I first encountered Mike Copeland’s Grey Matter PreAmp pedal back in March - I forget the very initial source now, but I did an ’Edits’ section snapshot overview back on March 22nd in response to my initial positive reaction. I obviously have a rolling series of tasks and priorities that I need to juggle, and several mini projects I’ve committed to along the way - so it wasn’t until June that I was all fired up and ready to acquire one of these for myself.
Alas, the first attempt did not go particularly well for me as there were issues with overseas shipping charges (to the UK), and considering how one needs to pay Customs and Import Charges on both the pedal and shipping costs - the degree of that is very significant therefore in international transactions. In any case, I reached out to Mike personally - to find out that I’d just missed out on the initial batch of Grey Matters - my shipping snafu had meant that the last pedal from that first batch had been sold from under me as such! In any case I instead got the pleasure of a long-term long-distance correspondence with Mike - where I was entertainingly kept in the loop on the rather lengthy gestation of the second batch of pedals. In any case patience was rewarded in the end, and I took delivery of my very own Grey Matter this last Wednesday - around a week ago!
I’ve often commented on the random nature of pedal acquisition and brand allegiance - and how you get inadvertently and unassumingly led in one direction over another - for instance my ending up with a strong inclination towards Blues Driver, Blues Breaker, Dumble, Klon and Tube Screamer -style overdrives in the main - somewhat at the cost of / overshadowing Boss OD-1, and DOD 250 and other Overdrive types which I’ve only gotten to know latterly. It’s really just a case of focus of attention and what you are exposed to. We are all largely creatures of happenstance and circumstance - and are shaped from our encounters and experiences - and none of us encounter all the same things, nor in the same order.
I long knew of the DOD 250 Overdrive/PreAmp - both as the grey box late 1970's original, and the latter yellow box reissues - yet as mentioned - had not been properly exposed to or gotten around to acquiring one. Actually that is not entirely true as I did pick up the VFE Distortion 3 along the way - where one of its 3 core voicings is DOD 250 -based, alongside MXR Distortion+ and MXR Micro Amp flavours. So let's say I had some passing knowledge of the DOD 250 - but always wanted a proper stand-alone representative of that genre. So when the Grey Matter came along it was the perfect candidate to fill that particular gap in my collection - in duplicate form as such.
I further included the Grey Matter in my August article - '9 Cool Compact Dual Circuit / Dual Stage Stackable Boost, Overdrive and Distortion Pedals' as a roundup of pedals which cleverly combine two independent gain stages, and which I believe will be a growing trend for 2020 and onwards - and increasingly innovative for the compact enclosure pedal format. As it is, most of the dual-stage / dual-circuit pedals are just single-footswitch and rely on independent knobs or toggles to activate the second stage. At the Grey Matter independent foot-switchable channel level you really just have the Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gain Stage which offers the same sort of possibilities. The Grey Matter for me is kind of like a King of Tone or Duellist equivalent 2-channel pedal, but within a compact enclosure - with the same versatility in variety and of being able to apply the channels independently and in combination - for a very wide tonal and gain-stage/saturation palette/profile.
The original DOD 250 pedals came with just 2 control knobs - Gain and Level, while on the Grey Matter we have an interesting 3rd control knob called 'Edge', which is strangely enough not a Tone control exactly, but more similar to the Bias knobs you find on several fuzzes. In fact Mike describes Edge as - 'The edge control acts to control diode saturation. Edge at 9 o'clock will produce first to second stage gain tones, while heavier tones result with the edge at 3 o'clock'.
How this manifests itself for me is that you get a slightly thicker/fatter/softer tone with the Edge around 9 o'clock, and a thinner, harder and more saturated tone from around 2 o'clock onwards - 8-9 o'clock and 2 o'clock seem to be the sweetspots for me, and most of my usable Edge range lies between those two points. As any fuzz player will know though - the Bias can be a very significant tool in shaping the tone of a pedal - in particular how the gain structure applies - so the Edge knobs do give you very significant tonal character and gain-structuring control.
In addition to the dual Gain | Edge | Volume knobs, each channel / hemisphere side - green/blue, has a 3-way diode clipping switch labelled 'Sense'. Where on the left / green hemisphere side you get 1n270 Germanium Diodes in the up position, None/Open in the middle, and the Original DOD 250 style Silicon Diodes when down. The right / blue hemisphere side has the same middle and down clipping modes, but in the up position applies Bat41 Schottky Silicon Diodes. Note that in the middle / none / open position mode - the Edge Diode Saturation control is bypassed too.
