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Our "That Pedal Show" Blog

Five Great Alternatives to Your “Normal” Overdrive or Boost

By Andy Perrin | May 15, 2017

That Pedal Show 5/12/17

What is normal anyway? Well, if you’re in the world of overdrive pedals there are certainly central categories that make up the bulk of the lot. Painting in broad strokes, there are three major types: the transparent and mid-range kick (a la, Klons and Tubescreamers), the saturated and rich in gain (the Fulltone OCDs and Catalinbread Dirty Little Secrets of the world), and the angry army of fuzz boxes (think the countless iterations and imitations of the EHX Big Muff and Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face). But what if your sound doesn’t fit in these boxes or you’re looking for something entirely new?

This week on TPS, Dan & Mick deliver a stompbox diversity session by exploring some overdrive options that extend beyond these traditional categories. The line-up of pedals includes: the JHS Colour Box, Orange Two-Stroke Boost EQ, Pro Analog Power Driver V2, Hudson Electronics Broadcast, and Lightning Boy II with Sidecar modules. As always, there’s hardly a bad sound in the episode—yet this time around, the riffs belted out are couched in gain that, in the words of Mick, are a bit “left of field.” Here’s our take on three key sounds and stompboxes in the episode that might have you venturing beyond the familiar sounds already on your rig.

JHS Colour Box: Finding New Gain and Fresh Tones in Unexpected Places

There’s a slowly expanding collection of overdrive pedals that are based on the unexpectedly awesome sounds of plugging a guitar into non-traditional gear. For example, the Walrus 385, based on the tube amplifier section of a Bell & Howell 385 Projector that came out this last year. Within this catchall, non-conformist category, the JHS Colour Box seems to have garnered the largest cult following. Inspired by the sounds of classic albums with guitar tracks recorded directly into the input of the Neve console, the Colour Box offers a rendition of this sound in a box small enough to fit on any pedalboard.

If you’re looking for gain in unknown terrain, the Colour Box is unreal.  As its two gain stages are raised in series, the gain overloads and caves in, resulting in what Dan described as a “raspy and punchy” overdrive. The pedal, however, also excels as a pre-amp of sorts and even comes equipped with an XLR input, making it possible to run nearly anything through it as you would a recording console. After experiencing the Colour Box, Mick exclaimed “I’m going to take it home and everything I record, from now on, is going to go through that.”

If the Colour Box sounds like your idea of a good time, be sure to check out last week’s Riff City That Pedal Show blog post for a synopsis of Dan & Mick’s recent interview with Josh Scott from JHS Pedals.

Orange Two-Stroke: Shaping Your Signal with Variable EQ Boxes

Sculpting EQ and tone is one of the best ways of creating overdrive sounds anew. The growing collection of Orange Amps pedals now includes the Two-Stroke Boost EQ that both plays well with a favorite overdrive and offers a rich range of frequency-boosted gain on its own. The Two-Stroke is an active, high/low parametric EQ pedal that boasts a range of tone shaping capabilities and even comes with an added 12 dB of boost to boot. This means you can fine-tune your tone before it hits an amp as well as add contour to the natural dynamic range and character of your pickups. All in all, these features of the Two-Stroke quickly won over Mick: “That is about as powerful of a tone shaper in a boost that I’ve come across.”

When pushed, the on-board gain knob added a nice edge to the tailored EQ. Yet, at lower gain settings, the Two Stroke also proved itself to be a superb “always-on” clean platform. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the heritage of distinct, warm clean tones synonymous with Orange amplifiers—but now, thanks to this conveniently packaged pedal, it’s possible to add that flavor to any rig. By the end of the segment, the Two-Stroke won a second convert as Dan concluded, “I think that sounds amazing, I’m a big fan. Well done Orange!”

Hudson Electronics Broadcast: On the Fringes of Fuzz

Fans of fuzz might find the transition into non-traditional overdrives a bit easier. If you’re looking for a gateway pedal in between these worlds, the Hudson Electronics Broadcast is highly recommended. Its transformer based and germanium circuit offers up a crunch loosely reminiscent of the breakup of a vintage amp. As Dan remarked, “It reacts unlike any other [pedal].” In a similar design philosophy to the JHS Colour Box, the Broadcast also takes its cue from a throwback, only this time the inspiration is from broadcast consoles of the 1960s. The Broadcast performs across a spectrum of tones, from sparkling clean boosts to crumbling and ferocious fuzz-like breakups. Mick captured the concept of the Broadcast perfectly: “That, to me, is the overdrive pedal for people who don’t like overdrive pedals.”

That’s our take on three ways of navigating the world of alternative overdrive pedals. For a selection of these and countless other options, be sure to stop in at Riff City’s “Distortion and Overdrive” and “Boost and Buffer” sections. For more of our weekly takes on TPS, be sure to “like” and “follow” Riff City on Facebook and Twitter.

TPS Episode Rig Rundown:

Guitars: Dan: 1963 Closet Classic Fender Telecaster (ca. 2000); 1962 American Vintage Fender Stratocaster (ca. 2000); Paul Reed Smith DGT (ca. 2008); Collings 290 DC S.

Amps: Marshall Plexi 1987 XL (50 watt), 4x12 Marshall cabinet; Lazy J 20 combo.

Effects Pedals: JHS Colour Box, Orange Two-Stroke Boost EQ, Pro Analog Power Driver V2, Hudson Electronics Broadcast, Lightning Boy II with Sidecar modules; MXR Reverb M300; Providence Chrono Delay.