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
One of the furriest, foxiest fuzz machines ever is reborn in a compact and more capable incarnation.
Rich, sonorous basic fuzz tones. Controlled but nasty octave effects. Footswitchable octave. Mid-boost option.
A few bucks on the spendy side relative to the competition. Footswitches close together.
Danelectro 3699 Fuzz
Ease of Use:
I’ve played original Foxx Tone Machines through big amplifiers a few times, and I can still feel those sounds reverberating in my gut. What I remember best was how throaty and massive the fuzz sounded—even before you activated the eye-watering octave-up function.
Danelectro’s new take on the Tone Machine, the 3699, has an interesting pedigree, because Danelectro is now owned by Steve Ridinger, the man who shepherded the original Tone Machine into existence in 1971. But Danelectro clearly didn’t rely on pedigree in executing this design. It’s burly, refined, sounds authentically vintage, and hits me with a wallop in the same spot where those originals left beautiful scars years ago.
Cut You Down to Size
The original Tone Machine was an odd bird. For starters, the enclosure was literally fuzzy. It was also big and curiously configured—with side-mounted knobs and an octave toggle, and a single, lonely footswitch on top. The 3699 reduces the footprint of the original. But it also adds two features that did not appear on the Tone Machine: a dedicated footswitch for the octave effect and a toggle that switches between the standard fuzz voice and a more mid-forward mode.
The 3699’s footswitches are close together—less than 1 1/2" on center—so you have to take care not to bypass the pedal entirely when selecting the octave. But the footswitch is a practical improvement over the toggle that performed the same function on the original. Elsewhere, output volume, fuzz, and tone controls are straight-ahead and self explanatory.
Brings the Boom
Though the 3699 is an octave fuzz, you’re just as likely to fall hard for the fundamental fuzz tone sans octave. It’s more than a little reminiscent of a Big Muff, with a compressed foghorn-like attack, honey-smooth sustain, and enough sting and definition on top to create perceptible string-to-string separation. Full chords sound surprisingly articulate.
As with many hot silicon fuzzes, you can’t readily transform the 3699 into an overdrive with guitar volume attenuation. It’s fuzzy down at the lowest ranges of its gain, and just gets more menacing and bright as you add gain. But you can coax dank, swampy, and complex sounds that bridge overdrive and fuzz by attenuating guitar tone and volume—achieving settings that can make a Telecaster sound like a Les Paul neck humbucker driving a tweed Deluxe. The tone control is the more effective means of re-shaping the fuzz’s personality, and there are many shades of buzz—from smoky and blunted to searing and metallic.
The octave effect itself dovetails beautifully with the fundamental tones. And at times the shift between straight fuzz and octave fuzz at lower tone and gain levels can be surprisingly subdued. On the other hand, the 3699 octave fuzz can generate punchy, harmonically whole, and sustain-rich chords, where other octave fuzzes collapse into chaos. Conjuring the most intense octave sounds is typically a function of adding top end, and there is plenty of range in the tone control to transform your tone from hazy to hair-singeing. At these higher-end tone levels, the 3699 retains its essential cohesiveness, but takes on an absolutely manic edge. Playing lead lines against droning strings at the 10th fret or higher can even create clanging ring modulated sounds.
The 3699 won’t back you into a creative corner. The fundamental fuzz sounds so good that you might make it your number one. And with the octave in the mix, it’s softer around the edges—even at extreme gain and tone settings—than other Tone Machine clones I’ve heard. To me that’s a good thing. It lends the 3699 a more controlled and predictable feel without surrendering its most feral side—almost as if you were sending your guitar via direct injection to a desk and cranking the gain on the console. To call the 3699 completely civilized might be a reach. At many settings, it can be downright thuggish. But its range of tones add up a multitude of musical options—making it one of the most flexible octave fuzzes you’ll ever play.
Warm, articulate, natural overdrive and distortion tones offer an alternative to the same old OD blues. The PG Cascade Hosstortion review.
A characterful overdrive with great touch sensitivity, excellent clarity, and versatile EQ. An able recreation of a hard-to-find classic.
No major negatives, but it's worth knowing whether a MOSFET overdrive is your cup of tea before spending the cash on this one.
Cascade Pedals Hosstortion
Ease of Use:
Cascade, a creative pedal maker based in the western North Carolina town of Asheville, builds a lot of custom stomps. The Hosstortion, however, is a new entry into its growing production lineup. The circuit, as Cascade main-man Charlie Mostoller tells us, is a “modern reimagining" of the rare and sought-after Ibanez MT10 Mostortion pedal of the early '90s, a MOSFET-based distortion-overdrive beloved for its thick, warm mids, biting clarity, and walloping low end.
Although the CMOS op-amps used in the original Ibanez were discontinued 15 years ago, the creation of powerful new BiMOS chips enables Cascade to re-cast the Ibanez formula with more gain, while retaining the versatile EQ and basic voice of the MT10. Further nods to modern performance include a bipolar charge pump for added headroom and lower noise, and premium true-bypass switching.
Cascade's custom enclosures can be pretty creative. The company's Scooby-Doo Fuzz, for example, is housed in a repurposed toy Mystery Machine. The Hosstortion, however, is built in a standard enclosure and finished in striking sour-apple-green metallic with graphics that echo the MT10's original design motif. (Sadly, Cascade didn't use the Pac-Man-style knobs that distinguished the MT10.) Controls include dirt (gain), level, high, mid, and low. The bypass switch is held tight by an anodized lug nut. Cascade warns that the Hosstortion should only be used with a 9V center-negative power supply, and there's no 9V battery option.
It's worth noting that although the pedal has “distortion" in its name, it's not meant to be a screaming high-gain metal machine, but more of a medium-gain overdrive, or a vintage-style low-gain distortion. Starting at low gain settings reminds you that good MOSFET overdrives possess many distinct, individual characteristics. (Marshall famously used MOSFET overdrive to get as close to possible to tube-style distortion in their '80s solid-state amps, which have fans to this day.)
Even at conservative settings on the gain knob (around 9 to 10 o'clock), the Mosstortion is thick, rich, and juicy, and it's great for goosing a Tele-style bridge pickup into slightly gnarlier twang zones. And in this way, it's a fantastic pedal for switching on and forgetting—adding depth and personality to an amp when you can't crank it up into its sweet spot.
Throughout its gain and EQ ranges, the Hosstortion consistently delivers a very enjoyable blend of articulation, girth, and, at times, a raw edge that lends texture without getting harsh or blocky. Higher gain settings elicit smooth complex-but-saturated overdrive that tends more toward singing solos or chunky power chords, while retaining an edgy bark that is signature MOSFET. Even with the gain up to 3 o'clock, it's still extremely transparent. It's also very responsive to guitar volume attenuation, leaving you with a beefy but characterful near-clean tone when you turn down.
I don't have an original Ibanez MT10 on hand to A/B with the Hosstortion (and acquiring one on the vintage market would probably cost $400 to $600), but to the extent that memory serves me, the Hosstortion sounds and feels much like the Mostortion that I occasionally played in the late '90s, and it's an impressive encapsulation of the natural, warm-to-mildly-aggressive tones and response that made MOSFET overdrives appealing in the first place.
The Hosstortion isn't just a ruggedly built and cleverly conceived reimagining of the iconic Ibanez Mostortion of the early '90s. It's a characterful and dynamic overdrive by any measure. It maintains surprising transparency amid the thick, rich textured voicing, and it's an excellent alternative to the more ubiquitous TS-style template.
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