This '70s-style stomp mates a powerfully sculpting EQ to a muscular, malleable output.
Big Tone’s Gray Box Overdrive does not disguise its relation to the original DOD 250, but it sure takes the concept a whole lot further. It adds germanium/silicon diode switching, which effectively makes the Gray Box a shape-shifting DOD 250/MXR Distortion + hybrid. It also adds a very clever, capable, and tunable EQ that enables you to focus the slap-in-the-face impact of those circuits or soften their harsher edges.
This is a fantastic pedal for overdubbing or double tracking rhythm parts—especially with a softer clipping Klon- or TS-style overdrive or a bass-heavy clean tone as the other half of the mix. I used it primarily with my silverface Bassman and 2x12. It was perfect top-end counterpoint to that amp’s belly-shaking low-end capabilities for both ’70s rock crunch and Steve Albini-, Sonic Youth-, and Pavement-style indie-attack tones.
As fantastic as the Gray Box can sound in these applications, this isn’t an overdrive for everyone. Even with all the EQ flexibility, some soft clipping devotees will find it shockingly immediate and even harsh. But if you crave overdrive tones that inhabit the, well, “gray” area between civilized and brutish, you’ll dig what Big Tone has in store.
Test gear: DeArmond JetStar, Fender Stratocaster, silverface Fender Bassman, ’64 Fender Tremolux
Fender Telecaster Custom with silverface Fender Bassman and 2 X12 cabinet with Warehouse G-12C/S speakers.
A behind-the-scenes look at eight of the most remarkable pedal collections we’ve seen in quite some time.
Best CoastBobb Bruno and Bethany Cosentino
Perhaps even more so than his former roommate, Nels Cline, Best Coast’s Bobb Bruno has a definite affinity for stompboxes. His board takes advantage of offerings from a slew of boutique outfits—including a couple of custom pedals whose aesthetics are as interesting as their tones—and his taste in pedals has also guided what front woman Bethany Cosentino stomps on.
Upon first hitting his board, Bruno’s signal goes into a TC Electronic PolyTune, heads to a TSVG Best Coast Signature Fluzzy (based on the old Ibanez Standard Fuzz), then goes to a custom American Loopers switcher (the white pedal with the green skull) that has an Electro-Harmonix Nano POG and a Mr. Black Eterna Gold in loop 1, and a Bigfoot FX Magnavibe and a Catalinbread Valcoder in loop 2. Bruno’s “gnarly” Forever Fuzz—the pedal covered in purple-and-black faux fur—was given to him by Nels Cline and features a built-in filter circuit. A Strymon Tap Favorite switch triggers the tape-chorus simulation in Bruno’s Strymon Deco, but he also uses the tape-delay simulation for slapback echo, and the tape-saturation section for solos and rhythm sounds. The Mid-Fi Electronics pedal next to the Tap Favorite houses two effects—a Psych Byke fuzz and Fuzz Wall—and the MXR Noise Clamp next door helps keep them manageable. An MI Audio Super Crunch Box, Bruno’s main distortion, is used for roughly 75 percent of a given set. The board is rounded out by a Catalinbread Zero Point flanger, a TSVG Hard Stuff, a Strymon El Capistan, a Catalinbread Talisman plate-reverb simulator, and a Line 6 DL4 (not pictured).
Cosentino’s board is outfitted with a TC Electronic PolyTune 2, an Xotic EP Booster—which is on all the time—a Mojo Hand Fx Bluebonnet, a Wampler Euphoria, a HardWire/DigiTech Supernatural, a Malekko Ekko 616, and an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano that is also on all the time.
Between the Buried and MePaul Waggoner, Dustie Waring, and Dan Briggs
Given their penchant for epic, complex arrangements, it should come as no surprise that the axe men of prog-metal outfit Between the Buried and Me warmly embrace stomp stations that can quickly morph tones in tons of ways.
Both of BTBM’s 6-stringers, Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring, get the lion’s share of their sounds from Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL rack units. Waggoner manipulates his presets using a Rocktron All Access foot controller and two Mission Engineering EP-1 expression pedals that control volume and delay times. A Strymon TimeLine is used for clean delay sounds, while a Wampler Faux Tape Echo provides longer, shimmering delays, a Port City Salem Boost helps solos cut through, a Wampler Leviathan brings the fuzz, and a TC Electronic PolyTune keeps his guitars in tune.
