MXR refines an unsung classic and creates a potent tone-sculpting tool.
Despite being a huge seller, MXR’s Micro Amp booster is an under-appreciated little pedal. It’s easy to see how this underrated classic might go overlooked: With a single knob and stark black-on-white graphics, it’s practically the stompbox equivalent of a government-issue Toyota Corolla. But like Toyota’s venerable econobox-that-could, the Micro Amp is a reliable, solid, predictable, and dirt-cheap machine. And it remains the perfect clean boost pedal for certain less-is-more players.
Though some guitarists consider the op-amp-driven Micro Amp indispensible (Jack White for one, rarely uses a pedal board without one), nitpickers find it trebly, noisy, and a little too streamlined. For those doubters and skeptics, the MXR Custom Shop’s new Micro Amp+ may be a revelation. With +26 dB of boost, it’s every bit as potent as the original. It’s quiet. And with the addition of two powerful cut/boost bass and treble controls, it’s exponentially more adaptable to changing backlines and guitars.
Still Stupidly Simple
To its credit, the MXR Custom Shop didn’t do anything fancy to dress up or differentiate the Micro Amp+ from its predecessor. The paint is a subtly pearlescent vanilla rather then the original’s gloss milk white. The interior is appropriately minimalist too—just a 9-volt battery clip and a printed circuit board that’s flipped to keep its components out of harm’s way. The real news is the new bass and treble controls, and how they transform an already great-sounding booster.
Tone Scrubbing with Mr. Clean
Transparency is an overused (and generally inaccurate) way to describe most overdrives and boosts. Even the cleanest boost adds shading and a little dirt to your output as it drives your preamp. But if transparency is your aim, you’ll find that the Micro Amp+ gets you close to your goal. At times it seems almost polite about preserving an amplifier’s voice.
Setting your amp’s volume in the lower third of its range and dialing all three Micro Amp+ controls to noon (at these settings the treble and bass controls are flat) is like pushing up a fader on a mixing desk: Your guitar/amp sound is unmistakable, but with more body, more dimension, and that trace of edge and compression you get when you push the level just into the red. This is the sound many folks seek in a clean boost. If you keep your amplifier’s volume low, it’s remarkable how little color and grit are added. These levels are ideal for enlivening thin output from your E and B string (particularly from single-coils) without overdriving the third and fourth strings.
The real beauty of the Micro Amp+, however, lies in how far you can move beyond this cool but simple functionality via the tone controls. Because the bass and treble knobs are boost/cut, you can profoundly expand the EQ range of your amp, cleaning things up or adding dirt in specific ways. You might, for example, excite a blackface Deluxe in the 2 kHz range by turning up the Micro Amp’s treble and reducing the bass. A bit more gain can create a Vox-like presence or Faces-style attitude. Conversely, you can dial out a Marshall’s spiky high-mid content and still provide extra kick for a lead.
While you can’t summon as much distortion from the Micro Amp+ as from your average overdrive, the gain control generates gritty and natural-sounding amp overdrive tones ranging from deep and rich to toppy and nearly scalding, depending on EQ settings. If want higher gain tones from a mostly clean amp, you might need a distortion or OD to filthy up the MXR’s output. But with a Marshall or Orange that already teeters on the edge of distortion, the Micro Amp+ may be all you need. One thing is certain: The MXR won’t add a lot of unwanted color to your Marshall’s basic overdrive voice.
The Micro Amp is equally effective for shaping the interaction between your amp and varying guitars. The woofy output from the humbucker on a Telecaster Deluxe, for instance, becomes much more defined with a boost from the Micro Amp’s treble control. Or you might lower the treble to tame highs from the same guitar’s bright single-coil bridge pickup. Few pedals feel like such a seamless extension of your guitar’s tone controls.
While the Micro Amp+ is versatile enough to be the only gain pedal for some rigs, it’s very much at home on either side of a fuzz. On the back end of a thin fuzz (or an older fuzz that dips below unity gain) it can add muscle and low end. Conversely, it lends top-end definition to a wooly brute like a Sovtek Big Muff—no small asset if you want to generate discernible power chords, or get your lead out over a thousand watts of rumbling bass aggression.
