I was aware of Oddfellow Caveman pedals when it burst onto the scene a couple of years ago at TheGearPage.net. I saw some early videos and heard very smooth, sustain-y overdrive coaxed from a Strat. I knew I had to try this pedal.
But months flew by and there was a controversy or two about the pedal’s origin (I wasn’t exactly paying attention there) and Oddfellow came out with v2 which has a higher price tag but features an adjustable boost. I was finally able to get my hands on this coveted pedal thanks to PedalGenie.com.
Knobs or controls aren’t where this pedal breaks a new ground, but there’s comfort in knowing exactly what each knob does on the first glance. The knobs here are Volume, Tone, Drive and Boost. A toggle switch lets you select whether the boost is before or after the drive section — a nice touch. Two footswitches let you control both drive and boost independently. The flip side is that you can’t step on a single footswitch and turn on both at the same time. The Tone knob is set so that it doesn’t seem to affect the fundamental sound, but rather how vividly you’re hearing it. All the way counter-clockwise and it sounds like your amp is coming from far away and you have a blanket between your ears and the sound source to muffle it. All the way up and it sounds in-your-face, where you can hear more details clearly, without making it sound thin or bright.
Where this pedal shines is in its already-fine-tuned-to-sweet-spot overdrive sound. There are no controls that really change its fundamental tone, so you just set the amount of gain you need and how vividly you want to hear your tone, and you’re all set to wail. It crops off a bit of highs and lows to produce this even, smooth and perfectly balanced overdrive. It has reasonable amount of transparency, so that even at the highest gain setting pickup position change clearly affects the sound, without making the difference feel exaggerated. It reduces your dynamic range while retaining excellent touch sensitivity, making it very comfortable to play. It also responds well to your volume knob roll-off — the reduction is gain isn’t as drastic as other super dynamic pedals, so you can really fine tune the amount of dirt with your volume knob. The Drive knob is usable throughout its range, and you can set it somewhere in the middle and use Boost as the foot-switchable gain boost (when set to be before the drive section). At the highest Drive setting, kicking in Boost before it doesn’t seem to offer substantial increase in gain. The Boost is a clean and full-range boost — it’s not so super clinical that it sounds like you just simply increased the volume of your guitar sound, but the color it offers is very subtle — perhaps a hair fatter and bigger sounding.
When looking for an addition to your guitar rig, one can choose to pursue either something that flatters you or offers you a bigger range. By that, what I mean is that pedals with big range can often be made to sound bad, precisely because of that big range. You need to carefully dial in such a pedal and find a sweet spot or two. One can think of dynamics in a similar manner — dynamic response is a sought-after feature because it’s harder to pull off and more expressive, only if the guitarist has the proper technique to take advantage of the range. But the down side of having a dynamic range is that you need to be a refined player with good command of your playing dynamics, or otherwise it can sound very uneven.
Oddfellow Caveman doesn’t offer a huge range, but what it does offer is already finely tuned to sound great right out of box. No need to spend hours twiddling the knobs and getting to know the pedal. It flatters your playing and it’s just very easy to sound good with it. I’ve played many overdrive pedals but this one stands out in terms of how impossible it is to make this pedal sound bad — its gentle taming of top and bottom give it a voice that’s refined and focused without sounding mid-heavy, and its dynamic range is again tuned well so it responds well without feeling compressed. It doesn’t have fast, sharp note attacks so it’s not suited for some music that requires that (hard rock, classic metal). Its strength resides in its ability to encourage the player to go for singing single-note leads.
So if a smooth, well-mannered overdrive is your thing, Caveman is one pedal where someone already did all the legwork of having to dial it in. What you get is a pedal whose entire range is a giant sweet spot. Just set the Tone and Drive to where you like it and you’re ready to go.