My first encounter with Aleks K Production was courtesy of a Brett Kingman demo of the Maple Leaf Royal Overdrive around a year and a half ago. I’m a fan of Brett’s and he’s one of my regular favourite resources for new pedal demos alongside many other guitar luminaries. Once I had checked out his 2 demos of the Maple Leaf, I next viewed the Red Scorpion 2 Mega Distortion, then the Hot Ice Sweet Distortion, Honey Moon 2 Sweet Overdrive and Sun Beam Magic Drive.
After the Brett overview I then did my usual process of triangulation - checking out various Pedal references and collateral on Aleks K Production and reviewing near enough all of the demo videos on those 5 pedals - magazine articles and online reviews. It didn’t take too long to establish that I would definitely be getting the Maple Leaf and Red Scorpion. The video that swung the decision in the end was the liquid lead line playing on Aleks K’s own demo video - as immediately below. I had gotten something similar sound-wise out of the Alexander Pedals Hot Pink Drive, but this was richer and more nuanced and just better sounding all-round.
The Maple Leaf Royal Drive and Red Scorpion Mega Distortion were my standout favourites from the range - followed by the Hot Ice and Honey Moon 2. I’m a huge fan of gain stacking - and gain-stacking in parallel like I have on a few of my pedals is just awesome for interesting overdrive and distortion textures. Apart from the aforementioned Alexander Hot Pink Drive, the Aleks K pedals most brought to mind my two Strymon drive pedals - the Riverside and Sunset. There’s something about a certain smoothness of character here - delivered by JFET + DSP in the Strymon’s and significantly by IC’s / OpAmps in the Aleks K Production pedals - but more of that next!
This is just one person's opinion, but I do believe I can detect a signature strain of tone profile DNA which is largely shared across most of the 5 pedals in the range - a sort of liquid sweet smoothness with great articulation and with a hint of compression and impressive long-lasting sustain. This is particularly evident in the original Aleks K Pedal the Hot Ice and it's more sizzling companion distortion - the Maple Leaf. The Honey Moon reminds me of Björn Juhl's Honey Bee to a degree - but with more body and more gain on tap - and it has a definite bluesy-ness to it, while the Sun Beam obviously inhabits Klon / Transparent low gain territory, but has a slightly different tone profile and character overall. Each of those pedals have their own sounds as such - but the dynamics and feel and smoothness of the overdrives and distortions definitely makes them seem like they obviously belong to the same family. The one significant difference is with the higher gain Red Scorpion - which still has some degree of smoothness and articulation to it, but very much has its own sort of bark-like core character - in a very even tempered high-gain distortion. Impressive also is the very low noise floor even when those higher-gain pedals are cranked.
I've A/B'd my now two Aleks K pedals - the Maple Leaf and Red Scorpion - against my library of scores of different drive and distortion pedals and those two definitely have distinct voicing characteristics - particularly the Maple Leaf. There's also some nostalgia in here as the Maple Leaf's core liquid distortion flavour really reminds me of those smooth liquid lead lines you used to hear so much back in the 80's. The element of compression and the overall character of the distortion saturation seems to spark memories of those days for me. It's the same kind of thing you get with Ibanez + DiMarzio pickups which are still to a large degree synonymous with those 80's - that smooth liquid distortion - Aleks K has managed to capture that essence in these pedals.
So calibrating against an ascending range of gain across my own '12 Degrees of Saturation' Scale - the Sun Beam sits at level II, the Honey Moon ranges sort of across IV-VI, the Hot Ice and Maple Leaf overlap somewhat around IX-XI on the scale - while the Maple Leaf has slightly more gain and sizzle onboard, and then the Red Scorpion is at the top end of the scale at around XII - but not quite as brutal as my REVV G4, Diezel VH4-2 or MI Effects Megalith Delta (and a few others) - but it has plenty of gain and volume on tap, while I could probably do with a little more volume / headroom on the Maple Leaf. UPDATE! - more volume solved by switching to 12V supply on the Maple Leaf!
