EarthQuaker Special Cranker
A medium-high-gain overdrive that gives you room to move between fat boost tones and fuzzier fare.
A powerfully heavy but also surprisingly subtle and versatile distortion pedal. Great dynamics and articulation.
Some noise at higher gain settings.
EarthQuaker Devices Zoar
What’s in a name? In dubbing their latest “Zoar,” maybe the pedal pushers from Akron, Ohio, are referencing the falcon from Masters of the Universe. More likely, they are referring to the communal village in Ohio named for the Biblical hamlet spared during the Old Testament razing of Sodom and Gomorrah. Maybe it’s just EarthQuaker Devices’ idea of the kind of ominous name a chunky medium-high-gain distortion should have. The latter scenario isn’t out of the question. It becomes clear pretty quickly that the name totally suits this teal, hammer-finished machine. Yet the Zoar is more than a tool for aggression. It’s a dynamic device that straddles both sides of the distortion/fuzz fence and achieves great touch sensitivity via a discrete transistor-based circuit.
The Zoar is housed in EQD’s standard enclosure and built around a 6-control layout, which has become a familiar sight on the company’s pedals. Here, they control gain, weight, level, bass, middle, and treble. Input and output jacks flank the center-negative 9V input on the crown of the pedal, and there’s a red LED indicator alongside the silent-action footswitch. Most of the controls are self-explanatory, save, perhaps, for weight, which governs the low-end content in the distortion signal. How you set it up plays a big part in shaping the pedal’s overall voice. So, too, does the traditional-looking 3-band EQ which EarthQuaker configured to feel and respond more like a traditional low-pass filter.
The Zoar can be powered by anything from 9V up to 18V DC, and higher voltages enhance the pedal’s dynamics, articulation, and frequency range. The non-latching, relay-based, true-bypass footswitch—called a “flexi-switch” by EQD—enables either standard on/off operation with a single tap or momentary operation when you press and hold.
Rhymes with Roar
Unlike some distortion pedals—and fuzzes in particular—that are nearly all-or-nothing, the Zoar’s gain knob has a gradual curve that yields many subtler drive colors. From around 3 o’clock to maximum, it’s pretty thick and heavy, and very fuzz-like at the highest settings. This is where the “Audio Grinder” part of the pedal’s name makes the most sense, and where the meanest, dirtiest sounds live. It’s great for sludgy chord work or foundation-rumbling riffing. It’s a heavy tone for sure, but one I can imagine using across indie styles, too.
There is an impressive plurality among the pedal’s tones, thanks to the wide-ranging EQ and the girth delivered by the weight knob. From razory and tight to flabby and bovine, there’s an entire world of high-gain, fuzzy distortion available. The Zoar’s noise levels aren’t bad overall, but noise becomes significant in silent passages if you have the gain maxed.
Reduce the gain, tweak the other controls, and the Zoar becomes appealingly nuanced. Where so many distortion and fuzz pedals are virtually unusable with their gain controls at the minimum, the Zoar behaves a lot like a good low-gain overdrive or a fat, semi-clean boost. Set this way, it lends lots of texture and liveliness to the tone as well as just a little hair that stops short of outright distortion as most of us imagine it. At 11 o’clock, you’ll hear a bit more clipping that’s more within the realm of overdrive than distortion, but you can construct many variations on that, thanks to the bass, middle, treble, and weight controls. More variation still is available via use of the 18V power option. It increases clarity and crispness as well as more detail and greater range in the already respectable touch sensitivity, which might make this mode many players’ favorite powering option.
sparkle as it does to generate all-out distortion and fuzzy textures. There’s a little noise with the gain knob at full tilt, but few medium-high-gain drives escape that fate, and the tones are sweet enough that you probably won’t notice anyway.
Bohlinger Tries the EarthQuaker Devices Zoar | First Look
Inventive open tunings, offset time signatures, jangly Teles, and dream-machine pedals help illuminate the cinematic melodies and moods for the archetype of Midwest emo.
The 15-year history of Rig Rundown has established that guitar gear fascination (and obsession) runs deep in our community. It’s the life blood of our show. But if there was ever antithetical example to guitar gluttony and equipment idolatry, it would be American Football. Their original self-proclaimed “bedroom college project” focused on self-expression, musical creativity, and working with what you had, which wasn’t much.
For the recording of their pioneering American Football album released in 1999, they borrowed most of their gear, shared a single guitar cable and tuner, didn’t use bass, and formulated odd open tunings that allowed for sinuously melodic cinematic passages between Kinsella and Holmes. Their exploration of unique open tunings inspire a legion of players include 6-string virtuoso Yvette Young. (She now ships all her signature Ibanez guitars in a tricky open tuning—F–A–C–G–B–E—derived from American Football.) Their ingenious and scrappy methods went on to inform the brand of Midwest emo that simmered a devoted fanbase waiting for their return after disbanding in 2000. First returning to the stage in 2014 and delivering two more American Football albums in 2016 and 2019, the band continues using minimal gear for maximum art.Ahead of American Football’s headlining show at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl, cofounding members Mike Kinsella (vocals/guitar) and Steve Holmes (guitar) invited PG’s Perry Bean onstage for a refreshingly practical gear chat. Kinsella recalls the band’s basic beginnings and explains how he starts every American Football demo. Then, Holmes shows off his “gorgeous and favorite” Tele. Plus, we encounter a Rig Rundown first where the tech has veto power over setlists.
Brought to you by D'Addario Trigger Capo.
A Fender From a Friend
American Football’s origins were aided by friends who borrowed them gear. The band recorded most of their earliest work on whatever equipment that worked and was loaned to them. (Guitarist/singer Mike Kinsella admits in the Rundown that he didn’t even own a guitar when they recorded the first EP.) Additionally, through their 26 years they’ve been ransacked several times depleting their gear collection, so they’re not too precious about anything. This Fender Player Plus Telecaster was recently given to him from pal Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy. Kinsella believes Trohman gave Fender his specs or may have modded it before it was gifted to him, because the DiMarzio Chopper T was added before he got the T. Kinsella notes that he leaves the 3-way selector in the middle position most times.
“I really enjoying going to Chicago Music Exchange because their staff is so nice and helpful. I just have so much fun there,” states Kinsella. Every couple years Mike goes there with the intention of buying a guitar and most recently he got this Fender Vintera 70s Telecaster Custom that’s been upgraded with the DiMarzio Chopper T.
Dark and Dead
Another one of Kinsella’s causalities to crooks was a late-’90s Fender Tele-Sonic. He reacquired a different chambered Tele when visiting Texas. He uses this one onstage the least, but really enjoys his “dark, dead sound” that makes him feel in “total control.” This quirky Tele has a chambered mahogany body, a maple neck on a rosewood fretboard, a compact 24.75" scale length, and DeArmond Dynasonic single-coil pickups.
Keeping It Straight
Guitarists Mike Kinsella and Steve Holmes rarely play in the same open tunings. To make sure each set goes smoothly, the band’s tech Mike Garzon has veto power on song inclusion and order based on what he can pull off while also being an auxiliary member covering percussion and keyboards. Here’s a cheat sheet that helps map the choreography each song needs and where it could potentially work in the set.
Mike In Stereo
Fenders have long been part of the band’s tone and on this North American run Kinsella used a pair of Fender Deluxe Reverb reissues. He’s plugging into them both to give a fuller, spacier, dreamier stereo effect.
Mike Kinsella's Pedalboard
The band never used pedals when recording or performing their first EP and debut full length in the late ’90s. To achieve differing sounds, they would create open tunings, change pickup selections, and layer all guitars parts. Pedals didn’t enter the equation until they restarted in 2014 when they wanted to expound on their original ideas, or as Kinsella explains in the Rundown, “we wanted to make the dreamy part, even dreamier.” The embellishments are accomplished with a Keeley Caverns, an EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run, an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano, a Fat-Boost FB-3, and an EarthQuaker Devices Special Cranker. And an Ernie Ball MVP Volume Pedal is first in the chain before his Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner.
Before recording the band’s return album, LP2, Holmes secured this 2014 Fender American Elite Telecaster. “It’s a gorgeous guitar. It’s my favorite guitar. If I had three of them, that’s all I would play,” admits Holmes. He prefers to use the Elite for songs that require a more midrange sting.
The Fender American Professional Jazzmaster gets stage time with Steve for the lowered tunings in their catalog, where the Fender ’60s Jaguar Fiesta Red works in the set for parts that require a more high-end, shriller attack.
Loud and Proud
Steve opted for the beefier, 85W Fender ’65 Twin Reverb reissue for these summer shows because of its ability to provide the volume and stay clean.
Steve Holmes' Pedalboard
The double EQD Dispatch Master layout is giving Steve a reverb wash while the second dream box adds in delay on top of the reverb. He will occasionally engage them both to build a climactic moment in a song. The Walrus Audio Emissary parallel boost works to push the signal and the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer adds in some snarl. Holmes relies on an Ernie Ball VP Junior 250K for dynamics and a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner to keep his Fenders in check.
Shop American Football's Rig
Fender Player Plus Telecaster
DiMarzio Chopper T Bridge
Fender American Professional Jazzmaster
Fender Vintera '70s Telecaster Custom
Fender Deluxe Reverb
Fender Twin Reverb
EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run
EHX Holy Grail Nano
EarthQuaker Devices Special Cranker
EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master
Walrus Audio Emissary
Smooth, articulate germanium and silicon overdrive that respects your tone and style—and your budget.
Smooth, articulate overdrive that respects the character of your tone and playing. Germanium and silicon options, with nice surprises on the silicon side. Great price!
Fans of higher-gain germanium circuits may be disappointed in quiet germanium side. No setting for blending the germanium and silicon diodes.
Earthquaker Devices Special Cranker
It’s pleasing when a device with a little braggadocio in its name lives up to its claim. EarthQuaker’s new Special Cranker is, indeed, special. It’s a warm, ultra-touch-responsive medium-gain overdrive that EQD designed to sound and respond like you’ve added another tube to your amp’s preamp section. The result: The character of your core tone remains vital and intact, but bristles with articulate, controlled snarl and sustain. And if that’s not special enough, there’s also a toggle that lets you switch between germanium and silicon diodes, for two classic flavors of fur.
Recognizing the Speaker
The Special Cranker is an update on the Akron-based company’s out-of-production Speaker Cranker, which had just one knob, labeled “more.” The Special Cranker literally offers more—control, that is, with the addition of an output level control and tone dial that helps shape some of the extra gain on tap, among other things.
The more dial cranks the gain by adjusting the bias of the transistor, and it can be a little noisy when you twist it, but EarthQuaker says that’s normal for this circuit. The level adjusts the output signal and can get pretty outrageous—it seems to double the volume when fully cranked in silicon mode. Unity, for my Zuzu 6-string with coil-splitting, was between 9 and 10 o’clock, so there’s lots of headroom. The tone wrangles treble: more to the right and less to the left, naturally. I found flat response at about 2 o’clock with the Zuzu, which produces Les Paul-like tones in humbucking mode and sounds like a Stratocaster in single-coil settings.
Your core tone remains vital and intact, but bristles with articulate, controlled snarl and sustain.
The circuit board inside is clean, elegantly executed, and home to the pedal’s two flavors of diode. The original Speaker Cranker utilized a single asymmetrical clipping silicon diode. Typically, asymmetrical diode clipping sounds less compressed and clearer than symmetrical clipping. Special Cranker’s switchable silicon and germanium clipping sections, however, enable you to experience two very different flavors of asymmetrical clipping. Germanium clipping, of course, harkens back to the earliest days of fuzz. It is, typically, warmer, darker, and produces less gain than silicon.
Cranking the Cranker
Plugged into a Carr Telstar amp, the Special Cranker is a little demon—especially in silicon mode. With level at noon, more at 2 to 3 o’clock, and tone also at 2 to 3 o’clock, humbuckers produce warm sounds that sustained elegantly, living up to EarthQuaker’s promise of lucid tones. That clarity helps chords flower, while single notes took on a sinuous character and hung in the air—ripe, full, and singing. It was much the same with single-coils, albeit brattier and more snarling. And while the output is aggressive and quite loud, it’s still warmly sculpted and manageable—even with the gain and level turned to maximum.
I’m a germanium fan, but to my surprise I fell hard for Special Cranker’s silicon side. I love gnarly, high-gain germanium tones, but with its medium-gain ambitions, the Special Cranker sounds grittily sophisticated rather than head-rattling. And where the germanium-driven tone had less low-mid content than I’m used to, which was a tad disappointing, the silicon side filled in and fattened the low mids—which I hadn’t expected—creating a robust, blooming sound I adored. The silicon side also made my guitar brighter, bolder, and well-defined, even with extended chords. The rangy tone control is valuable for fine tuning the extra gain and high end (though I was also very happy simply setting it flat). It’s also very helpful when searching for more brightness on the darker, quieter germanium diode.
The Special Cranker is an exceptional medium-gain overdrive with tube-like character, offering plenty of easy-to-control, warm distortion and boost. The germanium side may be too tame for some players. But the silicon side has a full, fat voice that is perfectly responsive to picking technique and preserves the integrity of complex chords. That alone makes the $99 price a bargain. I’d love to see a setting for blending the silicon and germanium diodes, even though that would bump the price. But players looking for a more articulate and colorful alternative to TS and Klon tones should crank up the Special Cranker and tilt an ear.
An all-discrete analog distortion enhancement device designed to add extra grit and boost without drastically altering tone.
The Special Cranker picks up where the Speaker Cranker left off. It has the same spongy, dynamic, and touch-sensitive character of the original but with more gain, double the output volume (now with a user-friendly Level control), an added Tone control to shape your signal, and a diode selector switch featuring the original asymmetrical Silicon diodes as well as a hot, new Germanium diode option. The More control goes from nearly clean to a medium gain overdrive when at maximum. This control adjusts the bias of the transistor, so you may hear a little noise as you turn the control.
The gain characteristics are dependent on which diodes are chosen. When the Germanium diodes are selected, the Special Cranker delivers a softer, more rounded response with tamed highs and lower output, while the Silicon diodes add a brighter, more modern edge and higher output. Both are responsive to playing dynamics and offer a high-level of clarity. The Tone control gives the user full command over treble frequencies, cutting the highs when counterclockwise and adding a slight high frequency boost when turned clockwise. The Level control adjusts the output from nothing to nearly double at maximum.
- Gives your signal extra grit and boost without drastically altering your tone and retains all of the natural nuances and character of your amplifier
- Two distinct clipping modes that are both exceptionally responsive to playing dynamics: Germanium and Silicon
- Germanium mode delivers a softer, more rounded response with tamed highs and lower output
- Silicon mode delivers a brighter, more modern response with higher output
- At maximum gain, the Special Cranker can achieve explosive overbiased tones depending on the output of your pickups
- Flexible Tone control to give the user full command over the treble frequencies for excellent tone shaping and clarity
- All-analog signal path
- True bypass
- Silent relay-based switching with Flexi-Switch Technology
- Lifetime warranty
- Current Draw: 15 mA
- Input Impedance: ≈5 MΩ
- Output Impedance: <25 kΩ
USA Retail Price: $99.00 USD. More info at: https://www.earthquakerdevices.com/special-cranker.
EarthQuaker Devices Special Cranker Overdrive Demo | First Look
Akron's finest make a staple OD nastier, more flexible and more refined.