Silktone Micronaut Review
Drives a cab, drives an amp, sounds awesome!
A beautifully handwired mini amp that injects juicy tube tones into an amp or cabinet with a surprisingly broad range of uses. High quality.
Cleaner mode I setting can feel flat without an overdrive pedal.
Already acclaimed for tube combo amps and their eponymous fuzz pedal, Sacramento-based Silktone recently released the clever Micronaut, a cuddly micro-amp with many more performance possibilities and range than its size or simplicity suggests. Despite the blocky dimensions and funky radio-age looks, the 9" x 7.5" x 6", 6 1/2-pound box houses a genuine tube amp, with tubes in both preamp and output slots. A single 12AX7 drives the former, while a single EL84 in the latter delivers approximately 4 watts of power. Coolest of all, perhaps, is you can use the Micronaut as an amp head, as a DI to your DAW or PA, or as a preamp to drive an amplifier.
The Silktone is an interesting design. Unlike the line outs on most amps, the DI on the Micronaut is connected to a fully independent winding on the output transformer which isolates it from the rest of the signal path. This elegant solution expands the versatility of the Micronaut. But its controls couldn’t be much simpler. There’s a gain knob, a smaller tone knob, and a two-position voice switch. Around back, there’s a single 8-ohm speaker output, plus another 1/4" line-out jack with line-level control.
The standard Micronaut cabinet is made from black-lacquered wood, but there’s a solid-walnut option available for an extra $200. The chassis is home to handwound, paper-layer power and output transformers custom-made by Soursound. The circuit is entirely handwired, with TAD repro mustard caps (which replicate ’60s-spec Mullard units), MOD electrolytic caps, and other quality parts, on a sturdy turret board.
I subjected the Micronaut to tones as varied as those from a 1959 Les Paul Reissue and a pre-CBS Fender Jaguar, and I tried it out with a 1x12" extension cab when configured as a standard amp head. In every combination, the Micronaut felt dynamic and offered a wide range of tones.
In mode I, my tone remained extremely clean right up until the last 20 percent of the gain knob’s range. And even with the Les Paul in front, the Silktone produced a crisp, balanced voice on the Fender-y side. The tone knob is effective in this mode. The taper is wide and feels like it genuinely reshapes the tone in cool ways, rather than just blunting it—though, in general, I preferred to keep it pretty bright.
Mode II still adds a major gain push to an amplifier’s front end that, when set just right, evokes Marshall-plexi voices.
While the clean settings were nice, they could feel a touch flat at times. Overdrive pedals kicked the “I” voice into much livelier zones. A Friedman Small Box, Victory Duchess, and Origin M-EQ pedal all did the trick nicely. The same rig—connected to Pro Tools via the Micronaut’s DI-out and a Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo—made the Silktone a tasty tracking tool, and I achieved tones with more breadth, air, and touch sensitivity than any middleweight modeling solution I’ve used.
Things get exponentially juicier in mode II, which eliminates global feedback for more gain, more girth, and more harmonic complexity. At half volume and with tone dialed in to taste, this setting elicits great edge-of-breakup tones with both the Les Paul and the Jaguar, and kicks out delectable, raw classic- and garage-rock tones. With the volume maxed, you’re ushered to Fender-tweed-at-full-blast-freak-out heaven. The output is fuzzy, gutsy, and, at times, a beautiful mess, but remains controllable, surprisingly articulate, and very playable.
Used as a pedal preamp in front of a 1x12" 5E3-style combo, the Silktone’s max-gain, mode II setting produced even more dramatic, and far freakier, results. These extreme tones won’t be for everyone, but they can be amazing. Dialed back a little, mode II still adds a major gain push to an amplifier’s front end that, when set just right, evokes Marshall-plexi voices. Back to mode I, the Micronaut enhanced the 5E3 clone’s output with extra harmonic sparkle, and without sacrificing touch sensitivity.
Well-built and simple to use, the Micronaut offers a surprising range of functionality and voices to suit many playing and recording situations. You can keep it simple with the Micronaut. But open-minded players will find many interesting sounds to use, whether they use it as a pedal platform, at the front end of a DAW, or in front of an amp as a gain stage.
Looking back on their latest releases, the two bluegrass phenoms and friends sit down with one another to talk musical heritage, stage fright, gear, and more.
In any music scene, it’s natural that talented contemporaries will find each other and form fast, harmonious fraternity. It’s no surprise, then, that Nashville-based bluegrass virtuosos Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle became close friends and collaborators as early as 2017—when they were both just 24—and, as is now somewhat common knowledge, were one-time roommates. Tuttle was first featured on Strings’ full-length release, Turmoil & Tinfoil, and a few years later, Strings guested on Tuttle’s Grammy-winning 2022 album, Crooked Tree, on the track “Dooley’s Farm,” while performing together often in the interim.
The pair have a lot in common, and we thought it would be a great idea to put them together to interview one another. “Billy and I, we both grew up playing with our dads,” Tuttle shares at the very beginning of the conversation. Tuttle made her first professional appearance as a recording artist at 13, when she and her father, Jack Tuttle, released The Old Apple Tree. Since her 2019 solo debut, When You’re Ready, Tuttle has evolved through both warm and peppery country tones and her original, adventurous approach to bluegrass, circling back to the genre’s traditional homey twang on Crooked Tree. A new album, City of Gold, is due July 21—and, inspired by her constant touring over the last few years, will offer 13 new tracks that capture the electric energy of the band's live shows.
More recently, Strings felt a sudden sense of urgency to record with his father, Terry Barber, and in November 2022, he put out Me/And/Dad, on which the two play 14 classic bluegrass tunes. As Tuttle comments with fondness below, Strings has a distinctive Doc Watson-esque attack, something that gets flavored by a death metal edge—heard in the every-so-often spectral chord and touch of grimness—thanks to his background in that scene. He recorded his latest single, “California Sober,” with Willie Nelson, and can be heard in duet with Tommy Emmanuel on the Australian guitarist’s new single, “Doc’s Guitar/Black Mountain Rag.”
Dooley's Farm (feat. Billy Strings)
While Strings grew up in Michigan and Tuttle the San Francisco Bay Area, much of their upbringing happened in parallel. Both musicians experienced turning-point moments in their teenage years, where they discovered that not only did their peers accept them for their bluegrass aptitude but celebrated them. For Strings, it happened when he excited his “hipster” friends with a performance of “Black Mountain Rag” at a house party, and for Tuttle, around the time Mumford & Sons was gaining popularity, her classmates discovered her banjo talents—and she became the “banjo girl.”
“Bluegrass is the music that can make me laugh or cry, that I really feel in my soul, and so my electric guitar started collecting dust.”—Billy Strings
Now deep into their discographies, the 30-year-old phenoms took a pause before (and amidst) tour dates to reconnect and discuss the many experiences they’ve shared in modern Americana music. The following conversation offers a view into that world, as well as unique insights into why the two get along so well as both musicians and people.
Molly Tuttle: Billy, you made that awesome new record with your dad. When you were growing up playing music with your dad, did you ever feel like there was a disconnect between the bluegrass side of what you did and other music you played with your peers, or listened to with your peers?