Obviously the Open positions gives you the cleanest and loudest output, while the upper and lower clipping positions apply more interesting textures and characteristics in terms of increased harmonics and distortion artefacts. Like many, my favourite settings are Germanium Diodes on the left and either of the two Silicon Diodes modes on the right - usually the Schottky variety - for the Edge knob on each side, I tend to set the Germanium side to between 8 and 9 o'clock, while the Schottky/Silicon blue side I set to around 2 o'clock - and then tweak Gain and Volume to taste. If you're going to combine both Channels together - you obviously set the Gain of each at an appropriate level of saturation where the two work optimally together - which will vary according to taste.
I am a big fan of gain-stacking and enjoy using my CBA Brothers and Analog.Man King of Tone pedals where I can have 3 great voicings set / available at the same time - for the individual channels and the combinations. I actually use the Strymon Sunset also in a similar way - with the Treble Boost Mode pretty much permanently applied on the left-hand side of that for use in combination with a number of other pedals in my chain.
As something of a fuzz fanatic too I am quite accustomed to adjusting bias knobs, and further sculpting the tone with my guitar's Volume and Tone pots - and even pickup switcher as required. And all those dynamics work really well for the Grey Matter - in terms of further nuanced control and saturation/gain clean-up etc.
The Grey Matter is one of a new wave of pedals which encompass the sort of functionality that in the past has been limited to much larger enclosure pedal varieties. Compared to your typical 3-knob overdrive or standard DOD 250 even - you're getting 3 times the versatility here in the same form factor. Obviously if you're a fan of the LM741 OpAmp 1977 original grey box DOD 250 PreAmp then you're getting a significantly superior and enhanced version of that circuit with improved noise-floor. For less specific pedal fans you have here a lovely mid-gain overdrive in a not dissimilar ballpark to a Timmy - but with much greater usability and variety to my taste. Most Timmy users have their clipping permanently wedged in the middle open position - while here on the Grey Matter, all 3 clipping options are valid and worthy.
I feel that at $249 this is a very fairly priced extended-range dual-overdrive which should have fairly major universal appeal. Whichever way you wish to come at this pedal - it is beautifully made and expertly calibrated. It is one of the very best new overdrives released in 2019, and well worth a look-in. Obviously Ryan Burke of 60 Cycle Hum fame collaborated with Pelican Noiseworks for the rather quite similar 50/50 Double OD limited edition pedal predecessor - which I only just recently acquired myself in the process of doing further research for the Grey Matter.
In side-by side use, the pedals actually have quite distinct and different characters generally - with the 50/50 Double OD having a somewhat slightly more strident, splashier and thinner sounding tonality - slightly harder generally than the somewhat fatter and juicier / softer Germanium Diode and Schottky Modes of the Grey Matter. The 50/50 has permanently applied asymmetrical clipping on its left/black channel, and softer symmetrical clipping on the right/white channel - but the Grey Matter to my ears has slightly more richness and harmonic content. You would not really describe either as 'fat' sounding per se, but the Grey Matter is significantly 'fatter' in tonal character than the 50/50. You can set them fairly similar, but for me these two are overall slightly different pedals based on the same original circuit - and you can easily justify owning both.
The 50/50 has 3-way EQ/Tone toggles per channel for Bright/Stock/Dark EQ - and then just Volume and Gain for each channel and individual footswitches - and yes you can stack the same as the Grey Matter - but the Grey Matter sounds somewhat better balanced when stacked in that combination of Germanium and Schottky Diodes. So I rate and will keep both pedals, but the Grey Matter is the superior edition for my taste - offering somewhat more refinement. I can see Ryan Burke has returned back to his own co-authored 50/50 - I assume he still has the Grey Matter he demo'd - possibly he has to support the home team.
Both the Grey Matter and 50/50 Double OD are superb pedals of the original DOD 250 type, but the Grey Matter is the one that does more for me overall and appeals to me more. I'm pretty sure there will be players that prefer the generally splashier character of the 50/50, while the slightly greater warmth and harmonic character of the Grey Matter - also the better balance when combining the two channels is why my preference is for the Grey Matter PreAmp. It's most definitely a unique overdrive that is worthy of your consideration. Also - while the 50/50 is currently out of production, the Grey Matter is still being made in small batches of 10 or so. If you're super quick you might be able to get in on the second batch too - there's just a couple or so left as far as I'm aware - try your luck at the Loophole Pedals Store - and while you're there think about sending in some of your classic Boss and Line 6 pedals for modifications or re-housing - which Mike rather excels at.