I’m a sucker for versatility and when I learned about this “versatile” overdrive, I just had to get my hands on it.
Indeed, there’s a lot going on here without being overwhelming. Although this pedal has been reviewed by some guitar magazines, there’s scant little in terms of what all those knobs actually do, so let me describe them to you:
The left top is the drive knob. Interestingly, turning up the gain doesn’t result in more volume, unlike most other overdrives. So you can adjust the gain without having to adjust the volume knob. Nice. The pedal lives in low to mid gain range. The gain range is usable throughout. Pulling this knob gives out more gain, but even at the highest setting, I would place it squarely in mid-gain range. My LoveKraft Chupacabra (a Rat-based pedal) can hit this amount of gain at about 9 o’clock on the gain knob.
The right top is the volume knob. Pulling this out is called “Punch” and while it’s not inaccurate, it’s a bit misleading. The “Punch” mode is more like a boost mode — less gain, more volume, more dynamics. Like lifting a clipping diode out of a signal path. So between the Drive pull and Volume pull, you can set the gain range higher or lower. It will still distort a fair bit if both are pulled out.
The middle “Voice” knob is also mysterious sounding, but this is basically a variable frequency boost. At the lowest setting, there is no boost. At lower range, it boosts the low end, and then the frequencies getting boosted gets higher and higher as you turn it up. Obviously, at lower range the frequencies covered ends up overlapping with the Bass knob. It’s great for fattening up a thin tone for leads in the first half of the range, but from there on, the mid boost –which goes up to upper-mids at the highest settings — ends up sounding a bit unnatural to me. Because the boosted frequencies are narrow and the boost amount isn’t subtle.
The Treble and Bass control are unity at noon and they can cut or boost. There is a lot of both on tap, and they are placed at right frequencies.
The pedal is solidly built and knobs are all smooth. It has a true bypass.
First of all, this is one dynamic pedal. I read that the 9v power supply gets converted to 18v internally, and it shows. The feel is very amp-like. At higher gain settings, the range gets reduced, but it doesn’t feel compressed and it still cleans up very well with volume knob.
The volume knob is somewhat interesting — there is a huge range below unity gain. It can get very loud, but only when it’s turned up quite a bit. And it gets louder in Punch mode.
Tone-wise, this pedal has a certain character that’s hard to put my finger on. It doesn’t sound like TS or Marshall. The character of the guitar comes through clearly but it also has its own sound, too. Its tone is on the smooth side, but thanks to excellent dynamics it stays articulate, even at higher gain setting. If you hit it hard you can rock with it, but it doesn’t really get rude or hairy. And if you want to do soaring leads with single coils, you’ll need a boost in front of it.
I think this is the kind of pedal where those who love it really love it while others won’t get it. With 5 knobs and two push/pulls, there is fair bit going on, though it’s not counter-intuitive. If you’re looking for a versatile low- to mid-gainer with dynamics to spare, Zenith is a great choice.
For me personally, it didn’t end up being my thing. My music requires more gain first of all — I thought this pedal had more gain, based on what other owners said and what Jack Zucker’s excellent demos on YouTube showed. But the Voice knob really didn’t grow on me. It’s too limiting to use as a parametric EQ boost, especially since I have more versatile EQs elsewhere in my chain. But I can see it becoming more useful for someone who doesn’t have a dedicated EQ and this may provide means to tune your guitar or amp to the room and/or cut through the mix with mid boost.
Still, I have to give kudos for Arteffect trying something unique and original. It’s transparent enough not to overpower your rig, but it also has its own signature sound. If Zenith’s unique features end up meeting your needs, I think it will end up being indispensable.