Billy Strings: Yeah, I remember it was probably around the time I was in middle school—I was a skateboarder, and I was playing video games and just hangin’ out with friends. I was getting too cool to be hanging out with my dad’s old friends playing bluegrass. I was like, “Man, I want to play music with people with common interests, not just sitting here talking about Gunsmoke or something.”
But I joined metal bands and got that out of my system, and eventually, I came back around full circle and just had this realization that bluegrass is what I cut my teeth on and what I was spoon-fed as a boy, and it’s really where my heart truly is. Bluegrass is the music that can make me laugh or cry, that I really feel in my soul, and so my electric guitar started collecting dust.
Tuttle: I really resonate with that, because I’ve gone through so many phases of trying to figure out who I am musically, and it took me longer to accept bluegrass as part of who I am. And it really is what makes me, me. But how do I tell my own story through bluegrass? ’Cause there are those two ends of the spectrum. I feel like I’ve gone the other way and been like, “Well, I’m not just a bluegrass musician, I play all this other stuff too.” And then I’ve also felt like, I want to play bluegrass and make it authentic to the genre. It kind of came down to songwriting, to me—like, how do I tell my story through this music and show how it came to be such a big part of my life?
The two bluegrass virtuosos both grew up learning how to play from their fathers, one in California (Tuttle), the other in Michigan (Strings).
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
Strings: What are some of your earliest memories of playing with your dad? Do you have any big moments as a child that you were like, “This is what I’m doing—I’m a guitar player”?
Tuttle: I remember as a kid, I played a lot with my dad and we would play around the area where I grew up, in the Bay Area—play different local shows. One big moment for me, when I was like 12 or 13, was getting to go to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco and seeing Earl Scruggs, Hazel Dickens…. Me and my dad somehow finagled backstage passes and got to go to this afterparty, and Hazel was there. It was just so cool. Gillian Welch was there, and Dave Rawlings. He was like, my guitar hero. I remember going into the greenroom to put my stuff down and seeing him just sitting there with a guitar, and that blew my mind. Just seeing people like that up close was like, “Whoa, I could actually do this, and this world feels like where I belong. I could see myself doing this for a long time.” I realized I just wanted to play music as much as possible.
What was the Michigan music scene like for you growing up? Were there festivals or anything that was really important to you?
Strings: Well, I didn’t go to many festivals. At least, when I was young and growing up and first learning how to play, it was more just like me and my dad, my uncle Brad Lasko, and a couple buddies sittin’ around picking by the creek. But all these years later…. I watch other people on stage and I’m like, “How the fuck do they do that? How do they get up there and just play and sing?” I do that too, but I don’t think I do it like other people do. I was at this festival in Texas [South by Southwest], and I was nervous watching other performers! I was nervous for them, like, “Oh my gosh, she’s just up there singing and laying her heart out there! That is terrifying!”
Billy Strings' Gear
On String’s latest single, “California Sober,” he plays with the inimitable Willie Nelson.
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
Guitars & Banjo
- 2017 Preston Thompson DBA Brazilian Rosewood Dreadnought, “Frankenstein”
- 2019 Preston Thompson DBA Brazilian Rosewood Dreadnought, “The Bride”
- 1944 Martin D-28
- Rickard Open-Back Banjo
- Grace Design BiX Preamp
- Strymon Lex Rotary
- Electro-Harmonix Micro Pog
- Electro-Harmonix Freeze
- Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork
- Electro-Harmonix Intelligent Harmony Machine
- MXR Bass Envelope Filter
- Red Panda Raster
- Source Audio C4 Synth
- Source Audio Nemesis Delay
- Source Audio EQ2
- Boss DC-2W Waza Craft Dimension C
- Boss DD-8Boss SY-1
- NativeAudio Pretty Bird Woman
- Chase Bliss Wombtone MKII
- Chase Bliss Mood
- Chase Bliss CXM 1978
- DigiTech Polara
- Peterson StroboStomp HD Pedal Tuner
- Ernie Ball 40th Anniversary Volume Pedal
- Mission Engineering Expression Pedals
Strings & Picks
- D'Addario Medium, XS Coated Phosphor Bronze (.013–.056)
- Blue Chip TP48 Speed Bevel Right Hand
Strings: It’s definitely a weird thing. I still just do not understand how we can get up on stage and do whatever it is that we do.
Tuttle: Do you get any sort of stage fright ever? For me it comes and goes. If you think about it too much.… Sometimes I’m like, what if I don’t remember a single word to any of my songs? [Laughs.]
Strings: I just am always in a state of anxiety because of my career [laughs]. There’s all this pressure. But I’m usually fine once I get out there. It’s leading up to it. Even right now. I’ve been home for two or three weeks, and I’m leaving the day after tomorrow to go back on tour, and I’m scared that I don’t remember how to do it! I don’t know if I remember how to make a set list. I don’t know if I remember if I can still perform a show. But once you get back out there, you just throw yourself into the ring and it’s kind of like them guys that ride them bulls or something. You just kind of strap on, like, “Fuck it, here we go—8 seconds, hold on!”
Tuttle: [Laughs.] I feel like it’s this third thing, like your subconscious takes over and then you remember how to do it. But if you start thinking about it in advance…. We took some time off over the winter break and I had the same feeling, like, “Whoa, how did I do that before?” It really is kind of an extreme thing that we do: traveling all over the place, playing in front of a lot of people.
Strings: But shit, what the hell else are we going to do? Heavy lifting?
PG: Molly, I know Crooked Tree came out about a year ago now. For your earlier recordings, you said that you were trying to experiment musically, whereas this one was more traditional. Is that right?
Tuttle: Yeah, I kind of went back to the bluegrass sound that I grew up with. My first full record, When You’re Ready, I’d just gotten to Nashville. I was writing a bunch of songs where I didn’t know what category they fit into genre-wise. I had so much fun making that record; I really got to experiment with a different style. But then I think something happened in the pandemic lockdown. I got so nostalgic for that music I grew up with, and I missed my family; I missed the community aspect of bluegrass. I love this kind of music; it is folk music, in a way, where it gets passed down from generation to generation. It’s such an organic style of music that brings people together.
So, I started writing bluegrass songs for fun. I was like, “What I feel like I hear bluegrass missing these days, when I turn on the radio, is songs that sound original.” So, I wanted to write songs that could be sung in a bluegrass band, but also told my point-of-view and my story. Once I started, it was hard to stop, and I realized, “I have a full album of songs now, I might as well go into the studio this summer and try to knock out a record.”
Molly Tuttle's Gear
Tuttle has been performing professionally since the age of 13 but didn’t blow her bluegrass cover in school until her later teens.
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
- Prewar Guitar Company Brazilian Rosewood Dreadnought
- Grace Design FELiX
- Audio Sprockets ToneDexter Acoustic Instrument Preamp
Strings & Picks
- D’Addario Medium Coated Phosphor Bronze
- Dunlop JD Jazztone 207
Strings: And you won a Grammy for it. And I was so happy, because I was just like, she deserves this so much. Obviously, this always gets brought up, but we used to live in the same house—we used to be roommates. And I would always hear Molly practicing and shit, and I’d be like, “Fuck, man, I suck!” [Laughs.]
Tuttle: [Laughs.] I get that feeling when I hear you play, because I feel like we have such different styles. I’m like, “I could never do what Billy is doing.” The way you attack the guitar—I hear Doc Watson, but then there’s also your metal influence as well. I’m just in awe of your playing.
Strings: I’m just fakin’ it. I’m just wingin’ it the whole time, constantly. But are you still usin’ the same pick? Those little black things? What are those?
“Sometimes it may not look like I’m tensing up from someone watching me playing, but inside, I am kind of tense. But I think it is almost meditative, where you have to let go and let yourself play.”—Molly Tuttle
Tuttle: Dunlop Jazztone picks. I feel like I should switch. They’re not fancy picks, and sometimes I’ll try out other picks and people will be like, “That sounds really good.” [Laughs.] I’m just so used to them; I’ve used the same picks since I was 10 years old. They’re pretty heavy picks.
Strings: Well, that’s your sound, where you’re comfortable. I’m finding that that’s what it’s all about, for me anyways, is trying to make it comfortable to play. When I watch other people play, like you, or [Bryan] Sutton, it looks like almost kind of effortless in a way. There’s not all this tension, there’s not veins popping out [laughs]. I’m straining, but some people I see play and there’s just wonderful technique.
Tuttle: I have that too. Sometimes it may not look like I’m tensing up from someone watching me playing, but inside, I am kind of tense. And that’s when I feel like my playing doesn’t come through as well. But I think it is almost meditative, where you have to let go and let yourself play.
When Strings and Tuttle lived together in Nashville, they both felt intimidated when overhearing the other practicing.
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
Strings: What kind of strings do you use?
Tuttle: I use D’Addario medium gauge [phosphor bronze]. I use the coated ones because my hands are very acidic.
Strings: Me too! I use the same ones! Shout-out to D’Addario .013–.056 medium gauge phosphor bronze, right? Gotta have that medium gauge, gotta have that coated, ’cause we sweat like crazy. And they don’t break! What guitar are you playing mostly on stage? Which one is the one that’s doin’ it for ya?
Tuttle: Right now, I’m using my Prewar Guitar Company. It’s a Brazilian rosewood D-28 style. I feel like the action and setup stay pretty even on tour, and I love the tone of it. That’s my current fave—what about you?
Strings: Still my [Preston] Thompson that I’ve been using forever. Brazilian, spruce-top dreadnought. I’ve been playing it for several years and that’s the guitar that I play on stage. It’s been through hell. It’s been smashed and it’s been put back together. But it always sounds the best plugged in. I use a K&K pickup and I run it through a [Grace Design BiX]. Also, I have a ’45 Martin that I just put a pickup in. I just wanted to have an old one that I can play on stage. But every time, I go back to Old Faithful. I started calling that guitar “Frankenstein” originally because I put all those different pickups in it, and the switch, and it’s got a microphone installed on the inside that goes to my in-ears. And I had them make me another one just like it, and that’s “The Bride.”
This isn’t guitar nerdy stuff, but I have this song, “Away from the Mire.” I wrote it when I got into a fight with my brother. Then, one night when I was on stage singin’ it, I realized that I wrote that song for myself; I was the one that needed to hear it. Do you have a song like that?
Tuttle: Definitely. I think the first therapeutic song that I remember recording of mine was “Good Enough,” that I recorded on my first ever EP. It’s about accepting yourself. I think I was struggling at the time with anxiety, and just getting started in my career and not knowing where things were going. I was trying to help myself stay in the moment. And I feel like that’s still a theme that I still write about. It means different things to me throughout my life.
“I think our duty is just to bring a little joy to people’s day. And sometimes they can give it back to us by accepting our audible diaries that we pour into our songs.”—Billy Strings
Strings: Well, just keep doing the work, because it’s beautiful stuff and we all need it! I think our duty is just to bring a little joy to people’s day. And sometimes they can give it back to us by accepting our audible diaries that we pour into our songs. We’re lucky to be able to do what we do, and I’m stoked watching you and your band out there kicking ass. It’s just fuckin’ awesome.
Tuttle: Likewise! I just love how you’re bringing this music to the masses, really educating people too about where it came from and your heroes and why it’s so important to you.Strings: I guess we just gotta keep our sticks on the ice and keep truckin’. ’Cause I think we’re both doing good, and if we just keep our heads down and keep playing guitar, I think we’re going to be alright.
It doesn’t take a trained eye to appreciate the wild shredding energy of Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle, seen in this live performance of Strings’ “Billy in the Lowground.”
Bad Cat Black Cat Review
A major redesign of a Bad Cat flagship yields a familiar but more flexible range of Brit tonalities.
A well-conceived reboot of a beloved amp. Great clean and lead tones. Tasty tremolo and reverb.
Shared EQ settings sometimes require compromises.
Bad Cat Black Cat
Bad Cat has won over a lot of players in the time since the California maker built its first high-quality, hand-wired amplifiers in 1999. Then, the company was an unapologetic follower of the Matchless template (which itself borrowed more than a little from Vox). And in fact, the two companies have a lot in common. Bad Cat hired Matchless co-founder Mark Sampson to design Bad Cats at a time when Matchless was on hiatus, and Bad Cat amps from the period were even built with Matchless-branded signal capacitors in their circuits.
If Bad Cat were a bit derivative at first, they consistently evolved, regularly adding features and altogether new designs. The new lineup is totally revamped, however. And while they use old model names like the Cub, Lynx, Hot Cat, and Black Cat model names, each amp has new features and is built around circuit-board construction. Thankfully, the new Black Cat’s many British-flavored sounds are good enough that you probably won’t think too much about details like point-to-point versus circuit-board manufacturing.
Though they are relatively common, even among big name builders, $2K amplifiers with circuit-board construction still give some players pause. But the quality of production I see here falls in line with respected recent offerings I’ve encountered from Mesa/Boogie, Friedman, Tone King, and Soldano.The Black Cat’s revamp means some style changes, too, and some long-time fans may mourn the loss of signature features. The illuminated cat eyes in the logo plate, for instance, are gone, and there’s no EF86 preamp tube in the circuit either.
Still, the revamped Black Cat bridges versatility and simplicity nicely. Bad Cat reduced the Black Cat’s power from 30 watts to 20 watts. But it’s still generated by a pair of EL84 output tubes, cathode-biased for class AB. (Older 30- and 15-watt Black Cats, the Cub, and other models that used cathode-biased EL84s were billed as class A.) The preamp is driven by three 12AX7 tubes, rectification is solid-state, and the reverb is now digital rather than tube-and-spring driven. Hefty custom-spec transformers are mounted on the underside of the chassis.
The clean channel offers tons of glassy chime, plenty of clarity, and great note separation—but with a lovely harmonic swirl that adds depth and dimension and keeps the Black Cat from sounding brittle.
