - Creation Audio Labs -