Waring navigates his Axe-Fx II XL presets with a Fractal Audio MFC-101 Mark III foot controller. Like Waggoner, he uses two Mission Engineering EP-1 expression pedals to tweak effect parameters, but the only two standard stompboxes in his live rig are a TC Electronic PolyTune Mini and a Port City Salem Boost, the latter of which he says makes things sound “huge, fat, and tube-y.”
>BTBM bassist Dan Briggs’s pedalboard includes a Boss TU-2 tuner, a Wampler Faux Tape Echo (used for a constant warbling tone), an Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth (for washes like those on Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”), three Boss stomps—a DD-3 digital delay, a TR-2 Tremolo, and a PS-3 pitch shifter—and a Darkglass Electronics Duality Fuzz.
Eagles of Death MetalDave Catching and Matt McJunkins
Although Eagles of Death Metal singer/guitarist Jesse Hughes eschews pedals in favor of the simpler, rawer approach of going straight into his amps, touring guitarist Dave Catching (co-founder of famed Rancho De La Luna recording studio) and bassist Matt McJunkins more than make up for the dearth of stompable things onstage.
Catching’s signal first hits a TC Electronic PolyTune 2 Noir, then goes to a Jim Dunlop Cry Baby Wah—he loves leaving the pedal cocked open a bit for nasally solos and cutting riffs—then proceeds to a Jim Dunlop Rotovibe, an EarthQuaker Devices Palisades (for solo boosts), a Fulltone Ultimate Octave, a TC Electronic T2 reverb, an EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master, a TC Electronic Flashback Triple Delay, a Mantic Flex, and a Malekko Scrutator bit-crusher.
Because McJunkins runs his amps hot, he looks to get extremely overdriven and wonky sounds out of his three pedals—a germanium Malekko B:Assmaster that “smoothly adds some bass, girth, and fatness” to his core sound, a ZVEX Mastotron for synth-like tones, and a Malekko Scrutator. Other utility units on his board include a Boss TU-3 tuner, a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus, and an active Radial J48 direct box that sends a clean signal to the front-of-house soundboard.
To conjure the gritty, throbbing tones of American roots-rock mainstays like “Fortunate Son,” “Proud Mary,” and “Born on the Bayou,” former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty stomps on a wide array of vintage-toned boxes—including several off-the-beaten-path boutique selections that prove the classic-rock god is as into guitar gear as ever. His pedals reside in two offstage rack drawers, where they are controlled by Fogerty’s guitar tech, Dave Whiston.
Fogerty’s first rack drawer features a Moog Minifooger MF Delay, a Strymon El Capistan, a SolidGoldFX Surf Rider, an ancient Zeta Systems vibrato/tremolo, and an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone, all powered by a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus.
The second rack drawer includes a Wren and Cuff Box of War, three Xotic RC Boosters (labeled Curly, Larry, and Moe), a Boss RV-5 digital reverb, a Voodoo Lab Tremolo, and a Strymon BigSky. The pedals on this board get their juice from a Custom Audio Electronics power brick.
Heart's Nancy Wilson
To dial in tones while playing live versions of canonical classic-rock hits such as “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” and “Crazy on You,” Nancy Wilson relies on a handful of stomps controlled in the wings from stage right by longtime tech Jeff Ousley. Her electric signal hits her board by way of a Whirlwind A/B selector, then travels to an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer, a Way Huge Swollen Pickle, an ancient Ibanez flanger, and a Budda ZenMan OD/Boost. A Voodoo Lab Pedal Power supplies the juice, and channel switcher pedals for each of Wilson’s amp heads (a Peavey-era Budda Superdrive 30 II and a backup Fender Tone-Master) round out the board.
My Morning JacketCarl Broemel
Kentucky-based quintet My Morning Jacket steeps its rich sound in everything from roots and psych rock to plaintive country, with a unique, flavorful final brew that’s tied together by the soaring vocals of frontman Jim James. But while the flamboyant James (who also plays guitar) tends to get the lion’s share of MMJ attention, lead guitarist Carl Broemel’s chameleonic qualities—including his ability to switch from standard 6-string to the more complicated world of pedal steel—are just as crucial in defining the veteran band’s sound. Here we look at the gear Broemel uses to replicate tunes from seven studio albums on the road.
