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Pedal Design 101 - The Renaissance of Carl Martin

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It has to be said that Carl Martin - a long-standing Danish pedal-builder of high pro-gear repute - was starting to look somewhat fusty and old-fashioned there for a while. And while some brands would look to simply refresh their graphics and update things in a largely superficial manner - Carl Martin set to designing an entirely new compact enclosure for its Vintage Series of pedals.

 

The incumbent pedals were in rather uninteresting medium enclosures while the degree of innovation and competition was increasing significantly amongst its peers. Carl Martin was having to compete with far more modern and more appealing offerings - at least on the visual side. The new enclosure that was launched late 2017 is actually a fantastic example of industrial product design - going from staid ’family car’ looks to something quite sleek and sports-car-like.

 

In fact the anodized aluminium enclosure with curved facia and chamfered edges is one of the very best looking and most distinctive enclosure types out there - and that alone is worth the admission fee, there are however some idiosyncrasies in the execution which I don’t quite comprehend?

 

New Vintage Series V2 Enclosure Issues / Challenges

  • Black Screws - I’m not sure who chose the black enclosure retaining screws or why - but they really clash with the elegance of the chassis design - surely these pedals would look better with silver or titanium hued screws - which more closely would pick up the hues from the chamfered edges, top-mounted jacks and switches?
  • Typography / Positioning - As you can see from the above 9 - the typography is all over the place in terms of inconsistencies - the pedal name appears in a variety of different looks and locations with very little thought overall for consistency
  • Colour-scheme - Unlike Boss and MXR colour schemes, the Carl Martin one is a bit of an oddity - too many vaguely similar shadeds of blue - and I’m not sure why the Axis Flanger and Purple Moon have the same colour? There needs to be something a touch more systematic here - something which clearly denotes and delineates pedal family and category/type - at least it doesn’t look quite right for me currently
  • The Knobs! - After all the work gone into creating a unique and individual enclosure - Carl Martin then undermine that uniqueness by using one of the most over-used of knob types - the bog-standard DM-1510 type. Surely they would be better served with something a little more in keeping with their sporty chassis design?
  • Side Logos - The sides of the pedal feature over-large Carl Martin logos which really just cheapen the look of the whole concept - I have no idea why those are there? The sides of the pedals are typically concealed within a pedal-chain or pedalboard environment - so this makes no sense to me - it is extra printing with a negative pay-off

The first of the new variants - the DC Drive was released in December 2017 in its familiar ’brown’ colourway - here I feel a colour closer to bronze would probably be preferable - the DC Drive logo looks kind of odd, but otherwise it’s a pretty good portent for things to come.

In January of 2018 at Winter NAMM, Carl Martin revealed a complete line of 10 pedals in the new enclosure as far as I’m aware, as follows:

  • Carl Martin Atlantic Chorus
  • Carl Martin Axis Flanger
  • Carl Martin Comp/Limiter Danish High End Compressor
  • Carl Martin DC Drive V2
  • Carl Martin Ottawa Vintage Optical Envelope
  • Carl Martin Panama British Hot Modded OD (JCM800 / EVH)
  • Carl Martin Purple Moon Vintage Fuzz n’Vibe V2
  • Carl Martin Surf Trem V2
  • Carl Martin Tone Tweaker 12dB Boost & 3 Band EQ
  • Carl Martin TOD Turbo Overdrive V2

The company is obviously drip-releasing these as so far only 6 of the ’2018’ models have actually reached distribution as I will detail further below. I’ve already added the DC Drive, Panama British Hot Modded OD and Purple Moon Vintage Fuzz n’Vibe to my wishlist - which are probably my picks of the range - but I look forward to hearing more of the TOD Turbo Overdrive V2 too when that materialises properly - and which is the only one to feature black knobs to-date.

 

So while I feel that the new chassis is a resounding success - and could likely be a timeless classic, I feel that the overall proposition still needs some work. I don’t understand why the CompLimiter is the only one to feature a graphic - and why that graphic has to come underneath the name as it offsets the pedal title against all its siblings - generally when you view all 9 white-knob versions per the above visual - then some of the design and placement choices seem rather odd.