The Micro Amp+ has major studio and backline potential. If you’re on the road dealing with different amps each night, the Micro Amp+ makes it easy to adapt, dialing back the high-mid spike from a Marshall at one gig and coaxing a Vox-like bite from a Fender the next. It can give humbuckers extra high-mid zing, or tame the sting of a Stratocaster single-coil, all while giving you more room in a band mix. The Micro Amp+ won’t generate as much distortion as most overdrives, but its wide range can make you a hero in a session or onstage when everything sounds like mud.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
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This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
Adding to the company’s line of premium-quality effects pedals, Missing Link Audio has unleashed the new AC/Overdrive pedal. This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal – the only Angus & Malcom all-in-one stompbox on the market – brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
- Three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone
- Die-cast aluminum cases for gig-worthy durability
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True bypass on/off switch
- 9-volt DC input
- Made in the USA
MLA Pedals AC/OD - Music & Demo by A. Barrero
Energy is in everything. Something came over me while playing historical instruments in the Martin Guitar Museum.
When I’m filming gear demo videos, I rarely know what I’m going to play. I just pick up whatever instrument I’m handed and try to feel where it wants to go. Sometimes I get no direction, but sometimes, gear is truly inspiring—like music or emotion falls right out. I find this true particularly with old guitars. You might feel some vibe attached to the instrument that affects what and how you play. I realize this sounds like a hippie/pseudo-spiritual platitude, but we’re living in amazing times. The Nobel Prize was just awarded to a trio of quantum physicists for their experiments with quantum entanglement, what Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Mainstream science now sounds like magic, so let’s suspend our disbelief for a minute and consider that there’s more to our world than what’s on the surface.
I recently spent a day filming a factory tour of Martin Guitars in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. After we wrapped, we discovered that Martin has this amazing museum that showcases more than 170 historic instruments. We decided to meet at the museum at 7:45 a.m. the next morning to film a few choice pieces before catching our flight in not-too-near Newark, New Jersey, that afternoon.
These were not ideal conditions for a performance. Neither my brain nor my fingers work well before 10 a.m., plus I hadn’t slept well the night before. Even so, we loaded into the museum, met the curators, set up the shoot, and began rolling by 8 a.m.
The first guitar was an 1834 gut string, perhaps the oldest Martin in existence. It was beautiful but had some tuning issues and did not project very well, so playing it felt more like work than music.
Next was a prewar D-45 worth over $500k. The strings were ancient with that rusty feel, like you’ll need a tetanus shot after playing it. I’m sure it sounded great, but I was tired and thinking more about making our flight than playing guitar. Wonderful instrument but uninspired performance on my end.
Then, I played a 1953 D-18 coined “Grandpa” by Kurt Cobain. I picked up the deeply sacred D-18, and my hands went to an A minor. This sounds like hype, but honestly, I closed my eyes and connected with a deep, beautiful sadness. The feeling was palpable as soon as you picked it up. This guitar pretty much played itself, leading me to a sad version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I don’t know if it was any good, but I know I felt something deeply. That’s why I started playing guitar in the first place. I don’t have to play well to feel moved.
I later talked to the museum director, who told me the D-18 was given to Cobain by his 1991 girlfriend Mary Lou Lord. Cobain played it on tour before and after Nirvana’s Nevermind. It was returned to her after Cobain married. Shortly after that, Mary Lou loaned the guitar to Elliott Smith, who played it until his death.
When I’m sad, I make myself play guitar to feel better, because it usually works. This 70-year-old guitar spent a lot of time literally pressed up against the hearts and chests of two artists who were so tormented by their emotions that they ended their lives. That’s heavy. You can’t explain those feelings that make the hair stand up on your arm, or when you feel like crying for no reason … but hitting that A minor made me feel it.
We had to split for the airport, so Chris Kies and Perry Bean started packing up. As they did, I saw this cute little 1880 Martin 000 that belonged to Joan Baez. In the photo next to it, Joan looks like my mom in the ’60s. I asked the curator if I could play it, and Chris grabbed his phone to do a quick Insta video. I swear there was a happy vibe coming off this tiny guitar. It felt like watching my mom dance—like a warm hug I needed after Cobain’s D-18.
In Chinese culture, there is a superstition that antiques may hold evil spirits, and chi (energy) transfer can bring this negativity into your home. Feng shui is all about objects carrying good or bad chi. Here’s how I see it: All matter is made of atoms. Atoms contain energy. Ergo, everything contains energy, or, more aptly, everything is energy. Ever walk into a room and feel powerful emotion: joy, sadness, fear, tranquility? That’s energy. We all have felt energy coming from people, places, and things. But that’s what I love about old guitars: Their atoms spent the first few hundred years as a tree in the forest connected to nature. Then, they’re turned into an instrument that makes people happy or consoles them when they are sad. That’s the kind of chi I want around me.
The Saddest Martin Ever? A 1953 D-18 Owned by Kurt Cobain & Elliott Smith
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.