Hovercraft Ionostrofear Review
Hovercraft delivers sophistication and menace in this massive-sounding fuzz.
A couple years ago, I started to catch whispers about an amp company based out of Portland creating hot-rodded, vintage-inspired amps. The name, Hovercraft, was too cool to forget. But before long I started spotting Hovercraft Amps t-shirts at local stoner rock and metal shows—a sure sign that something was up among those notoriously gear-fixated communities. Given that, it wasn’t much surprise to hear that Hovercraft was now dabbling in fuzz. What is surprising, perhaps, is how versatile the new Hovercraft Ionostrofear Fuzz (v2.5) is. More than just another contender for the heaviest fuzz around—it’s both primed for sonic destruction and an agreeable partner in overdrive applications.
The Mean White & Green
The Ionostrofear has moved through a few permutations already. V1 editions were all custom and less than 50 were made. The V2s numbered 100 units and sold out in days. That brings us to the V2.5 reviewed here. With lime green paint and a strip of white vinyl glued beneath the footswitch, it looks snatched from a muscle car customizer’s parts bin.
The three knobs look like those found on a Kustom tuck ‘n’ roll amp, and there’s one for gain, one for tone, and one for volume—beautifully simple. Two metal “roll bars” protect the knobs from accidental “adjustments” on rambunctious stages. They also hint at their amp-designer pedigree and Hovercraft’s love of all things Orange. The Ionostrofear can be powered with either a 9V battery or a 9V DC adapter. So far, so familiar.
The Sound of Uranium
Given that the Ionostrofear outwardly screams “stoner rock,” I grabbed a DeArmond M-75T I keep in C# standard for my first session. With the gain at a minimum, unity volume is somewhere around 12 o’clock. And as you add gain it becomes apparent just how much headroom is available—things can get loud fast. At these lower gain settings it’s easy to hear the airy but biting essence of a vintage Marshall whether you’re using it with a clean Fender or a dirtier Brit-style amp. There’s also very little white noise, which makes it easy to enjoy the pedal’s capacity for the sweet crunch that you’d hear on a ’70s Mountain or Joe Walsh cut. You also hear excellent individual note clarity and impressive, singing sustain that’s rarely, if ever, spoiled by fizzy artifacts in the decay.
Single-coils benefit enormously from the Ionosrofear’s versatility—especially if you’re looking for extra mass. They also reveal how deep the Hovercraft can sound in the bass registers. Using a Fender Stratocaster and Orange OR50 (pushing four 12-inch Celestion V30s) and playing in a full band situation, I typically needed to bring the tone control up around the 2 o’clock range to get leads out through the mix. Chords can also sound extremely dense and a bit amorphous. The high end is definitely there. But you may have to use counter-intuitively high tone levels to get it.
With a Gibson Les Paul, I ventured deeper into high gain realms. If you’re a fan of fuzzy flat 5ths, full stacks, torn speakers, or bands with cannabis references in their name, the Ionostrofear is the pedal for you. The crazy “I’m nose-diving a jumbo jet into a volcano” tones that Matt Pike put in the intro of Dopesmoker? Turn the Ionostrofear’s gain past 3 o’clock and you’ll get sounds of equivalent magnitude. The output can rattle windows and the sustain sometimes seems to push on into the infinite. But with the tone knob set right (and again, you tend to need a fair bit of high end—especially with humbuckers) the Ionostrofear’s capacity for note-to-note detail remains intact.
At $149, the Ionostrofear is a slice of heavy fuzz heaven. That doesn’t mean it will be for everyone. It absolutely kills if you’re into anything heavy. But some players will miss the more ’60s style high-end response that the Ionostrofear traded for continental-scale mass. Given all that heft, though, it still delivers incredible note-to-note detail—a tough tightrope to walk. It’s also worth noting that it doesn’t need to be supercharged to sound great either. It would be right at home with a little slide guitar and a hint of gain for dirty blues. And the impressive headroom means that lower gain overdrive sounds have an airy, even sophisticated harmonic presence. It’s also remarkably adaptable—regardless of pickups, amplifiers, or even instruments (it sounded amazing, massive, and growling with an Epiphone EB-3 bass.) No word yet on how limited this run of Ionostrofears will be, but if you’re into heavy jams and still like a little sonic nuance and control, you’d be wise to sweep one of these mean green machines up before they disappear again!
Watch the Review Demo: