Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pedal Pusher

Growing up as a guitar player in the 90s was a weird period for guitar tone. Musically we were transitioning out of 80s hair metal, high output active pickups, marshall full-stacks turned up to eleven, and worst of all - solid state amps. Excuse me for a second while i throw up. As whiny college rock and alternative came into style, many of those bands had horrible tone even though if they were to record nowadays, I would bet that their players would have top notch tone. It was a weird period where many well meaning guitarists suffered because of the lack of choices in gear. You basically had a choice between 3 or 4 corporate, factory-made amps. The same goes for pedals. It was basically Ibanez, Boss (Roland), DOD, Digitech, or some dreaded digital multi-effects processor. I shouldn't judge. I'm just as guilty. I remember salivating over the Digitech RP-21 in the Musician's Friend catalog. But I digress.....

I would have given my best pair of JNCO's for this monstrosity

Fortunately we've come a long way since the days of a few mediocre choices to satisfy the masses. For about the past ten years we've entered a golden age where a multitude of smaller boutique amp and pedal companies have popped up and even thrived. Instead of a few cheap, mass-produced pedals, we have a plethora of pedal options that are hand-made to fit whatever tone you desire. Now I know what some of you are thinking - there were boutique companies in the 80s and 90s. And you're right. However very few people knew about them and without the internet there wasn't much of a way for those smaller companies to fight the corporate behemoths. Well for the past couple of months I've had the opportunity to try out a couple pedals from Sublime Guitar Company (Sublime Guitar Company) and I'd like to share my experience.

Sublime Guitar Company is a Tampa, FL based startup that has focused on their guitar designs up until this point. They've come out with 4 pedals, but for this post I'll be reviewing the Hippy Joel Overdrive and the Mobin Overdrive.

Hippy Joel Overdrive

The Hippy Joel overdrive is a boost pedal reminiscent of the famed Klon Centaur where a new type of overdrive emerged that was meant to be a subtle, transparent overdrive to maintain tone. The Hippy Joel delivers a clarity in an overdrive pedal that's hard to find. Most overdrive pedals offer a trade off on the clarity of tone versus the amount of drive. As you add more gain, the clarity of the signal fades and the sound eventually turns to mush. There's also usually a slight degradation of the top end as well as losing a little punch on the low end.  This pedal seems to work best as a slight boost - the kind of tone that sounds clear on light strums but breaks up nicely when you dig into it. Think of a vintage fender amp turned up loud.

The pedal will break up nicely as you add more gain, but I honestly prefer using it more as a boost. I personally will rarely play a guitar, no matter how delicate the part, without at least a touch of overdrive or distortion. Even shimmery clean parts seem to jump out in the mix more with a touch of gain. The trick is in how you play it. An angelic clean tone can turn into a monster bite depending how hard you dig in.  Here's a video to illustrate what I'm talking about. Notice how when the gain is turned up the top end does not roll off and the low end does not get muddy like other pedals do.

Mobin Overdrive

The Mobin Overdrive pedal can be summed up in one word - versatility. Although this true bypass pedal takes up a minimum amount of real estate on your pedalboard, it offers three distinct overdrives via the three-way diode selector switch. This pedal paired with my Jekyll and Hyde has been  my main distortion for Stellar Kart shows the last few months. I've also used it in studio and there is a lot it has to offer. The first diode setting is more of an organic tube-screamer style sound, the second diode offers a brighter tone best used as a boost, and the third diode is a Marshall/British style tone.

First of all, this pedal is HOT. The gain starts to break up fast and I rarely have it set past 9 or 10 o'clock (the gain starts around 7 o'clock). The biggest thing I've noticed about this pedal is how well it sits in the mix. As a musicians and a producer, I've noticed a disparity in how guitarists like an amp to sound, and how engineers like to hear it in a mix. The truth is when a guitar is sitting in a mix with a bunch of other instruments, some of the low end gets sacrificed to allow the bass guitar to cut through, and some of the mid range gets the ax in order to let the almighty vocal shine. The difference between this pedal and most others is in the low end. Like many things in life, distortion is a trade-off. The higher frequencies are excited and sound great, but over-distorted low end starts to sound muddy and not defined. So adding gain is good for the high end and bad for the low end (and vice versa when backing off on gain).  I'm not sure what sort of sorcery the wizards at Sublime Guitar Company have conjured, but they're able to get searing top end harmonics while leaving much of the low end intact and punchy. In a live setting this cuts down on the muddiness on stage and allows your tone to cut through like it should. Here's another video to illustrate the versatility of this pedal:

So those are my thoughts. If you're interested, check out the videos. SGC is also running a kickstarter campaign for their new guitar pedal division. It's actually a pretty good deal. I'm not sure what these pedals will retail for, but I can say that a similar hand made pedal from another boutique company could easily cost from $150 - $300. The kickstarter is structured so that when you donate, you basically get a free pedal at a pricing structure that is very generous. If you have a sec, check them out. They're a bunch of good guys with great hearts and a passion for excellent tone. Here's the link:

Sublime Guitar Company Kickstarter

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1 comment:

Dorothy Payne said...

You are right. For some reason, rock today focuses on the loudness and crunch of the guitar, not caring about how it diminishes the tone. But of course, it still depends on the player and what he or she wants to hear. There are a lot of pedals to choose from, and the market isn’t really limited on distortion and metal pedals. Anyway, I really like the Hippy Joel Overdrive, especially on hollow bodied guitars. It doesn’t only give your guitar the drive you want, but also boosts the entire sound without losing its bright tone. Thanks for sharing this review with us, Nick. All the best!

Dorothy Payne @ Rainbow Music

About Me

"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos; that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" --Hi Fidelity

Hey guys, my name is Nick Baumhardt. I help write and record music. I also play guitar for Thousand Foot Krutch and FM Static.

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