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12 Degrees of Saturation - a Personal Selection 2018 Edition

Bearfoot FXBig Muff Style FuzzBlues Driver Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveBossBrown Sound DistortionChase Bliss AudioDiezelDistortionDr ScientistDriveDual-DriveDumble Style OverdriveEmpress EffectsFriedman EffectsFuzzFuzz Face Style FuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionGermanium FuzzHamstead SoundworksJackson AudioJHS PedalsKlone and Transparent OverdriveMarshall Style DistortionMetal DistortionMI EffectsMulti-DriveOCD Style OverdriveOpAmp FuzzOverdriveProAnalog DevicesSilicon FuzzStrymonTubescreamer Style OverdriveVox Style DistortionWamplerXotic Effects+-
2018AfBlg12DegreesSaturationSK700-min

The main reason I came up with the ’12 Degrees of Saturation’ methodology was to give me a greater insight and overview of what overdrive, fuzz and distortion pedals were out there, and which of those would best suit me. When I started the process I had really no idea of how broad this field was exactly, and really how many distinct flavours there were - particularly within the fuzz category. The ’12 Degrees’ is a generalism really, as you can break your drive pedal taxonomy down with as much granularity as you like, yet I thought it was a good benchmark to anchor my research and acquisition process to.

 

Even though I have essentially 20 core drive pedals now in my pedal-chain, I have several more in reserve, as at each level and in each pedal slot there are typically alternative swaps available or already acquired. In terms of distortion, I have always leaned towards Marshall-type sounds, and only relatively recently brought other key amp tonal profiles into the chain - like the ’Boosted Vox’ variation. Also, in one of my recent pedal-chain overviews I talked about ’The Spice Rack’ analogy - which sees the pedal-chain as a smorgasbord of different tonal flavours and textures. Most guitar players will select one or two core flavours to be their key or ’signature’ sound - yet my eclectic tastes have led to more of a studio-like setup - where I can quickly switch up to all manner of different tones to suit a particular sound or song or groove.

 

The idea is to end up with the very best possible pedal for my needs in each of the pedal-slots along the chain. This means the longer I do this, the more settled the chain becomes. Yet there are still further qualifiers in meeting the full range of the ’Spice Rack’. This means that even though the primary / default pedal in each slot may be firmed up and settled, I am still likely looking for alternatives within that category - for instance in the ’Boosted Vox’ slot I am looking to add the Catalinbread RAH (Led Zeppelin HiWatt), and Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra (Black Sabbath Boosted Laney) pedals - to cover those specific amp flavours.

 

In terms of which slots see the most movement / action - there are still some primaries I am waiting for. The JHS Bonsai Multi-Overdrive (9 x Tubescreamer circuits) has been somewhat delayed, and does not look like it’s hitting UK distribution until April. Also for my Level 4 ’Dumble’ slot - I have ordered the Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1 and am waiting for that pedal to be completed and delivered. Otherwise all my principal choices are pretty much in place - including even the Mini Xotic SL Drive - which I long considered updating with a Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret, but which I am really happy with now - so the DLS is somewhat on the back-burner.

 

As mentioned earlier, the pedal-chain is getting increasingly settled now - although certain slots here see more temporary swap-out action than the rest - currently these are the Level 4 ’Dumble’ slot in which I am alternating the Bearfoot FX Model Hs and Bogner Burnley currently - the Burnley is just the most incredibly smooth distortion and has sufficient range to cover a very pleasant smooth overdrive too. My second fuzz slot is also seeing a lot of action - since the Chase Bliss Brothers and Frazz Dazzler are more or less permanent features - meaning that the universal slot tends to alternate between a variety of different fuzz tones.

 

So here follow my own 20 preferred ’12 Degrees of Saturation’ pedals - obviously with multiple options at certain levels. What is incredibly useful within the chain is that I have boost pedals in different locations along the chain - so that I can easily boost both upstream and downstream in many instances - allowing for amazing stacking combination potential.


Level 1 : BOOST : Jackson Audio Prism Boost, Buffer, EQ, PreAmp

There really is not anything else like the Prism out there currently - so there is no competition on this slot - this pedal is fairly safe for the foreseeable future.


Level 2 : MILD / KLONE : Wampler Tumnus Deluxe

The recently introduced Tumnus Deluxe is just a wonderful pedal - really vibrant and dynamic and oh so musical - I definitely see this as being my main 'Klon' flavour for the foreseeable future, but would also like to add a Greer Lightspeed and a Mythos Titan possibly or J Rockett Rockaway Archer to mix things up a bit. But have no doubt - the Wampler Tumnus Deluxe is an exceptional transparent / organic overdrive in every way.


