Easy on the wallet, with an abundance of fun tones.
Growly low-gain voice. Punchy. Sounds great at wide open tone settings.
Might be too compressed or too high gain for some tastes.
Fender Hammertone Overdrive
Fender’s most important gift to the effects cosmos is spring reverb. That legacy, however, tends to obscure other high points in the company’s effects history, which is dotted with a few classics—if not runaway commercial hits.
At appealing prices ranging from $79 to $99, the new Fender Hammertone pedals could easily be huge sellers. But what makes these effects extra attractive is that they don’t have the functional or operational feel of generic entry-level pedals. Most have a strong, even distinctive, personality—at least compared to other inexpensive effects. They each come with extra features and voices that stretch the boundaries of the foundational tones. And if the voices aren’t always the most refined or lush when compared to more expensive analog equivalents or expensive digital units, they are fun and prompt a lot of musical sparks.
With one eye on 1960s and ’70s stylings (Hammerite-style paint, chrome- and candy-colored knobs) and another on concessions to modernity like mini toggles, smart one-screw back-panel access, top-mounted jacks, and smooth, sturdy pots, the Hammertone pedals are nice design pieces. They also seem very well made for the price. I’m usually skeptical about an inexpensive pedal’s ability to hold up over the long haul, but the Hammertone series seem put together right.
Fender Hammertone Pedals Demo | First Look
Hammertone Reverb Review
The Hammertone entry in the reverb sweepstakes, strangely, comes with no spring emulation. It hardly matters, though. I was able to dial in convincing spring-like sounds using the pedal’s hall mode. It fared well in an A/B test with a splashy sounding black-panel Vibrolux Reverb. Like a lot of the Hammertone pedals, the Reverb gives you an extensive range to work within, so the hall setting, for instance, can shift from spring-ish sounds to a vacant, massive gymnasium. The room mode is great for fast and subtle reflections and a nice way to add a little body to overdriven tones without creating an overbearing wash. The plate mode is home to loads of treats, too, and, like many pedals in the Hammertone series, has a pleasing, almost-metallic range of overtones that suggest vintage reverbs.
At more radical, high-to-maximum time and level settings you start to hear a lot of cool, odd reflections and overtones.
Each of these voices sound pretty great at mellower or more traditional settings. At more radical, high-to-maximum time and level settings, you start to hear a lot of cool, odd reflections and overtones. At times though, you can also hear digital artifacts and some less-than-flattering high harmonic content in the decay. These qualities are more obvious when the damping control, which controls the length of the reverb tails, is set for a long trail. Exceptionally wet blends, too, can betray digital origins. But there is a bit of hidden treasure among these most extreme sounds: If you max the level and use the most open damping setting, you can almost use the Reverb as a freeze pedal. Additionally, some players may dig these sounds—particularly those that evoke shimmer reverbs without sounding entirely like a shimmer reverb. Even if you rarely explore these corners of the Reverb’s tone collection, the less extreme sounds are plentiful and full of personality, and you can dial in many in-between shades that blend big spaces and cool understated facets.
Like most pedals in the Hammertone line, the Chorus generates an impressive palette of sounds for the price. That includes a lot of tones you can safely file under “weird.” It takes a little practice to walk the fine line between radio-friendly chorus tones and odder fare. The Chorus starts to get pretty woozy sounding past 3 on the depth knob. Initially, that can feel constraining. But it’s also a source of surprises once you master the ways in which the Chorus’s controls interact.
The Chorus’s sounds are rooted in the three basic modes. The single-voice mode is focused and airy—leaving ample room for picking dynamics and clear transients, even at high depth settings. The two-voice setting is thicker and sounds more flanger-like at many positions. The two-voice structure produces more unusual phase-cancelling patterns that can give the output a honky midrange focus that cuts as it drifts through waveforms.
The two-voice mode produces very liquid ’80s vintage chorus, including Kurt Cobain/Small Clone-style submarine modulations.
