Wampler Cranked AC Overdrive / Distortion Pedal Review

I’ve been wanting to check this pedal out for a while, as some of the clips I’ve seen indicated this saturated, mid-heavy high-gain tone that I was attracted to.  This is my first Wampler pedal to try and it certainly didn’t disappoint.  While this pedal is discontinued, Wampler recently announced release of Ace Thirty and if Cranked AC is any indication, the new pedal is going to be a killer.

Wampler Cranked AC

Wampler Cranked AC

Features

As far as overdrive/distortion pedals go, this one has a classic three-knob configuration: gain, volume, tone.  There is a lot of volume on tap.  The gain knob is the kind where if you turned it all the way down, nothing comes through the pedal.  At the very, very lowest the sound coming through sounds a bit sputtery like low-voltage fuzz, and if you hear any sound coming through, there’s already some breakup.  The tone control here seems affect the range where the “hair” of overdrive lives.  It affects the tone more when the gain is turned up higher — from about 9 o’clock down it darkens the sound a lot and make it wooly, and at the higher range it makes it very hairy.  Definitely the kind of tone knob where you find your sweet spot and forget it.

Sound

Immediately, what’s taken me in is the feel of this pedal.  The attack is fast, giving you the feeling that the notes “stick” to your fingers, because it just seem to start notes earlier than what you may be used to with other, less responsive dirt pedals or amps.  That’s not to say that there isn’t a sag — the attack doesn’t feel strident.  The other strong characteristic here is the fuzzy low end.  It doesn’t quite sound like the sweet breakup of real EL84 tubes, but Vox’s are known for their fuzzy, muddy low end — if you’re looking for a razor-sharp, tight low end obviously you aren’t thinking of a Vox.

The keyword here is “Cranked.”  It’s not exactly a low-gain pedal, though it’s definitely usable in its lower gain range.  The pedal responds wonderfully to your picking strengths, so while it doesn’t exactly clean up completely to a pristine clean tone, you can vary the amount of dirt by varying your picking strength in the lowest third of the gain range (at least with my Strat — I’m sure it varies with pickup output).   When the gain is turned up higher, it gets too saturated for that kind of subtlety.

The interesting thing here is that after about half way up the gain, the bottom seems to tighten up, making the pedal sound more articulate than when you were in the lower gain range.  Not tight like you can play palm-muted metal riffs, but definitely tighter than what you’d expect from a typical Vox sound, moving closer to more Marshall territory.  I’m not saying that it sounds like Marshall, though, the thick mid-range saturation is definitely different from the upper-mid kerrang of a typical Marshall like Plexi or JCM800 type tone.  If you think of a soaring Brian May tone from, say, “We Will Rock You” lead, make it a bit more modern by tightening up the bottom end a bit — that’s what I think of, with this pedal’s high gain tone.  At its highest gain range it’s too thick and saturated for anything except single-note leads/riffs, but it’s a joy to play, with its natural-yet-fast-feeling response.

Conclusion

So this pedal is not for Vox purists.  So what?  I think guitarists looking to concoct his/her own tone has an opportunity here, precisely because this pedal doesn’t try to mimic the typical Vox sound too faithfully.  Plus, many other Vox-imitation pedals tend to have many knobs, while this one is simple to use and dial in.  I can see here that even a number of years ago when this pedal was in production, Wampler was starting to develop a great feel for its amp-in-a-box overdrive pedals — it’s just so responsive!  I’m sure his Ace Thirty will be a winner, but if you want to go off a beaten path, you may want to hunt this pedal down.

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