Some may note that the Jackson Audio Golden Boy is putting in a few appearances on the site recently - which is really rather a coincidence of scheduling than some scheme to promote said pedal. In fact this article was written and ready to go before the That Pedal Show episode on Programmable Overdrives - which yes featured the Golden Boy again and prompted my article last week on that exact subject.
The real impetus for this particular article was that I felt I may have been a little harsh in my original overview of the Walrus Audio Ages - in part because I was still upset by the hijacking of the name that had already been used for Anasounds Ages Harmonic Tremolo - out much earlier this year. I had also managed to overlook the Demedash 112+ Overdrive when that originally launched - which is probably still a little under-represented by its demos thus far.
So the idea was to bring together 4 recent compact overdrive pedals which delivered quite a bit more than your typical everyday 3-knob variety. I feel that each of these are greater than the sum of their parts and can deliver a huge degree of variety and versatility and reach parts where other lesser pedals cannot go.
2020 trends have seen a lean towards increased functionality and feature sets - with far more capable and powerful pedals entering the marketplace than ever before - and while a couple of these highlighted pedals have been around a little while longer - they’re still very deserving of being featured in this category.
I own two of these to date - and will most likely look to acquire the other two over the next few months - albeit the Demedash 112+ seems to be currently in rather short supply!
Here follow the individual details :
I did not really pick up on this pedal at the time of its launch, and it seems I was one of many who overlooked this actually really very capable overdrive. I've said before that pedal-demos can be so important to gaining an appreciation for a pedal's abilities and true nature. And I still sort of feel that the 112+ needs a more definitive demo - much like with my earlier encounters with the Kuro P.h.A. The most unique thing about this pedal apart from its drawn out development period which Steve describes in detail - is the internal charge pump which boosts the standard incoming 9V to a super impressive 34V - for unprecedented levels of headroom. In terms of control you have 3-Band Active EQ with frequency clusters centered on 250, 850, and 1,5k Hz - plus the usual Drive and Level knobs. You furthermore have a 3-way 'Voice' control for low-end accentuation or essentially Low, Moderate and Full Fat Bass. Because of the voicing options you can argue that this leans a touch toward the low-end / bassier side of things - not unlike the Hamstead Subspace or Paradox Terran - which actually reminds me that I should probably do a separate roundup to feature those types of low frequency accentuated drives! In any case the three-band active EQ and internal 34 strong Voltage and high headroom really set this pedal apart. It is actually quite a nuanced extended range overdrive - which just needs a few more better demos to really put its credentials fully across. When I originally started this piece there were a few of this pedal still in circulation on Reverb.com and with vendors, while right now these are actually quite hard to come across. Also there are at least 2 varieties - a white-knob edition, and the preferable multi-coloured knob version as pictured above. I would certainly want the coloured knobs edition!
I've really shared all the details I need to about this pedal recently - and it has featured several times on this site already. It looks like a classic 3-Band Active EQ Overdive with Boost - but all the smarts are in the footswitches actually. Via the left footswitch you access 4 different Clipping Modes, via the right you get 4 different Boost EQ Modes, and by pressing the two footswitches together you get to step up the level of gain / Gain Cycle via 25% increments - as a proportion of wherever you've set the Gain dial - with that being 100% on the scale. This has a Blues Breaker style circuit at its core for classic Blues Breaker / King of Tone style tones, but it also touches on Tube Screamer, Timmy and lighter Plexi style crunch. Actually super versatile and with the cleverest footswitch control of any pedal. These Jackson Audio pedals are a real delight to use. Moreover they use a 'Level-Matching' circuit which means that your volume level is maintained as you switch through the clipping options - which is very rare for overdrive pedals with clipping options. Typically different clipping combinations yield vastly different output levels - depending on the nature and degree of clipping. If you've read my recent article on this pedal you know that the hype is worthy - these are really dynamic and great sounding pedals - as you would imagine they needed to be for Joey Landreth to put his signature on them!
I've related how this pedal suffered from a similar path to the above Demedash 112+ where it was inadequately served by its initial demo videos. In fact I came across a number of those and I dismissed this pedal then as just another OK-ish overdrive. However, Giulio of Kuro Audio went out of his way to get a properly representative demo video - which the above one finally achieved at the end of May this year - shortly before I did my own article. That demo was what really opened me up to the possibilities of this pedal - and finally totally won me over - while the earliest demos go back over a year. In conversations with pedal builders I always emphasise how important a representative demo is - one that sounds totally like the pedal and fully conveys its wider capabilities - which the new video actually finally does brilliantly. On the surface this is a deceptively simple looking pedal, and you might immediately think that the Active Baxandall 2-Band EQ here can't really compete with the 3-Band EQ's of these other pedals, but you would be mistaken! Each of the Hi and Lo frequency controls has ±15dB on tap - and not only hugely significantly changes the tone, it also really bumps up the gain on the additive side. It's that combination of the 2 EQs and 1 Gain knob that is so impressive - as the range from base to peak is just phenomenal - driving my clean pedal-platform amp as hard as I have my MI Effects Super Crunch Box set - which is proper JCM800 levels of crunch. What is remarkable about the P.h.A. is its precise calibration - the taper on each of the dials is exquisite - just super refined, smooth and consistent - and you know at all times what you get when you dial things in - no funny in-between sweetspots or irregular tapers - just effortless dialling in. I could actually do with a few presets here as I use this for so many different varieties of gain stage. The smoothness of the onset of the Gain - in tandem with those Red LEDs is just exceptional too. Never have I been so impressed by a relatively simple looking 4-knob drive pedal. This sort of looks like it's the odd one out here - but it's really one of the strongest contenders and with one of the widest extended ranges.