It’s less naturalistic and peakier than the single-voice mode, but it also produces very liquid ’80s vintage chorus, including Kurt Cobain/Small Clone-style submarine modulations when the depth gets to about 4. The 4-voice mode combines four lines with base delay times of 14, 23, 29, and 35 milliseconds. This creates a complex voice that adds subtle motion to prevailingly dry effects mixes or can make wet settings sound like a demented high horn in a rotary speaker.
First impressions of the Chorus’s controls are that they can be twitchy. And the boundary between pleasantly aqueous modulations and downright seasick ones at certain depth settings can be hard to navigate until you get a feel for how the depth and level controls work together. Ultimately, though, the Chorus provides intuitive routes to many modulation ends.
One initial impression of this Fender Delay is that it’s a lot more fun than most inexpensive digital delays. All three of the Delay’s voices have a very present EQ profile with just a hint of almost mechanical, spring-like overtones that feel appropriate for a Fender pedal. The effort Fender put into sourcing smoother, sturdier-feeling potentiometers pays fun dividends here, too. The feedback control, for instance, is really responsive and easy to ride right at the verge of oscillation.
The analog 1 voice generates soft tapering echoes that blend into the background as they decay—a treasured facet of genuine bucket brigade delays. It can be genuinely subtle, even at advanced feedback, level, and time settings. And at equivalent feedback levels, analog 1 will yield many fewer perceptible repeats than the middle-position digital voice. Analog 1’s washy, less distinct repeats shine at certain extremes as well. Long feedback settings, delay-heavy mixes, and super-short delay times yield a weird blend of metallic spring reverb and Abbey Road automatic double-tracking tones. The more subtle repeats also mean you can crank the feedback without making a total mess.
Clear repeats also expand the potential for punchier beat-centric and repetitive patterns and riffs.
Things are different over on the digital voice. In this domain, repeats ring with clarity, and the ghosts of bum notes will haunt you if you’re not careful. But the clear repeats also expand the potential for punchier beat-centric and repetitive patterns and riffs. Analog 2 is my favorite voice. Its mid-forward repeats excite a more prominent, shimmering set of harmonics. It’s a great environment for enjoying the mix of those extra overtones and a dose of extra motion from the pedal’s modulation section.
The modulation can be dialed up to amazingly queasy levels of intensity at high depth and repeat settings. In general, though, I like the modulation depth at more modest levels. And the Delay sounds nice enough to require little in the way of modulation dressing. That said, I strongly suggest this mode with the Hammertone Chorus. It’s a yummy combo.
There are more immaculate digital delays and more authentic digital takes on bucket brigade echo. But to me, the Delay’s quirks are big plusses. That they so interestingly color the pedal’s broad range of personalities make it a true bargain.
The Hammertone Flanger is a reliably flexible pedal. It generates great chorus tones (some of which I preferred to roughly equivalent sounds from the Hammertone Chorus), and slow whoosing sweeps can be the antidote to the sick-of-my-phaser blues. But great core flanger tones abound, too, including mind-warp, hit-of-nitrous jet flange, and gentler, less tone-mangling sounds that pulse with a nice, almost tremolo-like modulation.
Coaxing the tones you want from the Flanger won’t necessarily be automatic. The basic voice is, like many of the Hammertone pedals, colored by a high-mid focus that’s evocative of hard-surface reverb reflections. On the Flanger, that voice can read as harsh in places. But the Flanger’s easily mastered controls make it simple to find softer landings. The two mini toggles are key if you generate a sound that’s a bit too intense. The type switch, which here controls feedback polarity, can recast a super-peaky setting with a flick.
The basic voice is colored by a high-mid focus that’s evocative of hard-surface reverb reflections.
The resonance switch is an even more valuable escape hatch—or portal to weirdness. It takes the place of a resonance or feedback knob that you’d see on many flangers. Generally, replacing a knob with a switch that moves between presets means diminished flexibility. But the Flanger’s voices each inhabit a sweet spot that you can modify with the depth and manual controls, the latter of which governs the delay time between the split signals that make up the flanger tone. If there is a downside to abundance of control, it’s that it can be a minor chore to dial in precisely the sound you’re looking for. As with the Chorus, the depth control can move from just-right to wild with a minor accidental nudge. Thankfully, there aren’t many bad sounds to make such an accident too jarring.
If you line up the Hammertone Overdrive alongside other popular overdrives (in my case, a TS9, an inexpensive klone, and a Boss SD-1), you hear a pedal much more aligned with the TS/SD-1 camp—tight, mid-forward, and punchy. But it is still a very different pedal in terms of feel and range.
The Overdrive is most easily distinguished and differentiated by its hotter gain profile. The distortion sounds you hear at gain settings of 1 to 3 on the Overdrive are roughly equivalent to the distortion you get north of noon on the TS, Boss, and klone. There’s also the sense of a touch more compression at equivalent settings. That recipe makes the Overdrive a sort of inhabitant of the borderlands between overdrive and distortion.
At its lowest gain setting the Overdrive still growls and feels ready to pounce.
If you’re not inclined to use your guitar volume control much, the Overdrive doesn’t have a ton of cleanish tones to offer. At its lowest gain setting it still growls and feels ready to pounce. And even significant guitar volume attenuation still leaves discernible grit. That may sound constraining at first, but if you use maximum output and tone, minimum gain, and a dynamic touch with your fingers and guitar volume, you can span a huge range of sounds from explosive to mellow and hazy. The Overdrive’s capacity for dynamism may not always be obvious, but it’s there if you open the pedal up and let your fingers do the expressive work.
Though the Overdrive feels pretty-mid forward to me, there is a pre-mid boost. There’s a lot of utility in this control. It can help the Overdrive span more of the distance between a TS and Klon, and it can make the transition between humbuckers and single-coils easier to manage. In general, though, I found that the Overdrive sounded airiest and best able to breathe with the tone wide open and the mids scooped. Unleash the gain in this kind of setup and the Overdrive sounds pretty beastly.
The guitar virtuoso sifted through his vaults for the nuggets that began his two new albums, The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today, and then let inspiration take over.
Eric Johnson knows that excessive pride gets in the way of true progress, and that having extraordinary talent doesn’t beget personality or, simply put, make you better than anyone else. “I’ve spent so long being involved in [playing music] that, at one point, you take a break and go, ‘Yeah, but that’s not me—that’s just something I do. Who am I?’” he shares. “Regardless of how well you do it and how appreciated you are, it’s not like a carte blanche calling card that gives you any kind of real entitlement in life. If you think it does, then you don’t know who you are.”
That philosophy, along with his passion for the instrument, has, over time, superseded any ego-inflating diversions that can come from fame. And rather than resting on his legacy, the guitarist is building on it with the release of two albums: The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today. The records came together in a process of creative reconnaissance, where Johnson dove into his vault of recordings to find forgotten song ideas that could be polished, fleshed out, and rejuvenated for release.
Eric Johnson - Soundtrack Life (Official Visualizer)
The 18 tracks that collectively make up both albums include those that fit into a classic Johnson style, such as the brightly textured lead single from The Book of Making, “Soundtrack Life,” along with ones that explore other territories, like that album’s gentle, piano-guided “To Be Alive,” co-written with singer/guitarist Arielle, and a cover of the blues classic “Sittin’ on Top of the World” by the Mississippi Sheiks (famously covered by Howlin’ Wolf). These new compositions range from panoramic instrumentals to lilting ballads, embroidered by the guitarist’s fluid, crystalline tone and uplifting vocals. And together, they offer a new look into Johnson’s characteristic finesse.
When the last few weeks of his tour got cancelled in March 2020, Johnson, amidst the societal standstill and isolated from his bandmates, decided that the best use of his time would be to revisit his old demos and musical sketches. As he navigated through the tiny snippets, little chord changes, and other bits and pieces, he discovered that he had far more material available than expected and set to arranging and recording.
“When I take the vantage point of a listener, it’s easier to tell if stuff really has merit.”
I felt, well, if I’m going to be isolated, let me go try to find something to work on,” he says. “There’s a handful of songs that were written from scratch, and towards the end of the period I brought musicians in and we recorded new stuff. Then there’s a couple of tracks that I didn’t do anything to. They were just left over from outtakes from other records. But predominantly it was just stuff that was barely started, and I did a whole lot of work on my own.”
