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MXR Custom Badass '78 Distortion Pedal Review

MXR did a fantastic job of capturing an era of guitar tone that many of us love and put it in a pedal.

Download Example 1
Hamer Korina Special recorded direct with into Overloud TH-2 amp modeler. Badass set to Output and Tone at noon, Distortion 3 o'clock, Crunch on.
Download Example 2
Epiphone Sheraton into Blackheart Little Giant set at 3 watts/'68 Basketweave 4x12 with Vintage 30. Mic'd with SM57 on cone. Badass set Output 3, Tone 10 o clock, Distortion dimed. No Crunch.
Download Example 3
'03 Gibson Les Paul Custom shop 1958 Reissue Standard.  Little Giant at 5 watts into Basketweave. Badass set Output 9 o'clock, Tone 10 o'clock, Distortion 3 o'clock, Crunch on
Recorded into Pro Tools HD 9 with an Apogee Symphony I/O.  Mic Pre – Chandler LTD-1, no EQ.  
MXR has been on a retro roll. In recent months the company’s Custom Shop resurrected the ’76 Vintage Dyna Comp, ’74 Vintage Phase 90, and ’75 Vintage Phase 45 in hand-wired incarnations designed to original specs. Now they’ve expanded with classically inspired pedals like the Custom Badass ’78, which is less concerned with authentic specs than authentic sounds.

Looking a little like a compact muscle car, the ’78 is housed in the classic MXR casing and finished in a deep metallic jewel red. The most obvious controls are fairly standard—Output, Tone and Distortion. But there’s also a Crunch button (lit with a blindingly bright blue LED) that’s one the keys to the Badass in this pedal’s name.

One of the key ingredient to a killer distortion pedal is a balance between providing a hefty bottom end that isn’t too squashed, mids that sit in warm rather spiky zones, and highs that don’t cut your head off. The ’78 absolutely nails that balance. And the results are thick and defined distortion.

Set To Jet
To hear the ’78 in a setting that is very familiar to my ears I set up my ’71 Marshall Superbass through a Basketweave 4x12 with an X-pair of original G12H30s and Vintage 30s and a ’74 Les Paul Custom with stock pickups. With the Marshall up clean and fairly quiet, I kicked in the ’78 with the controls set to noon and I was transported to the muscularly overdriven realms of Bad Company and Thin Lizzy.

The ’78 has a pretty aggressive voice even at those even levels. So I brought down the distortion slightly and backed off the output. Here, the ’78 opened up in a very natural way that reacted beautifully to guitar dynamics without getting too saturated—an even better match for the Lizzy-tones already spinning in my head.

At the highest settings, the Distortion control is pretty hairy and fun—fostering a musical feedback that was a blast to control with the Les Paul’s volume knob. As howling as the ’78 could be this wide open, the sustain was still controllable and rich with harmonic texture. Backing the Distortion down to around 2 o’clock and engaging the Crunch switch thickened everything without getting muddy. In fact, it offered a hair more clarity and definition to lower notes and single note passages at higher volumes.

With the Tone dimed pick attack became super-pronounced and the overall tone took on a clarity that wasn’t ice-picky, but aggressive and defined.

Switching guitars to an Epiphone Sheraton with Tom Holmes 455s, I explored the Tone knob more extensively. Pulling it down all the way didn’t necessarily darken the sound as much as it took a little edge off and blunted the pick attack a bit. While it wasn’t precisely Clapton’s woman tone, it had a similar thick and lush character that was also milder on the top end. With the Tone dimed, pick attack became super-pronounced and the overall tone took on a clarity that wasn’t ice-picky, but aggressive and defined. The Output control generates a huge amount of gain and can be used to slam the front end of the amp for super-saturated tones.

Out in front of a Blackheart Little Giant 5 watt head, the ’78’s personality not only remained intact, but also helped me dial in tones with much of the same bite that I created with the Marshall. I don’t always take a 100-watt head to a every gig, so the fact that the ’78 can generate big amp tones with such a compact rig is worth the price alone. And for studios or stages where you need to keep volume low the ’78 is incredibly effective.

The Verdict
If you’re a fan of raw, sawing ’70s distortion, you’ll freak over the Custom Badass Distortion ’78. MXR did a fantastic job of capturing an era of guitar tone that many of us love and put it in a pedal. It’s responsive and can make notes molten and ceaselessly sustaining in your hands. It has a strong personality, but it also responsive to the nuances of your guitar and pickups. Like an American muscle car from the decade that gives it its name, the ’78 is classic and truly, badass.
Buy if...
you love classic late ’70s rock distortion with extra gain on tap.
Skip if...
you lean toward more refined and less distorted gain tones.

Street $79 - MXR -