The control center for Broemel’s board is a GigRig G2 switching system that lets him quickly access a wide range of pedal settings and combinations. Stomps controlled by the G2 include a TC Electronic PolyTune Mini, an Analog Man CompROSSor, Hudson Electronics Stroll On fuzz, Spaceman Saturn V Harmonic Booster, Fulltone Full-Drive 2, Boss RV-5 Digital Reverb, Empress Tape Delay, SIB Mr. Echo, Electro-Harmonix POG2, Fulltone Supa-Trem, an Ernie Ball volume pedal, and a pair of Eventide H9s. (One H9 routes to a separate MIDI controller and the Boomerang Wholly Roller.)
For his pedal steel musings, Broemel’s board includes a Hilton Electronics volume pedal, Sarno Music Solutions Steel Guitar Black Box, MiniMoog MF Delay, an Eventide ModFactor, EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master, and a Durham Electronics Sex Drive. He controls all the effects via a Voodoo Lab Pedal Switcher.
SlipknotMick Thomson and Jim Root
Considering not only how tight and precise their down-tuned, interlocking riffs must be, but also the dense, nine-person mix they must fit into, it makes perfect sense that Jim Root and Mick Thomson from blockbuster Des Moines metal outfit Slipknot keep their pedalboards pretty trim and straightforward. In fact, arguably the biggest lesson to be learned from their stomp stations is how subtly and sparingly their effects are used.
Thomson’s rack drawer houses six effects, plus a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power ISO-5 and a Peterson Stomp Classic tuner. His noisemakers include a Maxon OD-820 Overdrive Pro for lead boosts, an Electro-Harmonix Bassballs (used on “Disasterpiece”), an MXR Carbon Copy (used for parts of “Vermillion”), a Death by Audio Fuzz War, and a custom-made octave fuzz created by tech Kevin Allen after Thomson requested the filthiest, gnarliest, most obnoxious-sounding fuzz box possible—because, as the guitarist sees it, “the fuzz better fuck your sound up.” The custom fuzz is used for parts of “Duality.” Allen uses a Voodoo Lab Ground Control Pro from offstage to activate Thomson’s various effect combinations.
Root’s drawer of stomps is home to an old Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor—he says the updated circuitry and lead-free solder in new versions impact his sound too much—an MXR Auto Q wah, Maxon AF-9 envelope filter and PT-9 Pro+ phaser pedals, two MXR Carbon Copy delays, and Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano and Micro POG stomps. A T-Rex FuelTank Classic powers it all. Root’s onstage satellite board includes a controller for his Dunlop Cry Baby Rack Module wah, a third MXR Carbon Copy for creating oscillation chaos, a Maxon FV10 Fuzz Elements Void, an MXR GT-OD, and a Dunlop JH1D Jimi Hendrix wah—the latter of which he likes for its traditional, early-Vox-like sound. The wah is connected to a G-Lab True Bypass Wah-Pad, which not only makes the pedal true-bypass but also removes the need to push the rocker pedal toe down to activate the effect.
ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons
Anyone remotely familiar with “the Reverend” Billy Gibbons’ ZZ Top catalog won’t be too shocked by the dearth of pedals used to conjure his gritty Texas-blues tones on his current touring board. Probably the biggest surprise here is that while he has two sets of pedals (for redundancy in case one rig goes out), the pedals are not exactly the same in both setups—although this is something that tech Elwood Francis attributes to the simple fun of periodically trying out new toys as they are acquired on the road. The two stomp setups, like the rest of Gibbons' rig components, are kept in two offstage racks.
In this setup, Gibbons gets a boost and a little extra dirt from a Rainger FX El Distorto, while an MXR JHM2 Jimi Hendrix 70th Anniversary Tribute Series Octavio provides octave-fuzz tones, an Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork alters pitch, and an MXR Carbon Copy adds a touch of analog-delay ambience. Tuning is handled by a Peterson Strobe Classic, and various distortion presets in a Marshall JMP-1 rack unit (not pictured) are accessed via a Tech 21 MIDI Mouse.
This pedal drawer is similar to the other in that it also has a Peterson tuner (a StroboStomp 2), a Tech 21 MIDI Mouse, an MXR Carbon Copy, and a Dunlop JHOC1 Jimi Hendrix Octavio (which is purportedly the same circuit as the MXR JHM2), but here further pitch-shifting needs are fulfilled by an MXR Bass Octave Deluxe, and the Octavio runs through a Boss GE-7 graphic-EQ pedal. PG
A blown fuse can mean your amp has bigger problems. Here’s how to find them.
