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In Praise of the Under-appreciated Big Tone Music Brewery's EQ'd Vintage Series of Classic Fuzz, Overdrive and Distortion Pedals

Big Muff Style FuzzBig Tone Music BreweryBlues Breaker Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveBuild Your Own CloneBYOCDistortionDriveDual-DriveEffects Pedal MakersFuzzFuzz Face Style FuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionGermanium FuzzKlone and Transparent OverdriveOpAmp FuzzOverdriveRat Style FuzzSilicon FuzzTubescreamer Style Overdrive+-
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I am generally a huge fan of Keith Vonderhulls’ BYOC Pedal Imprint - where his Crown Jewel Multi-Drive is one of my favourite pedals of all time. Build Your Own Clone is obviously mostly a DIY Pedal Kit brand - while all the BYOC’s I have acquired to date have been fully assembled by professionals like Alchemy Audio and GearGasStore.

 

Big Tone Music Brewery is very much Keith’s Pro sister-range to BYOC - with a series of premium edition pedals fully and carefully assembled by hand and made with the very best components - including NOS / Vintage parts.

 

All the EQ’d Vintage Series Pedals share the same 6 controls which are rendered via two cool stacked / dual-concentric knobs and two DM-1900 style knobs - respectively for Treble/Bass, Mids/Mid-Frequency, Level and Gain/Fuzz/Sustain as the last knob is variously labelled. The core to all these pedals is the 3-Band EQ Tone Stack with Parametric Mids, while half of these pedals have 2-way Mode/Voicing toggle switches - which actually switch over to a separate circuit - so for instance the British Overdrive goes from Vintage Bluesbreaker to Crunchy Plexi. All pedals also benefit from pop-less soft-touch true-bypass relay footswitches and significantly refined and enhanced noise-floors.

 

All of these pedals were/are built by hand in Richland, Washington State, USA - utilising the very finest premium Through-Hole and Vintage components. In all cases with superior components overall than the originals.

 

Each of these is a faithful classic circuit replica using the same original parts values and components - just with a distinctively more advanced Tone Stack, and occasional secondary voicing circuit option. I have included legends on the visual to reference the original circuits and some of the premium parts - each of these BTMB pedals delivers significantly more versatility and range over those originals.

 

I have actually long had my eyes on these - a few still remaining for sale at Canada’s Axe and You Shall Receive webstore - also on their Reverb.com store. I was just waiting for the pricing to hit the right level for me - which happened last week. And because of a relatively slow February, I had some funds saved up to acquire most of these - in fact 8 of the 10 varieties as I will detail here below. Meaning thus far I have all but the British Overdrive / Bluesbreaker and Silver Overdrive / Klone - I will look to acquire those remaining ones opportunistically when they next appear on Reverb.com or Ebay once more - as pristine second-hand examples. Special thanks to Scott Hager for his help and assistance, and Keith Vonderhulls for his insights.

 

In the process of writing this piece I decided that I initially wanted a few core ones here - first actually was just the Gray Box Overdrive per that article, then I decided I should have the 2 Muffs and 2 Grey distortions in particular. Then I was all of a sudden up to six, and finally I decided I should really snap up each of those that were available - as there was no way of knowing when they might materialise again.

 

The beauty of these is that once you’ve got used to using the Tone Stack on any one of these - then you’ve already acquired the knack of how to tweak all of these to their optimal purpose. Meaning that those who want to use their Classic Germanium Fuzz as more of an overdrive for instance - can fully shape that reality.

 

Most / half of these pedals don’t have any sort of demo out there which is a real shame as there is no general proper record out there over just how good these actually are and how great they can sound. I will include whichever pertinent demos I can find - but those will be relatively few and far between, and no doubt there will be a lot of gaps. I believe these were initially launched at around $179, and then climbed to $199 - with the Golden Pony fetching even more at $219. At any of those prices those are all still fantastic propositions, but considering they are near enough all discounted currently - now is for sure the right time to acquire them.

 

Pedal history is liberally peppered with fantastic pedals that slipped under the radar and somehow did not attain mainstream success. I feel that the lack of overall collateral here impeded the success of this range - but there were other issues too. When the range was very first touted it was named the EQD Vintage Series - as you can see on the Silver Overdrive example - this caused conflict with Jamie Stillman at EarthQuaker Devices and he politely requested that be changed - which led to ’EQ’d’ instead and 100 existing enclosures in the trash! That will surely have mudded things further - to the extent that only a single batch of these was produced - numbering only around 100 or so in total for all those varieties. Each of my pedals has a serial number from 3 to 10 - with quite a few 9’s present.

