Duncan reenters the dirt box derby with compact new distortion pedal.
Classic pickups like the ’59, Distortion, and JB have secured Seymour Duncan’s place in the electric guitar’s history books. But while Duncan is best known for their pickups, they’ve produced a fair number of pedals over the years, ranging from the tube-equipped Twin Tube Classic and Twin Tube Mayhem to the tube-less Power Grid. Their new Dirty Deed is another tube-less distortion pedal with a name that pays homage to an AC/DC classic.
Unlike previous Duncan dirt boxes, which were fairly large, the true-bypass Dirty Deed comes in a standard-sized enclosure. Level, drive, bass, and treble controls are stuffed onto the front panel, though curiously, the level and drive controls use standard size knobs while the bass and treble controls use mini knobs.
Still, it seems like much thought went into the pedal’s design, from its shiny red finish to the easy-open battery compartment, which requires just a pinch to access. (While a screw-less battery cover might not sound like an exciting feature, it can actually save a gig. If you’re onstage when your battery dies, lots of luck fishing for a screwdriver to unhinge four corner screws.) For adapter users, Dirty Deed runs on standard nine-volt power, though you can also use 18 volts for more saturation and compression.
I tested the Dirty Deed using a Gibson Les Paul Standard through a Mesa/Boogie Blue Angel. Right off the bat I knew the Dirty Deed was ready to rock. Unity gain starts with the level knob around 9:00, but you have access to a ton of volume between there are the end of the knob’s range. The Dirty Deed is a hard rocker at heart—with both tone knobs at noon and the drive knob all the way off, it had as much dirt as my Tube Screamer pedal with the gain set to noon. For comparison’s sake, I pulled out my Pro Co Rat (a pedal known for blistering gain) and set the drive all the way off. It was a lot cleaner than the Dirty Deed.
If you expect to use the Dirty Deed with the gain off as a boost or subtle tone shaper, well, just bear in mind that it’s a dirty bad boy. (This isn’t to say I'm unhappy with the sounds I got. Its grit is very musical, and it works amazingly well in some situations.)
The Dirty Deed’s pair of cross-connected MOSFET transistors provides a pushed amp-like vibe and gobs of sustain. Moving the drive control closer to noon, changes the pedal’s character from strong overdrive to full-on distortion. By the time I moved the drive to 2:00, things were cooking pretty hot. I added a smidge of treble and got a killer all-purpose rock tone that recalled a hot-rodded Marshall—a tone that can cover most rock or metal gigs, and which is equally useable for rhythm playing and solos. While I found this setting to be “just right,” I maxed the drive to see how much brutality this pedal could unleash.
As expected, the Dirty Deed can get very aggressive. I found it quite commanding at rehearsal, where it easily held its own against a loud drummer. With so much gain, I expected to hear squealing and uncontrolled feedback, but the sound was still easy to control. Even full chords retained mud-free clarity and definition. When I rolled my guitar’s volume knob down to 2 or 3, I still had a lot of volume, but things cleaned up enough so that I could play arpeggiated parts such as the “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” intro with a stylistically appropriate tone.
The active EQ controls are flat at noon and offer +/-12dB boost or cut. Between just 10:00 and 2:00 on the treble control—a relatively narrow field—the difference in output is very noticeable. To get a sense of the full range of these tone-shaping controls, I tried them at both extremes. Keeping the bass knob at noon, I turned the treble fully counterclockwise and got a round lead tone with a warm vocal quality. Going all the way clockwise with the treble knob produced a brash-as-nails tone great for fast power-chord punk and tight, rhythmic riffs. Putting the treble knob to noon and manipulating the bass control had a subtler effect, more pronounced on chords than on single notes.
Duncan might not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of dirt boxes, but the Dirty Deed rivals any pedal in its class. It’s one of the most exciting distortion pedals I’ve come across lately, well suited to everything from classic rock to hair metal, from precise math-metal riffing to slippery legato leads. At $120, it’s not quite dirt-cheap, but it’s a small price for a stompbox with such big balls.
Watch the Review Demo: