Jackson Audio Broken Arrow Review
The most versatile boost/overdrive combo ever? Probably.
Recorded using a Schroeder Chopper TL into a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe IV miked with a Royer R-121 feeding an Apogee Duet going into Studio One with no EQ-ing, compression, or effects.
Clip 1: Amber (Marshall-style) overdrive, volume at noon, gain at 10 o’clock, bass at 10 o’clock, mids at 1 o’clock, treble at 2 o’clock
Clip 2: Blue (full range) boost, knob at 1 o’clock
Clip 3: Blue (symmetrical clipping) overdrive and green (mid) boost. Volume at 9 o’clock, gain at noon, bass at 10 o’clock, mids at 1 o’clock, treble at 2 o’clock
Incredible tones. Supreme build quality. Imaginative design and layout.
No MIDI. Unable to separate boost and overdrive outputs.
Jackson Audio Broken Arrow
Ease of Use:
Think back to the first time you plugged into a Tube Screamer. I still remember how I felt when I stepped on it and discovered the beauty of midrange. Guitars were designed to exploit that specific frequency range, and Jackson Audio’s new Broken Arrow takes the basic elements of the TS808 circuit and proves that simplicity and versatility can exist together—as long as inventive design is in the mix.
The Broken Arrow is the company’s third pedal and follows many of the same aesthetic qualities found in their previous offerings, the Bloom and Prism. A thread that connects all three of the stomps is designer Brad Jackson’s focus on real-world features that are designed to make the pedal easier to use and more fun to play. He’s not out to pack in extraneous options without reason, and, from what I can tell, Jackson found some really useful nuggets in this design. There are two sides to the Broken Arrow. On the left you have an 808-style overdrive powered by a TL072 op amp, and on the right there is a MOSFET-based boost. Above the footswitches sit six knobs that allow you to control an active 3-band EQ, individual volume and gain levels, and a single boost knob.
Inside the Broken Arrow there are four different boost options available. Moving between them is quite simple. Just hold down the footswitch until the light starts blinking and then click through to your preferred option, and hit the switch again to engage. Each setting offers a unique EQ profile that helps to shape your sound and, in some cases, to better fit into the mix. For example, the yellow setting is quite bright and thin. It’s not one that I would use often alone, but, if you have dark pickups and can match it with a thicker overdrive, the results are quite useful.
The green setting is pure mid-boost. It brings out all the frequencies that guitars are designed to exploit. With my Schroeder T-style and Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, the green setting was gritty and clear with loads of touch response. Plus, it paired quite well with the green overdrive setting (more on that in a bit). Jackson designed the aqua—or tailored—boost to complement the lower frequencies in order to fit well with other instruments. The final mode is blue and is a full-range boost that brings to mind the cleaner Dumble-style tones of John Mayer. It’s great how musical and naturally compressed this mode is. The warmth and richness rivaled any one-knob wonder I’ve played.
Since the Broken Arrow was designed with the TS808 in mind, it would be natural to think that there’s a JRC4558 op amp under the hood. However, Jackson eschewed tradition and went with a TL072. The preset switching works exactly the same as the boost side.
Here’s the “d’oh, why didn’t I think of that” part of the review. When you hit both switches simultaneously, you trigger what Jackson describes as “gain cycling.” Imagine you need different levels of gain as you move from a verse to a chorus and then to a solo. With the Broken Arrow you set the gain knob for the maximum amount of gain you will need, and, as you hit both switches, it will cycle through in 25-percent increments. Pretty smart.
Each of the four overdrive modes gives you tones that feel familiar without sounding dull and flat. Naturally, the green mode is pure Screamer-style dirt. I want to give a special shout-out to the Baxandall-style EQ. Each frequency can be cut or boosted by 12 dB, which is plenty of control no matter the guitar/amp setup you have. I mention this because the overall EQ shape of the Broken Arrow is rather flat. With an EQ this powerful, there’s no need for that typical Screamer mid-hump. Unless you want it.
The magenta and blue modes cover asymmetric and symmetrical clipping, respectively. These tones are full, biting, and have some welcome compression. In the blue mode, the highs and lows are dealt with respectfully and the silicon transistors create more punch and clarity. Shades of the famed Boss DS-1 came to mind in the magenta mode. We’re using three silicon transistors here and the sound is a bit rough and chunky. I was riffin’ on AC/DC pretty quickly once I backed the gain off a bit.
Amber is the sound of pure British crunch and gave me the most headroom and compression. It’s a Marshall-style setting that cleaned up just like a vintage JTM45. Even with single-coils, the harmonic richness was full and, at times, deafening. Heads up: The Broken Arrow is loud and has a crushing amount of volume. Rarely did I turn the volume past 1 o’clock.
For as many overdrive/boost combinations that are available, it’s a testament to Jackson’s design ethos that they have come up with such an elegant way to keep them all handy without diving into menus and obtuse programming methods. I could easily mimic a cranked plexi and take it over the top with a mid-boost or dial up a thick overdrive sound and balance that with a nuanced boost for leads. There are 16 possible combinations and I couldn’t find a clunker in the bunch.
I really can’t emphasize enough how many different, musical tones you can get out of the Broken Arrow. Combine that with how well-thought-out the design is, and the Broken Arrow is an absolute winner. Each mode of the boost and overdrive isn’t simply a “Hey, look what we can do!” setting, but a supremely musical sound that is sure to inspire.