Six bite-sized pedals that pack a lot of tone for a small price tag

Sometimes, simple things are just that: simple. And sometimes there is a complexity within simple things that really makes you think. The Omicron Series pedals from Malekko Heavy Industry fall into the category of simple things filled with complexity in sound. Once you plug them in, you’ll be surprised how much good can come out of a little metal box.

Bite-Sized Package
Measuring a compact 1.5” x 3.6” x 1.2”, the Omicron series are quite simple in feature and design. While each pedal has its own character in sound and internal configuration, they share the same cast metal housing and two knobs at the top. They all have the same input, output, and power jacks, which are located on the sides and offset from each other so you can get the pedals quite close if you set them up side by side. The jacks have plastic bodies with metal nuts and function solidly, however they aren’t all metal (a trade-off for cost). These units are all true-bypass (other than the Chicklet Reverb), so you don’t need to worry about losing your tone through them, and they all require the standard 9V DC negative tip power supply. Due to the small size of these pedals, there isn’t room for a battery, so you will need a power supply to operate them.

Don’t let the size of these fool you, these little guys prove that big sound can come from small packages. Collectively speaking, this series of effects really hits the nail on the head for capturing warm, silky analog sound. Let’s take a closer look (and listen) at each pedal.

All clips recorded with Fender American Deluxe Strat, Fender Deville 4x10, Sennheiser e609, Apogee Duet, and Logic Pro.

Download Example
Malekko really knows how to make a great fuzz pedal, and this Germanium diode-based circuit is packed full of great sounds. The two face knobs are simple—Volume and Drive—but within the pedal is a switch that gives you three different voicings. The top position is brightest, and lends itself well to octave fuzz sounds, the middle is stronger in the midrange and bottom which creates a nice classic cutting sound, and the low position is a more modern approach with scooped mids with a huge bottom end. This unit is full of glorious wooly splat and buzz, and you can get some nice modulating-type overtones when you really push the drive and hit the double stops.

Buy if...
you want a straight forward, superb sounding Germanium diode-based fuzz that has plenty of options for tailoring the frequency content
Skip if...
you want the Malekko B:Assmaster.

Street $130 - Malekko Heavy Industry -

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The Rattler+ is a handmade RAT-inspired stompbox with the LM308 can-version chip

Download Example 1
Gain switch low, Gain knob low, single-coils
Download Example 2
Gain switch high, Gain knob high, humbuckers
Download Example 3
Gain switch low, Gain knob high, single-coils.
All clips were recorded with Logic Pro, Apogee Duet, Sennheiser e609, Fender Hot Rod Deville 4X10 flat EQ, USA Fender Deluxe Strat with S-1.
Greece, the cradle of western civilization, known the world over for its ancient architecture, early Olympics, mythology, and… guitar pedals? Well if they aren’t known for guitar pedals yet, they should be. Jam pedals are handmade in Greece with high-quality and often rare electronic components, and are engineered to emulate legendary vintage effect units. Jam Pedals’ Rattler+ is a vintage distortion unit based on the original ‘80s Rat. Not to be confused with the company’s Rattler Classic, which has a bit higher gain structure, the “+” version has a two-stage gain switch and a little less drive.

Just like all Jam pedals, each Rattler+ is individually hand-painted and therefore unique. The one I got my hands on had plenty of endearing character in its imperfect monochromatic black, gray, and white brush strokes and paint surface textures. It comes in a similarly colored heavy plaid flannel pouch with a drawstring to keep it safe. The housing is cast metal and on the front is an image of a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike.

Three white knobs are located towards the top: L for level, T for tone, and G for gain. Next to the “G” knob is a switch that allows you to choose between two gain circuits—left for less gain and right for more gain. Input and output jacks are on the right and left sides, respectively, with the power jack on the left side. This pedal runs on the standard 9V negative tip power or a 9V battery. Jam claims that the pedal uses 6mA of power when on, so the battery should last a while if you go that route. Overall this is a solid, quality built, nice looking effect.

Before firing it up, I just had to open up the housing to take a peek at the internals to lay eyes upon the LM308 can-version chip that so many seek and pine for in a distortion circuit. It was there in all its wonder and glory—now time to see how it sounds.

Sonic Character
First off, the Rattler+ is true bypass, so it won’t mess with your clean tone. When I first kicked it on, I was surprised how warm and full sounding this pedal is for a distortion unit. This pedal can blur the line between overdrive and distortion, and using lower gain settings paired with a bit darker tone adjustment, you can get a pretty good sounding tube sag and make it sound like a well driven tube amp. The gain structure isn’t super high like some of the more modern devices, but that’s the point of this box—to emulate a vintage distortion. I found the combination of the Gain knob and switch to be very useful for dialing in just the right amount of bite, with the higher-gain side of the switch getting you right in the classic RAT territory.

The Tone knob is configured so that when you dial clockwise, the treble side gets attenuated, which is backwards from most gear. And though this difference takes some getting used to, the control provides a wide array of very useable tonal possibilities from dark and wooly to weighty cutting.

Perhaps the most notable characteristic of this pedal is how pleasing and musical the midrange sonic content is. At one point or another, I think we’ve all tried and tested distortion effects that sound hollow and scooped in the mid frequency content. This one is quite the opposite. Call it the LM308 chip or just good engineering, this thing really does have an extraordinary midrange to it. I found it difficult to make it sound too harsh or thin. Using single-coils, the midrange stays brilliant and not too brittle. Switch to humbuckers and you naturally get a thicker sound without losing clarity. As an added bonus, the pedal sounds quite good with bass guitar as well.

The Verdict
The Rattler+ is a solidly built distortion with a great, full, musical sound quality. If you are searching for a distortion that stands out in midrange sonic content without getting harsh or thin, this will do nicely. It is distinguished in its artistic styling as well as its analog sound character.
Buy if...
you are looking for a high quality gain pedal that essentially bridges the gap between overdrive and distortion, and delivers a pleasant and engaging analog midrange.
Skip if...
you are scared of snakes or are looking for something more modern, high-gain sounding

Street $220 - Jam Pedals -

Tone Games 2010, Bonus Levels: 10 More Stompboxes Reviewed
Next up: Pigtronix Aria Disnortion

Godin brings their acoustic sensibilities to a chambered solidbody single-coil instrument.

Download Example 1
Tones from the 5-way switch, passive and active.
Download Example 2
Download Example 3
Tremolo bar, on active mode
All clips recorded through a USA Fender Hot Rod Deluxe (flat eq), mic'd with a Sennheiser e609, through Apogee Duet Preamp. 
Robert Godin has been building quality guitars since he founded the Godin company in 1972 in La Patrie, Quebec. He is an active owner of the company, which employs approximately six hundred workers in six different factories in North America, and continues to design most of the guitars that go to production. The Passion Series guitar sits at the pinnacle of the electric guitars that Godin has produced to date. Robert and his team do not shy away from exploring new design concepts with their guitars and the Passion Series RG-3 is no exception with features like its synchronized five tone chambers, High-Definition Revoicer (H.D.R.), GS3 pickups.

The Passion Series was designed with the serious musician and single-coil aficionado in mind. Taking at least eight weeks to manufacture from start to finish in the Godin Premier Atelier, where Godin says these guitars are touched by only a few select guitar makers through production, hand-picked from the best the company has to offer. These makers use the best technology and materials available to produce a truly remarkable instrument. We were able to get a hold of the Passion RG-3 with mahogany top and maple fingerboard to check it out.

First Impressions
One of the foundational design concepts for the Passion RG-3 was to incorporate ideas from sophisticated acoustic guitars into a Strat-style electric guitar format. As a result, the tonewoods used in this guitar—red cedar with mahogany or Sitka spruce with flame maple—are those more often found in acoustic guitars. The guitar we got our hands on has a solid red cedar back with a solid mahogany top, and it really does sound lively and full-bodied when you play it acoustically. You can feel the sound vibrating through the body and the neck—the harmonic resonance is strong and very present even without the amplification.

The body on its own weighs around 2.3 pounds, so the guitar is very light. The light weight can somewhat be attributed to the choice of wood, but is mostly due to the hollow chambers within the guitar body. The RG-3 has five tone chambers under the hood which are all joined and port into the single coil pickup cavities, and these chambers add to the acoustic quality of the guitar. All of the wood on this guitar is beautiful. If you’re a connoisseur of wood, you will enjoy the wood grains through the natural finish.

The top has a comfort contour for the right arm ergonomics and has a smoked wood binding rounding it off. The pickguard, outlined in simple wood purfling, is routed right into the body top so there isn’t really anything to protect your guitar from the pick, but is there really a need? It does add to the simplicity and elegance of design. The neck of this guitar feels smooth, and where the frets end, there is a small radius on the fingerboard edge to transition into the back of the neck. The frets are also polished and shaped to taper into the edge of the fingerboard so the feel up and down the frets is like that of a well-worn guitar.

On this model, the neck is two-piece maple. The fingerboard is a separate piece of maple, which allows the truss rod to be installed from the top of the neck and avoid the “skunk-stripe.” With a machine head ratio of 18:1, the Gotoh 510 tuners make it easy to dial in those last few cents while tuning. These tuners also have varied shaft heights to maximize the string tension against the Tusq nut as the string gauge gets lighter and farther up the headstock.

The overall craftsmanship of this instrument is elegant, solid, and of very high quality. The guitar comes with a hardshell, lockable, faux alligator tour case on plastic wheels with a gig bag that fits inside. You also get a certificate of authenticity for the guitar and a set of black bell knobs if you prefer that look over the stock chrome.

The Electronics
The electronics of the RG-3 really push the envelope of the electric guitar. You get the standard issue volume and tone knobs and the five-way selector switch, but these are the only things that you’ve likely seen before. The three GS3 pickups are made by Godin to specifically compliment this series of guitar and stand out with their large pole pieces. You’ll also notice that the pole heights are staggered and tuned which give a very even-tempered sound and volume across all six strings. Extra wax windings were added to the sides of the pickups in an effort to help reduce hum, but honestly I didn’t notice much difference in interference between this guitar and other single-coil guitars.

To compliment these pickups, Godin uses the High-Definition Revoicer (HDR) that provides a wide variety of different single-coil sounds to choose from. The HDR is activated by a simple and conveniently located switch that allows you to choose between an active or passive pickup configuration. This switch engages a preamp circuit that adds a new soundstage to the guitar. The term “high definition” is quite descriptive of the sound when you turn the HDR on. You get more pronounced highs as well as deeper lows with an even middle. Right hand pick dynamics also come alive with the HDR engaged.

Plugging In
As mentioned earlier, the first thing I noticed when I played this guitar acoustically was how much vibration I could feel through my hands and arms. As for definition and response, I think you will be hard pressed to find a better electric guitar. The choice of single-coils in this guitar with the harmonic resonance from the chambered tone woods make this a truly amazing sounding instrument with lots of sustain and available dynamics.

This guitar is very responsive to hand technique and pick pressure. Competing with a full band, it can cut through nicely with a solid and musical presence in the midrange frequency spectrum. Engage the HDR, and it speaks even more without getting harsh. My first impression of the HDR circuit made me wonder why you would ever want to switch back to the passive mode, but after a few days of playing with this switch, I found many exquisite and usable tones in both modes. I can’t say enough about the clarity and dynamics available with this instrument.

I checked the intonation up the neck on each string and it was spot on with the exception of one very minor string length adjustment on the stainless bridge (screw on the low E). It plays perfectly in tune up and down the neck. The tremolo arm setup on the RG-3 works remarkably well as it stays pretty much in tune right from the start. If you dive it hard, it will take a few cents on the strings here and there, as most other tremolos without locking nut systems will. But I found it to be very musical and definitely well above the average for staying in tune.

The Final Mojo
This guitar is beautifully crafted and built to allow the serious musician to explore and reach new heights. It pushes the envelope in form as well as electronics. If you are looking for something to inspire you to reach your potential, this guitar gives you that space. Great attention has been paid to the finer details of guitar-making and it looks, feels, and plays great. It’s an elegant instrument, and the more I play it, the more I love it.
Buy if...
you are looking for one exquisitely crafted single-coil guitar to rule them all, one that will inspire you to explore and push your musical limits.
Skip if...
you don't love single-coil guitars or don’t have the dump-truck load of beans to buy it.

Street $2795 - Godin -

The boutique pedal makers from Denmark have rolled out an entire line of lower-priced offerings. We review the high-gain distortion.