I own a Fender Blues Junior and recently had to replace a fuse because it blew and the amp wasn’t powering up. A replacement fixed that problem, but another arose. When I max all the controls I can barely get any volume out of the amp. The speaker is good. I removed the verb tank because it was bad. I also put the tubes from my AC15 in it—they are the same tube types and correctly placed. Not too long after turning the amp on, the tubes get really hot and I get a little burning smell. The amp barely puts out any power—maybe .2 watts. What could be the problem?
Often when a fuse blows in an amp, there’s some sort of failure associated with it. Occasionally one may blow due to a problem with the mains voltage, such as a power outage while the amp is on followed by an immediate return of voltage. This could be a whole neighborhood power outage or just some practical joker turning your power strip off and then on again. (“Hey, thanks dude!”) But usually there is some other cause for the failure.
The first major cause of a fuse blowing is an output tube that shorts. Sometimes the tube can remain shorted, and other times, once a replacement fuse is installed, the bad tube can begin working, only to fail again at some point. The best way to ascertain if you have an intermittent output tube is to run the amp for a while sans output tubes. If it doesn’t blow the fuse, reinstall the tubes and see if it blows the fuse again. If so, at least one of your output tubes is intermittently shorting and they need to be replaced. This method is not foolproof, but may help you determine if you need new output tubes. Assuming that your fuse is no longer failing and you already substituted output tubes, we’ll move on.
The next user-serviceable item I would normally check would be the preamp tubes, but you’ve done good substitutions here as well, so we know it’s not a tube issue. What else could it be? Well, my next point of inspection would be the speaker. And while you mentioned that the speaker is good, I have to ask how you checked it. Did you measure the resistance of the speaker with a meter? Was the speaker connected to the amp while you did this? If so, that’s incorrect. A speaker always needs to be disconnected before measuring across its terminals.
If the speaker was connected to the amp and you measured a typical 6 to 7 ohms of resistance, this tells me one of two things: Either the output transformer secondary is open (because you should be measuring a very low resistance, in the area of 1 or 2 ohms) or the speaker cable itself is open. The best way to check to see if a speaker and speaker cable are good is to first disconnect the speaker cable from the amp and then disconnect at least one lead of the cable from the speaker. Once you do this, measure the speaker itself. If the measurement is good, reconnect the cable to the speaker.
Next, check the resistance at the speaker cable plug. If it reads correctly, then the speaker and cable are okay. If you get an open (infinity) reading, the cable is open. If you read close to zero, the cable is shorted. Because of the nature of the molded-end combo speaker cables I’ve seen used on amps over the years, I strongly recommend you follow through with these tests. I have seen my share of open or shorted cables, and either scenario would cause the amp to have little or no output and cause the output tubes to be overly stressed. If all checks out with the speaker and cable, we’ll need to explore a few other possibilities.
Note: While you may be able to verify a problem using the following info, unless you are familiar with working on tube amps—and circuit boards in particular—you may need to have the amp serviced by an experienced tech. If you have any doubts at all, seek out professional help.
A recurring problem with amps of this particular design has to do with the small wires in the ribbon cables breaking. Closely inspect all the ribbon cables (Photo 1) and make sure that none of the conductors has broken where it enters the circuit board. If you’re careful, you should be able to measure continuity using a multimeter. If this all checks out, it’s time to start checking some voltages.
Because you mentioned the amp has some output, albeit very low, I’m going to assume that the high voltage power supply is working. You can quickly verify this by connecting the negative lead of your meter to the chassis and measuring the voltages on the + side of the four large 450V caps (Photo 2). These voltages should range from approximately 400 to 250 volts. If this is good, we’re going to move on to the low voltage supply, as this could actually tie together a couple of problems.
You mentioned you removed the reverb pan because it was bad, but do you know for sure that it’s actually the pan that’s bad? The low voltage supply in the amp not only provides the bias voltage to the output tubes, but also supplies the plus and minus 15V that powers the reverb IC chip. First you need to check the voltage on pin 2 of the output tubes. This would be the second pin counting clockwise in the space on the socket. It can also be measured on the circuit board at the 1.5k grid resistors (Photo 3). This should read approximately -10VDC. If this is not present, check the voltages at the 750-ohm resistors in the low voltage supply (Photo 4).
Each side of each of these resistors should read +15 and -15 volts respectively. If not, repairing the cause of the failure may very well fix both the output and reverb problems with the amp.I hope this helps breathe life back into Junior.