EarthQuaker Devices Special Cranker Review
Smooth, articulate germanium and silicon overdrive that respects your tone and style—and your budget.
Smooth, articulate overdrive that respects the character of your tone and playing. Germanium and silicon options, with nice surprises on the silicon side. Great price!
Fans of higher-gain germanium circuits may be disappointed in quiet germanium side. No setting for blending the germanium and silicon diodes.
Earthquaker Devices Special Cranker
It’s pleasing when a device with a little braggadocio in its name lives up to its claim. EarthQuaker’s new Special Cranker is, indeed, special. It’s a warm, ultra-touch-responsive medium-gain overdrive that EQD designed to sound and respond like you’ve added another tube to your amp’s preamp section. The result: The character of your core tone remains vital and intact, but bristles with articulate, controlled snarl and sustain. And if that’s not special enough, there’s also a toggle that lets you switch between germanium and silicon diodes, for two classic flavors of fur.
Recognizing the Speaker
The Special Cranker is an update on the Akron-based company’s out-of-production Speaker Cranker, which had just one knob, labeled “more.” The Special Cranker literally offers more—control, that is, with the addition of an output level control and tone dial that helps shape some of the extra gain on tap, among other things.
The more dial cranks the gain by adjusting the bias of the transistor, and it can be a little noisy when you twist it, but EarthQuaker says that’s normal for this circuit. The level adjusts the output signal and can get pretty outrageous—it seems to double the volume when fully cranked in silicon mode. Unity, for my Zuzu 6-string with coil-splitting, was between 9 and 10 o’clock, so there’s lots of headroom. The tone wrangles treble: more to the right and less to the left, naturally. I found flat response at about 2 o’clock with the Zuzu, which produces Les Paul-like tones in humbucking mode and sounds like a Stratocaster in single-coil settings.
Your core tone remains vital and intact, but bristles with articulate, controlled snarl and sustain.
The circuit board inside is clean, elegantly executed, and home to the pedal’s two flavors of diode. The original Speaker Cranker utilized a single asymmetrical clipping silicon diode. Typically, asymmetrical diode clipping sounds less compressed and clearer than symmetrical clipping. Special Cranker’s switchable silicon and germanium clipping sections, however, enable you to experience two very different flavors of asymmetrical clipping. Germanium clipping, of course, harkens back to the earliest days of fuzz. It is, typically, warmer, darker, and produces less gain than silicon.
Cranking the Cranker
Plugged into a Carr Telstar amp, the Special Cranker is a little demon—especially in silicon mode. With level at noon, more at 2 to 3 o’clock, and tone also at 2 to 3 o’clock, humbuckers produce warm sounds that sustained elegantly, living up to EarthQuaker’s promise of lucid tones. That clarity helps chords flower, while single notes took on a sinuous character and hung in the air—ripe, full, and singing. It was much the same with single-coils, albeit brattier and more snarling. And while the output is aggressive and quite loud, it’s still warmly sculpted and manageable—even with the gain and level turned to maximum.
I’m a germanium fan, but to my surprise I fell hard for Special Cranker’s silicon side. I love gnarly, high-gain germanium tones, but with its medium-gain ambitions, the Special Cranker sounds grittily sophisticated rather than head-rattling. And where the germanium-driven tone had less low-mid content than I’m used to, which was a tad disappointing, the silicon side filled in and fattened the low mids—which I hadn’t expected—creating a robust, blooming sound I adored. The silicon side also made my guitar brighter, bolder, and well-defined, even with extended chords. The rangy tone control is valuable for fine tuning the extra gain and high end (though I was also very happy simply setting it flat). It’s also very helpful when searching for more brightness on the darker, quieter germanium diode.
The Special Cranker is an exceptional medium-gain overdrive with tube-like character, offering plenty of easy-to-control, warm distortion and boost. The germanium side may be too tame for some players. But the silicon side has a full, fat voice that is perfectly responsive to picking technique and preserves the integrity of complex chords. That alone makes the $99 price a bargain. I’d love to see a setting for blending the silicon and germanium diodes, even though that would bump the price. But players looking for a more articulate and colorful alternative to TS and Klon tones should crank up the Special Cranker and tilt an ear.
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