"We use ONLY!!! expensive and high quality components from world famous manufacturers from Canada, USA and Japan" (...and Germany!)
The above statement typifies what the company is all about, and you can immediately feel it when you get these pedals in your hands. I feel that some of the packaging and instructions collateral could be improved cv Matthews Effects, but the pedals themselves are flawless gems in their highly refined construction!
Key components include Highest Quality - Alpha Footswitches and Pots, Texas Instruments IC/OpAmp Chips, Fairchild Semiconductors Diodes, Vishay and Wima Capacitors, Vishay/Dale Military Grade Resistors, Switchcraft In/Out Jacks, and Kobiconn Power Jacks.
The enclosures are heavy-duty durable steel, custom-manufactured in Canada for Aleks K. They use pearlized metallic paint, Canadian-made PCB's with gold or nickel tracks and most feature milled heavy duty aluminium knobs. So visually - and by feel the pedals could not be better made - you can quibble over graphics and colours, but you cannot say anything other than these are hand built to the very highest quality standards anywhere.
All the pedals are hand-built to order and feature the customer's name and builder's signature on a label (usually Aleks K himself) on the inside of the back-plate - as picture at the top of the page. This is Rare High Quality - with a personal touch.
Aleks K is one Aleks Kovalevskyy - while the company is actually a partnership between father Aleks and son Nazar - based in Vancouver on Canada's West Coast. And not only do they make fantastic Drive Pedals, but they also make an even more impressive looking Custom Line of Gravity Signature Series Guitars - amazing Super-Strats with LED fret-markers and fine detailing - and obviously including the finest woods and components available anywhere - much like the pedals. The guitars are priced at around $4,500 and take circa 16 weeks to complete from order, while the pedals are usually ready 2-3 weeks after you place an order. The company is also a leading dealer of/for JBE pickups - which of course are installed on the Gravity Guitars too.
The business was founded in 2012, and the first pedal - the Hot Ice Sweet Distortion came out officially at the start of the following year - here is a brief chronology of the 5 pedals as fas as I can discern - dates are likely approximations to some degree:
Over these years the pedals have found fans in every corner of the world - including Brett Kingman, Darrell Braun, Derrick Zajac, Devin Townsend, HAIM, Julien Lacharme, The Bihlman Bros, and Producer and Engineer Greg Wurth. I am reliably informed that 3 new pedals will see the light next year - all around the same time/launch - a Delay, a Reverb, and a Stereo Chorus - all befitting the unique Aleks K DNA.
Before then, and likely before the end of the year, we should see 3 new less pricey guitar models - which should retail at around $2,500-$2,700 - which is of course considerably less than the flagship $4,500 Gravity types. They will be built to the same quality standards, but obviously not have the same degree of detailing.
THE RANGE - in gain order
This is essentially Aleks K's Light/Transparent Low Gain Overdrive - sort of in Klon territory but not really, certainly not a replica - just happens to fall into that ballpark. Very pleasant sounding overdrive with smart 'Dense' knob, but not quite as clever as its other siblings here. It's a lovely sounding pedal for sure - but the least appealing of the 5 for me. I feel it has plenty of competition in its space - while its siblings offer a somewhat more unique experience:
This to me is a medium gain bluesy-sounding overdrive which reminds me of that Björn Juhl Honey Bee tonality - albeit the Honey Moon has more body and substance to its core tone as well as more gain on tap. I do though feel that intentionally or not that there is some sort of Björn Juhl / BJFe influence on this range as there is a very slight hint of that in the character profile of the Aleks K drives - they are by no means the same - but there is something there for me at least. You get two great individual drive circuits that you can deploy independently or in parallel - would be cool to see future iterations of these pedals with dual-footswitches where you can more conveniently activate each Drive Channel / Voicing. In this instance the upper Drive 1 voicing is Darker, Harder and more Saturating while the lower Drive 2 is Cleaner as such and Brighter:
This is the original Aleks K Pedal and the first to feature the parallel dual Drives in the same pedal - which was a clever formula repeated on the Honey Moon and Maple Leaf. This has that gorgeous singing liquid distortion - where the 'Juice' knob is the added magic ingredient providing more Boost, Brightness and Compression (or BBC!). I feel though that even though the characters are slightly different, the Maple Leaf is really a beefed up version of this with slightly more control and range on-tap and Sizzle! That said - the Hot Ice Sweet Distortion is a great proposition of its own accord and some will prefer it to the Maple Leaf, while I'm not sure you would have both on your pedalboard together.