 

Note also that initially 8 were launched, then the Silver Overdrive was added, and finally the Golden Pony was introduced as an improvement to that. According to Keith - the Golden Pony contains the same core circuit as the Silver, but then it also has an additional Smooth circuit option onboard too. So I don’t really need the Silver to complete the set - only really from a completist angle. And the three most popular of these were the British Overdrive, Classic Distortion, and Gray Box Overdrive.

 

Here follow the individual details - with pedals listed sort of alphabetically but also being largely grouped with immediate peers :


Inset

American Ram Fuzz (Muff)

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This is sort of considered the Goldilocks variety of Big Muff - which sits kind of midway along the key 7 classic Muff types - after the 1969 Triangle and 1973 Violet Ram's Head in terms of peak gain, slightly softer than those two but still with decent sustain and articulation and beautiful singing breakup texture. The 1972 Ram's head variety tends to be the most popular Muff for most, while I have a slight preference for the gainier Triangle - just a wee bit ahead of this one.


American Triangle Fuzz (Muff)

Alas no demo available for this pedal. This is your classic higher gain original 1969 Triangle Style Big Muff - the Triangle type which happens to be my favourite of the key Big Muff varieties. I already have 60+ Muff pedals - including several Triangle favourites - so I really don't need another. But this one is pretty special too - and will get you to all kinds of places which most other compact Muffs just can't reach.


British Overdrive (Bluesbreaker + Plexi)

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This is one of the two pedals in this series I don't yet have - but is a very classic and beautifully textured take on the JTM45 / Bluesbreaker style voicing in its Vintage Mode and then a Plexi-style circuit when flipped over to Cruch Mode. These were obviously well loved at the time and quickly snapped us as there are none currently in the wild. I will have to be patiently coiled in mantis-like fashion to snap one up on Reverb.com or Ebay when one finally materialises again - hopefully in fairly pristine condition and for the right sort of price! If you have one of these to sell - do let me know!


Classic Germanium Fuzz (Fuzz Face)

I'm a huge fan of 1966 style Germanium Fuzz Faces and his is another great example of those - this time using AC127 transistors - which are pretty close in profile to the original Newmarket NKT275's. The Tone Stack here is perfect for those who want to deploy more of a Germanium Overdrive style flavour as you can accentuate the appropriate parts which render more closely at overdrive textures and tonalities. This is about as versatile a Germanium Fuzz Face as you can get. I would still have liked an external bias too - but you can target some of that temperature sensitivity / variability with the EQ to be fair.


Classic Silicon Fuzz (Fuzz Face)

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Another great Transistor pick - higher gain 1968 style BC109C varieties for maximum textural difference to the Germanium Fuzz - significantly wirier and more aggressive than that. The Silicon Fuzz Face can get a little bit strident - and the evolved Tone Stack is perfect at taming just the right amount of that rawer texture!


Classic Overdrive (TS808, TS9, OD-1, SD-9)

I reference this as a TS808 variety in the above visual, while this pedal has even wider coverage in replicating TS808, OD-1, SD-9 and TS9 textures and tones. I assume it deploys original JRC4558D opamp variants for ultimate circuit fidelity (Correction - opamp is RCA4558P which is close enough!) - and the voicing switch from Vintage to Crunch I believe flips from symmetrical to asymmetrical clipping circuit for those slightly more aggressive Crunch tones and in fact OD-1 and TS9 varieties. I feel it would be cool to include a custom control for compression too - which would really just be the icing on the cake. As is, this is already a fantastic vintage overdrive in every way - super versatile.


Classic Distortion (Rat + Turbo Rat)

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BTMB's Rat replica features a Vintage/Turbo switch which activates 2 Red LEDs for even more saturation and gain. The original rat had just a High-Cut Filter as its one EQ control - with the full tone stack deployed here - you can take this into all kinds of new territories which most Rats haven't ventured into before. At a minimum you can really tweak your own preferred Rat voicing. This of course uses an original LM308N Opamp chip for maximum circuit fidelity. Like all the EQ'd Vintage Series Pedals - this is every bit as good as the original with voicing options and that incredible tone-stack on top.