The two footswitchable channels are designated clean and lead, and each has an independent volume and master volume control. They share treble, bass, and cut controls, as well as reverb level and intensity and speed for the bias-modulated tremolo. The back panel features an input for the included 2-button footswitch that handles channel switching and tremolo on/off. There are also a send and return for the buffered effects loop, speaker outs rated at 4 ohms, 8 ohms, 16 ohms, 2x8 ohms and 2x16 ohms, a line out, and power and standby switches.
The rugged cabinet is made from Baltic birch ply and measures 23.75" x 19" x 10.5", and the amp further signals its roadworthiness by way of a substantial 48-pound carry weight. The single 12" speaker is a 60-watt Celestion that Bad Cat says is a variation on the Vintage 30. And though the black vinyl, gold-grille cloth, and gold piping look a touch businesslike, they also tie a visual line to Bad Cats old and new. I think most guitarists will find the simpler light-up logo plate elegantly understated as well.
I tested the new Black Cat with two very classic and familiar guitars—a Gibson 1959 Les Paul reissue and a Fender 1954 Telecaster reissue. With both instruments, the new Black Cat combo hinted heavily at Bad Cat, Vox, and Marshall tonalities of yore, but with flexibility and range I don’t remember hearing before in Black Cats. The clean channel offers tons of glassy chime, plenty of clarity, and great note separation—but with a lovely harmonic swirl that adds depth and dimension and keeps the Black Cat from sounding brittle. Pushed toward maximum volume, it starts to break up just enough to add bite and texture. But there’s a lot of headroom for a 20-watt amp, and the Telecaster in particular stayed characteristically clean through much of the volume range with the master maxed out.
Like many of its predecessors, the Black Cat is predisposed toward brightness, so I usually kept the treble around 10 o’clock. Easing back on my Telecaster’s tone knob a couple of ticks helped further rein in any ice-picky tendencies. The amp’s cut knob is a huge asset, too, reducing the high-frequency content at the output stage as you turn it up. The tremolo delivers a rich, toothsome throb with great range of speed and depth, and I doubt many players apart from die-hard surf devotees will bemoan the replacement of springs with digital reverb. It sounds evocatively atmospheric without obscuring the core tone.
Switching over to the lead channel, I found delectable Vox drive tones that, at times, verge on Marshall-like without being dead-on plexi or JCM800 copies. Higher-gain sounds are girthy and tend to sizzle and saturate once you situate the volume past 1 o’clock. I probably enjoyed the amp most with the volume knob in the 10:30 to 11:30 zone with the Telecaster, and a hair lower with the Les Paul. At these levels, the Black Cat provided a broader, more organic, and very rock ’n’ roll kind of snarl and bite that you can easily drive to more screaming heights with an overdrive. The low end can get a little loose in higher gain settings, and the shared EQ section sometimes means you can’t dial an EQ profile that works perfectly for both channels. In general, though, it’s cool to have so much range in the lead channel.
If you like Brit textures that exist outside strict Vox and Marshall confines, the new Black Cat is an impressive all-around performer. It offers plenty of rich voices that work for a wide range of playing styles and a well-considered feature set. Build quality is excellent too, even without Bad Cat’s vaunted point-to-point circuit construction. This amp revamp might have some players cherishing their old models. Change tends to do that. But the new cat in town certainly has plenty to offer.
Bad Cat Black Cat Demo | First Look
Bad Cat Black Cat
Mesa/Boogie Badlander 25 Review
Compact size and convenience do little to diminish the potency of this Boogie, which also delivers a few Vox-y surprises.
A fun new twist on the legendary Rectifier template that offers impressive clean and lead tones— all in a size that fits into the front seat of your Mini Cooper.
I found the crunch voicing a bit congested at some control settings, and at lower volumes in particular.
Mesa/Boogie Badlander 25 Combo
Mesa/Boogie made its name with the Mark Series amps, which made classic rock players of many stripes stand up and take notice. But the company’s next comprehensive range, the Rectifier Series amps, became favorites for a very different set of players. With big, powerful heads coupled with stacks pumping efficient 4x12" and 2x12" speaker arrays, the Single, Dual, and Triple Rectifier models appealed to a host of big-stage rock, grunge and metal players, and the sizzling high-gain and thumping lows became a second, defining sonic template for the company.
It's hard to believe the Rectifier Series has been with us for more than 30 years. In that time, the line constantly evolved and grew. Later Rectifier Series amps like the Trem-O-Verb, Maverick, and Blue Angel even broke the arena-stack mold that defined the first Rectifier amps. That trend continues in the form of the new Badlander 25. Though the Badlander 25 features ready-to-rock Rectifier Series preamp stages in both of its two channels, it’s a compact 25-watt 1x12" combo fired by a pair of EL84s—a formula that produces tones reminiscent of its siblings, while yielding a personality unique to the Badlander.
The Badlander 25’s control complement is familiar and relatively simple. Each channel features an identical set of independent controls: a 3-way gain/voicing switch offering clean, crunch, and crush modes, followed by knobs for gain, treble, mid, bass, presence, and master volume. There’s a global 10-watt/25-watt output switch at the end of the line, as well as power and standby switches. The single input and footswitch jack are also on the front. Around back are connections for one 8-ohm speaker and two 4-ohm speakers, send and return for the effects loop, and controls for the built-in CabClone impulse response feature, which include a XLR DI output with ground lift switch, headphone out with level control, individual eight-position cabinet IR selectors for each channel, and a USB port to store and load alternative IRs, including third-party ones.
Those in the know will be pleased to hear that the throaty grind from the crunch mode and searing high gain in crush mode that you’d expect to hear is here in abundance. But there’s also a nifty pinch of something a little different.
In addition to the two EL84s in the output stage, the amp is driven by five 12AX7 tubes in the preamp and phase inverter. Keen-eyed observers might note one tube that isn’t there: the rectifier that gave the series its name in the first place. That’s because the Badlander 25, as with some other later Rectifier models, uses silicon diodes (aka solid-state rectification) in the place of a tube. But I didn’t feel like the absence of a tube rectifier made a ton of difference in terms of feel or what I heard from the amp. The amp is housed in a chunky, compact cabinet measuring 19" x 17.875" x 11.25" and weighs 40 pounds. And a 12" Celestion G12M 65 Creamback broadcasts the Badlander’s boisterous voice.
Lights Out Tonight
The Badlander 25’s personality is an enjoyable blend of classic Mesa/Boogie voice and some enticing new character traits. For some readers, neither the Mesa sonic signature nor the Rectifier Series preamp voicings need much in the way of introduction. And those in the know will be pleased to hear that the throaty grind from the crunch mode and searing high gain in crush mode you’d expect to hear is here in abundance. But there’s also a nifty pinch of something a little different. Maybe it’s the signature sound of an EL84 output stage being pushed to the point of a raw, edgy response. Whatever it is, it makes this combo something very much its own and more than a cookie-cutter Rectifier done small.