Level 3 : MID HUMP / 'TUBESCREAMER' : JHS Bonsai Multi-Overdrive

I was hoping to have the Bonsai already - with its 9 analogue 'Tubescreamer' circuits, but it's taking a while to reach these shores - current indicators look like April. So in the meantime I rely on the equally exceptional Foxpedal The City V2 - which is just a wonderfully versatile 'Tubescreamer' type pedal. I have also designs to mix this slot up a touch with the acquisition / addition of either a Mythos Erlking or Nobels ODR-1.


Level 4 : SMOOTH OD / 'DUMBLE' : Bearfoot FX Model Hs

This slot is seeing a lot of movement these days. I had the Sinvertek No.5 here in January, then the Bearfoot Model Hs, and right now I have the Bogner Burnley in place on really low gain - circa 8 o'clock. I am also waiting for my Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1 order to be fulfilled - which will hopefully happen in March, but could extend to April. In any case I have lots of options for mixing things up here - including the Mad Professor Simble, and Wampler Euphoria, and I may still add the Mojo Hand FX Extra Special at some stage - we'll see.


Level 5 : BREAKUP / 'BLUES DRIVER' : Boss JB-2 Angry Driver

I really love the Boss Blues Driver flavour, and this is probably the most versatile Blues Driver pedal of all time - which means mixing it up with the JHS Angry Charlie circuit makes for infinite degree of variation, and even though I use this 90% of the time in Blues Driver only mode - occasionally I mix in just a hair of the Charlie, and at other times I pretty much dime both flavours for a really satisfying and harmonically complex full-throated distortion. In this same slot I would also like to accommodate some Bluesbreaker flavours which means the likely acquisition of a Prince of Tone and/or Rockbox Baby Blues at some stage.


Level 6|∞ : CRUNCH / 'OCD' : Hamstead Odyssey Intergalactic Driver

As reported several times already, I never really intended to replace my much loved Fulltone OCD, but this Hamstead Odyssey pretty much covers that and gives you so much more. It really is an incredibly versatile and great sounding multi-drive pedal. I have long planned to add a Fulltone Plimsoul for occasional swap-out purposes on this slot too. Note that the '∞' infinity symbol signifies almost infinite degree of range and variation - I have 6 such Swiss-army knives in the chain and a couple in reserve.


Level 4|9|∞ : MID-LEVEL DISTORTION / 'PLEXI' *A : Empress Multidrive

I really love both my Empress multi-drive pedals and this once gives you an exceptional drive workstation where you mix together fuzz, overdrive and distortion flavours in any combination. It could really do with a 3-way channel selector to get the most out of the pedal. Currently I have the two modes set as a sort of Level 4 fuzzy overdrive, while the main sound I use here is a beautifully harmonically rich and bright Plexi-style sound with the tiniest fuzz flavour in it for added texture and harmonics. I don't particularly intend to switch or swap this one even momentarily, but I am also interested in a BYOC Crown Jewel and Truetone Jekyll & Hyde - just to mix things up a touch.


Level 1|10|∞ : BOOST + 80's DISTORTION : Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive

I was one of the many who were initially disappointed with this pedal, but then loved to learn it for its strengths. I use it as a sort of downstream Treble Boost, as well as what I'm calling a pretty High Gain 80's Distortion. It has too much in the way of mid-range frequencies to be a Brown Sound equivalent, but it is sort of in that territory. The major advantage of the Riverside is its 'Infinite Sweetspot' which does however mean its missing an element of 'grit'. So that even though you get a lot of rich harmonic content, it does seem to have been smoothed of slightly - which gives you that perfect 80's sheen as far as I am concerned. Not pictured is an additional Strymon mini footswitch which gives me a second higher level of boost - so this pedal has incredible utility within the chain - as a post-boost for the preceding overdrives and a pre-boost for everything else downstream in the chain. There are no alternatives for this slot - either planned or present.


Level 9 : MID-LEVEL DISTORTION / 'PLEXI' *B (BOOSTED VOX) : Bearfoot FX Emerald Green Distortion Machine

As detailed in various posts, I really wanted a 'Brian May' style flavour in the chain, and initially had the Catalinbread Galileo in this slot, but now significantly prefer the Bearfoot Emerald Green - which gives me a lot more range, and a little more oomph. I have several occasional swaps active and planned for this slot - including the Bearfoot Model Hs, Catalinbread RAH and Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra - making this a sort of 'Amp-Style-Flavours' slot - or pretty much anything bar Marshall which is so adequately covered elsewhere.