Download Example 1
Download Example 2
Download Example 3
Volume Swells
All clips recorded with a Fender American Deluxe Strat through Fender USA Hot Rod Deluxe, clean EQ. Mic'ed with Sennheiser e609, Apogee Duet preamp.
Denmark's T-Rex Engineering is best known for their high-end pedal line that was launched internationally in 2002. Pedals like the Replica delay and Mudhoney distortion/overdrive have earned devoted fanbases, while high-profile tonehounds Mark Tremonti and Greg Koch gravitated to the company for their signature pedals. In 2009, the company introduced their lower-priced ToneBug line of pedals with Overdrive and Reverb. The company expanded the line this year with the Distortion, Phaser, and Chorus + Flanger. T-Rex sums up the design philosophy for the ToneBug line as, "to provide the best effects on the market for reasonable money." We got our hands on the new ToneBug Distortion to see if it lives up to the tagline.

What the Bug
Unpacking the ToneBug Distortion, it's clear this pedal is built to last with its sturdy unpainted cast metal housing with smooth corners, metal knobs and switch. The huge, red status light makes it easy to see if the pedal is engaged, even during bright outdoor shows. Input, output, and power jacks are all located at the top of the pedal, comfortably spaced apart so connecting to your other pedals and power supply is a breeze. The pedal is powered by the standard 9 volt DC plug-in (center pin negative, 8V min. to 12.5V max.) or battery. The battery hatch is located on the bottom of the unit and is easy to access--no screwdrivers needed. This is a clean, simple pedal with three knobs to tweak your noises: Level, Tone, and Gain. One minor complaint on the pedal's aesthetics is that the dots on the knobs are quite small and hard to see against the convex chrome tops, especially when maneuvering in the dark. The overall dimensions of 4.75"L x 3"W x 2.4"H present a rather friendly footprint for precious pedal board real estate.

Plugging In
An adequately featured distortion effect, this unit wants to scream and be unleashed. As I plugged this into my amp and played a few riffs, I had the uncontrollable urge to dig out my best pair of spandex, stretch my leg muscles, and keep edging the volume up more and more as the night wears on. The ToneBug Distortion is a fairly bright sounding pedal, and the bias towards the upper and harmonic frequencies makes it a sheer delight to fire off false harmonics. If you fancy hitting pinch harmonics, this pedal makes it an easy ride, and you'll be thinking Randy Rhoads in no time. At the full gain setting, notes can sustain for nearly as long as you can manage to grip the fingerboard and can seamlessly transition into some agreeable harmonic feedback.

When working this pedal in conjunction with your guitar volume knob, it takes some effort to roll back the volume enough to clean up the saturation if you like to do that--it wants to growl until it's asleep. On the flip side, if you like to do volume swells, you get a relatively smooth and consistent transition from fully attenuated to fully open.

If you are seeking a darker sounding, low gain overdrive tone, this pedal is not your game. While this pedal can get some tube-type sounds with tweaking, it has a hard time trying to sound like a slightly driven tube amp and is clearly designed for higher gain.

Single Coil vs. Humbucker
This pedal seems to do best with humbucking pickups, which makes sense for a higher gain distortion. When played with humbuckers, the sound is quite even and full. When played with single coils, the higher frequencies become a little more strident and the midrange a bit less full. Don't get me wrong, there are some very useable sounds with the single coil setup, but the high timbre needs some taming and attention with that configuration.

The tone knob is a bit more useful with humbucking pickups as well, and allows you to capably adjust the timbre to your liking. With single coils, the tone knob seems to mostly affect the mid frequencies, leaving the high frequency content mostly intact. Dial counterclockwise and the tone starts to become somewhat brittle and thin sounding.

Overall, there are plenty of useable tones to be conjured from this beast using both humbuckers and single-coils, but it seems to be voiced more for humbuckers.

The Final Mojo
For the street price of $99, the Tonebug Distortion is a good, solid piece of gear that offers up some very useable high gain sounds with build quality that will last a long time. If you are a classic rocker, metal aficionado, or just a weekend shredder, this piece of gear may suit you and your wallet handsomely.
Buy if...
you are looking for a solid, higher gain, bright sounding distortion pedal with rich harmonic overtones eager to transform your sound into false harmonic rapture
Skip if...
you are looking for lower gain overdrive sounds with a darker timbre more suited to single coil pickups.

Street $99 - T-Rex Effects -