Xotic’s pedals are well-loved, and for good reasons. They just seem to hit all the right spots, making them practical and applicable to many players’ needs. I myself have been ecstatic about their SP Compressor, so when I was looking for a pedal to serve as my solo boost, I had to check this pedal out. My goal was to find an overdrive pedal that could add a bit of grit and desired amount of compression without altering the tone too much. AC Boosters are known for their compression but without being gainy, so having this added compression switch seems like a winner.
AC Boosters have been around for a long time, so I probably don’t need to be elaborate here. Gain, Volume, Treble, Bass. The two-band EQs have great range and both hit the right flequencies — Bass can make things really boomy or thin, Treble makes it really bright or dark. You’ll probably never use its whole range, you’ll find the right adjustment somewhere between 10-2 o’clock.
I don’t know if AC stands for “Almost Clean” but a surprising quirk about AC Booster is that for a low-mid gain pedal, it doesn’t have a whole lot of shade of grey between clean and overdrive. You can get it dead clean with Gain turned all the way down, but at 9 o’clock it’s got hair. And I play mostly single coils, so for humbucker players there’s probably no clean headroom. If you’d like to vary the amount of overdrive with picking strength, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The Compression switch has 3 settings, the top is the Normal — this makes the pedal just a regular AC Booster. Middle is Cut, makes the pedal more dynamic. Bottom is Comp, the most compressed setting. Predictably, the volume is loudest in the middle position and quietest in the bottom position. The tone itself doesn’t change a whole lot, just a wee bit cleaner in Cut and more saturated in Comp. But the difference is subtle.
How do I describe the sound of something that’s so malleable? I suppose starting with the default is a place to start, but it’s just that — a starting point.
With the EQ set at neutral, Gain low and Comp in the middle section, I can hear that this pedal does seem to emphasize the mids compared to completely clean tone. That’s not a bad thing at all, because if an overdrive pedal had as much bass as clean tones it usually results in mud. It has a healthy amount of bite that seems to be above the range that the Treble knob affects, so even a darker tone doesn’t turn into mush.
The texture of the overdrive is grainy. The note attack has somewhat boxy feel of a solid state overdrive, but then, this was never touted to be amp-like. The beauty here is that you can adjust the dynamic response precisely to your liking, between the Comp switch and the Gain setting. With low-gain and Comp low, it displays great touch sensitivity, it’s easy to adjust the amount of dirt by varying the picking strength. With high-gain and Comp high, you get a singing tone without gobs of distortion.
I think Xotic was on to something when they called it a booster, because the malleable nature of this pedal really makes it ideal as an addition to a different gain stage — whether it’s your amp or another overdrive pedal. Whatever that one doesn’t do, you can use AC Booster Comp to add to it. The gain character is fairly neutral without overly emphasizing any one area, while its subtle mid hump is really its advantage. So if you have a bright rhythm tone, you can use this to add girth and compression. If you have a dark setup, you can use this to give it a bright edge. So it’s a see-the-need-meet-the-need kind of tone tool.
I do wish if it had a wider shade of gain — it can do low-gain fairly convincingly when Comp is set low but the Gain knob seems to make a difference only for the left half of it. But that’s a tiny complaint when you consider the range that this pedal does offer, only with 4 knobs and one 3-way switch. If your rig is missing something in the dirt department, definitely give this pedal a try.