Even though the 10-watt/25-watt power switching is very handy and the master volumes work well together to deliver usable sounds at lower sound-pressure levels, I found the Badlander 25 really sounded best at higher volumes. And at that point, man, it’s very much the beast that Mesa intended. Few of us associate the Mesa/Boogie brand with clean tones, but they are surprisingly good here—crisp, clear, and punchy, with chime and shimmer that lean to the Vox-y side of the spectrum. Set to 25 watts with the master volume cranked, there’s even enough headroom to keep a Les Paul impressively clean—all at volumes that should keep up with most drummers in the average club-sized venue. In the 10-watt mode, clean tones tend to sound a little rounder with a little more natural compression, while overdrive settings are slightly softer around the edges and segue into break-up a little quicker. In general, though, the lower-power setting still sounds and feels much like the amp at full-power.
While all three gain modes sound awesome, the crush mode offers the most fun of the three. It yields a crispy crackle in the highs and a sizeable serving of bass thump, especially relative to the cabinet size and power. It’s the sound that launched a thousand hits—at least in grunge and hair-metal realms. And it put a huge smile on my face every time I dialed it up. Crunch mode sounds were less immediate. Sometimes, they sounded a touch congested compared to clean and crush. Sometimes, they sounded a touch congested and choked. And dialing up perfect, organic volume shifts when moving between clean and crunch could be tricky. When pushed, the crunch mode still delivers great rock ‘n’ roll sounds. But it is, perhaps, the least intuitive mode of the three. But it is, perhaps, the least intuitive mode to use.
I’m impressed with the new Badlander 25. It offers plenty of classic Mesa/Boogie character with a Vox-like twist. The construction is rugged and robust. And the controls are generally easy and intuitive to navigate and put into practice. Because the cabinet is relatively small, it can contribute a little boxiness to some sounds. Still, the cabinet’s depth helps to compensate, and keeps the low end full for an amp of this size, which should please long-time Mesa/Boogie players used to fat sounds. Add in the bonus of the built-in CabClone IR, which delivers robust big-cab tones for front-of-house or recording needs, and you have an impressive combination of versatility, convenience, and power. And for big Boogie Rectifier fans that have less use for a full-size stack these days, it’s a very practical alternative.
Mesa Boogie Badlander 25 Demo | FIrst Look
Mesa/Boogie Rectifier Badlander 25-watt 1 x 12-inch Tube Combo
The Year In Gear – 2022
The guitar universe gathered momentum in a big way in 2022—which is easy to see in this year’s wildly diverse parade of Premier Gear Award winners.
Here's a look at 2022’s most notable new guitars, amps, effects, and accessories, reviewed by our editors and writers:
VALCO KGB Fuzz
While it looks like the work of a Cold War-era mad scientist, this do-it-all dirt dauber is so versatile that it’s easy to overlook its big footprint. It conjures up classic tones that could satisfy Muff, Tone Bender, and maybe even Fuzz Factory fans, but the KGB is also a super-characterful, straight-ahead distortion in its own right that sings with fuzz at minimum and offers six adjustable impedance settings, creating a tonal cornucopia.
$299 street, valcofx.com
BOGNER Ecstasy Mini
Historically, big rock tones have required big hardware. However, Joe Charupakorn was quite taken with this shoebox-size ripper that aims to deliver the vibe of its (much) larger counterpart. At 30 watts, the class-D solid-state amp offers way more gain than its 4-pound weight suggests is possible. In addition to the expected EQ controls, the Ecstasy Mini offers a quartet of toggles that emulate a Variac-style control, deliver even more gain, and shape the midrange—all for the price of a boutique pedal.
$329 street, bogneramplification.com
Guitar synthesis gets the MINI Cooper treatment. There are 171 wildly tweakable sounds and 128 presets inside this rugged 5" x 4" box with an easy-on-the-eyes display and friendly layout. You want ’70s cheese or prog? Eighties Crimson? Classic Floyd? Radiohead? It’s all on tap and easily accessible with a little help from the online manual. Killer for newcomers or guit-synth veterans looking to slim down their board or rack.
$299 street, boss.info
DUNLOP Pivot Capo
Dunlop’s newest screw-tension capo didn’t solve every last problem associated with assisted fretting. It’s still not quite as convenient as a trigger capo for making changes fast. But string grip—particularly on low strings—is excellent and the variable tension solves a lot of intonation issues. If you switch between guitars with different fret sizes a lot, the Pivot could be a savior.
$29 street, jimdunlop.com
ELECTRO HARMONIX Ripped Speaker
The Ripped Speaker lives up to the promise of its name, delivering damaged tones that evoke early raw rockers. But thanks to wide-ranging fuzz, tone, and rip controls—the latter of which is a bias-starve knob—there’s a lot on tap. It’s easy to conjure everything from Fuzzrite-style distortion to gated fuzz sounds befitting a player like Adrian Belew to pure deconstructed noise sputter, making the Ripped Speaker a unique, versatile fuzz that won’t break the bank.
$110 street, ehx.com
REVEREND Flatroc Bigsby
The Flatroc Bigsby looks a lot like an homage to Gretsch on the surface. But the Retroblast humbuckers that drive the output from this versatile solidbody will probably sound and feel familiar to anyone that has the pleasure of playing a vintage-voiced, low-output PAF. Gibson-style tones are far from the only sounds on tap here, though: an awesomely practical bass contour control can re-cast the Flatroc to play the part of everything from Rickenbacker to Stratocaster to catalog 1960s Japanese instruments.
$1,119 street, reverendguitars.com
KEELEY Compressor Mini
Keeley’s experience with pedal compressors might be, forgive the pun, unparalleled. Okay, maybe he has a few rivals for the King of Comps title. But the Compressor Mini confirms that he can run the range from super flexible and feature rich to stupidly simple, as is the case here. The Compressor Mini’s simplicity belies how rich it can sound. A tone-recovery circuit preserves high-end and a parallel compression scheme sums clean signal at the output in a manner that preserves a lot of string detail. It’s also super quiet. And at $129, it’s a cool way for fans of simple compressors to elevate their output without breaking the bank.
$129 street, robertkeeley.com
Keeley Compressor Mini Demo | First Look
BLACKSTAR Dept. 10 Dual Drive
Packing an actual 12AX7 into a drive pedal not only adds the comfort of glowing glass to the experience but gives this two-headed stomp impressive versatility. The smartly designed setup allows the Dual Drive to comfortably fit at the beginning or the end of your board, due to the excellent cab sims and uncluttered layout. At $299 it’s right in the sweet spot for dual-function pedals that balance features and value.
Blackstar Dept. 10 Dual Drive Demo | First Look
UNIVERSAL AUDIO Volt 276
UA can count an enviable wealth of iconic, well-regarded high-end pieces of hardware and software among their stable. And while a legacy like that can make entry into less rarified and affordable markets tricky, UA delivered big time in the form of the Volt 276. The Volt doesn’t feature the same fancy 1176 compressor and UA-610 preamp models from UA’s Apollo and Luna operating environments. But the models here (as well as the included Marshall and Ampeg emulations) are effective tone sweeteners all the same. A clearly caring approach to the hardware design means it also looks great on a desktop, which is much more than a lot of affordable interfaces can claim.
