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12 Degrees of Saturation - Overdrive, Fuzz and Distortion Sounds by level of Gain - 2018 Mini Pedal Edition

12 Degrees of SaturationBig Muff Style FuzzBlues Driver Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveBrown Sound DistortionDistortionDriveDumble Style OverdriveEWS EffectsF-PedalsFuzzFuzz Face Style FuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionIbanezKHDKKlone and Transparent OverdriveMarshall Style DistortionMetal DistortionMooerMulti-DriveMythos PedalsOCD Style OverdriveOneControlOpAmp FuzzOverdrivePigtronixRat Style FuzzSuhrTubescreamer Style OverdriveWamplerXotic Effects+-
2018AFBlg12DegressSaturationMini700-min

Following from the recent Compact Format Edition, and my piece on Near Equivalent Mini Pedals - it’s time to set out my preferred Mini Pedal 12 Degrees of Saturation pedal selection. It is somewhat more difficult to complete in some ways as their are overall far less candidates available, and moreover far less quality contenders too. That’s not to say there aren’t some classic Mini Pedals here, but is is quite evident that there is far more choice in the regular compact enclosure pedal category.

 

The first thing I have to note is that ’King of Mini Pedals’ Mooer puts in a pretty good showing here with 4 very decent pedal clones of its own - it probably has the 2nd or third spot for most of these too. I am a big fan of all the Xotic Effects Minis - and its two relevant ones appear here - with other choices being more selective.

 

In terms of truly ’Equivalent’ first choice pedals here - I would say around 3 qualify on that basis - i.e. if given the choice between any mini or standard size pedal - which would still be a viable first / preferred choice - to my preferences these would be the original Tumnus, EWS Little Fuzzy Drive and Xotic Effects Little Fuzzy Drive. I must mentioned the new Mini Riot too - as that is a fantastic pedal - and pretty much toe-to-toe with my current ’Brown Sound’ pedal of choice - the MI Audio Super Crunch Box V2.

 

In many areas I am surprised why there aren’t or wouldn’t be more primo choices available, there is certainly a market for premium mini pedals - as has been proven by Xotic and Wampler in particular - yet not many pedal-makers are picking up on that trend. Suhr has taken note of the opportunity though in recently launching an excellent Mini Riot equivalent.

 

I still feel that some pedal-makers feel the need to have to make mini pedals inferior to their regular / compact editions - but that has been shown to be a somewhat foolish decision as the market will bear a high quality mini at a decent price point. The Mini Wamplers for instance used to retail at £179, and have just recently been brought down a touch to a still high but more reasonable £149.

 

It seems that the go price for Boutique minis is around the £140/£150 mark - with Keeley offering its versions at £99. There are also dedicated Boutique Mini pedal-makers like Xotic, F-Pedals and OneControl, and I’m sure we’ll see a few more before long. Here follows the full listing:


Level 1 : BOOST : Xotic Effects EP Booster Alchemy Audio Mod c£100 (Reverb.com) or £149 new

So my compact Boost pedal of choice is the Jackson Audio Prism - which really does a lot more than any mini pedal currently out there. Before I got the Prism though, the Xotic EP Booster was my Boost Pedal of choice for the longest time - first in its original unadulterated version, and then in in its Alchemy Audio modified form which externalises the gain boost and brightness dip-switches for more hands-on control. The EP boost obviously gives you a take on the Echoplex preamp - which warms up and adds dynamism and sparkle to your core tone. Before the EP Booster I had TC Electronic's almost equally excellent Spark Mini Boost which did similar things. I believe the Analog.Man Beano Boost and Wampler dB+ with Buffer are also viable alternatives - as are any of the 12 pedals listed in my 12 Best Mini Boost article - and probably a good half a dozen more.

 

Alternatives : AnalogMan Mini Beano Boost - $175 | Coppersound Gravity Bomb Op-Amp Boost £109 | Foxpedal Ebenezer Clean MOSFET Boost - £95 | Fulltone 2B Boost - £135 | JHS Mini Bomb - £89 | Keeley Katana Boost Mini - £99 | Lunastone The Pusher Boost Pedal - £89 | MXR M293 Booster Mini - £109 | One Control Granith Grey - £109 | TC Electronic Spark Mini Booster - £40 | Wampler dB+ - £135


Level 2 : MILD / KLONE : Wampler Tumnus - £149

My favourite Klone for the longest time - until recently updated to its bigger brother - the Deluxe version. The core tone of both is exceptional - the newer larger one just has more tone-shaping / range and more gain available. The Tumnus mini though was already perfect and I would not hesitate to recommend it any circumstances. I just happen to be a 'Tweaker' and I like the added range and versatility delivered in the larger pedal. I feel that you could probably engineer this into the smaller pedal if you really needed to - by using the really small 5mm mini pedal dials and a mini toggle. As it is now though it's still exemplary. MXR has recently launched its own Klone in the Sugar Drive - which has a flatter EQ than the Tumnus, and there is also the excellent Tone City Bar Horse to name but a few - in fact that's probably about it!