This is the sound which first drew me to Aleks K - a sort of 80's Style Sizzling Liquid Lead Distortion which has hints of Carlos Santana creaminess at the lower gain end and 80's Metal and Rock instrumentals and searing solos when cranked - for a good approximation of the searing saturation start with Drive 1, Drive 2 at around 12 o'c and the Auxiliary High at 10 o'c - that's my favourite tone at the moment. And I run the pedal at 12V DC for slightly more volume. There's nothing out there that quite sounds like this - and it has a huge variety of tones within those 6 dials - there's also something about this pedal that's just fun to play - the combination of dynamics and tone just makes you groove away for hours - this is truly the Aleks K Flagship at the moment.
This is a beautifully balanced and even-tempered high gain distortion still with a lot of that Aleks K Sweet Smooth Tone DNA, but here with a distinct Bark of its own. Even fully cranked on all dials it doesn't get strident and ugly distorted, but maintains a thick articulate and musical distortion throughout. There are aspects of it which remind me of my Strymon Riverside and Sunset, but the distortion artefacts here are distinctly different and I really like its full-throated tone. It's definitely right up there with many of the modern high gain champions - although it does not go as brutal or slightly discordant as the REVV G4, Diezel VH4-2 or MI Effects Megalith Delta can do. In any case it's a beautifully musical high gain distortion that I usually deploy in preference to the aforementioned 3. On some days I even like it more than the Maple Leaf!
After a very early encounter I was really quite taken in by the unique tone and timbre of the Maple Leaf and decided almost then and there that I would acquire one - it just took a while of sorting through other priorities to finally get there.
The Red Scorpion was initially not as immediately affecting for me - I did a number of Metal / High Gain pedal roundups and usually included it in those overviews - and really got to know and grow fond of that sound too - although the pedal sounds somewhat better in real life - while the Maple Leaf just sounds every bit as good as it does in all the YouTube demos.
In considering what other pedals I want from the range - I personally have way too many transparent drives already, and however good the Sun Beam is - I don't feel I really need another in that category - besides it doesn't have the special Twin Drive magic that most of its siblings sport.
Then the question is how do I feel about the Hot Ice and the Honey Moon 2 - both pedals which I really like the sound of, and I could happily have both of those with my Maple Leaf and Red Scorpion forming a neat quad of Aleks K pedals - but I feel that there are too many similarities between the Hot Ice and the Maple Leaf - admittedly they're not voiced exactly the same and they have different tone-shaping controls - but for me the Maple Leaf is the More Than, and the Hot Ice is the Lesser Than - where I prefer that additional degree of saturation and sizzle that the Maple Leaf brings.
So likely my third pedal from the range will be the more bluesy Honey Moon 2 - I feel that gives me something sufficiently different that I don't already have, and it complements the Maple Leaf and Red Scorpion nicely! What you get for yourself depends entirely on your own specific playing and tonal choices/preferences and you may not be into the higher gain side of things and might therefore exclude the two higher gain pedals which I feel are the best on offer here - the Maple Leaf and Red Scorpion. My third favourite is actually the Hot Ice, but it makes more sense for me to rather go fo for the Honey Moon 2.
So my recommendations are if you only get one - go for the Maple Leaf, if 2 add the Red Scorpion, and if 3 complete the hat trick with the Honey Moon 2. Those are my preferences!
You can order all the pedals direct from the Aleks K Pedal Store and they will typically ship within 2-3 weeks of your placing an order.