Danelectro Cool Cat Fuzz, Transparent Overdrive and Vibe Reviews
Danelectro Cool Cat pedals offer tone on a budget. We look at the Fuzz, Transparent Overdrive and Vibe.
Danelectro has always been something of a cult favorite among musicians, a company responsible for dreaming up loads of good sounding, inexpensive gear with a distinct fifties flair. Musicians not afraid to step outside of the rarified boutique world have discovered a range of cool, usable tones from boxes named after diner dishes like French Toast and Chicken Salad. For the rest, the combination of cute model names and an abundance of cheap plastic parts left the impression of Danelectro as a strictly budget-minded product. Fortunately for fans of the company’s distinctive style, the latest line of miniaturized effects pedals, dubbed the Cool Cat series, have set out to redefine that image – without raising the price tag. Perhaps one of the most exciting things about the Cool Cat series is the physical upgrade. Danelectro has stepped up to the plate with new, heavy duty metal cases and jacks, and I’m proud to say their effects have never felt sturdier. Every pedal is true bypass, and a quick look inside confirms it – even the guts look well planned and executed, something that cannot be said for all price point effects. The footswitch, while not a Switchcraft, feels solid and clicks with the same tactile satisfaction as one. The only physical point of worry I would have would be the battery compartment, located on the underside of the pedal. The battery latch seems to be made of a fairly flexible plastic that might not survive the long haul, but considering it exists in its own world underneath the rest of the pedal, it shouldn’t be too big of a concern (if you’re truly paranoid, you could always just plug in a 9V adapter). Unfortunately, there remain a few design decisions that don’t seem completely thought through. The knobs sit on the front face of the pedal, with their descriptions printed on top of the box; if you imagine the knobs on Roger Mayer’s famous rocket enclosures, you’ll have the right idea. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in its own right, the knobs are partially covered by what can only be described as a little ledge extending off the top of the enclosure. While this is likely in place to prevent accidentally tweaking the settings, it inadvertently makes purposely turning the knobs more of a hassle than it ever should be. It’s near impossible to set your knobs precisely unless you’re looking directly at the front face, and forget about trying to make adjustments with your foot. A handful of the pedals including the transparent overdrive and the chorus also include stacked knobs, making the task even harder; the manual acknowledges adjusting these can be “tricky,” but that seems akin to saying that a Dumble sounds “good.”
|Download Example 1
Fuzz at 3:00, Volume at 1:00, Tone at noon
All clips recorded with Tele Deluxe with SD Fat Cat humbuckers and Volume and Tone knobs on full. Recorded with a modified Epiphone Valve Junior Stack (Volume set at 5) featuring an Eminence Red Coat 12”, through a Shure SM57 and into a ProSonus Audiobox interface. Guitar by Randall Davis.
My adventure with the entire Cool Cat series actually began with the Fuzz and a recommendation. In the midst of a brief but deep vintage fuzz phase, I found myself jonsing for the buzz saw intensity of a Foxx Tone Machine, albeit at a little more reasonable price. PG’s own Dirk Wacker recommended the Cool Cat Fuzz, and my search ended almost as soon as it began. As soon as I plugged in the Cool Cat Fuzz and cranked everything to 11 (including the Volume, Tone and Fuzz controls crossing the front face of the unit), I heard that same psychedelic grind, that electric wire, hive of bees sound that I heard in vintage and reissue units, all for a fraction of the price. Now, I should clarify before I receive a mailbox full of angry letters from boutique purists that the Cool Cat Fuzz is not the same as a Foxx, even if they do both conjure animals in their names. The Cool Cat isn’t powered by germanium, nor does it feature any sort of Octave/Sustain switch, like its ancestor the French Toast did. But the Cool Cat Fuzz does have a lot of power hidden underneath its unassuming orange metal housing. There’s more than enough gain on tap for psychedelic fuzzheads and the Tone knob is versatile enough to move from dark, woolly sounds to cool transistor radio tones. Ratchet up the gain, turn the Tone back and you’ll even find yourself in Big Muff territory, even if it’s not an exact impression. Needless to say, at its craziest and loudest, there’s enough sustain to play a note and check back on it days later. Of course, as a relatively inexpensive, germanium-less fuzz, something’s gotta give, and that shows up in some of the softer moments. Turning the Volume on the Fuzz down resulted in sounds that were muddy, and some of the pedal’s great touch sensitivity gets lost, too. But considering that the pedal doesn’t add a lot of noise to the signal, and that it actually cleans up nicely with the help of your guitar’s Volume, you’re still getting a lot of bang for the buck – a big hats off to Danelectro for doing their homework. The Cool Cat Fuzz is literally a no-brainer if you have even a passing interest in fuzz.