 

Alternatives : MXR Sugar Drive - £134 | Outlaw Effects - Hangman Overdrive - £54 | Tone City Bad Horse - £40


Level 3 : MID HUMP / 'TUBESCREAMER' : KHDK Ghoul Jr - £139

I've had quite an affection for mini Tubescreamer type pedals. I started with the Keeley Red Dirt Mini, then OneControl Persian Green, then Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini, and back to my OneControl again - which was my preferred option at the time - before switching up to the Foxpedal The City V2. Probably my new favourite for this slot is the very recent KHDK Ghoul which adds in Voice and Style control toggles - which each give you 3-way shaping on different frequency ranges, headroom and gain/compression. The Ghoul Jr is probably the most versatile of the mini screamers for now, and lands the top slot in this category.

 

Alternatives : Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini - £69 | Keeley Red Dirt Mini - £99 | Mooer Green Mile - £39 | OneControl Persian Green Screamer - £69 | Outlaw Effects Cactus Juice - £54 | Tone City Kaffir Lime - £40 | Xvive Tube Squasher - £46


Level 4 : SMOOTH OD / 'DUMBLE' : OneControl Golden Acorn Overdrive Special - £105 (Thomann)

While there are myriad alternatives in the compact pedal category, there's really not that much choice at all for Mini pedals. I've had the OneControl Golden Acorn on my wishlist for the longest time not - it will happen eventually! If not for the Golden Acorn I would go for the Mooer Rumble Drive, as I don't much like the really overly small form factor of the Hotone Grass - it's probably OK velcro'd hard to a board, but in my floor-based pedal-chain a little too 'wobbly' as befits its size.

 

Alternatives : Hotone Grass Overdrive - £47 | Mooer Rumble Drive - £49


Level 5 : BREAKUP / 'BLUES DRIVER' : Mooer Blues Mood - £49

Quite a bit before I had the Tumnus this was my faourite all-round overdrive - Mooer's version of the Keeley Modified Boss BD-2 Blues Driver - with essential 'Fat' mod switch - which tightens up the tonal profile and signifcantly enhances lower frequencies, in fact in not a too dissimilar manner to what the Tumnus does with the original 'Klon' sound. This is a wonderful harmonically rich and complex pedal that I would recommend to anyone. It got knocked out of its principal slot by the larger Boss JB-2 Angry Driver - which contains both Blues Driver and JHS Angry Charlie circuits.

 

Alternatives : Hotone Blues Overdrive - £55 | KO Amps 12th St Special - $150 | Outlaw Effects Dead Man's Hand - £54


Level 6 : CRUNCH / 'OCD' : Mooer Hustle Drive - £37

I have the Mooer Hustle Drive and it's a really decent clone of the original at a fraction of its size and price. I would of course advocate getting the original OCD if budget and real estate considerations are not critical. If however you are tight financially and peadlboard-wise the Hustle Drive provides a more than adequate substitute. The Tone City Dry Martini is another suitable option - there are several clones of those too, but I've tried to stay with the more highly regarded version. Possibly one or two I have overlooked here.

 

Alternatives : Tone City Dry Martini - £40


Level 7 : FUZZ : EWS Little Fuzzy Drive - £149

As I've stated a few times now - there's a serious amount of decent Mini Fuzz Pedals. Fuzzes in the main have relatively simple circuits which don't take up a lot of space, and for which there is no excuse really not to stick them in a tiny enclosure. I already have 7 or 8 great mini fuzzes of all types - Fuzz Face, Tone Bender, Big Muff etc. there is pretty much something for everyone here - and all the following alternatives sound great. My current favourite all-rounder is the EWS Little Fuzzy Drive, probably followed by the OneControl Baltic Blue Fuzz and then Pigtronix Octava.

