Wren and Cuff Box of War Pedal Review
A most-coveted Sovtek-era Muff-style circuit lives again in a sliky-smooth and brutally bossy homage.
Positively creamy and growling harmonic distortion. Beautifully built. Looks so freaking cool.
Pretty expensive for a Muff.
Once dismissed as might-as-well-be-paperweights in the Big Muff ranks, Sovtek-era Muffs have, over the last decade, become legends in their own right. The reverence is well deserved. Neo-psychedelic and stoner-rock dealers savor a Russian Muff 's ability to unite silky smooth harmonic content and super-rude crunch, while lead players savor the cello-like, singing musicality and sustain.
Those qualities apply to just about every Russian Big Muff in some measure. But to most fans of the breed, the Civil War— named for it's blue-and-silver color scheme and 19th century fontstyle graphics—is the king of them all. That reputation benefited, no doubt, by association with David Gilmour and it's quite likely that its status as one of the coolest-looking stompboxes ever helped seal the deal. Wren and Cuff, who are passionate and scientific about all things Big Muff, definitely grasp the visual and sonic essence of the Civil War. And their own take, the Box of War, is about as cool looking and sweet sounding a Civil War clone as you'll find.
Dressed to Kill
It's an unsung aspect of stompbox craft—especially in these space-conscious, cram-your-pedalboard-to-overflowing times—but there is an artistry and aesthetic to stompbox design that's helped make a lot of the classics doubly so. The Electro-Harmonix and Sovtek Big Muffs—in just about every iteration—are heavy on visual appeal. And though Wren and Cuff didn't replicate the humongous dimensions of the original Civil War with the Box of War, they co-opted some essential design cues and lent some inspired touches of their own. The two-piece metal enclosure evokes the original with its painted shell. But it cleverly borrows the wedge shape of the original Univox Super-Fuzz and shrinks the footprint into a much more compact design that looks boss among a sea of brick-like effects. The graphics pay very respectful homage to the Civil War—borrowing the split, two-tone, Old West-style font and little details like the "made in the UNITED STATES" on the lower-right corner, which is arranged precisely like the "made in RUSSIA" on the original. Crack open the Box of War's shell and the attention to fit, finish, and detail is plain to see. It's not precious handiwork either. The Box of War looks clean and built to last.
Rude, Bossy, and Butter Smooth
If our test Box of War is any indication, Wren and Cuff won't have to deal with irate, circuit nerds complaining that the sounds don't match the stitches. The Box of War is just about one of the creamiest-sounding Russian Muffs—clone or otherwise—that you can plug into. It captures the basic tone signature of the Civil War—thick, wooly, and fat in the low end, but with a pronounced cat-growl in the midrange that makes it sound quite smooth, even at aggressive levels of distortion. Where the Box of War differs from a lot of clones—and keep in mind that classic, clone, vintage, and modern Muffs can all vary—is its exceptionally even and silky distortion voice. Barre chords that tend to sound so much like mush and mud at heavy levels of distortion retain remarkable levels of detail when filtered through the Box of War. If you like your power pop particularly powerful, the Box of War is up for the task, and it can handle the harmonic nuances of a McCartney chord melody while roaring like an AC Cobra— Beatles?... meet Black Sabbath.
In lead situations, the Box of War exhibits all the classic Civil War virtues that leave everyone from Gilmour obsessives to Kyuss freaks salivating—a round, vocal, and just-husky-enough cross between viola, cello, and baritone sax characteristics that are cutting to soaring with single-coils, and downright beastly and bubbling over with sustain when you pair the pedal with humbuckers.
As agreeable as the Box of War is in general, it dovetails especially well with bright amplifiers. AC30s and blackface and silverface Fenders will love the Box of War's ability to tame high-end spikes at high volume without sacrificing its purring midrange, while it's copious, low end can make medium-power Voxes and Fenders sound twice their size.
Like any Russian-style Muff, there is a risk of trading girth and growl for presence in a mix. While that applies to some extent with the Box of War, it's never too squishy. And even a notoriously compression-prone 5Y3 tweed Deluxe clone fed through a closed-back 2x12 took on a beautiful pick responsiveness and rough-but-refined character.
From design to sound sculpting, a lot of love went into the Box of War. Its combination of vintage flair and smart, compact packaging is one of the nicer bits of stompbox craft we've seen in a while—though at 225 bucks, you'll pay a bit for the privilege.
If you need eyeball-slicing fuzz that can banshee wail over a bass-heavy power trio, you might find the Box of War a bit too civilized. But if you're a fan of the original Civil War's smooth and bassy tones, you'll love the refinement of those sounds in the Box of War. An even if the battle over which Muff reigns supreme never ends, this is a pedal that can stand tall on its own merits and hang tough with the best specimens of a fuzz icon.
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