This devilish distortion is dirty yet civilized.
Housed in a die-cast enclosure shaped like a four-horned skull, Thunderclap takes the notion of the stompbox as art to a remarkable level. What’s extraordinary is that Thunderclap sounds as monstrous as it looks. More awesome still is its versatility—this pedal can be more civilized, subdued, and downright musical than its ferocious visage suggests.
Ogre was founded by Sangkil Kim, a Korea-based musician, studio engineer, and entrepreneur who also owns Hankuk Precision, a metal components company. Having direct access to the Hankuk facilities allows Ogre to manufacture pedals in such unusual custom enclosures.
Thunderclap’s cosmetics cleverly marry form and function (though the latter occasionally comes at the expense of the former). The skull’s four horns double as controls (level, bass, treble, and gain). The tongue is the on/off control. Once activated, the creature’s eyes light up a brilliant blue. Input and output jacks and the 9-volt adaptor reside on the top-corner panel above the horns.
While Ogre’s aesthetics are a breath of fresh air (if that descriptor can be applied to a glowing skull of death), functionality suffers just a bit. First, if you look at the engaged pedal from directly above, the lights shine so brightly that it's hard to distinguish much else. If you can see the horns through the glow, it’s still hard to discern where they’re set, especially since there are no position markers—just horn points to guide you.
My other gripe is that the top-corner section of the skull where the jacks are located is tightly packed and leaves little clearance for a power-adapter plug. If your power supply has a right-angle plug, you won’t be able to fit it into the jack between the 1/4" cables without using a straight-plug converter for right-angle power connections—though Ogre does include one of these converters with the pedal.
The most obvious use of Thunderclap is as an over-the-top high-gain monster, so that’s where I started. Using a Gibson Les Paul Standard and a Fender Stratocaster—both played through a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV’s clean channel—I set Thunderclap’s gain all the way up and both EQ controls at noon. I half expected an out-of-control mess (something about a horned ogre shapes expectations in a certain way), but I got a wide-open sound with surprising clarity.
With so much gain roaring away, it took more than a simple flick of the guitar’s volume knob to clean things up. In fact, things stayed fairly dirty until I got all the way down to about 2 on my guitar’s volume control. At more conservative gain settings I got killer rhythm tones reminiscent of Van Halen’s “Unchained.” There are many controllable crunch colors for rhythm playing that also sustain impressively in solo sections.
No One-Trick Skull
Nothing about the Ogre’s looks suggests subtlety, but I was surprised by the richness of the pedal’s mid-gain sounds. With the gain control rolled back to 10 o’clock, the pedal’s character shifts from distortion to rich overdrive. It’s very dynamic with single-coil pickups, ranging from nearly clean to dirty depending on pick attack. With humbuckers, the overdrive is more pronounced. Turning the guitar’s volume knob to about 7 cleans things up noticeably, however, and you can move from clean to dirt via the volume knob as needed.
Thunderclap also works as a boost. There’s perceptible grit even with the gain fully lowered, so this might not be the best candidate for a pure clean boost. But it adds a nice verge-of-breakup quality that’s great for classic rock rhythm playing.
Thunderclap looks built to shock, but like a punk just kicked out of Oxford, it’s quite civilized under the horns and teeth. It’s a versatile pedal that provides boost, overdrive, and all-out distortion colors suitable for many genres. Are there other dirt boxes that cover the same sonic ground? Sure. But few look this badass. In that regard, Thunderclap slays the competition.