Golden Pony Overdrive (Klone with additional Smoother Voicing)

No demo for this either. I believe this was the last pedal launched in the series and came actually not long after the other Klone variety - the Silver Overdrive. The Golden Pony can be viewed really as a V2 version of the Silver Overdrive - with that same core circuit as its Vintage Mode, while there is an additional switch on the Golden Pony - which flips over to a Smoother sounding circuit too. Historically Silver Klons could be brighter than their golden counterparts - while often those circuits were identical too. In any case the smart Tone Stack in tandem with the voicing switch - lets you get about every Klon tone that you would want! It's not like I need yet another Klone - but this is a special take on that circuit too! It provides suitable competition to my Wampler Tumnus Deluxe and Matthews Effects Architect V3 - which are my two existing Klones with 3-Band EQ's.


Gray Box Overdrive (DOD250, Distortion+)

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This then is the very first BTMB EQ'd Vintage Series Pedal that I acquired - and I was so happy with it once I had put it through its paces - that the others just had to follow as I have detailed above! The voicing switch here flips between Vintage DOD250 and MXR Distortion+ style distortions - which means that it can also be tweaked as an MXR Micro Amp too - like the VFE Distortion 3. This of course utilises that original UA741CP opamp for maximum fidelity - and it sounds great every which way.


Silver Overdrive (Klone)

The second variety which I don't have - but that I still kind of want rather than need, more for sake of completion really rather than anything else - as I feel that Golden Pony Overdrive totally has this covered and with extras - the Smooth voicing. Keith says the only difference between the Silver Overdrive and Golden Pony - is that the latter has the additional Smooth circuit voicing option. There is no need for me to acquire this one too actually - but I might just consider fully completing the set as such - if one became available at the right sort of price.


Final Thoughts

It's very rare that I hoover up a whole range as it were - but it does happen occasionally where I see real merit. And my acquisition strategy is such that it focuses on the limited and rarer pedals as a priority as my other wishlist items tend to be a lot easier to get hold of - for them it's mostly just a question of price, as they are typically pretty available as such.

 

In terms of such acquisition strategy - pricing and availability are everything - and you need to rationalise and decide at what level the acquisition becomes viable for you - and at which time. If you wait too long or hang on in the hope that prices will fall yet further - you will often miss out when others decide that actually the price is right for them. So you really need to know the going price of things - and even then there are the occasional random upsets!

 

I actually went through a quite complicated method of rationalisation here which took me a few days to work through and process. I see these EQ'd Vintage Series Pedals really as core reference pedals within my collection and fantastic rotation weapons - while they are unlikely to unseat any of my current incumbent favourites - but can and will be deployed in a more strategic fashion - in particular when I'm after a very particular tonality.

 

In any case it's nice to have options - and when you're trying to dial in a particular tonality - and you're not getting quite there with the Tumnus Deluxe or equivalent - then it's good to have alternative editions with which to probe further.

 

As I often say - every player has their own idealised tunings / setting for a pedal, and rarely will two individual's settings ever exactly line up - there will always be some differences - also based on other signal chain components - guitar, pickups, other pedals, and amps. Over the years I have also found that I sometimes, nay often prefer deviated, evolved and modded circuit editions over the originals. And what you're getting here is the best of both worlds really - those original circuits fully delivered with rare / NOS and higher quality parts - but then with that special Tone Stack on top. So you can both go largely original and authentic, or somewhat more evolved!

 

Are you guys fully aware of this range and how have you experienced it - do you have any favourites amongst these?

 

If anyone knows of a BTMB British Overdrive looking for a new home - do let me know!


Update!

Scott Hager put me in touch with Keith Vonderhulls who marvellously still had a couple of British Overdrives lying around - so I'm the proud owner of a full set now.

 

As for the Silver Overdrive only 5 were made - and all were sold by Axe and You Shall Receive. As noted - the Golden Pony is very much an update of the Silver Overdrive with an additional Smooth circuit option - so I really don't need the Silver to be complete.

 

I am delighted to have the full set - and quite so late in the day - these should all really have been sold out a long time ago if there was any justice in the world. So essentially a great result for me all-round and I'm glad I was able to be in on the actions as such!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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