The heavy pedal that became famous at the feet of Jonny Greenwood delivers surprises with colors that range from explosive to doomy, and yes—shreddy.
Top U.K.-build quality. Surprising range of unique distortion colors. Interesting interactions between EQ controls.
Could be too dark for shredders who rely on sizzling top end.
It’s a great irony that the player most popularly associated with the Marshall ShredMaster is probably Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. Clearly, Greenwood is a guitar magician. But he is hardly a shredder in the conventional sense. So, what is it about the Marshall ShredMaster that it was given such a … um … shreddy name and yet finds favor among so many not-shreddy players? As is turns out, the explanations are many. And there are plenty of reasons shredders would find much to love in this sturdy, U.K.-made pedal too.
Blast and Squish
The ShredMaster was short-lived in its original incarnation. Introduced around 1991, it was discontinued just a year later. The timing of its release explains how it would have fallen into Greenwood’s hands and shown up on the band’s 1993 debut Pablo Honey. (I’m going to bet that the ShredMaster is doing a fair bit of the heavy lifting in “Creep’s” super-crunchy choruses.) The ShredMaster shows up all over Radiohead’s other ’90s LPs too—usually paired with Greenwood’s solid-state Fender Eighty Five. This pedal/amp pairing gives us some clues as to why the relationship endured.
See, the ShredMaster has a wonderful capacity for dark, compressed tones—the kind that would probably blend well with Greenwood’s humbucker-equipped Telecaster Plus and a bright, powerful solid-state amp. But those dark and compressed tones can also work well for super-fast picking when you’ve got high-octane pickups and a high-gain amp in your chain, working as a kind of glue as you move through fast lines and legato phrases. That’s one explanation for how this pedal bridges the chasm between metal and big indie. But while the ShredMaster doesn’t have as wide a vocabulary as Marshall pedal stablemates like the Guv’Nor, it’s an impressive source of heaviness that can work across many styles.
Because the ShredMaster can seem dark at EQ levels that, on other pedals, would translate to fairly even response, it’s important to get a feel for how the bass, contour, and treble controls work together. Of these, the contour is probably most critical. At settings in the clockwise half of its sweep, it adds a bossy midrange—PAF humbuckers gain a trashy metal edge but single-coils can sound a touch cloudy and fizzy. Left-of-center settings scoop the mids, sound more amp-like, and let more detail shine through. For most of my experiments I preferred to live in this zone.
In general, toppier treble settings also sound best. They enable single-coils to growl and will enhance sustain in humbuckers—giving bridge pickups a feral edge or, in the case of neck PAFs, a smoky heaviness that works well even with considerable volume and tone attenuation. (In general, the ShredMaster isn’t super responsive to changes in guitar input.) One should not be afraid to use a lot less bass from the ShredMaster either. While it can add welcome heft to a scooped, treble-heavy setting, it’s often a source of fogginess that puts a damper on the pedal’s most exciting and dynamite sounds. A good practice is to park the bass at noon, dial up treble and contour to levels that make your guitar sing best, and then add or subtract bass to taste.
Marshall wasn’t misleading us when they gave the ShredMaster its name. Its compressed, high-gain capabilities make the pedal a great partner for fast fretwork. But what any open-minded player will discover is that the ShredMaster, in spite of its name, can play many roles. It can lend heaps of mass and enhance sustain, as well as add a singing or stinging side to leads, or menace to a tame signal that needs to cut and slice on demand. And while its $249 price tag exceeds that of many pedals that drive an amp to nastiness, the ShredMaster’s unique voice and high-quality, U.K. build suggest it’s a pedal that could serve at the front line of any studio pedal collection or as a fixture on a board—offering both gigantic distortion tones and many exciting surprises over the course of a long and useful life
Marshall BluesBreaker, DriveMaster, The Guv'nor & ShredMaster Demos | First Look
How does the Players Edition upgrade stack up on the brand’s sleek 6-string “Cadillac”?
Bridge pickup, then middle position, then neck.
All guitar controls at max. Recorded through the boost side of a SoundBrut DrVa MkII, a Ground Control Tsukuyomi mid boost, a SolidGoldFx Electroman MkII, and an Anasounds Element into a Goodsell Valpreaux 21 miked with a Royer R-121 going into an Audient iD44 then into GarageBand with no EQ-ing, compression, or effects.
Matchless style and mojo. Plays, feels, and sounds great.
Expensive. Pickups can feel limited compared to Full’Trons. Some may prefer a tone knob for each pickup.
