Wren and Cuff Two-Five Review
Explosive meets expressive in an overdrive powerful enough to be measured in megatons.
Light years of headroom. Rich, harmonically charged overdrive sounds. Powerful EQ section.
Can be less than intuitive. Treble can be tough to tame. High headroom can mean less dynamics in some cases.
Ease of Use:
Not so long ago, the available flavors of stompbox overdrive added up to not many flavors at all. How things have changed. With pedal builders dabbling ever more creatively in clipping configurations, EQ, and voltage multiplying, overdrive is now a whole galaxy of sound possibilities—one that would boggle the mind of a time traveller who once had little choice beyond an OD-1 and a TS-808.
Wren & Cuff’s Two-Five embodies many of the divergent tangents and new directions in contemporary overdrive design. It uses internal voltage multiplication to run at 25 volts, lending power and headroom that can be startling. It also employs a passive amp-style tone stack that’s sensitive, interactive, and enables subtle and profound shifts in color. And if you play it alongside most of the mass-market, industry standard overdrives out there, you’ll fast discover that it sounds and feels quite unlike any of them.
Built to Burn
I’ve played a number of Wren & Cuff stomps and always been impressed with Matthew Holl’s attention to design, detail, and quality. There’s nothing extraordinary going on under the hood of the Two-Five, but the circuit is thoughtfully laid-out on a through-hole board. Physical hints at the Two-Five’s high-power orientation abound. Two 8-pin op amps (the part numbers have been rubbed out) are situated at the top right and center of the circuit board. You’ll also see two yellow LED clipping diodes that are activated via the hotter setting of the voice switch. (The “mellower” voice mode uses smoother mosfet and germanium clipping). They add even more headroom than you’re already getting from the 25V circuit and contribute much to the Two-Five’s jaws-full-of-fangs potency. The circuit board is also home to a small slider switch that you can use to reduce the output. Given how flat-out loud the Two-Five can be, I suspect many will opt to use it.
Ride the Tiger
The manual for the Two-Five cautions users that the pedal’s output can “scare the crap out of you” if you don’t start with conservative output settings. It’s no empty threat. The Two-Five is really loud. And it can make your amp sound and feel 10 times bigger without driving it into a compressed, collapsing-on-itself mess. Even a little Champ sounded dangerously huge without turning to mush. My 50-watt Bassman piggyback became a window-rattling monster—all with the pedal volume and gain knobs on the quieter side of noon and the amp volume at 3.
At first, all this volume and headroom can seem paradoxically limiting. The Two-Five provides so much extra punch that you can feel like there’s nowhere to go. What’s more, less flattering EQ setups can make your guitar—and bright single-coils in particular—sound harsh and deafening loud. It’s important not to be deterred by these first impressions, though. As you learn to navigate the Two-Five’s EQ, you’ll find there are many shades of available overdrive, boost, and distortion that can make almost any guitar and pickup combination sound like a much more detailed and rich version of itself.
Managing the EQ isn’t completely intuitive—at least in the early going. Just as on Fender amps with a treble-mid-bass tone stack, the controls are very interactive. And if you aren’t experienced with these types of circuits (or accustomed to basic high- and low-pass tone filtering circuits) you’ll occasionally happen upon tone combinations that seem to work for no particular reason. This is no bad thing. The trade-off is sensitivity in the controls that will thrill tone-sculptors and a flexibility that puts any guitar or pickup at home with the Two- Five once you find the relative sweet spot.
The gain section of the circuit can also be counterintuitive at first. There isn’t much in the way of clean boost here. Even the lowest gain settings have a bit of grit. The gain control also chokes out of running room not much past 12 o’clock. And it is sweetest sounding at settings that approximate wide-open Marshall tones and less aggressive mid-gain sounds. Super saturation is not the Two-Five’s stock-in-trade. But just about every other shade of overdrive right up to that level of distortion most certainly is. Apart for those big, blasting Marshall tones (which are best achieved with the midrange at maximum), I found nice approximations of an AC30’s toothy jangle (The Two-Five’s headroom means lots of uncompressed high-end detail.) and even traces of a Sunn’s stark and powerful solid-state grunt.
The Two-five works great with other pedals, but often in unconventional ways. Curiously, the Two Five’s high headroom doesn’t accommodate fuzz so much as it revels in driving fuzzes to more delirious extremes. Situating a Sovtek Big Muff before the Two-Five resulted in a tangle of ugly harmonics. Using the Two-Five to drive the Muff, however, was an entirely different story. The Muff retained its burly, wooly bossiness, but became wider, richer, growlier, and much malleable thanks to the way the Two-Five’s EQ section enlivened and excited harmonics in very specific parts of the Muff’s overtone spectrum. Among its many other virtues, the Two-Five is a killer fuzz-sculpting tool.
The Two-Five rewards precision technique. And at the wrong settings, it can punish sloppy play. But while all that headroom and lack of compression means it favors precision fretwork at many settings, the rich distortion and super-flexible EQ make it easy to dial in multi-hued, complex, but still barbarian high-gain sounds. Mastering the Two-Five takes practice. And one downside of all the flexibility and adaptability is that you might be constantly dialing in new settings as you move from a Stratocaster to a fat humbucker-equipped instrument. But as long as you don’t mind marking a few settings with tape (or if you have an excellent memory), you’ll ultimately thrill to the wealth of sound possibilities that lurk inside.
Watch the Review Demo: