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The Expandora Dilemma!

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2019GPXExpandoraDilemma700-min.jpg

I’ve always liked the Bixonic Expandora sound and its versatility - as most famously popularised by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. There have been 3 versions to date, alongside a fantastic JHS clone called the Kilt - which in turn has had two versions of its own so far. There are also a number of rather more one-off custom clones out there, but surprisingly, apart from JHS, no other mainstream builder has seen fit to make their own version of this pedal type - at least not yet.

 

Bixonic was a Japanese builder latterly distributed by Godlyke Distributing Inc, but which fell out of favour quite a few years ago now. Possibly the Expandora never quite reached the level of appeal that was expected. There were of course some mis-steps along the way.

 

The three models that were produced were as follows

  • EXP-2000 - 1995 (Internal dip-switches)
  • EXP-2001 - 2001 [Expandora II] (Larger 4-knob pedal with 4th ’Drive’ dial in place of dip-switches)
  • EXP-2000R - 2004 (External dip-switches)

The key versions of the Expandora had two main dip-switches (D1 & D2) which allowed you to set different modes as follows:

  • Crunch - both dip-switches up
  • Overdrive - 2nd D2 dip-switch up
  • Distortion - 1st D1 dip-switch up
  • Fuzz (Gated) - Both dip-switches down (Forbidden/Secret Setting)

The EXP-2001 had a larger enclosure with hinged latching plate footswitch and 4 dials - with the extra / 4th ’Drive’ knob intended to replace the dip-switches of the former. The modes being each 1/3 of the way around on rotation of the ’Drive’ dial. This pedal was not as raw-sounding and textured as the original, nor could you attain the 4th secret mode. The Expandora II proved rather unpopular and precipitated the improved 2000R model - which simply just externalised the dip-switches of the original. Of all the genuine Expandora pedals the 2000R is my favourite variety - retaining the essential character of the original, while making it easier to switch modes. The third dip-switch allows you to toggle between [B]ass and [G]uitar modes.

 

When JHS launched its ’Kilt’ clone as such in 2015 - this was under the auspices of a signature pedal for Stu G (Stuart David Garrard) best known for his role as lead guitarist for now disbanded less-well-known Christian Rock band ’Delirious?’. Although a capable player, I still feel this was just added differentiation to justify the launch of an Expandora clone. As is always Josh Scott’s way he introduced a couple of improvements in the guise of a Low Cut/Flat Low-end switch which by default adds in more bottom-end, and then an additional independent boost. The external dip-switches or toggles here have the same function as the original’s, but are labelled G1 and G2 and although they create the same modes - their configuration is slightly different - e.g. both switches up for Forbidden / Fuzz mode. In 2017 the V2 version of the Kilt was launched in compact enclosure this time and minus the boost, but with all other features / functionality intact - and with the addition of a ’Red Remote’ jack for external switch - to toggle G2 values:

  • JHS Kilt V1 with Boost - 2015
  • JHS Kilt V2 Compact - 2017
  • JHS Kilt V3 with Boost - ?

 

In my visual I have mocked up a 3rd potential variant of the Kilt - taking influence from JHS’s recent dual-footswitch pedals like the Emperor V2, Unicorn V2, and the Andy Timmons Plus Distortion in particular. Reading between the lines of relatively recent reviews - most players don’t seem to miss the no boost on the V2, but I of course like my pedals to be as versatile as is practically possible - so I include that possibility here.

 

My Dilemma in all of this is deciding which version to go for - or do I need more than one? There are very few and far-between 2000R Expandoras either on Ebay or Reverb.com - in fact none are listed currently. Reading between the lines on Reverb.com there was one Good condition one sold a month or two ago, and a Very Good condition one sold last year. So Near Mint or Excellent condition 2000Rs seem to be in extremely short supply - depending on price / location / availability I think I might still like to have a 2000R at some stage - but because of its slightly awkward form-factor, my preference is currently more likely to sit with JHS.

 

The question then is which JHS? The larger / vertical medium enclosure V1 has the extra Boost footswitch and corresponding dial - while a lot of its users state that they don’t really use the Boost. While the smaller more compact V2 Kilt dispenses with the Boost but adds a Red Remote Jack for toggling the G2 values - via additional purchase Mini footswitch. I have extrapolated a 3rd version here too - which brings back the Boost - which should be entirely doable as JHS has done very similar with the very recent Andy Timmons Plus Distortion pedal. Josh could also choose to have the second footswitch simply toggle the G2 values like the Red Remote.

 

So the broader question is do I need the original 2000R, do I simply go for the V1 or V2, or do I wait and see if Josh produces a V3, or if some other builder has a go at this? I’ve actually been pondering on this for the best part of a year now - and whenever I encounter a Kilt at the right price / condition level - I’m about ready to pull the trigger - but then I get caught up in this rather conflicted decision process again.

 

Right now I’m finding it really hard to decide. At one stage I was adamant that the V1 was the best choice for me, but then as I have so many boost pedals already in my chain I don’t really need the separate boost - so I could get away with the smaller V2 - but then again - the V1 is more versatile. I’ve been oscillating between those two views for a very long time now - settling upon a specific decision but then changing my mind again at the last minute. Hence I’ve resolved to do this post as a sort of catharsis so as to finally, once and for all reach a proper lasting conclusion!


Bixonic Expandora EXP-2000R (discontinued) - $199 when new, c£200 now for lightly used version (Reverb.com)

So my preferred take of the original Expandora is in highly rarefied supply nowadays - I've not seen any available in top notch condition for a really long time now. This version externalises the dip-switches and adds Instrument selector - where you can toggle between [B]ass and [G]uitar options. I love that you can easily chop and change between the 4 different modes - Crunch, Overdrive, Distortion and Fuzz - and I really like that this has retained the slightly rough and ready output textures of the very original 1995 version. This is one that I will likely get if I come across one in Excellent / very lightly used condition and at the appropriate price - hopefully within Europe too - in order to avoid import charges.


HS Kilt V1 with Boost (discontinued) - c£200 (Reverb.com)

I'm always slightly bemused when I see the above video - which actually features some fine tones and very fine playing, but Stu G was surely relatively obscure at the time of launch, and is even more so now - unless I'm just mixing in the wrong circles? The vertical medium enclosure clone of the Expandora makes two additions - by default the flat value of the low-end is augmented on the character profile - so you have a Low Cut toggle switch to return it to the original 'Low-Cut' less-bassy source profile. You also have an independent boost footswitch with attached Boost level dial for extended range. The 4 toggle switches here are Low Cut, G1, G2 and Order (of Boost) - where G1 and G2 are the equivalent of the original's D1 and D2 parameters, but are configured slightly differently - so that both switches down is Crunch, G1 Up is Overdrive, G2 Up is Distortion and both switches up is the 'Forbidden' Gated Fuzz mode. I still very much like the symmetry and topology of this pedal and writing this right now am leaning towards this choice.


JHS Kilt V2 Compact - £179

The V2 is obviously compact format - more easy to place on the pedalboard and hardly anyone anyway bothers to use the Boost switch of the original supposedly - so why not? The V2 obviously dispenses with the boost but adds Red Remote jack for using external switch to toggle G2 values - so either going from Crunch to Distortion or Overdrive to Fuzz - Ideally really they should compare notes with Jackson Audio and just allow you to use a combination of two footswitches to select the different modes. There are plenty of these around now and at very appealing second-hand prices too - so affordability and pedalboard-practicality -wise this should be the logical choice - but the V1 is still working its appeal for me!


JHS Kilt V3 Compact with Boost - GPX Mockup / Deviation - Imaginary pedal for now!

So for the V3 I simply extrapolated the boost elements from the V1 and brought them across to the V2 format - while re-arranging that slightly to accommodate those new elements. The dual-footswitch compact format is my preferred enclosure type as all should know by now - and here you get the best of all worlds in the most perfectly formed package. Of course this version does not yet exist and it may never exist - perhaps I'm just hoping that Josh will see this post and it will trigger some sort of response one way to the other. I feel that if this version existed then it would be my natural choice and would resolve the dilemma. As things are though right now - the question is still whether to stick or twist / hold on for something better ???


Final Thoughts

After I initially wrote this piece I went away and deliberated this dilemma every which way possible - and it took several days for me to actually reach a conclusion - which is to go with the V2 Kilt for now. There are plenty of those around currently - and plenty of reasonably priced ones on both Ebay and Reverb.com etc.. The compact size means it can be easily accommodated anywhere along my pedal-chain - and the fact that I already have several boosts in said chain at different intervals - means I can already boost the pedal both upstream and downstream - so I don't really need the extra boost on the pedal. For reasons of easier accommodation / storage and all-round flexibility - the V2 Kilt is the one that I will acquire therefore right now.

 

This means that the V1 Kilt becomes somewhat moot for the time being, and the Expandora 2000R a lot less pressing. I am still open to acquiring a 2000R at some stage - and if Josh does introduce a V3 Kilt some day - then I will most definitely update to that. For right now though it's the V2 for me!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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