A guitar being a plucked instrument, sustain is something of a concern to many of us. Who wouldn’t want a pedal that’ll give you more sustain without mucking with the rest of the sound? When I looked at this pedal, I had a particular function in mind — solo boost. I wanted a compressor that doesn’t sound compressed yet gives me more sustain and even volumes, particularly between picked and hammered-on notes. Let’s see if this pedal works for that purpose.
First of all, this pedal is small! It’s great for your pedalboard real estate, but you have to be careful when stomping on it to make sure you don’t mess with the knobs, which are pretty close to the true-bypass footswitch. Thankfully, the knobs are round, smooth and sturdy, so it’s probably less prone to radical changes due to your shoes/feet rubbing against them than some other knob designs.
And the knobs are, from left, Grit, Sustain, Blend, Treble and Volume. For once, I am glad that they seem pretty descriptive of what they do.
Treble is the easiest part. This pedal’s Treble control actually doesn’t seem to darken the tone even if you back it off — instead, it makes your guitar sound farther away. Turn it up, and the tone doesn’t seem to change except it’s more in your face. So it must be adjust somewhere near 5kHz, the range that affects the sense of proximity to the sound.
Blend is blending of the unaffected (left) vs. compressed (right) signal. If you turn it counter-clockwise, the unprocessed signal takes up more of the output, but the overall volume also drops, so you’ll have to compensate by turning up the Volume.
Sustain on this pedal doesn’t affect your tone as much as most other compressors do, so unless you let your notes ring out you can’t tell how much Sustain knob is really making a difference. As you know I play lower-output pickups, so on my DiMarzio Virtual Vintage Heavy Blues 2 pickup, I heard some subtle tonal coloring/compression occurring starting around 11 o’clock on low E string (which is the loudest). From there as you turn it up, you get subtle “filling up” impact to the feel, namely from the notes not decaying (as quickly — it eventually does, of course) as they sustain. But how long that impact lasts is not subtle, especially when you turn up the Sustain knob. It can go for quite a while, giving you an impression that your guitar is some kind of a trigger to a recording or a synth or something.
The Grit knob is the quirky one on this pedal. At its lowest setting, there’s no effect, but as soon as you turn it up — even at like 8 o’clock, you start hearing faint fuzz getting blended into the signal. It’s hairy and buzzy fuzz, and it is loud — at about noon it pretty much takes over your sound, you’ll no longer really detect that it’s a blending of clean vs. fuzz tone. The more you turn it up, the overall volume gets louder as well. Note that Grit adjusts the blend between the fuzz and compressed signal — if your Blend knob is turned down, Grit can’t be blended in either, because Blend adjust the balance between effected (both Grit and Sustain) and uneffected sound.
One other quirk to note is that this pedal is shipped with an 18v power supply. While the pedal gives conflicting information about compatible voltage (the label on top says 12-18v, while the sticker on the bottom says 9-18v), I tried lower voltages and 12v and below made the pedal lose its headroom and distort, in a scratchy, unpleasant way. And again, I use low-output pickups, so I imagine it’ll completely lose its transparency if you used like humbucker guitars. So plan to power it with an 18v power supply.
I tried many compressor pedals in stores, but this one definitely ranks among the most transparent, if you’re after a compressor pedal with the least amount of impact on your tone. Other than that change in feel, that realization that your notes aren’t really decaying, it really doesn’t chop off highs or lows or accentuate any particular frequencies. It’s just your tone, but stretched out and sustaining.
And most noteworthy is how it grabs the attack (there’s no attack time control, and the pedal grabs your note right away — quick attack time) but without really changing how the attack “sounds.” Of course, the volume spikes of note attacks are part of its sound, so it sounds different on that level, but otherwise, you don’t “hear” a difference in terms of how your note attacks come across. Very disappointing if you were hoping to “play” your compressor for that country sound, but quite cool if you just wanted to preserve your original sound. In that respect this compressor is almost like a studio compressor, where you’re using it just mainly for controlling the volume and not for its coloration.
On the other hand, I found the Grit sound to be opposite of subtle, and personally found little use for that buzzy fuzz. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher in terms of product design as well, as this pedal’s transparency (subtlety) is quite awesome, yet here is one knob that can easily and drastically change your sound.
So there’s a weird duality to this pedal. On one hand, it’s a transparent compressor that doesn’t muck up your tone but gives you long, clean sustain. On the other, it’s a fuzz with hairy, muddy tone, that can be dialed in to your taste but what you’re adjusting is the blend between the fuzz and compressed tone, not the gain of the fuzz. The latter feels like a cool idea on paper that doesn’t quite get fully realized with its one-knob configuration.
For a solo boost, I feel that this pedal definitely excels, as it just gives you gobs of sustain without changing your tone. If you want to use it for your rhythm, though, be sure to set the Blend accordingly because this thing can totally kill the volume spikes of your attack, preventing your parts from standing out in the mix. But that’s true of all compressors, and this one is tweakable enough to allow for judicious use.
For my personal use I found that for reasons I can’t explain myself, artificially enhanced sustain somehow discourages me from using the pedal, so I decided to look for another overdrive pedal for use as a solo boost. But if you’re not counting on the Grit knob to provide overdrive-like dirt (or if you don’t need it at all) this pedal is an awesome, transparent sustainer. I highly recommend it if you can accommodate its 18v power need.