 

Alternatives : Amsterdam Cream Big Eye Fuzz - £170 (Reverb.com) | Deaf Audio Little Voodoo Fuzz - €99 | El Músico Loco Wee Beaver Small Fuzz - $150 new | Ibanez 850 Mini Fuzz - £80 | JHS Mini Foot Fuzz - £129 | KO Amps KOSound Fuzz - $150 | Lovepedal Bonetender £157 | Malekko Omicron Fuzz - c£100 (Reverb.com) | MXR Classic 108 Fuzz Mini - £119 | Mythos Golden Fleece - £139 | OneControl Baltic Blue Fuzz - £70 | Outlaw Effects Five O'Clock Fuzz - £35 | Pigtronix Octava Octave Fuzz - £135 | Rainger FX Dr Freakenstein Dwarf Bleep - £119 | Zvex Fuzzolo - £107


Level 8 : FUZZY DRIVE : Mooer Black Secret - £42

Considering how many different compact and medium size ProCo Rat clones there are, it's surprising that there are so few quality mini alternatives. The Mooer Black Secret is yet another great Moer pedal clone, I also have a BYOC Li'l Mouse built by Alchemy Audio which sounds great, but could do with a little more output volume and a harder/fatter clipping option. KO Amps Pocket mouse is a decent boutique alternative, and at the other end of the scale you have the low cost but flipped to 'crazy mode' Tone City Fuxx Fuzz. I really expected there to be more decent alternatives - I'm not talking about the 2-a-penny Chinese clones of the Black Secret, but proper boutique ones with premium components.

 

Alternatives : BYOC Li'l Mouse - £82 | KO Amps Pocket Mouse - $150 | Tone City Fuxx Fuzz - £40


Level 9 : MID-LEVEL DISTORTION / 'PLEXI' : Xotic Effects SL Drive - £115 (Reverb.com) or £158 new

I actually have two of these SL Drives - an untouched original unmodded version and an Alchemy Audio version which externalises into toggles the 4 core internal dip-switches. In some ways this is like a junior Dirty Little Secret minus the 3-band EQ, seeing as it has both Super Lead and Super Bass voicings, and a few more tone-shaping options besides - I set it slightly dark for sort of Led Zeppelin style tones - at least that's what I use it for. My other existing mini alternative here is the OneControl Purple Plexifier - and there are plenty of decent alternatives available.

 

Alternatives : Ko Amps Moth Killer Jr - $150 | OneControl Purple Plexifier - £142 | Outlaw Effects Deputy Marshall - £54 | Tone City Golden Plexi - £40 | Xvive Dynarock - £55


Level 10 : 'EDDIE VAN HALEN BROWN SOUND' : Suhr Riot Mini - £139

Before the Suhr Mini Riot arrived I had two really decent Mini Brown Sound condetenders in the form of the OneControl Anodized Brown and Xvive Golden Brownie - with the latter having a little more grunt and more tone-shaping prowess, but both pretty decent. They are however both quite easily outshone by the new Suhr Riot Mini which sounds just as good as you would expect. In my compact 12 degrees chain I have the MI Audio Super Crunch Box as my preferred choice, and there are clones available of both those pedals in the alternatives below. For me though I just need to add the Mini Riot and I'm easily covered here.

 

Alternatives : Mooer Cruncher - £40 | Mooer Micro PreAmp 005 Brown Sound 3 - £75 | Mooer Solo - £50 | OneControl Anodized Brown Distortion - £69 | Tone City Wild Fire - £40 | Xvive Golden Brownie - £46


Level 11 : HIGH GAIN / HEAVY DISTORTION : Ibanez Super Metal Mini - £75

Similar to the compact format pedals - the higher up the gain/saturation scale you go the fewer the available alternatives. I will go with my existing Super Metal Mini here - which has ample output for High Gain, but is not quite as Metal as I would have liked, and thus only qualifies for the Heavy Distortion category rather than the Extreme / Metal category one step above. There really aren't many alternatives at this level besides the various Mooers below:

 

Alternatives : Mooer Blade Metal Distortion - £45 | Mooer Micro PreAmp 002 UK Gold - £75 | Mooer Micro PreAmp 008 Cali MK3 - £75 | Mooer Micro PreAmp 009 Blacknigh - £75 | Mooer Micro PreAmp 011 Cali Dual - £75 | Mooer Micro PreAmp 012 Fried Mien - £75


Level 12 : EXTREME GAIN / HEAVY METAL : Mooer Rage Machine Distortion - £50

There are particularly slim pickings at the top end of the scale - you have Mooer's DigiTech Death Metal clone - Rage Machine, and its Diezel Hagen clone the Gas Station PreAmp, and then Outlat Effects Widow Maker which just about gets in by the skin of its teeth. This is one area where there really are few decent mini options - obviously most multiple gain stage pedals require more enclosure space than the mini format provides. All of my Extreme Gain pedals are typically at least compact size if not medium enclosure. Boss provides a number of compact alternatives, but evidently all the MetalHeads use larger pedals or the home-player market of those types of fans is not suitable sizeable to carry the numbers of those mini pedals - I'm sure we will get a boutique-ish one eventually.

