Handwired overdrive from Japan

Download Example 1
Over the last few years, HAO effects have been the subject of a rising buzz. While they’ve been a fixture on Japan’s stompbox scene in recent years, HAO’s alliance with Godlyke Distributing has also raised awareness of their pedals considerably in the US. HAO’s Premium Workshop series of handwired designs, which includes the OD-16, are solid, simple to use, and tough as a tank. But they’re also very refined tone-modifying tools, and the OD-16 is designed for detail-minded guitarists who obsess about overhead, articulation, and showing off the tonal nuances of the wood in their expensive guitars.

Toggle Your Tone
The control layout of the OD-16 will be familiar enough to any overdrive user—three knobs for manipulating Gain, Tone, and Level, plus a Tone On/Direct toggle switch that lets you bypass the tone control, which can clean up an overdriven signal. The OD-16 also features a voltage-doubling circuit to give you better dynamics, headroom, and responsiveness by converting the incoming supply of 9V DC to 16V DC.

Overdrive and Detail
My first experience with the OD-16 involved sitting in at the neighborhood blues jam. I plugged my Strat into a popular meat-and-potatoes 2-channel amp. Let’s just say the OD-16 saved me from total tonal humiliation. Though a better amp would have been preferable, the budget setup was very illustrative of how this pedal can massage tone. The OD-16 is gritty, thick, and expensive sounding. And it’s loud, which helped me cut through the inevitably muddy mix. When I bypassed the Tone circuit with a flip of the toggle switch, my signal became even louder and more cutting.

Once back in a more clinical environment, I tested the OD-16 using an assortment of amps, including sweet-voiced blackface Fenders. Tonally, the OD-16 has a nastier character than most overdrive pedals, adding grit, volume, and sustain to slightly dirty amps, and a biting warmth to clean amps. The Tone control is voiced on the warm side, so it never becomes piercing even when it’s maxed out. Once I found the pedal’s sweet spot, I was pleased to hear how much full-spectrum color it offered, and how it enabled me to summon fat lows, clear midrange presence, and deep woman tones. When I toggled over to the Direct position, I had to rely on my guitar and amp for EQ tweaks, but squeezed a ton of silky smooth sustain out of the OD-16.

Even with the Gain cranked, the OD-16 is very responsive to the guitar’s volume control and it cleans up nicely while retaining its kick. It’s the perfect overdrive for players who constantly tweak their guitar’s volume control to yield varying degrees of dirt and texture. And no matter where you set your guitar’s volume, the OD-16 retains remarkable harmonic clarity and definition.

The Verdict
The OD-16 is a great pedal for players who regard earthy tonal integrity as paramount. Though the unit can get pretty hairy with the Gain cranked, players seeking brutal compressed distortion should probably look elsewhere. Instead, the OD-16 specializes in dirty sweetness, organic grit, and abundant overtones. For guitarists seeking to enhance picking nuance and dynamics, summon the overtone content of soulful bends, and highlight the harmonic detail of finessed chording, this pedal is worth the cost.

Buy if...
you seek clarity and detail to go with overdriven tone.
Skip if...
you play Swedish death metal.

Street $349 - Godlyke Distributing - godlyke.com

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