The songs done from scratch include “Floating Through This World” and “To Be Alive” from The Book of Making and “Hold on to Love” and “JVZ” (dedicated to Johnson’s late tour manager and guitar tech, Jeff Van Zandt) from Yesterday Meets Today. The original idea for the former album’s “My Faith in You” dates back 20 years, although its oldest song is “Love Will Never Say Goodbye,” which was built from a rough mix on a 25-year-old cassette. “That’s all I had,” Johnson says. “I couldn’t find the master take. It had synthesizer, bass, drums, and a vocal that was a little too low in level, but I just went with it. Then I added several guitars to it, and background vocals and percussion.”
Johnson’s distinctive hybrid picking technique is partly derived from steel guitar players, leading him to pluck all the strings in a chord at once. He also favors picking near the end of the pickguard, to get a warm, round tone from single notes.
Photo by Ken Settle
Twenty-five years ago, Johnson was having an especially fertile creative period, despite his reputation as a painstaking studio craftsman. His albums Venus Isle and Seven Worlds sprang from that era, and his tenure on tour with fellow maestros Joe Satriani and Steve Vai was preserved on G3: Live in Concert. And while he’s more relaxed about record-making these days, he’s no less creative or prolific. The popular virtuoso says that every time he sets out to make an album, he usually ends up making two—and stashes the excess recordings in his vault. In this case, his efforts at rekindling his past inspirations resulted in 28 tracks that were pared down to the final 18, although he intends to eventually release five or six more of the original set on an upcoming EP.
Producer Kelly Donnelly, who has worked with Johnson on eight previous albums plus his 2014 collaboration with Mike Stern, Eclectic, helped with some of the engineering, but Johnson did most of it himself. In the process, he learned something interesting about the usefulness of low-fidelity recordings: If you pair them with recordings of a higher quality, the combination can create a compelling depth of field. This meant that he was able to salvage and build upon some of his more compromised cassette recordings. “I found that to be fascinating—it was like, ‘Wow, that kind of works.’ I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
“There has to be an element of the music that has enough power and velocity to reach out to the listener, rather than just be sonically nice to listen to.”
In 2020, Johnson worked with Fender to create a replica of his 1954 “Virginia” Stratocaster, which he played on many of the tracks from The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today. The guitar’s body is made with the less commonly seen sassafras wood and set up with a DiMarzio bridge pickup and ’57/’62 single-coil Strat middle and neck pickups. On the albums, he played a handful of other models, including a 1957 Strat with a maple neck, a 1965 Gibson ES-345 semi-hollowbody, and a late-’50s Les Paul. He also plays a National lap steel and Danelectro Vincent Bell Coral sitar on some tracks.
When it comes to songwriting, Johnson comments that his self-proclaimed perfectionist tendency to overthink things can work against him. “The songs where you’re really pushing and striving and stressing end up sounding like that,” he says, while the ones that just flow are the ones that are, for him, most worth working on. His creative process usually begins with making recordings of musical snapshots on his iPhone. He’ll capture a phrase on guitar or piano, or sometimes record himself singing a vocal or instrumental melody to later revisit. “They’re pretty embarrassing, if anybody ever found ’em,” he laughs, referring to the latter.
Eric Johnson’s Gear
Although Johnson records with a variety of guitars, his weapon of choice—even before he immortalized his own version of the model’s sound via 1986’s Tones and 1990’s Ah Via Musicom—has long been the Fender Stratocaster.
Photo by Jim Summaria
- Eric Johnson Virginia Fender Stratocaster
- 1957 Fender Stratocaster
- 1965 Gibson ES-345
- 1950s Gibson Les Paul
- National lap steel
- Danelectro Vincent Bell Coral Sitar
Strings & Picks
- D’Addario EPN110 Pure Nickel sets
- Dunlop Jazz IIIs
- TC Electronic Stereo Chorus
- Electro-Harmonix Memory Man
- Vintage Echoplex (modded for use as preamp)
- ’60s Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face
- Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
- BK Butler Tube Driver
- Marshall plexi 50
- Two-Rock Classic Reverb
- Marshall 4x12
- Fender Bandmaster Reverb
- Electro-Voice speakers
Deciding which compositions to keep or toss can be a curious process. To better judge his own writing, Johnson says it’s important for him to detach and act like an audience member or listener—so not to give himself any favoritism. “You have to dispel all that,” he says. “When I take the vantage point of a listener, it’s easier to tell if stuff really has merit.” While that can sound like a purely imaginative exercise, he has a rather practical way of getting to that perspective. Often, he’ll just crank up his studio monitors and walk into another room to listen.
