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9 of the Best Large Format High Gain Metal Distortion Pedals

AmptweakerBognerBrown Sound DistortionDiezel AmplificationDistortionDriveDual-DriveFriedman EffectsKlirrton ManufakturKSR AmplificationMarshall Style DistortionMESA/BoogieMetal DistortionMulti-DriveSeymour Duncan+-
2019GPX9LargeMetalPedals.jpg

This is probably the penultimate article in this series for the year - actually I might do another with my own personal favourites from all of these selections. Next up will of course be compact enclosure variants, but here we are at the other end of the scale with the Big Boxes of Metal! A reader asked me why I had not included the Friedman BE-OD Deluxe in the previous category - Horizontal Medium Enclosure - and the fact is that it’s just a touch too large. I have my own system of pedal size classification where the BE-OD DLX falls into the larger category versus the circa Hammond 1590BB reference for Medium Rectangle - as per my below reference visual:

 

In truth I have somewhat moved away from the larger enclosure variants - I had each versions of the Diezel VH4 active in my pedal chain (separately) for a long while - but they just take up a lot of real estate, and there are so many great compact and medium size high gain pedals now that I’m not sure the size is entirely justified in terms of a comparison of flavours delivered / variety, versatility and practicality. For instance to accommodate any of these I would need to shed between 2-3 pedals - and thus far I’ve deemed I get more of what I want courtesy of my more compact variants - that’s not to entirely dismiss these, as there are several here that still interest and intrigue me, and my Diezel VH4-2 still gets some play, albeit a lot less frequently nowadays.

Pt 2

In fact the Diezel VH4-2 is the only of these I own, while I've had the Diezel Herbert on a wishlist for a while alongside the Amptweaker Tight Metal Pro, Bogner Ecstasy Red, Friedman BE-OD Deluxe and even MESA Throttle Box EQ at times. The Seymour Duncan Palladium I've featured before, also the KSR Ceres - while the Klirrton Grindstein is new to this particular selection.

 

The one I've come nearest to acquiring here is the Bogner Ecstasy Red - which I will probably still snag when the time is right - although not really a priority right now. I've kind of decided that even though I really like the idea of the Tight Metal Pro - it has 3 effects loops for some reason and even though it's the only Tight Metal version with 3-Band EQ - where the Mid frequency is so important for modern metal - I probably still prefer the JR version, and will most likely be getting that instead - it's much easier to rotate into my setup.

 

The same is kind of true of the BE-OD Deluxe which essentially adopts the Dirty Shirley Pedal control topology and doubles down on it for Rhythm and Lead Channel variations of the same voicing. On reviewing this, I would probably just like an updated V2 version of the compact BE-OD with the Tightness Control as a switch, and that former knob replaced with a Mids control as is the case for this bigger pedal.

 

I came close to acquiring the Throttle Box EQ too at one stage, but the two here that intrigue me the most are the 3-Channel KSR Ceres, and the single footswitch but dual-circuit HM-2 evolution/derivation that is the Klirrton Grindstein. I'm not 100% sure I will necessarily get one of these big format pedals again, but if I do it will likely be either of those two - I will still be getting the Bogner Ecstasy Red though for reasons I can still not fully fathom, but my mind seems set on it - even though it's not a priority.

 

All of these are impressive in their own way and cover different variants of High Gain - a lot of this will be down to tonal preference as well as practicalities, feature set etc.!

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand as usual:


Amptweaker TightMetal Pro Distortion + Boost - £299

This is no doubt still the flagship of Amptweaker's Metal Pedals and justifiably so. It's clearly intended for use as a sort of PreAmp as it has no less than 3 different parallel expression loops. There are a plethora of controls too - knobs including Volume | Low | Mid | High | Gain | Tight, then also smaller Boost Volume and Boost Gain, and 5 switches - Mid Boost, Mid EQ / Thrash, Edge/Smooth, Gate/Chomp, Gain/High - and finally dual footswitches for On and Boost. It's no doubt a great pedal, but it's rather large, and I sort of prefer the most compact iteration - the JR version, albeit I would prefer that to have 3-Band EQ, which is its one weakness really - this gives you everything but with a significant footprint - if it's going to be your only metal distortion then probably worth it, I have 4 typically in my chain and this would take away some of the versatility I have with that setup!


