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9 of the Best Menatone Pedals

BoostBoost and OverdriveBrown Sound DistortionDistortionDriveDual-DriveDumble Style OverdriveEffects Pedal MakersFuzzGermanium FuzzKlone and Transparent OverdriveMarshall Style DistortionMenatoneMulti-DriveOverdriveSilicon FuzzTone Bender Style FuzzVox Style Distortion+-
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I consider it my civic duty to bring the public’s attention back to Brian Mena and his excellent Menatone Pedals - as they seem to have slipped a touch under the radar of late. Part of the problem is that Menatone has only 3 dealers - Truetone Music in the USA, Deluxe Guitars in Australia and LEP International in Japan. Of those, only Deluxe seems to maintain a decent inventory - and they refuse to ship abroad - which is no good for us Brits! There’s also just a fairly meagre listing on Reverb.com and hardly any of those are particularly recent models. In fact the only surefire way to acquire one of these great pedals is to order direct from the Menatone site, wait 1-3 weeks for the pedal to be built, and then the 2-3 weeks it takes to get to your destination country and clear customs. I’ve been very disappointed with the UK postal services of late - in particular how long a typical package takes between arriving in the UK and finally being delivered - a period of commonly 2 weeks. So these pedals are in relatively short supply and don’t arrive in a particularly timely fashion which is a real shame as these 9 featured here are particularly great and deserve to be on more pedalboards worldwide.

 

Menatone’s original breakthrough and thus flagship of sorts really is the Red Snapper Overdrive - typically regarded as the most natural / neutral and open sounding overdrive available anywhere since its proper launch at Winter NAMM 1998. The current preferred 4-knob version is Point-to-Point hand-wired which alas makes it considerable pricier than its nearest competitor which is most often considered to be Paul Cochrane’s Timmy. Both these have 4 dials, while the Timmy has a 3-way clipping switch although most players just keep it in the middle/open position - so functionally really they are very similar with significant followers of each - it is a pedal I’ve determined will most definitely be added to my own tone library, but it’s not quite my favourite from those listed here above.

 

In fact my favourite Menatone pedal is the only one I have so far acquired - the superb ’The King’ Marshall-style all-rounder - which I use mostly for Plexi-style duties but is probably the finest Marshall all-rounder currently available - certainly in a compact format. I have featured 3 further pedals already on this site - the Dirty B, Dumbstruck and Top Boost In a Can (TBIAC) - classic boosted Vox AC-30 style pedal. The Dirty B and Dumbstruck are already on my wishlist - actually along with The Law Bender Germanium Fuzz; while I would really prefer the Fish Factory and the TBIAC in the recent Zvex-stye vertical enclosures - I would snap both of those up pretty much instantly if Brian saw his way to doing just that. I also rather like the MenaWatt HiWatt amp style pedal and Wreck’T Trainwreck Express amp style pedal - even though I already have those largely covered by the Bearfoot FX Model Hs and Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1 pedals respectively.

 

So in short I actually really like all of these and would look to acquire them one by one over these next few years - they very occasionally pop up on Reverb.com and Ebay, but not as often as I would really like. As a Fuzz fan I feel that The Law Bender may be the next acquisition - but it’s really a 3-way between that, the Dirty B and the Dumbstruck currently.

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by name:


The Dirty B (Fender-style - Blonde Face, Brown Face etc.) - $189

I covered this pedal recently in my Tweed Drives overview, and reported that this was in many ways similar to my Bearfoot FX Sparkling Yellow OD3 - in that the 'Dirty Blonde' was designed to cover a number of early Fender style amp tones - including Blonde and Brown-face as such. This pedal really benefits from its 6 tone-shaping knobs where the 'Soul' one is kind of a gain character dial which adjusts compression and gain structure to a large degree - the settings are - Bass | Mids | Treble | Volume | Soul (Compression) | Gain. This is a really versatile Fender style amp multi-tasker, and one that I'm definitely looking to add to the collection at some stage.


