Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: ZVEX Super Hard-On

This is the ZVEX Super Hard-On, a combination overdrive/distortion pedal from legendary pedal builder Zachary Vex of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I got this pedal in a trade for a Guyatone TO-2, and I'm happy with the deal, especially since this is one of the earlier versions of the pedal hand-built and hand-painted by Zachary himself.

The sound of this pedal is very versatile, ranging from a very slight boost to a raunchy, balls-out distortion that few pedals can achieve on their own.

With the knob turned down (between 0 and 30%), this pedal resembles a clean boost not unlike an MXR Micro-Amp. Like the Micro-Amp, the Super Hard-On retains the shape of your original signal very effectively, pretty much boosting all frequencies evenly. In front of a tube amp, the effect is similar to a Tube Screamer with the "drive" knob turned down and the "level" knob around 5, resulting in a rich, bluesy tone without too much colouring.

As you turn the lone knob on the Super Hard-On up a little (resulting in the signature "crackle" that the pedal itself will tell you is OK) you start to experience the "Super" overdriven sound that makes this pedal extra special. The only thing I can compare the sound to is 3 or 4 tube screamers plugged into each other, with the drive circuits feeding each other to create a layered and convoluted distorted signal that is a little hard to take, but really satisfying if you are looking for a Hendrix-like tone without resorting to a Ringer or Octaver as a companion to your OD/Distortion.

My major complaint about this pedal is also related to its name: the pedal is so-called because it is super hard on your amp, apparently too hard for my vintage Gibson Gibsonette amplifier, which stopped working a few weeks after I started using this pedal. This is because the output voltage of the pedal is extremely high, causing sensitive circuitry to suffer when it is pummeled by the growling signal coming out of the pedal when the knob is turned up. ZVEX recommends avoiding this issue by keeping the knob turned down a little, but where's the fun in that?

The Verdict: This pedal does what it does with style and flair. As far as OD/Distortion pedals go, this one is great at retaining the integrity of your guitar's tone. However, if you have the means and the space on your pedal board, you are probably better off using a clean boost alongside a distortion pedal, as this will give you more control over the individual characteristics of each.

Price Range:
$150-$250 (some pedals are custom painted, and fetch more $, as do some earlier versions)

-Looks awesome!
-True Bypass switch
-Solid construction
-Good signal retention

Lows:-Killed my amp :(
-Sideways construction makes an awkward fit on pedal boards
-No external power jack
-Crackle on the knob (it's OK, but not so nice)

Rating: 5.5/10

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thank You!

I would like to thank those of you who follow my blog, and make my efforts worthwhile!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: Ibanez UE300 Multi-Effects Unit

This is the Ibanez UE300, a multi-effects unit. Produced in the 1980s, this is one of Ibanez' first effects units combining more than one pedal into a single, self-powered unit. The pedals are essentially a TS9 Tube Screamer*, a CS9 Stereo Chorus, and a CP9 Compressor/Limiter.

Since the Tube Screamer itself is undoubtedly the most famous, most popular, and arguably most useful pedal in the world, this unit deserves special consideration simply because this notable effect appears in its circuit. From a player's perspective, this is an opportunity to own a vintage Tube Screamer at a fraction of the cost of buying a standalone one. As a collector, this pedal seems like a solid investment for the very same reason; as older TS808s and TS9s increase in price (they already fetch upwards of $800 and $500, respectively), the UE300s will certainly rise in price as well. Since the CP9 and CS9 are nearer to the bottom of the range of values in 9-series pedals, their inclusion in this unit is unlikely to have as significant an effect on the value of the UE300.

What makes the UE300 unique from a modern perspective is the fact that it is made up of fully analog circuitry. Most of us associate muli-effects units with digital modeling, and a wide range of inferior-sounding effects, most of which sound terrible, and process the original signal into oblivion. The UE300, however, is like having the original analog pedals (the total cost of which is well beyond the average price for a UE300), plus the convenience of a single, self-contained and self-powered unit. Moreover, the sound of these pedals in incomparable to anything else; each of these pedals on their own is considered among the best at what they do. Another great feature of the UE300 is the Bypass switch, which allows you to leave the pedals on, but bypass the effect circuit altogether. On a conventional pedal board, this would require another pedal, and a great deal of extra wiring.