Gretsch G6636TSL Players Edition Silver Falcon
When you think of iconic electric guitars, three biggies pop to mind—the Strat, the Tele, and the Les Paul. But for many, a hollow or semi-hollow Gretsch isn’t far behind. From Bo Diddley to Gene Vincent, Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins, George Harrison, Neil Young, Brian Setzer, and more, countless legends have donned these inimitable outlines to create some of the coolest music in our lexicon. And within Gretsch’s own hallowed halls, the Silver and White Falcon are perhaps the most elegantly head-turning—with their sparkle binding and victory-winged headstock rendering them the 6-string equivalent of a sleek ’50s Cadillac. The new G6636TSL Silver Falcon gets all this, plus the modernized Players Edition treatment.
Vintage Minus the Hassle
For a brand whose products are so influential and distinctive, guitar building must often feel like a catch-22—how do you honor a legacy while also appealing to players whose needs and reference points aren’t tied to vintage specs and appointments? Gretsch’s Players Edition aims to bridge that gap with features like Bigsby vibratos modded to facilitate no-fuss stringing, Gotoh locking tuners, Grover strap locks, and treble-bleed master volumes. Appointments particular to this model include a 1 3/4"-deep, semi-hollow maple-laminate body with a slightly smaller-than-vintage 16" width at the lower bout. Unlike 25 1/2"-scale vintage-spec Falcons, the G6636TSL mates Gretsch’s shorter 24.6" scale to a 12"-radius ebony fretboard with thumbnail markers and 22 medium-jumbo frets. To offer a measure of feedback control at high volumes, there’s also a chambered-spruce center block.
In terms of our review model’s craftsmanship and setup, I found little to knock: The action is nice and low, the fretwork is very good, though not completely free of roughness at the edges, internal woodwork is neat and clean, and all aesthetic touches are executed with aplomb.
The Edition/Addition Dilemma
Three years ago, I reviewed the G6609TFM Players Edition Broadkaster—a less-flashy instrument with the same scale, body style, woods, and controls as this Silver Falcon. To help me compare the Broadkaster’s then-new Full’Tron pickups to the High Sensitive Filter’Trons that are synonymous with the classic Gretsch sound, the company also sent an otherwise identically equipped G6636T Players Edition Falcon. The more I compared the two, the more surprised I was that I gravitated toward the Broadkaster. Low-output, vintage-spec pickups are the foundational sounds my ears tend to prefer. Yet, time and again, I found myself favoring the Full’Trons’ more powerful and mid-enhanced tones over the traditional Filter’Trons.
The Silver Falcon reviewed here is stocked with the vintage-style “High Sensitive” Filter’Tron pickups rather than the Full’Trons. Then, as now, I enjoy their gritty, mid-scooped tones. But I found myself wishing Gretsch had outfitted this guitar with the Full’Trons, which, to me, are more fitting for the Professional Series/Players Edition appellation.
It’s not so much that it’s a “vintage vs. modern” thing. Gretsch describes Filter’Tron pickups as being a 7 (on a 10-point scale) for “power and sonic size,” and 9 out of 10 for “articulation, clarity, and dynamic range.” Full’Trons, meanwhile, are rated 8 in both categories. Obviously words and numbers are just that, but what I noticed as I tested the Silver Falcon through various amps—from silver-panel Vibrolux Reverb and Vibro Champ combos to a Goodsell Valpreaux 21 and a Jaguar HC50—was that the High Sensitive Filter’Trons are much more, well, sensitive—but in a different way from what one might expect. They are perfectly capable of prototypical Gretsch sounds—tough bridge-pickup bite and snarl, chimey two-pickup jangle, and warm jazz are all there for the taking. But in addition to their slightly nasal sound, are also apt to yield somewhat brittle highs and high mids, particularly under heavy attack. (And this is coming from a guy who loves buzzing-bee fuzz pedals and jagged vintage Fender Jaguar sounds.) Full’Trons, meanwhile, are capable of traditional Filter’Tron tones plus many others that modern players might find more malleable and versatile.
I’ve lusted after a great Gretsch semi-hollow for a long time—in fact, I’m still kicking myself for not buying that Broadkaster (though I have a hunch Santa might right that wrong for me in the next couple weeks). Ever since reviewing it, I’ve been mystified by the lack of public accolades for its stellar Full’Tron pickups, and the fact that they’re not currently available on any other Gretsch models. The Gretsch G6636TSL Silver Falcon could be all the wonderful things it is and more with the added clarity, airiness, and flexibility of those Full’Trons. To be sure, though, it still plays, looks, and sounds damn good.
It may be the understatement of the century, but this year was weird. Even so, the killer gear kept coming. Here are the goods that stood out as extra-great amongst our annual haul of Premier Guitar reviews.
With a two-button system for recording and playback, the Clone Looper simplifies many looping maneuvers by eliminating some double-click and hold sequences. But with awesome and trippy features like adjustable playback speed and reverse playback, you can easily take the Clone Looper's simpler looping processes to particularly psychedelic ends.
