About 2 years ago, I walked into my favorite guitar store — Willie’s American Guitars. They are super nice and always let me try gear until my heart’s content, so I go there every so often just to try out some pedals.
LovePedal Gold Dragon was in the used bin there, and just out of curiosity I plugged it in — and I flipped out. I’ve tried my share of overdrive and distortion pedals, but nowhere have I had a pedal that responded like this one. I have never been a fuzz guy and later I learned that Fuzz Face based pedals tend to be ultra touch sensitive — I have not confirmed that this is indeed a Fuzz Face variation, but I can tell you, this thing responds to your touch like nothing else.
I was completely mesmerized and while I didn’t buy it on the spot, I came home, slept on it, decided to sell other stuff I had and buy this pedal. A week later it was mine, and it’s been my main dirt pedal since then.
I’ve been going through a bit of tone make-over and now am considering trying alternatives to this pedal — but I will not be surprised if I hang on to this one, either. It has its quirks, but so far I have not come across a pedal that is anything like this.
From the top going clockwise, the knobs are bass, gain and volume. The bass knob is pre-gain cut and it has a huge impact on its tone. The pedal is super high-gain so if you leave bass full (all the counter-clockwise) then it’ll get into more traditional fuzz sound very quickly. But when you turn up the knob clockwise, which will cut more bass, the pedal sounds more like overdrive. The bass and gain knobs are interactive — the less gain, the more profound the impact of the bass knob — so if you set your gain low you can also set the bass cut to low (meaning, close to counter-clockwise for a fuller bass), otherwise cutting bass can result in very thin, trebly tone. Which doesn’t sound bad, mind you — if you plan to strum full chords you’ll want thinner sound, otherwise it’ll sound too muddy.
One of this pedals’ quirks is that it doesn’t have a whole lot of volume. I use it fairly low gain for overdrive so I pretty much crank the volume all the way, and you’ll get barely above unity gain — meaning, it’ll be just a bit louder than when the pedal is off. On the other hand, I have tried this pedal down stream from buffered pedals and compressor, have not noticed any changes to tone. I know that some fuzz designs are picky about what comes before it in the signal chain — not this one. It has a standard negative-center AC plug and the switch is relay-based true bypass (I believe) so turning it on and off is much smoother transaction than mechanical true bypass that most other pedals employ, as those tend to have a very heavy “click” (I’m talking more about the physical action, not that they make a click sound to the actual tone) when you step on it to switch on/off.
Oh, and it also has a trimmer inside for setting the bias to the transistor (transistors? I don’t know how many this thing uses, nor which type it is — I read that it is a hybrid silicon/germanium design, but can’t confirm it.) It can lower the voltage supplied to the transistors for more low-fi, plucky tone, though it doesn’t exactly go low enough to do real lo-fi, broken-up type sound of some fuzzes. It just makes the tone duller and feel less responsive, with plucky pick attack. If you turn it all the way counter-clockwise, it applies maximum voltage to the transistors. At this level, the pedal is so sensitive to the input dynamics that when you pick a note, you can hear it distorting just during the pick attack and immediately getting cleaner. Strikes me as odd and unnatural. So the sweet range are somewhere between 10-2 o’clock.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a good demo that really represents what this pedal can do. The short promo video from the manufacturer is the only one that seems to showcase what I’m hearing in person.
If I ever start doing video demos I’ll update this post. There are two other demos on YouTube but neither sound anything like what I’m hearing, unfortunately.
So, how do I describe this sound? Juicy. Saturated. With bass full it can get into that dark, muddy fuzz tone — but it also has quite a bit of high-end hair/fizz as well, and if you roll off the pre-gain bass you can also get very bright and trebly. The range of tones you can get from basically bass cut and gain is pretty astonishing. I wouldn’t say it’s transparent — it’s rather fat sounding, my Strat’s in-between settings don’t have as much of that “quack” as more transparent overdrives.
And as I’ve been saying, it really responds to your touch. You can pick lightly and it can go to almost-clean tone. Even when you set the gain pretty high, if you pick softly enough it really cleans up. When you dig in it just gets saturated, not louder. Forgive me for using rather subjective terms, but it really feels alive — after you get used to this, most other dirt pedals, or even some amp overdrive, seem rather constrained and unresponsive.
But there is a flip side to this ultra-touch sensitivity. If you’re hoping for extended sustain for lead work, you’ll have to crank the gain to find it. As the note sustains the input signal from your guitar drops, and the sustained tone gets cleaner. Also, if you don’t cut bass and/or have a lot of gain, this thing can sound rather scooped — a lot of high end fizz and low-end mud. It will not cut through a mix, note definition can get lost. Couple that with this pedal not having much volume, and you may find this one really unpractical. I must also add that Gold Dragon has a fair bit of static noise with its volume cranked, which is necessary if you want the volume to be louder than unity at all.
As I said, I was never a fuzz guy until this pedal and in reality, I am actually not using this pedal for its fuzz. What works for me is ultra-responsiveness and for its overdrive tone, with bass rolled off somewhat and the gain set super low — I go between like 8-9 o’clock at most. Then I roll off the guitar’s volume to get clean and turn it up to get saturated, dynamic rhythm tone. I listened to and tried many fuzz pedals after I discovered this one, but nothing else so far does what this one does. It just has this fat saturation that you can really adjust with your picking.
But I sure wish if this had one more knob — post-gain treble cut. The high-end fizz is hard to tame sometimes. I discovered that I can get around this by stacking this with Tech21 Para Driver, which has a tube emulation circuit that rolls off ultra high end, the “presence” range. I tried to see if I can achieve the same result with a Boss GE-7 EQ pedal, but that one doesn’t seem to have the right frequency to roll off. I think Para Driver has more of a shelf-style top end roll off. Not necessarily its treble knob — its tube emulation circuit just rolls off frequencies above 5-6k or something like that. You may be able to achieve the same by rolling off treble or presence on your amp.
This pedal is versatile yet full of quirks at the same time. Given all other fuzz pedals out there, I’d say if you’re really looking for vintage fuzz tones this pedal isn’t your first place to look. It has overcome some of the traditional downfalls of fuzzes, like finicky input and power needs, but it has its own quirks like low volume and no control over its high end. So it’s really not for everyone, but then, what is?
Anyway, there isn’t a whole lot of information about this pedal so I hope that this pedal will be useful to those who are considering buying this pedal. It’s not being made any more and I have no idea how many were made, but as of late 2012 it seems to pop up on eBay fairly regularly. From what I’ve read other version of the Dragon series use different transistors, so my guess is that this review probably won’t apply to other Dragon pedals (Red, Brown, White, etc.).
For me, I have really grown accustomed to its saturated tone and responsiveness — I’ll probably only let this one go when I find another pedal that does everything this does and overcomes its shortcomings (more volume, treble cut, lower gain would be nice). Otherwise, I’d rather work around this pedal’s quirks than to let it go and miss its strengths.
It is very embarrassing, to be honest — but here I humbly present my first-ever pedal review video.