Bogner Ecstasy Red High Gain Distortion + Boost - £199

Bogner fairly recently introduced Mini variants of its Red and Blue Ecstasy pedals (Compact really by my code) which drop the additional boost features, but largely retain everything else. If you prefer the mellower Blue variety - then the ideal format is the newer Mini version, while for the Red Ecstasy something is slightly lost in translation in the transfer and the Min Red sounds nowhere near as good as its larger predecessor. I'm actually quite the fan of Bogner Pedals and have a number of their Rupert Neve editions, and will likely add a few more before too long. The Ecstasy Red features switches for Variac, Mode, Pre EQ and Gain Structure, then 5 knobs - Volume | Treble | Middle | Bass | Gain, 2 further lit-up mini Boost knobs for Boost Volume and Boost Gain, and dual footswitches for Boost and On. Much like with the OKKO Dominator, there is a supposedly darker and gainier / metal extreme version in the Überschall, whose tones really don't appeal to me at all (too dark!) - I so much prefer the richer and more saturated tones of the Ecstasy Red - its Mids are just so much more magical. I considered getting the Red Mini, but it doesn't stack up well enough and the circuit is too different - so I will most certainly be adding the original Ecstasy Red at some stage, most probably followed by the Mini (Compact) version of the Ecstasy Blue!


Diezel Herbert High Gain PreAmp/Distortion + Boost - £269

I'm a sucker for the saturated mid-pushed tones of Diezel's killer amps - which are just way too unwieldy generally for domestic use - so the Diezel pedals were a godsend for us Diezel fans - albeit I would have preferred them somewhat smaller. While the VH4-2 is a sort of 2 Channel affair - the Herbert is more of a Distortion + Mid Boost (cut actually!) - with core controls being Normal Master | Gain | Treble | Middle | Bass | Presence | Deep - where the last mentioned is so key to the depth of the Diezel distortion. You then have two dials activated by the second Mids / Boost footswitch - Midcut Master and Midcut Intensity. I really like both the Diezel pedals but they really are too large to be accommodated in my current rig - which is something of a shame. Some will prefer the tones of the Herbert and some the VH4-2 - with each having its own followers and I actually really like both as mentioned, but only own the VH4-2 and its predecessor.


Diezel VH4-2 2-Channel High Gain PreAmp/Distortion - £299

The original VH4 pedal was modelled on Channel 3 of Diezel's flagship VH4 amp - while the VH4-2 adds the 4th Channel into the mix courtesy of just 2 additional dials - Master 2 Output and Gain 2, the original has Master | Gain | Treble | Middle | Bass | Presence | Deep. I have both and used them in pretty solid succession for the best part of a couple of years before settling on more numerous smaller / more compact metal pedals. This can be a little fiddly with setup - while the Deep control is essential here and so key to the Diezel distortion - using some king of feedback loop to enhance lower frequency distortion. When tuned right this is just immensely rich, dense and satisfying. Not unlike the experience of dialling in the Boss Metal Zone though some people manage to mess up the setup on this and somehow not show it off to its proper potential. I would love for Diezel to deliver a smaller enclosure size version of this - surely the engineers can squeeze it into a 1590BB if they try really hard! As with many of the pedals here it makes more sense if you are intending to use this as your main high gain distortion / PreAmp - if you use lots of different flavours like I do, it makes a lot less sense. I still retain both VH4 pedals and the 2-Channel version gets an airing every now and again.