 

Don’t get me wrong - these are still fairly minor criticisms overall as I feel that this is generally a pretty successful design project which should indeed serve the brand well into the future - and help it to compete with its increasingly more innovative competitors.

 

It also looks like Carl Martin needs to shore up its distribution somewhat as these newer pedals seem not to be covered by all existing distributors - certainly not in the UK.

 

These pedals are very fairly priced and look and sound fantastic. I will likely acquire the Purple Moon, then Panama, and then finally the DC Drive at some later stage - all are fantastic in their respective categories.

 

Here follows a brief overview of the 6 pedals currently on release:


Carl Martin Atlantic Chorus - £108

A classic elegant chorus - Carl Martin's take I believe on the classic CE-1/2 variety. You get Speed, Depth, Rate and Level controls as you would expect, but not a Chorus/Vibrato switch though - which is usually quite typical on these sorts of models. But then again, I feel the price reflects that.


Carl Martin Comp/Limiter Danish High End Compressor - £155

This is based on Carl Martin's original bigger box LN76196 Compressor - while the controls are reduced to just 2 dials - Compression (Ratio/Degree) and Level. This is one of those great 'clean' compressors which does its business really elegantly and still leaves you with most of the musical dynamics intact - i.e. does not over-squish the signal. This is the priciest so far of the current range, but the internals do feature some top-level circuit components so it's wholly understandable. For this sort of compression I would probably be looking at either this or ThorpyFX's Fat General Compressor.


Carl Martin DC Drive V2 - £106

A Creamy/Smooth Mid-Gain Overdrive with 2-way Fat/Regular Voicing toggle-switch and Tone, Drive and Level knobs. This has been a long-term jewel in the Carl Martin range, and the newer slimmer version sound just as rich and sing-songy as the large one of old. This to me is the sort of classic Scandinavian style overdrive - along not too dissimilar lines to Björn Juhl's Honey Bee variants. I've long liked this sort of tone - and at this price it's a bit of steal - definitely being added to the collection some day soon.


Carl Martin Panama British Hot Modded OD - £129

This is your classic EVH/Brown sound style pedal - which is another one of the tone families I really love. I have several variants on this particular theme, here you get - Gain, Level, Damping, Tone - where the 'Damping' control is a sort of Variac/Sag style dial. As Brett's above demo attests - this sounds fantastic right around the range of the different dials - with a tonne of gain on-tap. Another hot one on the wishlist, and at a very reasonable price.


Carl Martin Purple Moon Vintage Fuzz n'Vibe V2 - £115

This is such a cool combination - 3 dials control the Uni-Vibe style component - Depth, Level and Speed, while the mini-dials control the Fuzz amount and Level for the fuzz proportion - so if you set the respective levels to '0' you can play one or the other or both together in a variety of combinations. Fuzz just goes perfectly with vibe, and to have them both in this compact enclosure is just really innovative. Of course I would prefer a tap-tempo footswitch here too - that would just take it up another notch. It's not really needed here though - and this is likely my first acquisition here.


Carl Martin Surf Trem V2 - £75

Just a really simple early Fender amp-style tremolo with Depth and Speed dials. No tone dial, no tap-tempo, no-harmonic options - but what it does it does extremely well. A classic surf-rock tremolo for just 75 notes - you can't complain really. It's never going to knock off one of my existing favourites though.


Final Thoughts and Honourable Mentions

Despite some reservations about individual aspects of the overall execution, I still find each and everyone of these a great proposition in its own category. The pricing here is spot on, and each of these sounds fantastic within its given feature set.

 

The star performers here for me are as mentioned - the DC Drive, Panama Distortion and Purple Moon Fuzz n'Vibe - which I should see in the collection / Tone Library pretty soon - as in the order indicated above.

 

These are fantastic 'first' pedals for players - really excellent quality for their price point, and simple enough and easy enough to use to be picked up by anyone. I see this in some ways going head-to-head with Italy's Foxgear Pedals - which also have their own beautiful modern curvy enclosures and a similar sort of price point. Mixing up those two brands should give entry players just about every flavour they need in a fantastic value-to-quality ratio. Those two brands I feel are the ones to look out for, while the Carl Martin versions edge out Foxgear a touch on the Pedigree and Provenance stakes - bar for tape-style delays!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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