“That helps you tell whether something’s really reaching you or not,” he elaborates, “because you’re not sitting there enveloping yourself and hyping yourself on something. There has to be an element of the music that has enough power and velocity to reach out to the listener, rather than just be sonically nice to listen to.”
“There’s nobody who’s going to be able to do what you do the way you do it.”
Johnson calls the evolution of his sound a “crazy process” that he says could go on forever, but he tries to let the music speak and will work to rise to the occasion to come up with a part that fits. “Sometimes that means I have to study a part that I can’t normally play.” Which means his self-labeled “perennial student” mentality has its benefits.
When asked if he experiences self-doubt, Johnson shares that he believes the habit of comparing yourself to others can be demoralizing, but he looks to practicing gratitude as a solution. “It’s just trying to be thankful for what you have and not compare yourself to other people. The more you’re in yourself and do your best.… There’s nobody who’s going to be able to do what you do the way you do it.”
Some of the 18 songs spread over Johnson’s two new albums trace back 25 years, to the era of his first G3 Tour and his records Venus Isle and Seven Worlds.
Johnson was born into a musical family, with a father who was an enthusiastic music appreciator and three sisters who studied piano. His parents have said that he loved records when he was 3 years old. They listened to a lot of swing and showtunes, he says, which he developed a taste for as a child. He got his own record player when he was 5.
The guitarist walks through the lightshow clouds on the Experience Hendrix tour in 2014, searching for butterflies, moonbeams, and fairy tales within his alluring sound.
Photo by Frank White
When Johnson got into playing music, he began to study piano at age 11, then took some lessons on guitar—though on guitar, he was mainly transposing what he learned on piano. His passion for wood and strings, however, quickly took over. “I loved it so much that I incessantly worked at it to get better, and it’s all I wanted to do,” he says.
“When I was a kid and saw all the cats playin’ guitar—Cream and the Yardbirds and all those people—I was like, ‘This is awesome,’” he shares. “Plus, it was kind of the first generation of overdriven guitar with fuzz tones. It was a sound that you’d just never heard before. That was really exciting.” He played in bands as a teenager, and tried going to college at the University of Texas at Austin but only earned three credits from taking an astronomy course, thinking it might be something he would want to pursue. But becoming a professional musician ended up being his clear choice.
Rig Rundown - Eric Johnson 
Despite his high profile and staggering proficiency, plus eight Grammy nominations and a win for his 1991 tune “Cliffs of Dover,” Johnson says he’s remained conscious of not letting things go to his head, saying, “It’s better to just let it flow, like when you were a kid just loving to play,” he says. “It’s best to let that happen naturally. Once you start becoming too aware of yourself and assimilating your legacy or living in your stature or fame or notoriety, you create a feedback loop where you’ll trip over yourself eventually.”
In celebration of 25 years of Reverend Guitars, the company is releasing two guitars and one bass with special anniversary cosmetics.
The guitars are the Reverend Six Gun HPP, the Reverend Sensei Jr, and the Reverend Decision P. The models are in Metallic Silver Freeze, have Ebony fretboards with an XXV inlay at the 12th fret, and a brushed aluminum pickguard.
Reverend Guitars is celebrating 25 years of building guitars with a modern-meets-vintage vibe. Legendary guitar designer, Joe Naylor, designs all the guitars. Tech teams meticulously inspect, set up, and hand serial-number each guitar. Every guitar is crafted with a sense of purpose, whether you play in your bedroom or in an arena.
Reverend Sensei Jr
More info at www.reverendguitars.com. These models will only be available in 2022.