I’ve been peripherally aware of Mike Vickery’s Vick Audio for a long time now, and have to date included his Mount Pleasant Blues Breaker, Overdriver Power Boost, and Tree of Life Overdrive in their respective category roundups.
This article was partly triggered by two events really. Following on from my doing a feature on Steve Mac’s Pedalboard (Aussie Pink Floyd) it heightened and reawakened my interest in everything David Gilmour - which led to my article on Pete Cornish’s Deluxe pedals - and my recent foray into Buffalo FX. Although there are other builders who dip their toes in the Gilmour tone universe - like say Marc Ahlfs of Skreddy Pedals and Matt Pasquerella of Stomp Under Foot to a degree - there are 3 brands really though which are pretty much synonymous with the Gilmour sound and those are Pete Cornish, Buffalo FX and Vick Audio. Because of the then imminent release of the now somewhat aborted Reticon Flanger I chose to focus on Buffalo FX first - and added a number of those pedals to my roster. For a long time it was kind of level-pegging as to which brand I would feature next - and it just so happened that Buffalo FX had a new pedal out first.
Mike contacted me to help promote his recently revived and reissued Lucky No.13 One Knob Fuzz - and following on from that exchange Mike and I had a 3 hour dialogue which resulted in this particular article. It is often the case with Guitar Pedal X that things happen out of serendipity - and there is usually a confluence of events and influences which leads to a particular article / brand / pedal feature.
I already had a number of Vick Audio pedals on my acquisitions / wishlist - some of which changed after my chat with Mike - when I got more of an insight into what he was about and the full extent of his range. I had already determined that in place of a Pete Cornish G-2, I would more likely acquire a Vick Audio V-2 and Buffalo FX Evolution. So that was my likeliest starting point and gateway into Vick Audio.
After much deliberation and input from Mike - I came up with the above grid of my 9 favourite choices from the current Vick Audio range - which hold the most appeal for me. The middle row here is comprised entirely of ’special editions’ or limited batch pedals - which can only be acquired directly from Mike’s Vick Audio Store and Reverb.com Store - and only within particular cycles. So while I initially singled out the 73 Ram’s Head Fuzz, Tree of Life Overdrive and V-2 Distortion, my initial negotiations with Mike will focus on securing the 3 more hard-to-get ones - i.e. the Lotus Overdrive, Lucky 13 Fuzz and Midnight Sun Fuzz - followed then by the 3 aforementioned ones and the others featured here.
Mike is probably still best known for his superbly authentic Big Muff variants - including the 73 Ram’s Head BMP variety which remains his all-time best seller, and has been every year since it was introduced in May of 2013 - the very epitome of a creamy smooth saturated Big Muff Fuzz.
I always find it fascinating to get the history of a particular pedal brand which is often a case of timing, fortune and happenstance as to why one pedal variety takes off and becomes established, while another equally great sounding one might falter and fade away.
I'm as fascinated by the near misses as the heavy hitters - and there have of course been a few along the way for Mike too. It seems that May 2013 was a particularly productive period with the 73 Ram's Head, Black Russian and V1 Triangle Fuzz BMPs all being perfected in that period, as below.
My preferred featured choices are highlighted in bold - while the CURRENT range editions have said same label highlighted in bold too :
Note - Steve Mac pictured above with his 1861 BMP Fuzz
I've already confessed several times on this blog that in the past I've been something of a dial tweaker - and have often liked pedals which typically featured a few more knobs and switches than the average going concern. I wondered why Mike had chosen to use a 3-way Mids EQ selector toggle-switch in place of the more typical variable knob.
The answer is of course very straightforward and quite obvious really - as Mike makes these pedals as close to the original authentic circuits as possible, without having to rely on rare NOS parts. In the Stock Mids setting each pedal is the authentic unadulterated pure sound of the original - which tends to be slightly scooped. Mike though recognises the need for some degree of modernity in his designs - obviously courtesy of the compact 1590b and bb enclosures - and for band-dynamics and track mixing and mastering - it's actually usually preferable to have the pedal operating in Flat or Boost modes - which engage different Capacitors in the circuit.
I note in the title that there is an authentic elegance to the range - in that these are very genuine and finely calibrated streamlined musical devices - which are honestly packaged and priced. Mike is self-confessed as not the greatest designer in the world - which is why he has relied on the elegance of formal attire to underline his range - in terms of the White Knobs on Black Enclosures look-and-feel in the main - or very much a Tuxedo / Black Tie / Black Jacket + White Shirt type of motif.
The only artwork that Mike has had help with is the cat on the Lucky 13 - all other symbols and font choices are of Mike's own design. In the early days these used to be applied as labels, then laser-engraved / etched, while currently all pedals are UV-Prints onto powder-coated enclosures. The enclosures are the only thing Mike doesn't currently process himself - they are provided drilled and painted / coated by a local supplier. Note that if you like the current sparkly purple finish of the Violet Ram's Head Fuzz like I do - Mike is in the process of switching suppliers for that - so you need to move quickly to secure one in your preferred finish.
Mike also has a methodology of no more than 4 controls - to make his pedals as easy to use, and easy to dial in as possible. Meaning you will never see a Vick Audio pedal with more than 4 controls, be it 4 knobs as in the case of the Overdriver, 3 Knobs plus a 3-way Mids Toggle as for the BMPs or the 2 Knobs + 2 x 3-way Toggles of the Lotus Overdrive.
I also mentioned in my Lucky No.13 1K Fuzz coverage that Mike limits his Current range to no more than 12 pedals at any time - with the exception of Special / Limited Editions. Mike does all the circuit designs himself and still assembles everything himself Through-Hole-Technology-style onto Printed Circuit Boards also of his own design - which a local manufacturer produces for him.
Mike is one of those ultimate practical practitioners in that he has a very judicious selection process for each part and value he uses - based on his own evolved schematics - and where he consistently seeks out the most widely available quality parts with a fully reliable supply network.
When I asked him why he had ended up with the Heptagonal MXR-style Knobs - he replied that over the years he had used a variety of different knobs - for a period too largely Davies DM-1510 types but had experienced fit-and-finish issues with some manufacturing inconsistencies - so he next switched to the the MXR-style knobs which have proven to be of consistently high quality and have stuck to this day.
Mike is very much the epitome of a meticulous one-man-band builder, and he needs to have everything logically organised in order to be able to have full hands-on and overall quality control - that is a big part of why and how he operates in the way he does.
Vick Audio has thus far probably been at peak exposure in around 2015 with multiple international dealers and a lot of newsflow as such over that period - which though started to impact on Mike's work/life balance and personal welfare - meaning he took his foot off the gas for a while. The Lucky No.13 reissue is Mike working his way back up the gears - but the idea is still for him to keep things well-balanced and fully under control.
There are still some dealers active - particularly helpful for UK / European customers is UK's Atlantic Guitars - which carries the Full Current Range. If you want the Special Editions you will need to hit up the Vick Audio Store if in the Americas, or the Reverb.Com equivalent store if you're outside that continent. There are still a handful of USA / North America dealers - but generally if you want to access the full range you to have to go direct / Reverb.com or Atlantic Guitars for UK/Europe.
As kind of touched on in previous chapters here - the Current Range is split into Mainstay and Special Edition pedals - with the Specials being the trio I highlight in the middle row of my main visual. These pedals can further be categorised as Classic Reproductions (5 x BMP, Mount Pleasant, R-Comp and V-2) - and Original Circuits.
Overall there are therefore 13 pedals properly CURRENT - while we're waiting for the next batches of Lotus Overdrive and Midnight Sun to become available - meaning 11 on the active store listing as of right now.
Note that for certain models the graphics have changed over the years, and owing to a dispute with EHX, the much-loved encircled (π) symbol had to be removed. As is the case with all component sourcing - while Mike has managed to sustain largely the same components over the years - there has been some degree of variation with enclosures. Parts supply in some areas is of course slightly more tricky - and most builders I know have some issues with enclosure supply at one time or another. Be aware that the position of toggle switches has also changed over time - where the Mids control use to be top/centre, while latterly it sits south-east under the Tone knob mostly.
I along with many consider Bjørn Riis of Gilmourish.com as the leading expert on David Gilmour - and so I've obviously referenced Bjørn's YouTube demos in the main where possible. Generally though seeking out the demos which most authentically portray the range and sounds of these pedals.
Here follow the further details on each of the 13 Current pedals :
Big Muff Pi type fuzzes are treated more as straight up distortions by many - where they differ though by having an inherent smooth saturation and long-tail sustain to them. In a lot of instances there is really not that much significant differecet from one variety to the other - it's largely about which of the essential BMP characteristics are most accentuated for that particular variant. So you have varying degrees of smoothness and aggression married to levels of increased saturation, sustain and gain. So on the opposite ends of the scale you have the V1 Triangle as the gainiest and most aggressive of this family, with the Black Russian is the smoothest and essentially most moderate.
The 73 Ram's Head is considered by many to be the perfect balance of those key BMP characteristics - sort of sitting mid-way between the Black Russian and V1 Triangle with the most pleasing break-up character and sustain - sort of like the Goldilocks of the BMPs. Controls are Volume, Tone, Sustain and 3-Way Mids selector : Boost/Stock/Flat - where the Stock setting delivers the slightly scooped EQ profile of the original and unadulterated circuit.
I would say that Mike has 2 key flagship products really - while this is the runaway success in the bestseller stakes, the other pedal being the excellent Tree of Life Overdrive. For many this will be their first likely taste of a Vick Audio pedal - while for me it's always a balance of desirability and availability - where I typically try to secure the more hard-to-come-by pedals first! If you need any more convincing for the 73 Ram's Head - know that Brad Whitford, rhythm and co-lead guitarist for Aerosmith still has one of these on his main live board.
Mike Matthews' first attempts to revive the fortunes of his Electro-Harmonix brand resulted in a series of collaborations with the Russian Sovtek factory - which went on to produce Civil War, Green, and Black Russian varieties of his Big Muff Pi fuzzes, alongside a 50 Watt amp. The earliest Civil War editions were labelled as Red Army Overdrives - but those contained exactly the same circuits. In fact throughout the Russian period there were relatively very minor differences between circuits - the editions were supposed to be near identical - but changed livery to reflect parts changes where the factory simply ran out of a batch of particular components. The Russian varieties are renowned for being the softest and smoothest of the BMPs and are typically Gilmourish.com's Bjøn Riis' favourite varieties. In the most generally accepted sequence, the Civil War kind of sits between the 73 Ram's Head and Black Russian variety - with the latter named being considered the softest and smoothest of all of them as such. Once more the controls are Volume, Tone, Sustain, Mids : Boost/Stock/Flat. For some players this is the perfect combination of classic BMP characteristics - while many will prefer to seek out the slightly more even smoother Black Russian variety. Steve Mac of the Aussie Pink Floyd is known to deploy his 1861 at times - and is pictured above holding the box of his own personal one.
So as mentioned a few times already - the Black Russian sits at the smoothest and least sustaining end of the scale (but still very much within that sustaining characteristic) - kind of diametrically opposite to the gainier and more aggressive V1 Triangle variety. If you're looking for the smoothest of BMP types then the Black Russian is your most likely candidate. I long laboured under the misapprehension that the Black Russian was the most aggressive of the Russian editions, while it's the other way around really - and the Sovtek varieties really in the main became largely progressively softer and smoother - so do be aware of that when you read some of my earlier articles - we do after all learn as we go along! And if you want the widest representation of the different Big Muff styles in the least moves - you would likely go for the Triangle, 73 Ram's Head and this Black Russian! Controls as before are Volume, Tone, Sustain, Mids : Boost/Stock/Flat.
This is a really interesting derivation of a sort of Tweed Drive which started off initially as just a Single Knob Variety back in November of 2013. Mike later on in June of 2015 revised and refined the format - and split out the Volume and Drive components into 2 separate knobs, and then added 2 x 3-way Toggle Switches - the left-hand Texture one which gives you Light/Bright, Medium or Heavy/Dark Breakup Character / Grit in tandem with the right-hand switch which shares the same labels, but rather controls the overall frequency-focus / EQ. It's another classic Mike innovation which gives you the maximum permutations possible from the least amount of controls. This is a beautiful and nuanced overdrive which is extremely appealing in both its more recent black and mint-green colourways. Needless to say I want one of these!
Obviously I've just recently covered this 2 x BC549 simple yet modern silicon fuzz - which brings a sort of BMP-style smoothness and sustain to the earlier vintage fuzz character. It kind of sits between the Dick Denney designed Colorsound Fuzz Box (BC109 + BC108C) and David Main’s D*A*M Meathead (2N3904 + BC182L) varieties. I'm obviously still very much in my D*A*M Meathead phase - and the Lucky 13 provides an interesting adjacent departure to that more bass-heavy format. And while most will probably dip their toes into the Vick Audio range courtesy of the 73 Ram's Head Fuzz - I believe this is an equally great introduction to the brand - and actually my own likeliest first candidate. Not much else to report on the control-front besides a slight caveat to warn that this pedal gets very loud when you fully crank it.