Level 9|∞ : MID-LEVEL DISTORTION / TUBE-LIKE DISTORTION : Dr Scientist The Elements

Of course there are several Tube-Like distortions in my chain, but this one is fairly neutral sounding - definitely not a Marshall or Vox, or HiWatt or Dumble - but a very organic distortion with a hint of fuzz - and a huge range. It is the 3rd of the Level 9's alongside the Empress Multidrive and aforementioned Bearfoot Emerald Green. For this particular slot I already have the Bogner Burnley and Skreddy Screwdriver Mini Deluxe as occasional swap-out alternatives, but they also get used on Slot 4 quite a lot at lower gain settings. I have 3 pedals planned for this slot too at some stage - the Keeley Filaments, Subdecay Vector and Wampler Sovereign - no hurry really though as what I've already got is exceptional


Level 10 : 'EDDIE VAN HALEN BROWN SOUND' : MI Audio Super Crunch Box V2

The Super Crunch Box is just an amazingly versatile Brown Sound pedal - at times frustrating as tiny movements of dials can effect significant changes - but just exceptional once you get used to it. I already have the Mad Professor 1 and Suhr Riot as occasional alternatives here, and may acquire an Amptweaker TightRock Jr and Dawner Prince RedRox at some stage too for more mixing things up.


Level 7|∞ : REGULAR FUZZ *A : Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gain Stage

Another veritable Swiss-army-knife of pedals - which combines 2 stackable channels of Boost, Overdrive and Fuzz flavours - here I lean on the Fuzz side of this pedal and mix up those fuzz flavours in various ways - but the fuzz element here is core for me. This is such a hugely versatile pedal that I have no intention of swapping it, and it remains a pretty much permanent part of the chain since its arrival.


Level 7 : FUZZ *B : ProAnalog Devices MKIV Vintage/Blue

As mentioned in the intro the 2 slots that see the most alternating swapping action are #'4' and Fuzz #'7'. I in fact have 18 different compact fuzz pedals which mostly get mixed around on this slot, as the Brothers and Frazz Dazzler pedals are pretty much permanent features. On this particular slot there are just too many preferred contenders - I have listed the ProAnalog MKIV here, but it could also be the Skreddy BC109, Basic Audio Scarab Deluxe, Foxpedal Defector, JHS Muffuletta or even Zvex Vertical Fuzz Factory or Side Effects Woolly Mammoth 7 Clone - there are really no weak alternatives here. And I still have a couple or so more flavours that I'm after including the ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud and forthcoming Crazy Tube Circuits Constellation.


Level 8 : FUZZY-DRIVE : Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler

This is my other semi-permanent fuzz pedal - which has alternatives on the slot - mostly of the Rat variety - the Foxpedal Wrath for instance - but as I so love this pedal I pretty much do all the swapping on the Fuzz *B slot. I'm really not looking to change anything on this slot anytime soon.


Level 10|1|∞ : HARD DRIVE / DISTORTION + BOOST : Strymon Sunset Dual Drive

A pedal in some ways similar to the Chase Bliss Brothers, but with Boost, Overdrive and Distortion flavours rather than Boost, Overdrive and Fuzz per the Brothers. I use this pedal with a variety of settings - generally sort of hard rock tones - certainly above classic 'Plexi' levels. I also tend to use the second channel here as a downstream Treble Boost - particularly for the various fuzz pedals. This Strymon gives you considerably more 'grit' than the Riverside, and has slightly different tone-shaping abilities, but is probably even more versatile overall - meaning that if you had to buy only one of the Strymons, you would probably go with the red one, even though I love and use both around equally. I'm not looking to swap the Sunset out, but would quite like to add the Keeley D&M Drive and Suhr Eclipse to mix things up a touch.


Level 10 : DARK 'PLEXI' : Xotic SL Drive Alchemy Audio Mod

Because it's a mini pedal, I've often thought I needed to replace this one, but it continually surprises me with its quality tones and versatility - particularly in the Alchemy Audio modified form - which externalises the previously internal 4 tone-shaping dip-switches. You can easily change between Super Lead and Super Bass modes and augment or diminish high/mid frequencies. At some stage I will add the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret which does the same sort of thing in a compact-size enclosure, but with the addition of full 3-band EQ. The SL Drive though is a surprisingly fantastic pedal if you tune it well - I also run it on the 18V Xotic voltage-doubler which probably makes a difference!.


