J. Rockett El Hombre Review
A flexible, dirty overdrive that holds the key to Billy Gibbons’ tone, and much more.
Authentic BFG tones in a sturdy, easy-to-dial-in package. Also capable of a wide variety of other dirt tones, from American classic to British vintage.
Not suitable for clean boost.
J. Rockett Audio Designs El Hombre
Another 3-knob overdrive? What’s the big deal? Let me tell you. The El Hombre by J. Rockett Audio Designs puts one of the holiest of holy grail guitar tones—those of the Rev. Billy F. Gibbons—at your fingertips. And for me and everybody else who has chased those tones, that’s a big deal, indeed.
Not only that, but this sturdy op-amp-driven box with silicon clipping diodes is an excellent overdrive outside of that realm—capable of adding just a little hair, growling big and low like a fat alligator with a belly full of nutria, or being pushed to plexi-like explosiveness. It’s also super responsive to the touch, so sustained bends sing, pinch harmonics ring, and … well, how, how, how, how.
The El Hombre is ridiculously approachable, with its self-explanatory volume and gain controls, complemented by the more mysterious bite dial. That bite control is a filtering matrix, with a wide, responsive range, but a very specific goal in mind. As I learned, this box’s secret weapon is that bite dial, which brings highs forward or smooths them down. And it all runs on 9V DC, drawing 18 mA.
Oddly, when the builders at J. Rockett hit upon the formula for the El Hombre circuit, they were actually chasing a box that would zero in on Eddie Van Halen’s early tone—but with an ear open to ZZ Top’s influence on Eddie. (For more on that, consult “Mean Streets.”) The project was put on hold for a while, but one day, while sorting through some old designs in the Eddie project box, they stumbled on the guts of what would become the El Hombre, and pronounced it bad and nationwide.
I Got the Five
I’m a stickler about truth in advertising, so job one was chasing those BFG tones. I grabbed five guitars with a variety of pickups and solidbody types: a ’68 Les Paul Standard, an early ’90s Les Paul Classic, a PRS SE Silver Sky, a 2012 Flying V, and my trusty Zuzu with coil-splitting humbuckers. My test amp was a Carr Vincent. For me, the perfect Gibbons guitar sounds are on “La Grange,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” and “Blue Jean Blues”—fat, tube-y, grizzled, sweet, and with Gibbons’ Pearly Gates’ Les Paul tone control dialed way back.
It literally took seconds, and minimal El Hombre dial twisting, for my Standard to get there. With volume at noon, gain at 4 o’clock, and bite at 2, the “La Grange” crunch arrived, and dialing back the volume on my guitar elicited the lightly sugared, corpulent blues lead sound on “Blue Jean.” Both benefited from El Hombre’s inclination to bring out lows and low-mids, which, to my ear, is where a lot of the glory of guitar tone dwells. Even at more relaxed settings, like all three of the pedal’s knobs at noon, for a less edgy voice, or with all the knobs at a gnarlier 2 o’clock, I stayed in the neighborhood. As I learned, the guitar and pickups do matter. My other test axes sounded good, but not as on the nose. The Seymour Duncan Antiquity-equipped, slab-body V lacked a bit of that BGF depth and roundness, and my bass-heavy Classic lacked the requisite harmonic detail. In open D, the Zuzu sang the right tune, and was especially rich and greasy with a slide, and while I thought it would be a mismatch, the SE Silver Sky sounded thunderously swell in all five pickup positions.
Essentially, that’s because the El Hombre sounds good all around. Abandoning my Billy quest, I just started turning dials, sweeping the gain and bite dials in particular to different positions. There were literally no disappointing tones. Plexi-ville was located with the volume at noon, the gain floored, and the bite at 4:30, crafting a sound—especially good with the PRS’s single-coils—akin to the ultra-responsive growl of my vintage Marshall Super Lead head. Damn.
J. Rockett’s El Hombre delivers on its promise to lead you to Señor Gibbons’ tone. How much you dial that in is a matter of instrument and taste. Yet El Hombre is also a highly flexible overdrive that allows you to carefully determine how many shovels of dirt you want to spread over your sound. Compared to a lot of other overdrives, it’s a little expensive. But if you’ve been searching for a box that’ll quickly dial in that Tejas tone magic, and more, the El Hombre might be precisely what you’ve been yearning for.
J. Rockett El Hombre Overdrive Demo | First Look
- J. Rockett Audio Designs Releases Archer Clean/Color Boost ›
- J. Rockett Audio Releases the Archer Select ›
- J. Rockett Pedals Unveils the Archer ›