Dumbstruck Overdrive (Dumble-style) - $189

This was covered in my last Dumble-ODS-style pedal overview and even though I have already found my perfect sound-alike in the guise of the Demon Pedals Kondo Shifuku - I still want this one for the rotation as its 6-knob tone-shaping prowess lends it a slightly different degree of character that I really rather like. Controls are - Resonance (Low End) | Push (Mid Boost/Cut) | Accent (Attack) | Volume | Harmonic Content (Saturation) | Gain. This is another one marked for imminent acquisition.


The Fish Factory (Red Snapper + Blue Collar) - $229

This latest version is a fantastic feat of micro-engineering with both 4-knob editions of the Red Snapper and Blue Collar available in the same horizontal compact box. The Blue Collar is the slightly more compressed higher gain version of the Red Snapper - and they make a formidable pairing when used in combination. This is kind of like the classic twin footswitch Zvex format - where I've always professed a slight dislike as to how much pedalboard real-estate this format takes up. In this instance - with 8 knobs and two footswitches utilised it kind of makes sense - but I would still prefer to see this in a vertical compact enclosure - like the more recent Zvex pedals - with of course all features fully intact. The controls are - Volume | Hi Cut | Gain | Bite || Drive | Tone | Level | Presence - respectively for Red Snapper and Blue Collar sides. Note that there is no video of the most recent model yet - so I selected closest match older and larger 8-knob version!


The King. Marshall-style Drive/Distortion - $209

I'm a keen fan of Marshall style tones and have several pedals within my pedal-chain which provide different flavours of Marshall - partly for convenience, and partly for very specific tones and timbres. Currently the Pantheon, plus occasionally the Analog.Man King of Tone cover the Blues Breaker style, this King is my main Plexi-style pedal of choice, and for JCM800 / EVH style tones I prefer to use the MI Effects Super Crunch Box 2! While The King is quite evidently the best all-rounder Marshal type out there in this format, there is something about the specific character of the other Marshall-style pedals mentioned here that keeps them all in the chain - particularly for the Blues Breaker voicings - which I can't exactly replicate with this King - it's good though for pretty much everything else! It has 8 really smart controls - Level | Drive | Gain | Hi | Mid | Lo | Modern/Vintage Switch | Mid-Focus - 60s/70s/90s. I've already noted that this is my favourite of the Menatone pedals - and obviously it would be the first one I managed to pin down - direct from Brian and mentioned in the intro.


The Law Bender Fuzz (Tone Bender MKII) - $189

I've only acquainted myself with these very recently - Germanium (Red Fuzz Knob) or Silicon (Blue Fuzz Knob) Tone Bender MKII style fuzzes with fantastic tone-shaping abilities - Tone | Bias | Pork (Gain Boost) | Volume | Fuzz | Sag (Pre-Gain). As a Fuzz fan I've already earmarked the Germanium variety for imminent acquisition - another cool and versatile addition to my tone library no doubt. I obviously already have a number of Tone Bender style fuzzes in the collection, but not to this configuration - which offers something distinctly different.


MenaWatt Drive (HiWatt style) - $189

This gives me slightly different tone-shaping abilities to my existing Bearfoot FX Model Hs which covers very similar territory. Here the main point of difference is in the 2 different Gain Channels - Brilliant and Normal which you can combine in numerous clever ways - that and a 3-band EQ make this a really powerful HiWatt style candidate. The six controls are - Volume | Brilliant (Gain 1) | Normal (Gain 2) | Bass | Mids | Treble. Funnily enough I really want this one too although it's not quite in the top tier of the wishlist - it's nevertheless one of the best takes on the HiWatt style - if you like that sort of thing!


