By Darrin Fox
While the classic way to obtain grind is to simply crank your amp, its not always practical. Thats the reason most of us rely on some type of overdrive device that lets the personalities of our guitar and amp shine through. Many players opt for a volume booster that simply slams the amps front-end to produce a more natural, dynamic feel with different shades of breakup. (Of course, this option generally works only with tube amps.) Others want a pedal that does everything their amp cantsuch as produce blistering distortion.
The five pedals reviewed here attack the distortion dilemma from different angles. All offer true-bypass switching, 9-volt jacks for external power, and LED indicators. We auditioned each pedal with a PRS McCarty, a Gibson Les Paul, and a Fender Tele Custom. Test amps included a silverface Fender Deluxe Reverb and a 64 Super Reverb, a Matchless Chieftain and a Vox AC30.
Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive
The Sparkle Drive ($159) combines fat overdrive with a blendable clean-boost function. Controls include gain, tone, clean, and volume. The Sparkles dirty section sports a timeless, Tube Screamer-esque overdrive vibe that exhibits ample booty, tons of output, and superb dynamics. The tone controlwhich works only on the overdrive sideis perhaps one of the most balanced and versatile Ive heard. No single-coil/humbucker bias here, just tons of tonal range for every application.
The clean control supplies an absolutely walloping signal and is capable of turning even low-wattage amps into fire-breathing monsters. However, the fun lies in the mixing of the clean boost and the overdrive. Want a clean sound with some hair around the edges? No problemKeith Richards tone for days. How about a searing overdrive with a dash of clean signal for more note definition? Easy. Now you can add b13ths to distorted chords and have them speak clearly. At last, a pedal that takes the tried-and-true overdrive to a whole new level.