I’ve been looking at Kingsley’s line of pedals as a possible pinnacle of overdrive pedals, mainly because of the amazing demo videos that the builder of Kingsley amps/pedals himself, Simon Jarrett, put out. I could tell from the videos that their pedals had supreme feel and broad range. Of his various offerings, Minstrel seems to have perhaps the widest range in a smaller package: a single-channel pedal with 3-band EQ, and it combines its bigger brother Jester pedal’s overdrive and boost together. Check out the video below, and then read on for my thoughts.
The pedal comes in a tall steel enclosure with tubes sticking out on top, covered securely with a steel guard on top. The controls seem straight forward — from right, Gain, Volume, Treble, Mid, and Bass. Foot switch is true bypass and on the back is the 3-way mode switch. Jacks are also on the top, and the pedal comes with a wall-wart power supply.
What’s not so straight forward is the 3-band EQ. They are active, and apparently unity setting is around 11 o’clock. And they really interact with the gain — turning up any EQ range increases the gain as well. It has a huge range of boost and cut, so it can sound quite off-balance and downright ugly if you set it at extreme settings.
This being a tube pedal, one thing to note is that swapping tubes is unfortunately not very easy. The Tung-Sol reissue 12AX7s that come with the pedal has very little clearance above the top surface, making it extremely difficult to grab it and pull up the tube. I ended up opening up the bottom and then carefully nudging/pushing the bottom of the tube with a flat screwdriver, but I’m sure that’s not recommended, as this pedal runs high voltage. I did try swapping out the Tung-Sols with JJs, and it does affect the sound, though not dramatically. Tung-Sols have more saturation on Treble range, while JJs get more saturated in low-mids. But since the EQ is so powerful you can really get one set of tubes to sound like the other with slight adjustments.
As I expected, the most striking aspect of this pedal is its feel. It is super responsive and feels very, very natural — nothing exaggerated or constricted. You hit the strings hard and the pedal responds with a righteous kerrang! You pluck softly and it purrs. I have played other pedals that are responsive, but Fuzz Face-style fuzzes can feel peaky and exaggerated (uncompressed, sure, but no sustain either) and most overdrives feel compressed (changes in your touch don’t result in as much difference). Note attacks are fast but not obscenely so, making it feel organic. Players with refined picking technique will really appreciate this pedal, but if you’re more of a bang-em-hard rock n roller, this much dynamic range may be uncomfortable, as it reveals any and all irregularities in your picking. It takes superb control make this pedal sing nice and even for single-note solos, without help from compressors or another overdrive.
On the other hand, given my impression of the pedal from the above demo, I was surprised by how much bite, sizzle and saturation this pedal offers tonally. If you turn up the EQ and hit the strings hard, you can get quite a zing in your note attacks. Drastic boosting of any EQ band didn’t come across very well, unless you turn up all three bands to be more or less at similar settings. I also read a tip from The Gear Page to set the Volume to be higher than the Gain for the best sound, which I confirm is true. If the Gain is high but Volume is low the pedal can sound over-saturated, to the point of being buzzy.
So between the wide range of EQ and 3 modes of overdrive, it can be a bit tricky to learn how to dial this pedal in. My advice is to keep all 3 bands of EQ pointing somewhere similar on the dial, regardless of where in the range you set them. It’s perfectly fine to turn them up to 4-5 o’clock range, as long you do so with all three. Doing so will offer more gain, so you can use the EQ bands almost like a second set of gain control.
The Mode 1 is the cleanest, smoothest and most transparent. With Gain set low it can be used as a boost pedal, though it still alters the base tone by cropping off some of the super high-end of the clean tone, which is usually a good thing for overdrives, as distortion of ultra-highs can result in an ugly, fizzy sheen. Mode 1 is fabulous for that verge-of-breakup range, though it can get up to tight high gain if you turn up the EQ and Gain.
Mode 2 is Mode 1 with more muscular low-mid girth. It has a tad more gain but small adjustments in EQ will usually get you settled if you’re coming from Mode 1.
Mode 3 is a completely different voicing. The highs gain more definition and low get much tighter and precise. It has the most gain of the 3 modes so it can do excellent hard rock sound, but backing off the Gain can do very credible low-gain sound as well, with more clarity, stringiness and note definition. If you need your busy rhythm guitar to cut through, this mode may be the ticket.
Below is my video review of the pedal, though I must confess that I may not be showcasing this pedal at its best. Because the EQs are so powerful, it takes some forethought to come up with a few settings that sound good — not a great pedal to demonstrate on the fly by twiddling the knobs, as it isn’t one of those pedals that sound great no matter how you set the controls.
Minstrel is for players who demand the most organic and natural response/feel, someone with superb touch that can really control your sound purely by adjusting how you pick the strings. Rock hackers like myself, who just bang hard on barre chords, may find it difficult to harness its range. Compare how in the first video, Simon has a nice soft touch and the pedal just purrs. Then watch me clumsily bang on the stings and the pedal roars. This is one of those pedals that probably sound completely different from player to player, because this good of response makes a pedal like a mirror — it reflects the player. It is a very flexible pedal, so there’s little doubt that anybody will find usable tones after some tweaking — but it also requires some patience, as the powerful controls aren’t quite as intuitive as the names of these knobs suggest.
Note that this good of response can be an asset or a liability, depending on the type of player you are. If you’re hoping to find a pedal that sounds smooth and even when your picking technique isn’t, then this pedal isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a lot of compression and sustain, this pedal isn’t for you either. The Tung-Sols that come with the pedal are fairly bright, so if you hit strings hard, it can’t help but give a fairly bright zing. Basically, this pedal doesn’t make a player sound better — it can sound quite good in capable hands, but it may reveal flaws just as well. My metaphor about a mirror is worth keeping in mind — this pedal will give back whatever you give to it. Now it’s up to you to decide whether that sounds good to you or not.