I believe this is very much a Fuzz Face style / 2-Silicon-Transistor variety with quite a bit more flexibility and versatility than you might first think based on just the classic 2 - Level and Fuzz knobs. The Fuzz knob on this occasion is what does most of the clever stuff as the pedal is really smartly calibrated to start off more vintage sounding and open-pored as such - as you crank the Fuzz though the texture becomes progressively denser, tighter and gainier for the very epitome of a modern high-ish gain Silicon Fuzz. Texturally it's quite different to the Lucky 13 - and it's really very clever how Mike has engineered that exceptional versatility into this pedal. This has been a successful part of the range since its introduction in July of 2014 - it does though only make rare appearances in the Vick Audio Store a few times a year - so you need to move quick when you see one.
This is Mike's slightly evolved take on the original Marshall Blues Breaker pedal where he has refined some of the more rough edges of the original - particularly in the balance of the higher frequencies - which can be further controlled by the 3-way Hi-Cut switch : HC-1 (Slight Cut) / NC (No Cut) / HC-2 (Significant Cut). This much-loved circuit is for many the epitome of a bluesy style low-to-mid gain overdrive. There is a lot of competition in this area obviously - I have a forthcoming Blues Breaker roundup feature with no less than 24 excellent candidates - of which this is obviously very much in the running. There may be other Blues Breaker varieties which have a little more bells and whistles about them - while you always know that with a Vick Audio variant you will be getting the most authentic and best quality version of that genre - typically with the highest degree of versatility through the least amount of controls - and at a pricing level where none other can really compete.
All David Gilmour fans are well versed with the Colorsound Power Boost/Overdriver - the name change being applied for the American marketplace - as 'Power Boost' was typically misconstrued. This was originally a 3-knob quite fuzzy sounding overdrive which had to be fully cranked to get the right texture, but lacked a way to temper the excessive volume - with just Treble, Bass and Volume knobs. Latter versions added a 4th Master Volume control - which is very much the basis of this version of Overdriver - with the 4 controls labelled Drive, Volume, Bass and Treble. I included this in my Modern Power Boosts roundup back in August of 2018 - it was one of 9 viable candidates - where I probably need to apply myself a little further to this genre. For David Gilmour my focus has in the main been on his other key Overdrives, Fuzzes and Distortions! This though is an excellent take on the original and one of the very best in this form factor.
This is Mike's take on that classically elegant Ross-style OTA Dynacomp Compressor. I believe the green colourway is derived from the the green bar of the R-30 as that would be a most fitting brand echo as such. The R-Comp delivers that natural and slightly open warm sounding compression with ease. If you are looking for the most elegant sounding compressor in the most easy-to-dial-in form factor then this should surely be one of your leading candidates - very much modelled on those now super rare earliest of Ross compressors - which many legendary players claim as the secret ingredient to their great tone. Controls here are simply Sustain and Level.
This is an original Mike Vickery circuit and one of his 2 key flagship pedals in my estimation - alongside the 73 Ram's Head Fuzz. The extended-range of this mid-gain 3-knob Level/Tone/Gain overdrive produces that delightful serendipity that this pedal covers both the milder Dumble ODS stylings of the Hermida Zen Drive and the crunchier overdrive tones of Fulltone's classic OCD. Most equivalent overdrives have some sort of additional toggle-switch or control - while Mike is able to deliver optimal flexibility courtesy of just those 3 traditional knobs. This is all about smart circuit engineering and very fine calibration - and as I continually state in this review - Mike really knows how to get the most variety and versatility from the least amount of controls. This overdrive is the mainstay of many a pedalboard as a preferred alternative to the Zen Drive and OCD and in fact replacement for both in many cases. This would therefore be the 3rd of the most likely paths into the Vick Audio range - alongside the 73 Ram's Head Fuzz and Lucky 13.
The 4th Big Muff Pi variety is based on the very first original variant which has the most aggression and gain of all these variants. I have several stellar Triangle style BMPs already in the collection and this would be another welcome addition. Generally the Triangle variety is my favourite of the Big Muffs - I actually really like all of them and each appeals in different scenarios and playing moods. While the Triangle format is usually the one I return to most often. As before the Controls are Volume, Tone, Sustain, Mids : Boost/Stock/Flat. I probably really don't need yet another Triangle variant but I really like this one too - so we shall see! As mentioned previously this is at the opposite end of the scale to the smoother and slightly less sustaining and 'softer' Black Russian!