This handwired 1x12 combo employs a KT66 power tube for its class-A circuitry, resulting in glassy cleans reminiscent of a tweed Champ, and fat and pleasantly compressed high-gain tones without sacrificing shine. Joe Gore was also impressed with its aesthetic and workmanship, as well as Silktone's spring reverb. “It's got the feel of a vintage Fender tank, but with uncommon wetness and depth."
$2,199 street, as reviewed with ceramic speaker (alnico speaker $200 extra)
Vintera Telecaster '50s
Just about any Telecaster flirts with perfection in form. But Fender did not rest on their laurels in re-interpreting the '50s-styled variation in the new, affordable Vintera series. The neck is lovely, with a hefty deep-U shape, and the alnico 2 bridge pickup delivers the essence of bright, spanky, and rowdy Tele-ness, while maintaining a warm glow around the edges that is a beautiful match for a touch of vintage-style reverb.
Vintera Telecaster '70s
Keith Richards, who could have any freaking Telecaster in the world if he wanted it, has used the Telecaster Custom he bought new in 1975 regularly ever since. When you play the Vintera version, it's easy to understand why. Fender's Tim Shaw worked hard to build a more authentic WideRange humbucker for this instrument, and the work paid off—creating an expansive palette of spanky-to-smoky tones when paired with the alnico 5 bridge single-coil.
Red Label FSX3
Adam Perlmutter found that the OM-sized FSX3, which honors Yamaha's much-loved red-label guitars of the '70s, feels better-built than the company's original FG guitars, which is no small compliment. Perlmutter shared that the FSX3, boasting all-solid-wood construction, “feels great, exhibits real versatility, and is free of the old-guitar baggage that comes with vintage examples."
Hall of Fame 2x4
A maximalist expansion of TC's popular Hall of Fame 2 pedal, this reverb machine boasts 10 factory settings, six user memory slots, and eight stored patches, accessible via its four hefty footswitches. “Everything about the Hall of Fame 2 x4 Reverb is exceptional," is the word from reviewer Joe Gore, who welcomed its rich and varied reverbs, as well as the pedal's delightfully simple interface.
Origin's luxurious stomps feel like outboard studio gear from analog audio's golden age. The RevivalDRIVE, however, has so much tone-sculpting power that it actually tends to function and sound like an old recording console module, too. The EQ is powerful, sensitive, and responsive, and the low-end tones are especially delectable. If you need an overdrive that can fill a very specific mix niche, this tool is worth every penny.
This ultra-versatile multi-effects pedal captivated PG with its ability to control, shape, and expand natural playing dynamics through its five different types of compression, a 3-band Baxandall-inspired EQ, and a 20 dB clean boost. Boasting super-sensitive knobs with finely tailored sweeps, the folks at Jackson Audio topped off the Bloom with MIDI control over all parameters via its TRS input.
Ram's Head Big Muff
Given what a vintage Ram's Head Big Muff costs these days, this new version's $99 price tag alone is cause for celebration. But the tab is extra-impressive when you hear how well EHX nailed a vintage Ram's Head's legendary essence. It's growling, bold in the midrange, and stings like a wasp when you run the gain and tone wide open. If you don't have the bucks for a vintage pedal or a high-end Ram's Head clone, this remarkably economical iteration is a must for rounding out your Big Muff collection.
This 20-watt, 1x10 combo from the folks at Blackstar got high marks for its retro style, user-friendly, ergonomic control panel, and all points in between. Joe Gore was wowed by the Standard's attractive amp and effects emulations—especially given its modest price tag—and shared that Blackstar's compact 30-pound combo would make for a convenient gig companion or great living room amp.
The Collider, which combines some functionality from the already expansive Ventris reverb and Nemesis delay, seems like it might be a handful to manage. In fact, the Collider's clever integration of its parent effects makes exploring the wide-ranging feature set—which includes new emulations like an excellent Tel-Ray-style oil can delay—an intuitive and fun portal to thousands of huge and rich time-manipulation textures.
SE Hollowbody Standard
The Paul Reed Smith Hollowbody model has become a modern classic since its design was first introduced in 1998. And it's now available (and made much more affordable) as part of the company's made-in-China SE range. But don't let the down-market pricing fool you: Its elegant design, PRS-created hardware and electronics, and excellent playability easily earned the SE Hollowbody Standard a Premier Gear Award.
American Ultra Jazz
As daunting as it is to alter a classic, revered instrument like the J, Fender hit it out of the park with subtle yet significant updates to its look and design. And with passive and active tones at the ready, Victor Brodén lauded the versatility of the Ultra Jazz, which allowed him to effortlessly conjure Marcus Miller-to-Jaco-esque tones.