$299 street, uaudio.com
TC ELECTRONIC SCF Gold
Talk about venerable. TC’s original Stereo Chorus Flanger appeared in 1976. And even in those nascent days of modulation stomp design, the SCF emerged in very realized form. In this newest incarnation, it remains an excellent alternative to other chorus/flanger combos. A clear top end makes it a lot less murky sounding than many other analog modulators. We suspect its relatively low price and jack-of-all-trades versatility will put a lot of fence-sitters over the top.
$149 street, tcelectronic.com
TC Electronic's 1st Pedal Reissued! SCF Gold Stereo Chorus Flanger Demo | First Look
Perhaps the ultimate modeling/IR box for space-conscious players on a budget, the IR-200 has 128 presets, eight core amp models, 244 cab and mic IRs, three reverbs, and stereo, MIDI, effects-loop, USB, headphone, auxiliary-input, and footswitch/expression-pedal connectivity. And the interface is intuitive, with top-mounted controls for gain, level, bass, and treble. If high-end modelers seem intimidating or pricey, this device could be your huckleberry.
$399 street, boss.info
SCHECTER Sun Valley Super Shredder Exotic Hardtail
Fine-tuned shred machines made Schecter Guitars’ name in the 1980s. This outlier eschews more metal elements, like a double-locking trem and active pickups. However, those omissions make the guitar more versatile than many of its counterparts. That’s also largely thanks to the ability to split the pickups in several different variations.
$1,249 street, schecterguitars.com
MAESTRO Comet Chorus
For its splashy return to the effects fray, Maestro dressed up its new pedals in some of the coolest enclosures we’ve ever seen. But the pedals distinguish themselves in terms of sound and function, too. And the Comet Chorus emerged as especially distinguished. Its ability to approximate rotary speaker sounds and generate complex compound modulations—thanks in large part to the “orbit” mode that blends in tremolo—made it one of the most distinctive modulation units we played all year.
$149 street, maestroelectronics.com
Maestro's Five New Pedals | First Look
Little amps like the Fender Champ can be superstars in the studio. Magnatone’s Starlite owes much in terms of inspiration and design to the Fender Champ. But it also offers a best-of-all-worlds take on the Champ’s familiar tune by bridging tweed, black- and silver-panel variants. Much of this flex is achieved via a tone control that adds midrange, softens transients, and adds saturation. It’s a simple fix to the intrinsic limitations in super simple circuits, but it really stretches the Starlite’s functionality and appeal—which is copious on the style side, too.
$1,299 street, magnatoneusa.com
PRS SE Silver Sky
This $849 guitar plays like a million bucks! The Indonesia-made version of PRS’ John Mayer signature S-style is truly exceptional within the vintage tradition, with superb, wide-ranging tones, a fast-action neck, an improved cutaway over many other S-type designs, and a bridge-pickup-dedicated tone pot. Smooth medium-jumbo frets, a reliable vibrato arm, and an 8 1/2" fretboard radius are among the other virtues that make the SE Silver Sky a pro instrument at a bargain price.
$849 street, prsguitars.com
PRS SE Silver Sky John Mayer Signature Demo | First Look
FROST GIANT Architect of Reality
Heads up, Sabbath fans! The Architect of Reality essentially drops the preamp section of Laney’s ’80s Advance Overdrive Response heads at your feet. These amps had an extra gain stage and a slightly darker sound that Tony Iommi put to service. And this pedal possesses destructive amounts of volume, gain, and low-end that are capable of conjuring wall-of-amps doom. To achieve this, the JFET-driven Architect pumps 9V AC up to 36 volts. It’s probably best with high-wattage/high-headroom amps, and have a noise gate handy, but rejoice in occupying the mythical space between distortion and fuzz, where destruction and chaos feel like real propositions.
$250 street, fuzzworship.com
Enough of us grew up with simple, 1-knob phasers that the Zelzah will probably scare a few old-school phase folk. True, Zelzah’s impressive under-the-hood capabilities could give a just-the-basics-please modulation user pause. But like most of Strymon’s pedals in this format, there is a basic elegance here that lets the uninitiated work fast and intuitively, too. In addition to rich 4- and 6-stage phaser colors, Zelzah also features switches for barber pole and envelope phase modes, a useful resonance switch, and a voice control that enables access to flange and chorus tones. A one-stop mod shop? Sounds like a fair assessment to me.
$349 street, strymon.net
First Look: Strymon Zelzah Multidimensional Phaser
At heart, the Cloak is a straightforward, huge-sounding room reverb with a minimalist control set: room size, high-cut, mix, and shimmer knobs, and an internal slider for selecting between trails and true-bypass operation. But with its highly adaptable nature—the pedal paired beautifully with single-coils and humbuckers, overdrives, and several amps—and lovely fidelity, the range of possible sounds is wide. Shawn Hammond wrote, “With mix at max and higher room-size settings, high-cut tamed some of the more garish aspects of shimmer ’verb and turned my guitars into veritable film-scoring machines.”
$210 street, catalinbread.com
SOURCE AUDIO ZIO
As reviewer Dave Hunter noted, the ZIO is far from a one-trick-pony boost. Built in collaboration with Christopher Venter of SHOE pedals, this all-analog affair offers four different preamp voicings and three different tone settings. Simple enough, but the resulting tones—especially in the studio mode—are sweet, juicy, clear, and articulate. Our reviewer loved it so much he even imagined a board that would feature two ZIO units to take full advantage of the many sounds it can make.
$199 street, sourceaudio.net
MARTIN 000-18 Modern Deluxe
How do you refine a model that’s essentially perfect? Martin isn’t the first guitar company to grapple with that problem. But there’s something about the nakedness of an acoustic guitar that renders the issue quite challenging. Martin made the 000-18 Modern Deluxe extra special with some superficial improvements: pearl inlay logo, Indian rosewood binding, and Waverly butterbean tuners. There are practical improvements, too, like the asymmetric-profile neck. But the things that make the 000-18 Modern Deluxe extraordinary are the same things that make any great Martin a gem—tones of extraordinary depth and touch response that feels, at times, telepathic.
$3,599 street, martinguitar.com
FENDER Hammertone Delay
For all its success in the business of building iconic guitars, Fender’s effect history is relatively spotty. But their affordable, simple Hammertone pedals certainly have the potential to stick around. The Hammertone Delay’s combination of design economy and fun-to-use factor make it a tasty proposition for 99 bucks. But the pedal’s personality and breadth, which ranges from almost spring-like reverb overtones to cool Abbey Road ADT tricks and super-clear digital tones, make it a stuffed and super-practical delay for the price.
$99 street, fender.com
Fender Hammertone Pedals Demo | First Look
The combination of familiar lines with modern tech made Ola Englund’s sleek rock machine a standout. Loaded with a pair of Fishman Fluence Modern pickups and an EverTune bridge, the GC1.6AFAB takes a meticulously crafted model and adds a ton of value. Each pickup has independent volume controls along with a push-pull to move between two different voices. The crisp and fast response of the pickups along with the value made this ultra-playable guitar a can’t-miss.
