A beautiful handmade germanium overdrive with more tonal range than its 1960s predecessors.
It’s no secret that a vast majority of overdrives are Tube Screamer derivatives. But one cool aspect of the boutique pedal boom is the way builders are reviving earlier circuits, often using transistors in lieu of the integrated chips deployed is Screamer-family drives.
Hudson Electronics’ Broadcast is a stellar example of this retro trend. Hudson says Broadcast was inspired by the mic preamps in an old RCA broadcast console. But even though the pedal houses two transistors, (the second is silicon), it sounds and feels a lot like the single-transistor Dallas Rangemaster and its spinoffs.
And that’s a fine thing. Many modern players shun the Rangemaster because it was billed as a treble booster. (It was originally designed to make ’60s British amps sound more like Fenders, which were prohibitively expensive in the UK at the time—or so the story goes.) But the concept, as realized here by Hudson, is far more than a “bright” pedal, though it performs that task superbly. This ultra-versatile stompbox offers many colors of crunch.
Made by Hand
A glance inside Broadcast’s standard BB-sized enclosure reveals an immaculately handmade affair, with (mostly) modern components tidily arranged and fastidiously soldered on perf board—there’s no PCB. Pots and switches are mounted to the chassis, and the board is well secured. Wire runs are neat and efficient. This is quality craftsmanship, ready for abuse. (There’s no battery option, though—you must use an adapter. I tested Broadcast with a standard 9V adapter, but according to Hudson, it can run at up to 24V, with greater headroom at higher voltages.)
The sole retro parts are the transistors. Our test unit featured a coveted NOS Mullard OC71, as did an initial run of Broadcast pedals, now sold out. According to Hudson, future units will use a different NOS germanium transistor. (And according to me, that’s no biggie. Extensive testing has convinced me that any two properly functioning germanium transistors of equal gain sound nearly identical in circuits like these, an opinion shared by many builders. Yes, the tolerances of individual parts vary greatly. But with carefully selected transistors, the brand and part number don’t matter much.)
That Darn Germanium
In any case, this transistor sounds killer, exemplifying everything cool about germanium. The dynamic response is phenomenal. You can dial in the most corpulent crunch sound, and then clean it up almost completely by backing off the guitar’s volume—something impossible on a Screamer-style device. Tones are thick and harmonically satisfying, with a thrilling high-end sparkle that’s also hard to summon from IC-based overdrives.
There are downsides, though: Germanium can get noisy. That’s cool if you approach the effect with a gung-ho rock attitude, but if you’re obsessed about your rig’s noise floor, germ transistors might not be for you. Also, some say that the tone of germanium varies noticeably according to the air temperature, though I’ve never observed this. (But I live in San Francisco, where the temperature, like the fog, is relatively constant. It might be more of an issue during seasonal migrations between Siberia and the Gobi Desert.)
Control Your Crunch
Despite its simple controls, Broadcast is exceedingly versatile. Here, the low-cut control enables everything from a Rangemaster’s lacerating edge to stout, Sabbath-style sludge. This filter resides upstream from the distorting transistor, so it’s also a gain control of sorts—bright treble sounds are cleaner and better defined, while bass-heavy ones yield thicker distortion. That means the low-cut knob interacts with the dedicated gain-trim control. Between the two pots, you can conjure far more timbres that the simple layout might suggest.
The high-gain/low-gain toggle does exactly what you’d think. Low-gain mode excels at the crisp, defined guitar tones of British rock from, say, 1966 through 1971. It’s also an effective and musical-sounding not-quite-clean boost. (Think of it as a deep-fried quasi-clean tone that still works nicely for many clean parts.) Meanwhile, high-gain mode oozes thick, full- frequency distortion. A modern metal sound, it ain’t—there’s nothing djun djun djun about it. It’s fat, loose, and fuzz-like. Yum.
There’s also a master volume control, but it’s best used sparingly. One thing many players love about Screamer-type overdrives is the way they can produce satisfying overdrive even when the amp (or the signal feeding it) isn’t very loud. But with germanium, it’s best to clobber your amp with ample signal. If you dial in a high-gain pedal setting but set the master low, expect to be disappointed by the buzzy, underwhelming results. (This isn’t Broadcast’s fault—it’s how all germanium overdrives behave.) But with an amp running warm-to-hot and a nice strong signal from Broadcast, the results are glorious. Tones have a violent, crackling energy hard to duplicate with latter-day dirt pedals.
If you love British rock guitar tones from before the mid-’70s, or if you’re the sort of player who likes to shape sounds via your guitar’s volume and tone knobs, you must have a germanium overdrive—and the beautifully made Broadcast is one of the best. It equals the violent intensity of any primitive overdrive, but with more tonal range. Its dynamic response is superb. Priced at $285, Broadcast isn’t the cheapest way to capture some of these colors. But it’s a great-sounding, great-looking pedal likely to withstand years of heavy use.