 

Alternatives : Mooer Micro PreAmp 001 Gas Station - £75 | Outlaw Effects Widow Maker - £54


Extra 1 : SMOOTH FUZZ/OD : Mythos Golden Fleece OD/Fuzz - £139

I was sort of looking for something like the Bogner Burnley here - buttery smooth yet with bundles of rich harmonics. The closest I could sort of find for mini pedals was the buttery smooth Fuzz/OD blend of the Mythos Golden Fleece, which started out as a compact edition, but was then reduced to a mini size. I believe it is somewhat based on the medium-enclosure Hudson Broadcast which is a beautiful warm alchemy of Fuzz and Overdrive Tones. I can think of no obvious alternative or substitute here - this will probably my next acquisition.


Extra 2 : VERSATILE DISTORTION : F-Pedals Darklight - $119

Another pretty unique mini pedal with 4 mini dials - Boost | Tone | Dark | Light and a regular chicken-head style dial for Distortion. The interplay of those 5 dials yields a huge range and variety of tones which go from middling overdrive to Heavy Distortion. This one is currently on my wishlist - you would need to go direct or use Reverb.com as there is no UK distribution currently - I like a number of F-Pedals minis - including the Edstortion and the Nikaos too - the Darklight has no obvious substitutes though.


Extra 3 : All-ROUNDER DISTORTION : Pigtronix Disnortion Micro Distortion & Fuzz - £152

This tiny pedal is an exceptional engineering feat - having reduced the guts of the original medium-to-large Disnortion pedal down to a mini enclosure. Not all the bells and whistles are intact, we loose some but equally gain some too. We still have Gain, Volume and Drive Tone - tone-shaping dials. We also have the 6-way rotary voicing mode selector. And an additional series / parallel which allows you to mix the fuzz and OD circuits either sequentially or stacked. The voicing dial is a series of clipping options - starting with none, and sort of ramping up gain and harmonic content as you spin clockwise. This is really might pedal for its size which sounds gloriously full-throated on Parallel settings. It's also a pretty unique pedal at its size with no obvious alternative available - you need to move up to medium enclosure to the Emerson Custom Pomeroy for something along similar lines. This is a pedal I really like and I have constantly on the back-burner - definitely one of my favourite mini distortion pedals.


Final Thoughts

The Mini category is swamped by cheap and often low quality offerings with a hundreds of Chinese clones of clones - almost in ouroboros fashion. There are also still relatively few boutique players in this marketplace - where Mooer probably owns the volume sales, but Wampler and similar forward thinking pedal-makers are starting to make significant inroads and profits - of course Xotic Effects is probably the best established boutique pedal-maker in this sector.

 

A lot of these pedals are obvious clones of the slightly larger compact pedal size originals - but that's not necessarily a bad thing as Mooer makes great clone pedals for not too much money. I feel more compact-size pedal-makers could make mini versions of their classics and significantly improve their bottom line.

 

In any case I try to find the best quality of pedal available at that enclosure size - based on authenticity (similarity in tone to original source), range (consistency of dials/movement, versatility and ease of dialling tones in) and practicality (overall use case). Some of the mini pedals have very odd dial sweep with tiny sweet sports at either ends of the dial and nothing in between, or they are sort of unusable as the range is too great and every tiny tweak shift the tone too much. At the core though the pedal must sound good, and must be sufficiently close enough to its origin point to be discernibly that type of pedal - making allowances for individual core tonal tunings and variations in gain range etc.

 

So there are far fewer pedals available at this size, and generally not of quite as good a quality as is available a the compact size. Note as with all pedal matters - this is still all of course subjective to a high degree - and all I can do is go by what my ears tell me - but everything is fallible to a degree and I may also have overlooked something that should be featured. Please let me know if I've left something out, or if you think I have placed pedals in the wrong categories...

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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