August 2, 2011
Two new stompboxes from TC Electronic offer different flavors of vintage-inspired analog dirt.
Fairly neutral settings with a slight boost in Gain and Treble. Clip begins with volume rolled off on the guitar. Voice switch 'up'.
Boosted Gain and Treble with the guitar's volume rolled off at the beginning and end of the clip. Voice switch in 'up' position.
TC Electronic has been around since ’76—the brainchild of Danish brothers Kim and John Rishøj. These self-described “experts on noise” set out to cleanse the guitar world of unwanted crackle and pop that plagued many guitar effects of the time. And after years of studying signal processing and countless trial and error, the brothers found success with their SCF Chorus pedal, which found favor with guitarists and keyboardists for its noiseless operation. 35 years later, TC Electronic still aims high on the noiseless front. And with the new MojoMojo and Darker Matter they’ve ventured into the traditionally noise-plagued realms of distortion and overdrive.
The MojoMojo and Dark Matter Distortion are built around identical controls sets— Drive, Level, Bass, and Treble. At a full counterclockwise rotation, the Drive parameter leaves the signal completely unmodified while a clockwise rotation increases the amount of gain. The Level knob controls the volume output—a full counterclockwise rotation will turn the signal completely off, while the 12 o’clock position is amp level and a full clockwise yields a significant boost. The Bass and Treble knobs work through a range from bass heavy signals to piercing trebles if desired. In addition, both controls have a Voice switch placed between the Drive and Level controls. In the ‘up’ position the output signal takes on a brighter tone, best used to cut through a dense soundscape, while the ‘down’ position yields a heavier voicing for rhythm guitar work and blended textures.
Each effect is encased in a rugged metal case that looks ready for everything from the snow to the arid desert. TC Electronic started using a fantastic single-screw system recently that keeps the back panel in place. To change the 9V (can also be powered on a 9V barrel adaptor), just use a coin or heavy gauge pick to get the screw started and it pops right open to reveal the battery compartment and circuit board.
Both of these effects are true bypass, which ensures an unhindered input signal while unengaged. However, as with most true bypass systems they do suffer from a slight pop when engaging the effect, an issue that can be significant with higher gain amplifiers and exacerbated if you’re using a delay at the end of the line. These pedals could also use better grips on their undercarriage—the glue on the small plastic feet can heat up and fall off, leading to a pretty spectacular tap dance instead of a rock show.
I tested these pedals using a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul with a Vox Pathfinder and a ’68 Fender Bassman running into a 4x12 with Celestion V30s. With the Stratocaster and Bassman in the line, I set all the dials on the MojoMojo at 12 o’clock. With the amp on the verge of breaking up, the MojoMojo easily kicked it over the top, giving me a very warm punch. Turning up the Drive lent a light, vintage distortion. Boosting the Treble to the 2-3 o’clock position gave a biting crunch with a hint of cranked Vox AC30. In general, though, the MojoMojo is a very transparent pedal, almost like a second stage of gain for your rig. The Bassman’s natural voice came through quite clearly, with an added fullness from tubes throttled with gain. The MojoMojo is also very responsive to guitar volume-knob adjustments. Rolling off your volume keeps the tone full-bodied without the gain saturation. Blues dogs will love this aspect of the pedal’s range—and being able to creep between haunted chime or a guttural wail that even Muddy Waters would be proud of. I found both Voice switch positions very useable for either rhythm or lead playing.
The Dark Matter Distortion can be a bit deceptive. With a name like that, I was expecting some unwieldy doomsayer in a box. What I got was essentially a hot-rodded MojoMojo—a throaty, muscular Pontiac Firebird to the MojoMojo’s Cadillac, if you will. With the Bassman already set for natural break-up and the Les Paul driving the whole rig, the Dark Matter was crystalline and singeing. The ‘up’ position on the Voice switch is perfect for putting leads across in the heaviest bands, though its basic voice resides more in vintage high gain territory—harkening back to early AC/DC crunch. The Dark Matter also interacts well with the guitar’s volume knob—which will open up a range of tones from full-bodied overdrive, ready to flip back to maximum gain. I found the ‘down’ position of Voice less effective in high gain applications, where it could get a little muddy and lost.
The Dark Matter is fantastic for huge power chords with the Les Paul into a cranked head. Response was tight and the clarity remarkable, even though I was left wanting for a little more dirt at times. The MojoMojo absolutely loved the Stratocaster’s single-coils, and gives Fenders that classic Texas blues punch but also the ability to produce jazzier flurries and stinging leads with a spin of the guitar’s volume knob.
You’ll have to pony up about $130 for either the MojoMojo or Dark Matter Distortion. But they are both very well-constructed pedals with excellent clarity for the vintage-oriented. If you can put up with true-bypass pop, definitely give these two a swing for your OD and distortion needs.
|Dark Matter Distortion:
Street $129.99 (each) - TC Electronic - tcelectronic.com