Outside the box distortion tones for those who like to experiment

Download Example 1
DI Industrial distortion
Download Example 2
Telephone-line thin distortion
Download Example 3
Sweeping through EQ
Godin Redline HB for all samples. DI into Pro Tools for clip 1, clip 2 and 3 into Axe-FX ultra set to clean Bogner Shiva sound with Royer R-121 on Celestion V30s.
Most every pedal built by Colorado-based WMD is designed on the principle that a device should be as versatile as possible. It’s a cool philosophy that makes every WMD pedal a tool of impressive creative potential. And the aptly named Acoustic Trauma analog distortion stompbox— which can generate everything from mellow preamp overdrive to seriously sick sonic damage—is a beautiful embodiment of the company’s ambition in the form of a wide-ranging distortion/overdrive device.

Built to Tweak

At first glance, the WMD can seem a little daunting. A total of 17 knobs are arrayed across the face of the black box, which is adorned with red-and-white punkified graphics and control names written in typewriter font. The input, output, and 18VDC inputs (the Acoustic Trauma ships with a power supply) are located on the right side of the unit, adjacent to a true-bypass switch and red LED indicator.

Because the unit is built around two preamps—Cool and Hot—there are Gain and Level controls for each on the upper left. Just below these is a Preamp Blend knob for mixing the two preamp signals. Most of the pedal’s upper right area is occupied by a unique, fully parametric, 3-band EQ. Each band features a center-frequency knob, a “Q” control that adjusts the filter’s sharpness and resonance, and gain knob. There are also knobs for Gate Threshold, Noise Reduction, and Output Volume.

Warm to Radical
Using a Les Paul, I plugged the Audio Trauma into my Marshall Super Bass, as well as directly into Pro Tools. In both environments, the preamps could be a little hard and grainy sounding, though by dialing the Blend knob for as much Cool Preamp signal as possible and rolling off the volume on my Les Paul, the tone cleaned up nicely.

This is not the case when cranking up the Hot Preamp, which dishes out far more gain than you’ll ever need—even to the point of overloading on itself and achieving a very cool, but out-of-control clipping effect. But some of the coolest tones come from blending clean and dirty signals from the two Preamps and taking advantage of the frequency cancellation that happens as a byproduct of the filtering.

The EQ is a thing of beauty. It has a fairly extreme range—more like a mixing console than a pedal—that spans frequencies from 40 Hz to 15 kHz. Turning up the resonance with the Q knob and diming the High Band’s gain turned the pedal into a sonic weapon, summoning everything from whistling feedback sounds to intensely abrasive and ear-piercing screams. The EQ’s Low Band can pump out massive sounds that are both punishing and satisfying. It’s easy to crank out enough low end to justify firing your bassist.

Though the Acoustic Trauma is well suited to the digital environment of direct Pro Tools recording, it was most at home in front of the Super Bass, which rounded out the tone and coaxed milder and more manageable distortion tones from the pedal.

One thing to note is that all controls have a very wide throw, so if you bump a knob slightly, you can drastically change the sound you’ve carefully dialed in. And while some players who switch settings on the fly might consider such sensitivity a negative, I found myself constantly exploring the virtually limitless variations of the Acoustic Trauma’s basic sonic fingerprint.

The Verdict
While the Acoustic Trauma is capable of some very rich—even warm—distortion tones, this beast from WMD is designed for going against the grain. It can be a mighty weapon for the sonically adventurous player. And while there’s a learning curve to go with the impressive array of tone controls, in the end, the Acoustic Trauma is a very sensitive and flexible pedal. The only thing missing in the box is a voucher for a free tetanus shot—because yes, it can be that filthy.

Buy if...
you’re into sonic decimation and out-of-the ordinary experimental distortion.
Skip if...
gain and tone knobs are all you need in a distortion unit.

Street $299 - WMD Instrument Effects - wmdevices.com

Tone Games 2010: 30 Stompboxes Reviewed
Next in DIRTIER: Analog Man Astro Tone

A faithful recreation of the Germanium Mosrite Fuzzrite with a modern twist.

Read MoreShow less

Kenny Greenberg with his main axe, a vintage Gretsch 6118 Double Anniversary that he found at Gruhn Guitars in Nashville for a mere $600. “It had the original pickups, but the finish had been taken off and the headstock had been repaired. So, it’s a great example of a ‘player’s vintage instrument,’” he says.

On his solo debut, the Nashville session wizard discovers his own musical personality in a soundtrack for a movie that wasn’t, with stops in Africa and Mississippi hill country.

Kenny Greenberg has been Nashville’s secret weapon for decades. He’s the guitarist many insiders credit with giving the Nashville sound the rock ’n’ roll edge that’s become de rigueur for big country records since the ’90s. It’s the sound that, in many ways, delivered country music from its roots to sporting events.

Read MoreShow less
Andy Wood on Eric Johnson's "Cliffs of Dover" | Hooked

The hot picker recalls receiving a mix CD of must-know guitarists and the Grammy-winning track was the one that "hit him like a ton of bricks."

Read MoreShow less