Level 11 : HIGH GAIN / HEAVY DISTORTION *A : Friedman BE-OD

The first and funnily lightest of my 'Heavy' pedals - this JCM800-style high gain pedal is much loved by heavier rock and some metal players - gives you a really tight and quite percussive Marshall-esque sound which is very suitable for that sort of music and gives you good tonal and string separation in its output. I would have preferred the control layout of the Dirty Shirley - or the inclusion of an dedicated Mid-frequency control, other than that this pedal is pretty great all-round. I've mentioned the Keeley Filaments before as a replacement on The Elements slot, but it could equally go here as an occasional swap. I have also mentioned that I intend to get a Friedman Dirty Shirley sometime too, and I fancy I will perhaps also get an Amptweaker TightMetal Jr to switch out here every now and again.


Level 11 : HIGH GAIN / HEAVY DISTORTION *B : Empress Heavy

I initially had the Wampler Dracarys on this slot, and found it rather limited in range, and so switched it up to this excellent Empress Heavy - which I then further augmented with the MI Audio Megalith Delta, which was originally intended as just an occasional swap-out, but I so liked it that it now has its own slot. Other pedals I am considering as occasional alternatives here are the MESA/Boogie Throttle Box EQ and Wampler Triple Wreck


Level 11 : HIGH GAIN / HEAVY DISTORITON *C : MI Audio Megalith Delta

The third and most high gain of my 'Heavy' pedals, in fact and in truth my most high gain pedal overall - while the Level 12 Extreme Distortion has a slightly different distortion profile - slightly sharper and more cutting - the Megalith is a wonderful Metal pedal though and I would not swap it for anything.


Level 12 : EXTREME DISTORTION : Diezel VH4-2

Diezel's newer and 2-channel (Channels 3 & 4) version of its flagship VH4 amp is a great proper metal pedal - it has a very specific feedback style distortion with very particular distortion artefacts. Even though the Megalith Delta is capable as such of going 'Heavier' it does not have quite the same texture as the Diezel. I also like the look of the Rockfabrik Mind Abuse and forthcoming Diezel Herbert pedal. While other suitable yet more compact Metal pedals like Boss's Metal Core and Metal Zone - would probably make more sense to be swapped out on the same-size Friedman BE-OD slot.


12 Degrees Additions Wishlist

So even though I have most of my preferred primaries in place, I still wish to make a few more secondary or tertiary pedal additions for occasional swap-out. Here follow the pedals I have still to acquire, some or several of which of course I never may.

 

Overdue :

  • Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1
  • JHS Bonsai

Imminent :

  • Crazy Tube Circuits Constellation
  • Greer Amps Lightspeed
  • ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud

Under Consideration :

  • Amptweaker TightMetal Jr
  • Analog.Man Prince of Tone
  • Boss MD-2 Mega Distortion
  • Boss ML-2 Metal Core
  • Boss MT-2 Metal Zone
  • BYOC Crown Jewel
  • Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret
  • Catalinbread RAH
  • Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra
  • Dawner Prince RedRox
  • Diezel Herbert
  • Friedman Dirty Shirley
  • Fulltone Plimsoul
  • J Rockett Rockaway Archer
  • Keeley D&M Drive
  • Keeley Filaments
  • MESA/Boogie Throttle Box EQ
  • MI Audio Super Blues Pro
  • Mojo Hand FX Extra Special
  • Mythos Pedals Erlking
  • Mythos Pedals Titan
  • Nobels ODR-1
  • Rockbox Baby Blues
  • Rockfabrik Mind Abuse
  • Side Effects Il Mostro
  • Subdecay Vector
  • Suhr Eclipse
  • Truetone Jekyll & Hyde
  • Wampler Sovereign
  • Wampler Triple Wreck

Final Thoughts

My 'drive' pedals form nearly exactly one half of my extensive pedal chain, yet come with significant challenges in cabling and clean power supply. I would not necessarily recommend the same for others as there is a high degree of maintenance here - as well as significant overheads in terms of real estate.

 

The idea has always been to get the widest possible high quality tonal palette - initially within practical considerations, but really now right on the edge of that. As always these are more for sake of consideration overall and to encourage people to trial and experiment with all these different pedals, as well as gain some sort of understanding as to where they might fit in.

 

Note that there are always numerous alternatives available and at different size and price points, and you may well like less knobs to twiddle or a slightly different take on each core sound. Yet hopefully this highlights what is available and how these may be applied. Note also that I have allocated set positions / slots along a graduated curve of gain / saturation - but different pedals have quite different ranges and could be tuned differently in any case - which may set them at a higher or lower level to the one I've chosen.

 

I've often mentioned my Tone Quest - which has heavily weighed on core drive sounds of all flavours - I know more now than I ever did, but my Tone Quest shows no signs of reaching any definitive conclusions. Possibly in a few years time I may settle on 2 or 3 core tones like everyone else, but for now I value variety as well as quality!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
Guitar Pedal X
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