This article really speaks to my own personal preferences in pedal-acquisitions, and how I’m always somewhat more drawn towards extended-range - and typically enhanced and evolved editions over and above the stock originals.
In many cases those more versatile editions are even rarer than the classic vintage originals. Meaning I always try to secure those more difficult-to-find examples first. On this occasion I still intend to grab a LM741 opamp early grey or yellow variety DOD250 - albeit it won’t likely happen that imminently.
As exemplified by the Big Tone Music Brewery Gray Box Overdrive and VFE Distortion 3 - there’s actually a significant overlap between the DOD250, MXR Distortion+, and the MXR Micro Amp.
There are some similarities between the Loophole Grey Matter and Pelican Noiseworks 50/50 Double while there are also significant circuit and clipping variations to justify owning both like I do.
Finally the Gray Box Overdrive and Distortion 3 - those are all about enhanced levels of tone-shaping - so that you can really hone in on your preferred sweet spots.
In fact all of these render slightly differently in terms of distinct tones and textures - and give you as broad a coverage as possible of that DOD250 flavour. Note that 3 of these are essentially discontinued now - while we still keep getting additional VFE editions. The only one here which is generally available, but is produced in fairly small batches - is the Loophole Grey Matter. If you like the look of any of these you need to move quickly when you spot one, as they tend to be snapped up pretty rapidly.
BTMB's EQ'd Vintage Series is something of an under-the-radar secret weapons range from BYOC's Keith Vonderhulls. 10 classic varieties were released in total in 2014/2015 while somewhat inadequate support eventually led to their retirement and cancellation. And there are actually really relatively few of these out there in the wild - which is a real shame, as these are hand-made with premium / NOS components and are superbly versatile - and a notch above most genre alternatives out there.
Each of the EQ'd Vintage Series features 3-Band EQ with parametric mids, and then Level and Gain - with some having an additional Voicing/Modes switch - as is the case here. With everything dialled at noon it already sounds fantastic, and then you simply tweak to your tonal desire with those clever dual-concentric controls. There is a significant overlap between DOD250, MXR Distortion+ and in fact MXR Micro Amp too. The voicing / mode toggle here gives you a choice between Vintage (DOD250) and Dist+ (MXR Distortion+). And you get a distinct audible change to the breakup character.
This pedal of course utilises the original LM741 opamp and sounds fantastic! Do note that the sole above demo does not do this pedal justice in the slightest - I can vouch that this sounds every bit as good as you would expect.
This is the only one that is still generally available - but be aware that Mike Copeland makes these in quite small batches - so you have to move quickly when a new batch is announced. Mike was initially just going to do a single channel edition, but in early testing realised how fantastic those voicings sounded when stacked - so he added the second channel with slight variations in clipping Diodes.
What you have here is superbly calibrated and refined LM741 DOD250 circuit with additional 'Edge' knob or a sort of Bias / Diode Saturation control. This has a significant impact on the break-up texture and character - which you further tweak via Clipping Selectors - where the left-channel has 1N270 Germanium/None/Silicon Diodes, and the right-channel has BAT41 Schottky's/None/Silicon Diodes.
Considering the original only had Gain and Level you get significantly more shaping and versatility here - and as Mike discovered those two channels stack beautifully!
I actually lucked out on one of these on Reverb.com around the same time I acquired the Loophole Grey Matter - conceptually very similar in terms of two stacking channels, but with slightly different controls and an overall slightly rawer output.
On this occasion the Volume and Gain knobs are joined by separate-channel Sweet/Creamy EQ switches - which are 3-way tone shapers for Bright/Stock/Dark tonality. As mentioned - this renders somewhat differently to the Loophole Grey Matter take - which is generally slightly more refined, while both these pedals do have significant overlap.
This was obviously a collaboration between 60 Cycle Hum's Ryan Burke and Pelican Noiseworks, and rather limited quantities of these were released, including super-rare black colourway editions. I think less than 200 were made in the end, while the original batch numbered just 50. All these I believe utilise the classic original LM741 opamp.
The Distortion 3 was the first of these I acquired - back then I didn't really have a thing for DOD250's just a passion for Peter Von Rutter's VFE imprint - where I was really just going by how great his pedals sounded.
Peter's pedals typically feature 6 controls - 3 regular and 3 small - as is the case here. VFE pedal's are typically quite distinct from anything else out there - an almost always a special high-quality take on the genre in question.
Here we have controls for Drive, OD (Soft Clipping Type) - Asymmetric/None/Mosfet, Mode (Hard Clipping Type) - 1N34A Germanium/Diode Lift/1N914 Silicon, Fat (Bass), Level, and Filter (Post-Gain Hi-Cut). If you're familiar with VFE pedals you know they deliver extra high fidelity and significant extended range.
The Distortion 3 derives its name from the fact that you can target the core tones of each of the DOD250, MXR Distortion+ and MXR Micro Amp. I believe this also uses the classic LM741 opamp.
It's hard to pick favourites here really as each of these delivers something a little bit different - meaning to my ears that each justifies its place in the collection by offering distinct and slightly different tones. Obviously the most 'available' one of these is the Loophole Grey Matter - while do note that those are currently out of stock too - pending another batch release.
I don't think anyone would be disappointed with any of these - and some may prefer the Pelican Noiseworks 50/50 simply on the basis of its somewhat simpler controls. While in truth all of these are relatively simple to deploy - with possibly the VFE being the most complex to operate because of its fine degree of nuances.
I obviously have a preference for compact dual-footswitch editions - and I'm always delighted when I can find something so powerful at this size. There are other DOD250 clones out there - but many are larger in size and the vast majority done't offer anywhere near the range of these 4.
Truth is that I really don't need an original DOD250 - these circuits can really be viewed as enhancements of that - with more tweakability. I know there is a lot of purists out there - while I've generally always found success with these sorts of pedals over the rather more limited, and sometimes slightly flawed originals.
That said the completist in me still wants an original variety - albeit the early grey boxes are somewhat ridiculously over-priced - which means I am rather hunting for an early yellow box version - as many of those have the original and preferable to me - LM741 opamp!
What say all of you?