$1,349 street, solar-guitars.com
Solar Guitars GC1.6AFAB Demo | First LookOla Englund’s latest features upscale appointments and a slick playing experience for just $1,299. Video by Carlos Cotallo Solares (https://www.youtube.com/c...
API TranZformer CMP
Once you really get into pedal compression, tough decisions can await. Classic and simple, but maybe noisy? More complex and studio-level control with more headaches on stage? API’s TranZformer CMP isn’t exactly simple. In fact, the control set evokes API’s legendary studio comps like the 2500 Stereo Compressor, which are powerful but not exactly LA-2A-level streamlined. But that experience with studio-grade gear pays big dividends in the TranZformer CMP, which runs quiet and affords a painterly approach to compression with its flexible array of knobs and switches.
$280 street, apiaudio.com
EVH 5150 Iconic Series 40W 1x12 Combo
A more affordable take on the 5150 amp design, this 2-channel closed-back combo was called “insanely versatile and capable of sounds from clean to ultra-high gain to the most extreme molten metal” by reviewer Joe Charupakorn. The channels each feature low- and high-gain modes, and channel 2 includes a noise gate. Other features include an XLR output with speaker emulation, a power amp mute switch, a preamp out, an effects loop, and a 40W/10W power level switch.
EVH 5150 Iconic Series Combo Demo | First Look
BILT The Amp
Delivering 12 to 15 watts of cathode-biased, class AB tone via a 5Y3 rectifier tube, a pair of 6V6s, and a pair of 12AX7s, the guitar builder’s first amplifier—a collaboration with Milkman—is a modern love letter to the venerated tweed Deluxe. But the Amp is no recreation or clone. Just check out its 5-way bass knob and large, handsome cabinet. The result is a loud, midrange-forward combo that sounds great at all volume levels, but thrives when cranked, where it delivers full-on tweed sag.
$2,999 base price, biltguitars.com
YAMAHA Revstar Standard RSS02T
Yamaha has been a force in 6-string electric circles since the 1960s. But their current flagship electric model, the Revstar, was introduced in 2015 and has since been overhauled with an impressive array of features including a chambered body and updated pickups. Our review model sported a pair of P-90s that were a natural fit for blues and classic rock. Big, punchy tones had lots of single-coil chime. Plus, the price is really hard to beat.
$799 street, yamaha.com
Yamaha Revstar Standard RSS02T Demo | First Look
JACKSON AUDIO The Optimist
The whole subset of Klon-inspired circuits is a rabbit hole many fall into. However, the particular variation included in Cory Wong’s signature pedal turned reviewer Jason Shadrick’s mind around. Each overdrive circuit feels rich and full, but it’s the active EQ that comes close to being the MVP. Jackson has always taken great care in making sure the sweep of the controls is useful and musical, and the Optimist might be their most finely tuned setup yet.
$349 street, Jackson. Audio
CHARVEL Guthrie Govan MJ San Dimas SD24 CM
This Japan-built version of the shredder’s signature instrument offers a high-level playing experience. The proprietary tremolo has a wide range of motion, both descending and ascending, thanks to a recessed body cavity underneath the unit, and it offers commendable tuning stability. Elsewhere, accoutrements like a heel-mounted truss rod adjustment wheel and knurled chrome knobs with glow-in-the-dark numbers deliver upscale details. With easy playability and hot, articulate pickups, the SD24 CM is a signature guitar fit for a player fluent in a breadth of styles.
$2,799 street, charvel.com
LINE 6 DL4 MkII
The ubiquitous green delay machine returns in a slimmer modern update. It’s still big, but even on the modern pedal landscape, the DL4’s spacious knob-controlled design feels refreshing, with plenty of room to tweak and stomp around. More importantly, it’s remarkably easy to jump in and find a breadth of unique delay sounds that range from classic to wildly experimental. All the original sounds are onboard, as are just as many new ones, plus a full range of reverbs and the classic looper function.
$299 street, line6.com
Line 6 DL4 MkII Delay Modeler Demo | First Look
I often tell chums griping about their tone to try an EQ pedal. It’s not a very glamorous solution. But it’s often an effective one—especially when carving out just-right fuzz and drive tones. Catalinbread clearly grasps the value of powerful EQ in shaping overdrive output—so much so that they’ve made the Tribute Parametric Overdrive as much an EQ device as a drive machine. The Tribute enables you to boost or cut ranges from 1.4 kHz on the midrange side to 70 Hz on the bass end by 12 dB in either direction. These EQ changes can transform the mood of the already flexible Tribute drastically, from focused boosts to much more aggressive fare.
$179 street, catalinbread.com
Koa has always been treasured by builders for a distinct tonality that sits between rosewood and mahogany. Thanks to a partnership with Pacific Rim Tonewoods, Taylor was able to use a “select grade” koa that helped the company price the model at $2,000 less than some of their other Hawaiian koa-based models. Nobody would mistake this for a budget guitar, however. The sound is every bit as nuanced and complex as guitars with a more flamboyant slice of wood.
$3,499 street, taylorguitars.com
WAY HUGE Red Llama MkIII Smalls
It’s all about simplicity with this 30th Anniversary update to an early boutique-era overdrive. The MkIII has a smaller footprint, but the 2-knob control set remains, featuring just volume and drive. Reviewer Dave Hunter praised the pedal’s “thick, juicy, and chewy” tone, which retains clarity at high gain levels. “When a lot of ODs have started to sound very same-ish, it’s remarkable that it remains so distinct, characterful, and loveable—even after 30 years.”
$149 street, jimdunlop.com
Way Huge Red Llama Overdrive MkIII Demo | First Look
WREN AND CUFF The Good One
The lengths Big Muff scholars will go to chasing definitive and “best” Muff tones is well documented in these pages. Wren And Cuff’s The Good One, though, is the result of an accidental discovery along the path to Big Muff enlightenment. The Good One is W&C founder Matt Holl’s attempt to replicate a vintage “triangle” Big Muff that came through his shop for repair. Like many Muffs, it revealed a curious mix of components. But the sum, as duplicated here, is a Big Muff of uncommon range and clarity that delivers sharp, clear transients just as readily as classic Big Muff heaviness.
$309 street, wrenandcuff.com
UNIVERSAL AUDIO UAFX Ruby ’63
Whether you beg, borrow, or steal, every electric guitarist that reads these pages should find a way to experience the sparkling, harmonically overflowing, and flat-out hot-and-rich colors of a vintage Vox AC30. But if you don’t have the cash, connections, or criminal urges, UAFX’s Ruby ’63 is a mighty fine way to explore those sounds in a pedal. Ruby ’63, of course, capitalizes on the modelling savvy and experience that make UA’s digital production environments a revelation. And the same microscopic attention to detail—and above all feel—is here. Will the Ruby ’63 transform a lousy amp into an AC30? Probably not. But the ease with which it imparts the aura and touch of a vintage Vox to a half-decent tube amp or recording interface can be thrilling—and enable you to speak in a distinctly Vox vernacular.