Like I said in the intro I may have been a little harsh in my initial review of this pedal as I felt annoyed about the hijacking of Anasounds' Harmonic Tremolo product name. Also - in amongst all those myriad demos that came out at launch I'm not sure I was majorly captivated or inspired by any of them - perhaps I was just overcome with demo video paralysis as I must have watched a good round dozen of them. I've mentioned several times here about the need for fully representative demos, but I would go further in some instances to say that each pedal really needs its own theme tune as such. Andy Martin for instance often hits on a magical formula in his intro themes which really help define the featured pedal and its ideal usage scenario. Without that sound signature as such the pedal can sort of lack an identity and relative positioning. I feel there are certainly overlaps here with Klon and Tube Screamer in particular - but the addition of Dry Mix means you can temper those tones even further. You could say that its 5 clipping modes aren't altogether dissimilar to the 4 you get with the Golden Boy - but in the aforementioned pedal the switching of clipping modes is far more elegant and the level-matching circuit really comes into its own there too. Upon repeated listens I also find that the changes between clipping modes on the Ages are rather more subtle than on the Golden Boy - and more of the core circuit character gets retained throughout - which could be a positive for some and negative for others. There is no doubt that this is a very accomplished and capable piece of kit which has been very cleverly engineered - yet its core default tonality hasn't grabbed me as much as say for the Golden Boy or the P.h.A. I have though warmed to the Ages quite a bit since then, and feel that I could most definitely get some very decent sounds out of it - while I still probably prefer the core tonality and character of Walrus's earlier 385 overdrive - which is also on my wishlist.
Since I first started writing this article a while back I have acquired the exceptional Chase Bliss Audio Automatone Preamp MKII which is likely one of the very best, if not THE best Overdrive pedal ever created. With its high fidelity tone generation and dynamics it covers a very impressive span of tones and textures and has to a degree changed how I view my overdrive section / selection and acquisitions.
I had only very recently acquired the Buffalo FX Carrera Overdrive and I was able to get pretty much the exact same tonality and texture out of the Automatone (or near as darnit) - and while it does not capture the tone, timbre and texture of everything - it nonetheless has incredible native extended range - so it will without doubt majorly influence the relevance of future purchases. Notably it doesn't really threaten any of the pedals in this selection. The Golden Boy is on active duty in the same chain, and while the P.h.A. is currently on hiatus it will no doubt return to active duty soon. Most of the great overdrives have something special about their character which cannot necessarily be exactly captured by a more extended range pedal - it could be the sparkly high frequency harmonics, chewy mids or soft and slightly squishy low-end - which each have their own very specific character.
So apart from the Carrera, the Automatone has not really threatened any of my other analog drive and distortion pedals in the current chain - as they each have something unique about how they break up and distort and how their EQs apply - while the Automatone, however versatile it is - still has its own preamp character deep in the mix. (somewhere between a Vox AC30 and Tweed Deluxe depending on where the Bass EQ is set! - i.e. not exactly but rather more of one or the other - EQ depending).
The whole head-to-head replication thing is a never ending process really and I've spent too much time on that in the past - trying to find the perfect all-rounder pedal that could stand in for most of my favourites. I feel that the BYOC Crown Jewel has come closest to that really, but its lack of presets - and the long process of head-to-head dial-in - with no way of preserving that - kind of makes that all a little futile in the end - but still a lot of fun to play around with even though somewhat marred for practicalities.
Of the two pedals I already own here - the Golden Boy and P.h.A. those two are going nowhere - the current out-of-rotation P.h.A. will undoubtedly be back in again soon as I so love its core tonality and the absolute ease of dialling things in across its huge range. The Jackson Audio footswitch functionality still has no equivalent - that sort of functionality is just next level genius innovation - and the second best thing to actual presets - the use of the Broken Arrow and Golden Boy pedals is an absolute joy.
I've started to recognise something in the Demedash 112+ Drive - a certain timbre and core tonality, which I feel has real potential - although I feel that pedal certainly hasn't found its perfect demo yet to really show off its core competencies and capabilities. I am doubly intrigued by the ramp-up to internal 34 Volts - which is almost on par with conventional Tube operation. And as I've stated, I've significantly warmed up to the Walrus Audio Ages - although I'm not forgiving them any time soon for the name hijack thing. I feel that the Ages has untapped potential with those extended controls - with which I could undoubtedly do some clever things.
Both the 112+ and Ages are on my wishlist for opportunistic acquisition really - possibly more of a nice to have than essential. I feel each of the 4 pedals here is distinct and has its own strengths - and all are valid choices. Each has a different core timbre and tonality - which will likely appeal to different players - within all of these there is still something ever so appealing about the P.h.A. as a grab-and-go pedal as it's just so easy and elegant to dial in - Giulio definitely got his calibration spot on for all those dials!
Core flavour-wise the 112+ is a somewhat significant JFET-style evolution of the Peavey Bandit 112 - which Steve contends no longer really sounds much like it all. The Golden Boy is a mix of Blues Breaker, King of Tone, Tube Screamer, Timmy and Plexi. The P.h.A. is a soft-clipping non-compressing circuit which shares some tonal characteristics with a Tube Screamer, but really goes way beyond that point as a super-sustainer and saturator. While the Walrus Audio Ages sits somewhat adjacent to Klon and Tube Screamer varieties with clipping extension into Timmy-style territory - and where the key advantage is its dry-mix.
What are your own preferences here? Do you have any of these already or are you planning to get some soon?