The only one here in BB style enclosure - as kind of befits this pedal's original provenance. This is very much based on yet somewhat distinct from Pete Cornish's still very rare and super expensive £600 equivalent G-2 Distortion - which started off as a Ram's Head Muff style circuit, and to which Pete added in 4 Germanium Diodes and then subsequently significantly modified the circuit - which delivers a really interesting sonic blend of Marshall Plexi and BMP style sustaining distortion. I personally refer to this variety as a Plexi-Muff as it gives you much of that same chewy Marshall Mids character but with somewhat Big Muff style leanings in the saturation and sustain of the distortion. This was one of the first Vick Audio pedals I considered seriously - and it's definitely being added to the collection. Controls are those classic BMP type varieties of Volume, Tone and Sustain.
And now to the 5th and final BMP variant - or more specifically the equivalent of the V2 Violet Ram's Head Big Muff - which beefs up the gain and aggression of the 73 Ram's head variety - up to near Triangle levels. So positionally this sits between the characters of the Triangle and 73 Ram's Head Fuzzes - where it leans quite a bit more into the gain structure of the former - but still retains much of that elegant sustaining breakup of its originating type. This pedal currently comes in a very fetching sparkling purple enclosure which is about to be changed to a slightly plainer alternative - so you need to move fast if you want one in this exact attractive enclosure. This variant shares the distinction with the Overdriver Overdrive that they both make use of the smaller heptagonal MXR-style knobs. The Violet variant is seen as a more modern take on the Ram's Head style - while it seems that most still prefer the slightly more rounded and classic character of the 73 variety - as is born out by sales figures. Controls here are those same common BMP ones - Volume, Tone, Sustain, Mids : Boost/Stock/Flat.
Note - Brad Whitford Pedalboard above with 73 Ram's Head Fuzz.
Hopefully I've given you a few useful insights into the characteristics, mechanics and motivations of this particular selection of pedals - and which of these are most likely to align with your own preferences. It has to be said that Mike's pedals are pretty much universally acclaimed and a benchmark for consistent high quality in this industry.
Obviously some pedals hold more appeal than others - and with Big Muff Fuzz varieties making up nearly half of the range those are the most likely inroads into Vick Audio - particularly the highly celebrated 73 Ram's Head Fuzz. If you're more on the overdrive-side of things then the likeliest forays will be into Lotus Overdrive and Tree of Life - or even Overdriver if you're a David Gilmour fan.
There really is so much to like here and admire - there's a quiet understated confidence about this range - it doesn't shout to loudly - but lets the tones / results speak for themselves. All-in-all Mike delivers a quite phenomenal product at any comparative level of pricing - and there are few to none which can offer any kind of significant competition at this level.
Following on from the completion of this article I will of course be negotiating with Mike to secure as many of these as I can at the very best terms for me - as hopefully befits buying pedals in volume and producing this sort of collateral.
I've said previously that my most likeliest approach into the range would have been the 73 Ram's Head, Tree of Life and V-2 typically, but because there are 3 special / limited editions on my list which are much harder to come by - I tend to focus on those first. I employ much the same philosophy to my general pedal acquisition process - in that rarer pedals always take priority - otherwise you may never get your hands on them - and certainly not at a price you're going to like.
I buy a fair amount of second-hand pedals - and the exercise there is very much trying to secure the very best quality condition pedals for the most reasonable prices. What exactly constitutes reasonable for certain acquisitions is largely academic in terms of how high you might be willing to go to ensure you don't miss out.
One thing is for certain sure though is that in terms of the price-to-quality ratio - you really cannot buy better than Vick Audio with its typical maximum $144/£121 price point. Most every other equivalent is at least 25%-65% more expensive at around the $200/£200 mark. Mike provides a truly amazing product for any price - but at this level these are pretty much a steal. And while some of these boxes' exteriors may be somewhat plainer than some of the competition - they are still elegant and appealing - and the internals and output are most definitely of the very very highest calibre.
I can't say for sure how many Vick Audio pedals I will go on to own - but I would estimate at the very least a round half-dozen. I've said before that I really want all of the 9 in my featured selection and per the above visuals (and a couple more besides) - while shifting priorities are never likely to let that happen any way particularly quickly. I will look to secure the middle-row Special Editions first, then the 73 Ram's Head, Tree of Life and V-2 - and probably target in batches of 2-3 from thereon.
Do you see anything you like here - or more likely do you already have some of your own Vick Audio favourites?