Friedman BE-OD Deluxe 2-Channel PreAmp/Distortion - £269

As mentioned in the intro, this is a really smart pedal - while it's essentially just a Higher and Lower gain dual channel version of the same BE-OD circuit as the compact pedal. The key difference here is that Dave Friedman has taken the feedback on the original BE-OD vs Dirty Shirley Pedal and updated the BE-OD control topology to follow the latter's - which means there are 2 banks of 5 regular knobs - Volume | Bass | Mid | Treble | Gain - with small dials for Presence, and toggle-switch for Tight. I really would have preferred this as a 1590BB variant - it's a little large in this format. And on balance what I really want here is an updated version of the original BE-OD pedal with the Mids control added in here in the same way, and the former Tight knob reduced to a toggle-switch. If I could have it entirely my own way - I would go more JHS Andy Timmons Plus and add in a boost switch also - to give me largely the same versatility as this big box but in a compact enclosure! I really like this - but will likely hold out for further iterations of the compact edition.


Klirrton Manufaktur Grindstein Death Metal PreAmp - $359

I actually spent quite some time on research before I settled on this as the 9th pedal in the selection - it's the only pedal here that doesn't fully utilise its larger enclosure size with dual footswitches, but makes up for that by featuring two different complementary circuits that you Mix together in parallel - and can switch one channel out of phase for even gnarlier distortion. The main circuit is an HM-2 evolution/derivative called Chainsaw, while the second circuit is Bottomshaker (which evens out the frequency profile) - besides the central Mix dial and +/- Phase switch, you have 8 knobs - Grind | High | Master | Treble | Bass | Gain | Boost | Midcut. In effect you have 3 EQ Bands for the Chainsaw and 2 EQ Bands for the Bottomshaker. You also have an effects loop where you can introduce any PreAmp to replace the Bottomshaker as the Mix for the Chainsaw. The original HM-2 can sound quite cutting at times, and this configuration certainly beefs up the distortion and gives it a little more density and depth. I was initially considering selecting one of the other larger size HM-2 clones - say Dunwich or LWA, but this one sort of appeals to me the most currently. The first batch sold out pretty quickly, but there will no doubt be more available again fairly soon. The graphics on this pedal are spot on too!


KSR Amps Ceres 3-Channel PreAmp - $400

Of all of these this one certainly piques my interest the most - I have featured it before on the site and it's been on the wishlist for a while. If you're using this as your main Distortion pedal you can utilise the 3rd sort of always on Clean Mode (Tone + Level), while for me it would really by a 2-Channel sort of situation. Each of the dirt channels is voiced slightly differently - Rhythm and Lead - where you have the classic Gain | Bass | Middle | Treble | Level topology, but then each channel has 3 x 3-way Gain Structure Toggle Switches for Bright, Feel and Mode - so while the BE-OD Deluxe has 7 independent controls per Channel - this one takes the crown with 8! I really like the sound of this one - yes it's a large pedal, and it would not be my only High Gain distortion - and I don't see it replacing my current 4 mainstay high gain pedals in that role - but it would be subbed in on a supplementary basis when my chain was more geared towards the heavier side of things. The rig is typically focused in turn on Overdrives, Fuzzes or Distortions - and while there are a number of near enough permanent fixtures in the chain - there's a lot of rotation that goes on too. I feel that I might just swing for one of these some day, but it's not a current priority.


MESA/Boogie Throttle Box EQ 2-Channel Distortion - £295

When I was looking to capture the Rectifier sound I always had this in high consideration, and it still remains on the wishlist. At the time I went for the Wampler Triple Wreck and the AMT R2 instead as my preferences for a variety of reasons - I always find there's something off about the mid frequencies in the demos I hear of this pedal - they seem somehow disjointed and not quite balanced with the overall frequency curve - you do get a number of pedals where the frequency clusters are deliberately separated - like the HM-2 with its famous twin peak signature - and this typically yields more strident and spiky tones which are not always to my liking - while the Triple Wreck and AMT R2 seem to do a better job of balancing the frequency profile. I still love the Mesa sound and the completist in me still sort of wants one of these - I'm kind of waiting to see if MESA does a V2 of this with somewhat more refined controls - I'm not really in any hurry to acquire one of these but could spring for one if the price was right. As I mention here before - setup does appear to be somewhat tricky - particularly when deploying the 5-Band EQ. But possibly it's just like the Metal Zone in that there are a lot of people who just don't know how to use this properly. In any case I have lots of alternatives to this in my collection currently - and am not in any pressing need to acquire more of that type.