you have $39 dollars
you’re only looking to use your fuzz at wimpy levels
MSRP $39 -Danelectro- danelectro.com
Hit Page 2 for the Cool Cat Transparent Overdrive...
|Download Example 1
Gain at 1:00, Volume at 12:30, Bass on 1:00, Treble at noon
Cool Cat Transparent Overdrive
Fresh off the high of the Cool Cat Fuzz, I plugged in Danelectro’s Transparent Overdrive for a little more traditional crunch. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the company’s decision to include the word “transparent” in the name of the effect – it has become such an lazy buzzword that I cringe hearing it these days – but thankfully it seems that Danelectro has some tone to back up that name. The Cool Cat Transparent OD is surprisingly clean and clear for such an inexpensive design; in lower to medium gain situations, the pedal retained my guitars’ fundamental (a Telecaster and LP) without smothering my tone or noticeably compressing the signal. At higher gain levels, the sound squishes more and the signal loses some of that original clarity, but at all points you can tell the Transparent OD is doing its best job at adding gain and little else. If you’re not particularly concerned about coloration or compression you’ll be wowed by the sheer amount of crunch on tap – try out the “Woman Tone” setting in the manual if you have a sturdy amp and a stout disposition. The Treble and Bass knobs – set up in that infernal “stacked” configuration – give you some minor tone shaping options (cut and boost), but this pedal really excels at taking your existing signal/tone and beefing it up. Of course, if you were to put this box up against a high-end boutique OD, the Danelectro probably wouldn’t be the smoothest or most invisible of effects, but that’s missing the point entirely. This pedal provides a lot of gain and a lot of clarity for very little. The fact that it can function effectively in a variety of roles, from a barely-there boost for lead lines to a bludgeon for the front end of your amp, is even more impressive. If you’re looking at overdrives twice or even three times the cost of the Cool Cat Transparent OD, make sure to give this one a try – you just might save some serious cash.
you want a great sounding OD at a fraction of the price
your fingers can’t handle the stacked knobs
MSRP $49 - Danelectro - danelectro.com
Hit Page 3 for the Cool Cat Vibe...
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Intensity at noon, Speed at 11:00, Mix at 11:00.
Cool Cat Vibe
It was obvious that Danelectro could do dirt, but I wondered if they could do modulation. I played around with some of the other entries in the Cool Cat series, but was left a little wanting with items like the Chorus and the Trem (both respectable as value picks, but nothing that would wow experienced players). Then I stumbled across the Cool Cat Vibe, which surprised me with a versatile range and a mess of tasty sounds. I should note before going any further for players looking for a Univibe sound – or the uniquely off-kilter Univibe impression done by the superb Danelectro Chicken Salad – that this probably isn’t going to fit the bill. The Cool Cat Vibe is more of a vibrato, with the manual calling it akin to “a prehistoric chorus that has emerged from a swamp.” Take that as you will. Featuring Mix, Speed and Intensity knobs across the top, the Cool Cat makes it simple to dial in a number of really smooth vibe sounds, from deep, organic swooshes to fast rotating speaker sounds. There were even some pseudo-chorus sounds to be found with the right settings. If you’re a true tweaker, or just like really overdone effects, there is also a trimpot located inside the unit which controls the overall intensity (although it should be said that in the stock position the Intensity knob has more than enough range) although this isn’t advertised by the company in the manual. Sonically, the Cool Cat Vibe sounds great, and could hang with vibe boxes twice the price. There’s a little bit of a high-end roll off, which helps keep everything smooth and fluid, along with a slight volume boost. The volume boost is perhaps one of the more controversial design decisions here, and it’ll either escape your perception or drive you absolutely nuts. If your rig if carefully calibrated from beginning to end, this pedal may be disqualified immediately by adding in saturation; likewise, players with hot pickups or a heavy hand will be able to make the Vibe breakup. That said, if you’re playing a grungy Hendrix cover, it only adds to the pedal’s aura. Regardless, a simple Volume control could have been a nice addition to enable players to control the level, and resulting tone, themselves. .
you’ve been looking for a solid, organic vibe on the cheap
you can’t deal with the slight signal boost
MSRP $69 - Danelectro- danelectro.com
The Final Mojo
In the end, the Cool Cat series from Danelectro is a solid collection of effects available for a fraction of the price of the boutique stuff. And while these mass produced pedals may not have all of the nuances or responsiveness of high-end effects, they certainly do one hell of a job. Add in the fact that they’ve been well updated with solid metal cases, sturdy footswitches and jacks and true bypass wiring, and you cannot go wrong. Even if you pick one up and don’t dig it, you can always give it away as a holiday gift. And isn’t that truly gearhead peace of mind?