Red Snapper 4 Knob PTP Overdrive - £229

This is the frequently much overlooked ultimate of the natural and open singing overdrives - often under the shadow of more populist offerings like Paul Cochrane's Timmy, Greer Amps Lightspeed and the more recent EarthQuaker Devices Westwood. I have two of those in the tone library already, and am looking to have representatives from each camp eventually so I can properly figure out where my preferences lie. I don't have it yet, but this Red Snapper will end up in the tone library too some day soon. Its control are - Volume | Gain | Hi-Cut | Bite. Note that there are a number of different versions of the Red Snapper available - and my own choice is the 4-knob Point-to-Point hand-wired version.


Top Boost in a Can (Boosted Vox AC-30 style) - $209

This was actually the first Menatone Pedal I came across - a few years ago now when researching Boosted Vox AC-30 style pedals. Much like with the Fish Factory above - if this was available in the newer Zvex vertical style enclosure with all features intact - dual footswitches and all - I would likely have snapped it up already. My current Vox style distortion of choice is yet another Bearfoot FX pedal - the Emerald Green Distortion Machine - and it's 4-knob circuit does an amazing job at getting me the kind of Brian May tones I love. Yet I feel this pedal in the right format would be even more versatile for me and could likely become my Top-Boosted-Vox-style-pedal of choice - I await to see what Brian decides to do here. Controls are - Volume | Hi-Cut | Bass | Treble | Gain | Boost - with of course a second Boost footswitch.


Wreck'T (Trainwreck-style) - $189

Last but not least is Brian's take on the classic cult Ken Fischer Trainwreck Amps - not clear exactly which variety/ies are being targeted here - but Ken did several different ones including 6V6, EL34 and EL84 -powered ones. I already have a Trainwreck Express style pedal courtesy of the Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1 - which is already a favourite, albeit not a fixed part of my pedal-chain. I feel this would be a great rotation partner for that - as it offers quite a different control topology via its 6 knobs - Resonance (Low End) | Push (Mid Boost/Cut) | Presence | Level | Drive | Gain. This is another nice to have - which is not quite as far up the wishlist as some of these others here - still a fantastic pedal.


Final Thoughts

Readers of my blog will know that I'm an avowed 'pedal-tweaker' / 'dial-tweaker' and that I really like my pedals to be fully tuneable and versatile - as well as practical (compact / 9V). The Menatone pedals fulfil all those requirements with some really smart takes on many of the most desirable drive tones out there.

 

All of Brian's pedals have a certain feel to them which is very much his own signature - in fact very much like those of the other great Brian - Wampler! What I feel Brian Mena does extremely well - and which is particularly evident on 'The King.' is the extended range side to these pedals. There's plenty of set-and-forget pedals out there that do just one voicing well - but these are dynamic multi-voice pedals which can deliver the core tone you want alongside a number of fantastic other 'in-between' flavours as such.

 

As is always the case - a particular pedal is a unique mix of timbre, texture, character and voice - and you will likely prefer one builder's particular take on a genre over another's. And no matter how wide-ranging a pedal is - one that is specialist within a single task can usually outperform one which is more generalist - certainly set to very specific preferences.

 

I really like all of these pedals - but there is a hierarchy as with most things. For me the upper left quartet is my most-wanted, while most of those would be gazumped by the Fish Factory and TBIAC if those circuits were to inhabit vertical compact enclosures. As is I will look to getting the Dirty B, Dumbstruck, and Law Bender next - with the MenaWatt and Wreck'T as definite maybes. I may even mellow my resistance to the 2 horizontal varieties eventually - these things all depend on prevailing mood to a degree - alongside pricing and availability as usual. If you're looking for an all-round Fender-style or Marshall-style pedal, a superior Dumble, HiWatt or Trainwreck in pedal format - you would do very well to snap up one of these!

 

Brian has also recently supplemented his range with mini versions for most of his classics - which are a boon for anyone with limited pedalboard real-estate. For my own purposes I like the extended range tone-shaping features - so particularly in this instance will always prefer the compact size versions here. There should be something for everyone here though - would that these were in slightly wider distribution though!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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