Seymour Duncan Palladium Gain Stage PreAmp + Boost - £259

I always think of the Palladium as being a sort of 'always the bridesmaid' pedal as it seems to get a lot of honourable mentions while players more typically go for one of the others featured here. The Palladium is a Distortion + Boost variety uniquely amongst this selection in featuring parametric mids - meaning you get - Bass | Mids Level | Mids Frequency | Treble | Presence | Level | Gain | Resonance | Boost. You also have a second Boost footswitch to go with the Boost Level control. It's actually a really versatile and capable pedal so I can't fully explain why others and I even don't necessarily gravitate towards this as its actually a really great pedal - somehow though I and those of a similar persuasion are just more drawn to different varieties. On related matters - Seymour Duncan has teased what looks like a Vertical Medium Enclosure high gain pedal under the title of 'Classic. Metal.' So probably we will get a more usable practical format / evolution of the above Palladium! I will feature that when released / announced on November 12th!


Final Thoughts and Recommendations

I have just recently taken delivery of the Boss OD-200 and am working my way through testing and benchmarking that - but have yet to get to the gainier side of said pedal - will be interesting to see how it compares and contrasts to some of these. I'm still just working my way through the principal modes - and will then test each in combination with the 15 flavours of Boost in parallel and series - so far and sort of as expected, the core types / modes on their own don't have as pronounce harmonic distortion artefacts as my favourite analog pedals. I'm hoping that when I mix up more of the flavours in parallel I will get a closer level of richness and detail. On the first pass the OD-200 sounds gorgeous, but its lesser quotient of distortion artefacts is more evident in head-to-head comparisons. I'm still at a very early stage and will need to do a lot more tweaking - I already feel that the OD-200 is a great all-rounder, but I remain to be convinced how many of my existing favourites it can truly wholly replace.

 

In this particular selection you have a mix of modern mid-pushed metal distortions with flavours of HM-2, Rectifier, Diezel obviously and JCM-800/900. Each of those will likely hold different appeal - while I generally like a certain Marshall-esque richness to my high gain tones. A number of metal distortions can be somewhat flat for me or too dark - which is not at all the case for his selection. Each pedal here has something to recommend it - and there are intangible and irrational reasons too for why you might want one of these over another. You can't really single out an overall winner - although it is likely that the sort of 3-Channel KSR Ceres is certainly the most feature-rich. It's probably the one of these here I would most vouch for, while I will likely get the Bogner Ecstasy Red before that as it's been on my list for a while, and I fancy I can get a really decent example for a very appealing price - I already passed on a couple which were proper bargains - I will probably pounce the third time around though.

 

As mentioned above, I've largely moved away from the larger pedals for my drive and distortion effects - I prefer to have more flavours generally and of compact dimensions - they are easier to accommodate, swap and store too. There are so many practical reasons for going compact, but I will still probably end up with one or two more of these at some stage. As things stand currently though and with the exception of bargain pricing, I generally go for compact and mid-size in preference to the larger enclosures. I used to have a number of larger enclosure workstation pedals for Modulation, Delay and Reverb, and I suppose the only remnant of that is the Strymon Volante now - I've generally gone more compact and practical throughout. Obviously if you're not planning to have 40+ pedals in your chain, and this is the one rather than one of many - then probably the KSR Ceres and BE-OD Deluxe are the most usably versatile here!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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