There are, however, disadvantages to this fantastic unit. For instance, if you happen to like one, but not the others, you are stuck with a very large and inconvenient unit, and this is probably a deal-breaker in all cases except the Tube Screamer (an original CS9 or CP9 on its own rarely exceeds $100). Another drawback is noise; the UE300 generates some signal noise on its own – more, in fact, than if you were to connect the three individual pedals together on a conventional pedal board. The irony of this is that the one distinct advantages of a combination effect ought to be the lack of need for connecting cables and individual power supplies. On one hand, the UE300 is convenient because it has its own power supply, and requires only two cords to attach to an amp; on the other, it limits the range of selectable effects, and produces undesirable noise.

*There are some reviews, including one by Guitar World Magazine, that indicate that the circuit in the Tube Screamer section of this unit is actually closer to a TS808 than a TS9. The one I have contains the same 4-digit serial # Japan Radio Corp. JRC4558D op-amp found in many TS808s, but this chip can also be found in early versions of the TS9. In any case, there are so many factors affecting the sound of a Tube Screamer that this alone is not enough evidence to conclude which pedal this one most resembles. I would argue that this is in fact a unique Tube Screamer, since it is only found in these multi-effects units, and should be considered independently of the others. Regardless, it is easier to acquire a UE300 than an original TS808 or an original TS9, especially one with the “holy grail” JRC4558D chip inside.

The Verdict: If you can find one of these in good condition for a reasonable price, buy it! It will prove to be a good investment, and (if you haven't already) you will get to experience the joy of playing with a real vintage Tube Screamer. You will also become the envy of your gearhead friends.

Price Range:

-Has an original Tube Screamer!
-Great, warm sound
-Analog circuitry
-Bypass pedal

-Limited effects
-Somewhat noisy
-Requires a grounded A/C outlet

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Boss DM-1 Delay Machine

This is the Boss DM-1 Delay Machine! The very first Boss Delay pedal, the DM-1 came on the market in the 1970s, and is still considered by some to be the best sounding analog delay pedal out there. The DM-1 is the predecessor to the famous DM-2 Delay, another staple among analog enthusiasts.

What can I say? This pedal lives up to the hype. Like most pedals of this vintage, the analog circuitry is a touch noisy, but a little noise is OK, and there are many post-production tools that can eliminate it after the fact.

I have tried many analog Delay pedals, including the MXR Analog Delay, Boss DM-2, and Ibanez AD9 (this is the one I use now), and the DM-1 sounds at least as good as any other. Capable of producing a range of effects, from simple slap-back delay to full-blown repeating delay (max. 300ms), the Delay Machine does exactly what you want it to.

However, there are some things that stand in between the Delay Machine and everyday use. First of all, they are super-rare and super-expensive; this makes getting one a lot more difficult than some (maybe all) delays. Secondly, the pedal is HUGE, about 6"x10", and has a built-in grounded power cable resembling the one on a refrigerator. Finally, the pedal is a little touchy because of its age; the pots require regular cleaning, and I can't help but worry that it might just give up the ghost one day. Because of these issues, I would recommend the DM-1 for studio use before I would use it live.

The sound: Warm, warm, warm. The DM-1 uses the Reticon R5101chip at the heart of its circuit, and this (now discontinued) CCD processes the signal into 'bins' to simulate analog conversion, and allow the circuit to be manipulated to produce the delay effect. The DM-2 and the famous "green" MXR Analog Delay also use this processor, with a similar effect.

Verdict: AWESOME! If you have one, congrats! And if you don't - allow me to recommend the Ibanez AD9 or the Boss DM-2, both of which have similar features, a similar sound, and are a lot easier to get.

Price Range:
$400-600 depending on condition/modifications

-Great warm analog sound
-Simple controls
-Very solid construction

-A little noisy
-Limited delay time
-Too big for a pedal board

Rating: 7/10

Monday, December 12, 2011

More reviews to come!

Hey, Everyone!

Check out the Pedal Reviews I've written this month:

Ibanez WH10 Wah-Wah Pedal
Ibanez AF9 Auto Filter
Ibanez CS9 Stereo Chorus
Ibanez SM9 Super Metal

Look for more equipment reviews coming soon, including pedals by Boss, MXR, ZVEX, and more from Ibanez!