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4 of the Best 2 Channel High Gain Distortion Pedals

Brown Sound DistortionDistortionDriveDual-DriveEmpress EffectsFriedman EffectsKSR AmplificationMarshall Style DistortionMetal DistortionMulti-DriveSuhr+-
2019GPX2ChannelDistortions700-min.jpg

When I did my Stackable Overdrive + Distortion Pedals feature at the start of the year my intentions were always to do a follow-up with Distortion + Distortion Pedals, and the recent release of the KSR Ceres makes it opportune to do this now. For my former article I could have included a few others in the overview - I just selected the 4 most similar, while for this new one I actually struggled to find even the 4 included within the same category. And of those 4 the Suhr Eclipse is kind of borderline as it is not specifically billed as high gain - even though both its Channels can run high gain, in many ways it is conceptually similar to the Empress Heavy - i.e. 2 identical core Channels (or just a core circuit) with myriad controls to set the Channels up quite differently. While the two larger pedals here have their 2 High Gain Channels at rather different levels of gain at core defaults - and are more traditional 2-Channel pedals as such.

 

I had meant to cover off the Friedman BE-OD Deluxe previously, but truthfully was a little disappointed by its size - I was hoping they could fit everything into a medium chassis - akin to the Heavy and Eclipse here, but instead the enclosure is of the larger type. The number of controls on the BE-OD Deluxe is the same as the Heavy - and bar a little more clearance for potentiometers it should theoretically be possible to fit the circuit within the smaller enclosure - which of course would be my preference.

 

The Ceres actually gives you 3 Channels - where you can have it on by default in its Clean Channel Mode and then activate the Rhythm/ Lead Channels via the normal ByPass footswitch. Each of the 2 active Channels on the Ceres has a Bright switch, a 3-way Feel and 3-way Mode toggle-selectors.

 

I currently have and love the Empress Heavy - even though its 2 Channels share the Hi and Low dials - it still has some of the best tone-sculpting ability courtesy of the other independent 4 knobs and 2 switches per Channel. I’m certainly intrigued by the others here, but not sure which one I would like to add to the collection - each here has its advantages.

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand:


Empress Effects Heavy 2 Channel High Gain Distortion - £269

I've had this in my chain for a few years now and I really like it - it has a fantastic range of tonal abilities from its two identical Channels. The one oddity here really is how both Channels share the same Hi and Low tone controls. However the magic dials here are really Weight and Mids - in combination with the 3-way Mid Frequency selectors those really set the major character on each Channel - the Weight being a sort of dynamics dial - in part Tight > Sag. Possibly the pedal could be improved by independent Hi and Low dials, but the shared characteristics actually present far less challenges than I imagined. My current quartet of High Gain pedals in the chain are this Heavy, the MI Effects Megalith Delta, the REVV G3 and REVV G4. It's most evident competitor in this listing is the Suhr Eclipse, right now though I think I might still prefer the Heavy.


Friedman BE-OD Deluxe 2 Chanel High Gain Distortion - £269

Like I said in the intro I was a touch disappointed by the size of this when it first arrived - as I felt it could have been more compact. The good news is that the Deluxe version adds in a Mid Frequency dial and reduces the Tightness dial from the original BE-OD to a toggle-switch per the same control topology as the Dirty Shirley Pedal. The Green Channel / Channel 1 is the same as the original BE-OD, while the Second Blue Channel is default set with a little less gain - meaning that each Channel would be used for respective Lead and Rhythm tones. The key advantage of this pedal is the 7 controls per channel - for ultimate tone-sculpting ability. I used to feature the standard BE-OD in my chain, I still like it, but it's mostly an understudy nowadays to the REVV G3 and G4. Right now I'm thinking I would rather just want an updated compact BE-OD with the same control topology as featured here, and as per the Dirty Shirley pedal - which I also already have.


KSR Ceres 3 Channel High Gain PreAmp/Distortion - $400/$310

So this pedal offers you one more channel than the rest - whereby you can default set the pedal to operate in True-Bypass, Buffered Bypass, or Clean Channel mode. If you select the top Clean option on the toggle you get an always-on Clean Channel with Tone and Level controls. On top of that you then get Rhythm and Lead Channels - each with Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble and Level dials, along with Bright switch, 3-way Feel switch - Fat/Tight/Thick, and 3-way Mode switch - Artemis, Gemini Red and Colossus Lead - from those respective KSR amps - each giving you progressively more gain. So in overall feature terms this gives you the most bells and whistles, and overall I actually feel it justifies its enclosure size - it also benefits from a really cool light up logo which changes colour per Channel designation. I haven't yet decided whether this one is quite for me, but it's probably the one I'm right now most drawn towards next to the Empress Heavy.


Suhr Eclipse 2 Channel High Gain Distortion Galactic Ltd Edn (200 units) - £229

In some ways I see this as a dual Suhr Riot to a degree - although the gain circuit extends further downwards to cover vaguely Shiba territory too. Much like the Empress Heavy you have 2 identical Channels here and you can select either one as your Rhythm or Lead and tune to taste, and much like the Empress the footswitches work in very similar fashion whereby you hit the left or right one to engage each channel - and they switch as appropriate. In this instance you get a standard five controls per channel - 3-band EQ plus Gain and Level - which is somewhat traditional, but quite different to the Empress Heavy above. The Suhr Eclipse also has a 'Voice' dial which tunes in the high frequency character mainly - to adjust pedal to respective amplifier or otherwise set a brighter or darker core tone. This is obviously the lowest cost option here, and while it's not a properly High Gain dedicated pedal like the others featured - it nevertheless hits those Suhr Riot style tones with ease - albeit with more tone-sculpting ability. On a head-to-head with the Empress Heavy, I feel that the latter still somehow allows you to dial in a great range of tones and textures - which validates my acquisition of that all those years ago. The Eclipse though would make a great understudy / rotation alternative. Fantastic demo by Pete Thorn above - particularly the opening track!


Final Thoughts

The key difference between these pedals and the previously featured Overdrive + Distortion ones is that you obviously cannot stack the two channels - which would not work in any case for those more distorted tones - you can only really successfully gain-stack a boost with distortion, or several moderate gain overdrives with each other.

 

In terms of where my mindset is at the end of this overview - I'm still delighted I have the Heavy, I am most intrigued by the KSR Ceres, and would quite like the Suhr Eclipse (in Galactic livery) for occasional pedal-chain rotation. While on the question of the Friedman, I would still probably just prefer an updated compact BE-OD with the same control topology as the Deluxe / Dirty Shirley. Had the pedal been closer in size to the Heavy and Eclipse I would be more tempted - but I just cannot help feeling it is somehow oversized. Sure it may just be my own personal foible - but that's how I feel right now.

 

The KSR Ceres is currently only available direct (Customs/Import Charges for UK), while there is still the odd copy of the Eclipse Galactic Edition lurking around locally if you seek one out. I may just be tempted on that score...

 

Postscript - I found only one remaining copy in the UK of the Eclipse Galactic Edition and decided that I should snap that up tout de suite (it was priced lower than the standard version for some reason - my gain in any case)!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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