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Normandy Guitars' Promising Pedal Debut

The O-CB’s retro-cool aesthetics drew me in, and once I heard the pedal, I was sold.

This new arrival to the world of overdrive/boost pedals is not a TS9 clone.

The first time I heard of Normandy Guitars was at the 2009 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim. Normandy’s display immediately caught my attention, as it looked great and was über-functional. The entire booth was made out of chain-link fencing with swinging “barn door” gates on both sides. The fencing had guitars mounted all over it and the gates could be swung shut at the end of the day to secure the entire contents of the booth inside—genius!

Even cooler were the actual instruments the company was displaying. Normandy specializes in aluminum-bodied guitars and basses, and they had some wicked-cool instruments on hand, including hollowbody guitars and basses, as well as an aluminum Flying V bass that I was dreaming about long after the show ended.

We hit it off with the Normandy crew straightaway. Like me, owner Jim Normandy had played bass in a touring band for many years, so we had a lot in common. We kept in touch after NAMM, and recently Jim dropped me a line to introduce their latest product, the O-CB pedal. The O-CB takes two of a guitarist’s most necessary tone tools—overdrive and clean boost—and packs them into a compact single-pedal package.

Now, anyone who knows me is aware that my tastes typically lean towards the more exotic and esoteric effects devices. In other words, overdrives and boosters typically don’t get me fired up. However, as with all Normandy products, the O-CB’s retro-cool aesthetics drew me in, and once I heard the pedal, I was sold.

The single op-amp design features a beefy PC board loaded with a single TLO71IN IC, tantalum capacitors, low-tolerance resistors, and classic 1N60 germanium clipping diodes.

The O-CB sports a utilitarian design that screams WWII army surplus. The pedal’s bullet-proof construction covers the usual feature set we’ve come to expect from a quality handbuilt device, and this includes 3PDT switches, Switchcraft jacks on flying leads, ultra-bright LEDs, and robust metalshaft pots with smooth turn action and setscrew secured knobs.

The O-CB’s internal circuitry is minimal, but once again displays an obsessive attention to detail. The single op-amp design features a beefy PC board loaded with a single TLO71IN IC, tantalum capacitors, low-tolerance resistors, and classic 1N60 germanium clipping diodes. Solder work is top notch, and all wiring is kept organized and neatly routed using cable ties.

The pedal’s control set consists of three knobs to adjust the output characteristics: The overdrive knob controls the amount of dirt, the level knob controls the volume of the dirt, and clean boost controls the volume of the separate boost circuit. The circuit’s overdrive and boost sections can be engaged separately or combined using the unit’s dual footswitches. When used together, the OD is cascaded into the boost so that the distorted signal can be made louder without increasing the amount of saturation.

Construction and functionality aside, the true test of any pedal is the sound quality and here the O-CB again delivers in spades.

I found the O-CB’s sound to lean more towards the distortion end of the tone spectrum—a TS9 Tube Screamer clone it’s not. The sound is big, full, and robust with no loss of low end and none of the clean signal “leakage” that is sometimes present in op-amp overdrive designs.

With the overdrive knob set low, the pedal exhibits a round, wooly tone that’s great for bluesy lead lines or stoner rock riffing. Turning this knob up increases the saturation but also brightens up the pedal’s overall tone, adding more clarity and sustain while creating a symbiotic interaction between your guitar and amp—lead lines sing and sustained notes morph into glorious harmonic feedback.

With the OD knob dimed, the O-CB takes you into full-on distortion territory and does a nice job of emulating the muscular tones of late-’70s hard rock. Big, burly, and uncompromising, this pedal means business.

The clean boost function can add up to 35 dB of clean gain—perfect for a cutting solo boost or for bombing the front end of your tube amp. The boost function can be engaged independently of the overdrive, which is a useful function if you need to get a clean passage heard over the top of a band without added distortion.

When used together, the O-CB’s overdrive and boost functions provide a versatile tone palette for a wide variety of playing styles. The only other pedal you need is a tuner!

Pricewise, the O-CB rubs elbows with many of the best-known boutique overdrive pedals on the market. Yet with the added bonus of an independent onboard clean boost and touring-grade construction, this pedal clearly stands out in an increasingly saturated market of saturators.

This is Normandy’s first stab at making a pedal—I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. And if you want to see some adventurous aluminum guitars and basses, check out Normandy’s website.

Kevin Bolembach is the president and founder of Godlyke, the U.S. distributor for many well-known boutique effect brands, including Maxon, Guyatone, EMMA, and Providence.