It’s a great feeling when you discover the perfect pairing of a special overdrive pedal that pushes the natural gain of a favorite tube amp or a set of overdrive pedals that were simply made for one other. The concept is simple and the sound can be incredible: stacking one gain source into another can accentuate the best of both and result in a drop-kick of overdrive that is more than the sum of its parts.
If one of the main headlines out of winter NAMM 2017 was tandem overdrive pedals, then the Strymon Sunset and Chase Bliss Audio Brothers were front-page news. Why? For starters, these companies have a history of innovation and never disappoint in delivering top-of-the-line yet accessible effects. As Mick noted, “One thing I like about both of these companies is that they very much do their own thing.” Likewise, Dan shared his anticipation of Strymon and Chase Bliss product announcements, “Every time they release something, I get a little bit excited…a lot excited, to be fair.” So what’s so special about these new releases in the endless universe of overdrive pedals? This week on TPS, Dan & Mick undertook an extensive A-B exploration of the Sunset and Brothers to see how they “stack up.”
For starters, each pedal is essentially a two-in-one. Their internal infrastructure is two separate and carefully crafted overdrive channels, which were designed to stack atop each other in multiple configurations and directions. The most apparent asset of this design is the ability to dial in two separate sounds, each with their own characteristics. For example, on the Riverside each side of the pedal comes with three overdrive types. Side “a” includes modelled sounds entitled Germanium, Texas, and treble, and side “b” is switchable between 2-stage, hard, and JFET overdrives. On the Brothers, both sides have the options of boost, drive, and fuzz, with variations on their sound due to JFET and IC inputs.
Where both pedals excelled most is when the drives are pushed into one another, or stacked. The Riverside and Brothers allow for stacking in either direction (“a” into “b,” or “b” into “a”). After running though a few combos (e.g., Texas into JFET, treble into boost, etc.), Dan & Mick were both star-struck with the Strymon. “It’s all there,” remarked Dan. “Everything, everything, everything,” replied Mick. The series of stackable drives in the Brothers was equally inspiring, particularly for the fuzz-aholics in the room. Since each pedal is loaded with three sounds per side, this also means that there are a ton of potential configurations depending on how each side is set up and where it is positioned in the stack.
If the myriad of stackable options weren’t enough, these pedals had another surprise in store. First off, after toying with the directional stacks on the Riverside Dan described, “That’s not even the coolest thing. The coolest this is, you can have ‘a’ going into ‘b,’ or you can have ‘b’ going into ‘a,’ or you can have ‘a’ and ‘b’ and mix them in parallel.” The level control makes it possible to blend either side of the overdrive to the desirable amount, from barely there, to a nudge of boost, to full parallel. As Dan noted, “That’s so cool, because stacked into one another, the first one is pushing the second one into harder overdrive. But if you don’t like that and actually what you want is just a blend, the parallel is really cool.”
Dan & Mick also showcased how the Brothers was a robust stackable drive in both directions and in parallel. After a taking a run at the Brothers with stacked fuzzes using Dan’s 63 Telecaster, the official verdict is given. Dan: “It’s so good, it’s so, so good.” Mick: “It’s really, really, really good.” To add further evidence to the case, after blending the Brothers’ JFET Fuzz into its IC Drive, Dan added “I love, love, love that pedal.”
A final noteworthy feature of this pair of pedals is the way certain parameters can be controlled using an external expression pedal. Dan outlined this functionality for the Sunset. “With the Sunset, for example, you can have all of the controls set to one stage for the heel down position and then all the controls set differently for the toe down position.” For fans of Chase Bliss pedals, it will perhaps come as no surprise that on the Brothers the expression pedal is linked to the magic of dipswitches. Dan summed up that, “With the dipswitches on the back you can select which nob you want to assign to the expression pedal.” As a result, you can manipulate the gain structure to roll on or off into different sounds, such as a drive that eases off as a fuzz presses in. And if, by chance (or certainty), you found a favorite setting on the Brothers and didn’t want to lose it, the Chase Bliss Faves pedal bank grants immediate access to nine saved settings, with more thanks to midi.
For good measure, Dan & Mick compared the Sunset and Brothers to another recent release from Strymon, the full-featured, multistage overdrive that is the Riverside. For an in-depth look at the Strymon Riverside digital overdrive, be sure to check out Dan & Mick’s test-drive of it from a few months back (https://youtu.be/kp9UJg1EqgQ).
For all things Strymon and Chase Bliss Audio, be sure to stroll the isles over at Riff City. Also don’t forget to subscribe to TPS to keep up with latest episodes, including regular mid-week shorts such as A-B demos or highlights of Dan & Mick’s gear (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnUXq8mGmoHt0e6ItuTs10w).
Gear used in this episode:
Guitars: Mick: 1962 American Vintage Fender Stratocaster (ca. 2000); Paul Reed Smith DGT (ca. 2008); Dan: 1963 Closet Classic Fender Telecaster (ca. 2000).