$399 street, uaudio.com
PIGTRONIX Star Eater
Pigtronix is justifiably guarded about what makes up the circuit in the Star Eater fuzz. It’s pretty unique sounding. But when we ventured the notion of a Big Muff and a Shin-ei Super Fuzz bearing offspring, Pigtronix mastermind David Koltai admitted we were onto something. Similarities with these two fuzzes tell only part of the story, though. A sweepable filter generates tones that might make a Big Muff or Super Fuzz blush. And if that doesn’t pique the interest of a jaded fuzz fanatic, I’m not sure what will.
$179 street, pigtronix.com
SOURCE AUDIO Atlas Compressor
This digital compressor offers six basic modes to conjure a wealth of tones, and each of its four knobs has both primary and alt functions. Even more sounds abound via MIDI functionality and Android/iOS connectivity to access Source Audio’s Neuro Editor. The Atlas’ tones should fool analog heads, and advanced digital capabilities might even lead to cool discoveries.
$229 street, sourceaudio.net
Source Audio Atlas Compressor Demo | First Look
MATTOVERSE Warble Swell Echo MkII
This digital delay has a warm voice that evokes classic BBD delays and old-school tape echo vibes. Its woozy modulation—accessed via a waveform knob, plus rate and depth controls—makes it easy to dial-in retro cassette-tape tones, while the swell footswitch and knob access the land of eternal feedback. For all these functions, the Warble Swell is still easy to navigate and feels simple.
$219 street, mattoverse.com
The Lore isn’t the most complete reverse reverb in the world. It lacks some of the magical takes on the effect that Led Zeppelin and My Bloody Valentine made immortal. But the manner in which it combines time-manipulation effects as well as octave and various interval-based textures often yields much more unpredictable results. If you’re keen to scramble a boring song idea, Lore is a fast track to that goal.
$299 street, walrusaudio.com
EASTWOOD Dusty Spring
Stare at modern pedals long enough and you’ll develop an appreciation for pure simplicity. And it would be hard to find a stomp so brainlessly, plug-and-go satisfying as the Dusty Spring. Calling Dusty Spring a lo-fi effect, as its name suggests, would be too simple. It dishes very convincing spring reverb approximations that would easily fool experts—especially in a mix. Rather, the “dirty” seems equally apt in describing its basic, rich earthiness—a quality that isn’t always easy to find in affordable digital reverbs.
$149 street, eastwoodguitars.com
DEATH BY AUDIO Space Bender
Thank goodness for Death By Audio. Their irreverence isn’t just a middle finger to circuit sameness. It’s an attitude that results in amazing, truly unusual sounds. That goes for the Space Bender, which turns chorus on its ear—mixing and mangling modulation, delay, reverb, and filtering effects to ends that are both predictable and chaotic. Come for the chorus but stay for the deeper freakishness. The Space Bender will deliver—guaranteed.
$270 street, deathbyaudio.com
EARTHQUAKER Special Cranker
This ultra-touch-sensitive stomp is, indeed, special: a warm, medium-gain overdrive designed to sound like you’ve added another tube to your amp’s preamp section. With germanium and silicon modes, there’s tons of tone variety on tap, and the silicon side, especially, has a fat, full voice that is responsive to picking technique and preserves the integrity of complex chords. At less than $100, it’s a bargain, too.
$99 street, earthquakerdevices.com
EarthQuaker Devices Special Cranker Overdrive Demo | First Look
If you’re a germanium fuzz fan, this plain-Jane-named box is a gem. But there’s nothing plain about its operation. A large dial controls temperature bias, which is traditionally a problem with heat-sensitive germanium transistors. There’s a pickup simulator/debuffer so the Fuzz can dwell anywhere in your signal chain. And, adding to the fun, there’s also a 2-way toggle for “classic” or meatier, more harmonically saturated “raw” bias modes. Plus, the volume dial works dynamically with the fuzz and clean-up knobs to let you go from deliciously grainy fuzz to thick, Muff-esque doom tones to skanky, toothy, stabbing boost/overdrive.
$249 street, silktone.org
FENDER JV Modified Deluxe Telecaster
Fender’s Japan-built guitars of the 1980s and 1990s are among the company’s most underrated. Among the many gems Fender Japan produced at the time, the Jerry Donahue signature Tele stands out. The JV Modified Deluxe Telecaster isn’t a reproduction of the JD, but you have to think Fender builders had one eye on that design while putting together this one. The soft-V neck is there, and the Deluxe Telecaster appointments. And while the switching and pickups aren’t exactly the same, the series and out-of-phase switching options open up similar tone territories. The JV Modified is as playable a guitar as we’ve handled all year—no small distinction.
$1,349 street, fender.com
Ade Emsley, the Orange engineer who oversaw the resurrection of the new/old Orange effects, decided to overhaul the Orange Distortion entirely. Stating plainly that he didn’t think the original was very good, he started from scratch—building a new JFET-based amplifier circuit with preset bass and midrange settings and an adjustable treble pot on the pedal’s interior. That might sound limiting, but the Orange Distortion is both wide- and rich-sounding, bursting with amp-like crunch and, at times, beautifully articulate.
$249 street, orangeamps.com
Orange Distortion, Sustain & Phaser Pedal Demos | First Look
It takes intestinal fortitude to build a new 1-knob phaser these days. Most companies have slipped into the phase-manipulation arms race quite willingly. But the control now in vogue does nothing to diminish the tone transforming, psychedelicizing power of a 1-knob phaser. And thankfully, Orange had the cover of a vintage-re-issue project to justify building this ultra-elegant phase gem. Modulations balance beautifully between low and high frequencies, and, as a consequence, it feels open, clear, and dimensional.
$249 street, orangeamps.com
MXR Duke of Tone
Lest any of you out there worry, the partnership between MXR and Analog Man’s Mike Piera that yielded the Duke of Tone is no mere marketing exercise. The DOT is built to a very high standard of quality that we don’t often see in affordable mini pedals. Most importantly, it sounds fantastic and is worthy company for the Analog Man pedals with which it shares lineage. At least for this reviewer, the boost is the highlight. But all three modes—boost, distortion, and overdrive—exhibit a smooth, robust voice that can save an otherwise lackluster tone in a flash.
$149 street, jimdunlop.com
MXR Duke of Tone Demo | First Look
Session ace Shawn Tubbs’ signature overdrive is a mid-gain wonder. It’s very midrange-forward, but the response of the EQ controls on both sides offers tone options that range from Mike Campbell chime to Dumble-influenced lead sounds. A standout feature is the tilteq control, which allows for surgical sculpting of frequencies on the fly without any hassle.
$269 street, revvamplification.com
Plus! Read the full reviews on PG.com of December’s Premier Gear Award winners: the PRS Horsemeat Transparent Overdrive and Mary Cries Optical Compressor, the Boss Space Echo, the Dr. Z Z-28 Mk. II, and the Origin Effects Halcyon.