Readers of this blog will know that I’ve been waiting for my trio of Menatone vertical dual-footswitch pedals to arrive for quite some time now. For a considerable period these were presumed lost, as they dropped off the tracking radar for nearly six weeks. In any case - good things come to those who wait - and this has all been well worth waiting for.
It all started back on January 24th when I got in touch with Brian about his then very recent Vertical Fish Factory release. I was evidently a little slow to move on that one (distracted by NAMM!) and that first batch got finally sold out on the very morning that I contacted Brian. We then had an ongoing dialogue where I voiced that I would love to see the ’Top Boost In a Can’ (TBIAC) pedal in a vertical enclosure too - to which Brian informed me he was already in the process of engineering both the TBIAC and The King of the Britains in the same vein as the work he had done on the Fish Factory. We immediately struck a deal that I would acquire each of those Dual-Footswitch Masterpieces - and Brian set to work on those - the latter two which I believe were the first of their kind in the wild - when originally dispatched!
For the Fish Factory I raised some possible usability improvements for the intuitiveness of the knobs - whose initial layout did not sufficiently clearly delineate between the Red Snapper and Blue Collar sides of the pedal. I suggested using fully colour-coordinated knobs, but Brian came up with an even smarter solution in the current V2 release - where it’s just the two less obvious knobs that are colour-coded. This produces a much more pleasing aesthetic as in the current version - pictured above.
Back in June of last year I indicated my ’9 favourite Menatone Pedals’ to-date - including my single ’The King’ (Plexi/JCM800) pedal acquired not long before. I opined then which would be my next most likely acquisitions - and how I hoped Brian would do a Zvex style exercise on converting some of his flagship pedals to a more pedalboard-friendly vertical enclosure format.
What you get in the above trio is actually 4 of Brian’s all-time finest pedals / circuit iterations - the Fish Factory combines the excellent Red Snapper and Blue Collar Overdrives, The typically medium/large-enclosure King of Britains 1959SLP-style circuit appears for the first time in such a compact format as far as I’m aware, and the Top Boost In a Can (Top Boosted AC30) has been re-oriented in its best 7-knob edition variation. I still have several more Menatone pedals to tick off for the collection - including the Dirty B (Fender Blonde/Tweed), Dumbstruck (Dumble), Law Bender (Tone Bender), Mena-Watt (HiWatt) and Wreck’T (Trainwreck) among them.
The above trio is really just exceptional - that combination of tones and dynamics gives you the broadest range of tonal palette in the fewest moves - and I’m delighted too that the Boost sides are fully independent. Brian has been working and evolving these circuits since 1996 - and he also hand-crafts some very fine wooden pipes which are offered up on the same Menatone Store.
These pedals only arrived today - Monday 11th and I’m that excited that I’m doing the write-up immediately. Each of these pedals really is a jewel on its own - all three together on the same pedalboard is just immense. You should know by now that these are exactly the kind of pedals I advocate for on this site - smartly engineered analog masterpieces made with the finest components in the most practical form-factor. I think most players would be delighted with any one of these - and I am pretty much overjoyed to possess all three.
Here follow some further details on each :
The Red Snapper is a somewhat overlooked and undersung classic of the Transparent / Natural / Neutral / Colourless Overdrive type. What those words imply is that the Red Snapper has the least 'colouring' effect on your core guitar / pickup and amp tone - and just adds the appropriate amount of natural breakup texture. There's plenty of arguments out there versus the Klon and Timmy, and Lightspeed and other well-known varieties. I like all of those, and I really like the Red Snapper too. I can detect characteristic differences in touch and feel and overall frequency profile. But I would generally agree that the Red Snapper really feels and sounds like the least affected / most organic etc. of all those pedal types. This does not mean you will necessarily prefer it to all other varieties - while it does have its own distinctive voice. Its Blue Collar sibling is a more affected bluesy style of pedal - with more gain and compression - a sort of barbecue smoked version of the Red Snapper if you like! The latter flavour kind of broaches compressed Timmy and Blues Driver territory in particular and marries up exceptionally well in combination with the Red Snapper. As with the King of Tone - you get the best benefit when setting both sides to fairly moderate values - which means you can combine them to great effect too stacked in series in either direction. My preference is for the slightly more saturated tones of Blue Collar into Red Snapper for my choice of stacking - the other way around is a lot more subtle. Both sites are great - while the Red Snapper side is just phenomenal really if you're after that perfect gentle breakup tone.
The pedal has 9 elegant controls :
Red Snapper Side
Blue Collar Side
The Order toggle switch allows you to select Red Snapper first or Blue Collar first for stacking purposes.
There is no demo for this exact pedal yet - so I've chosen 3 of the best which give you the optimal feel for what this pedal is capable of - as above! :
While my previously acquired 'The King' Marshall-esque Menatone classic covers a broader pallet of 60's, 70's and 90's Marshall tones - from Plexi through to quite heavy JCM800 stylings. 'The King of the Britains' has a much more specific remit - to replicate the tones of one of the most singularly best loved amps of all time - the Marshall 1959SLP from 1967, otherwise known as the Super Lead Plexi - or the ultimate Plexi Amp as considered by many / most. I have a number of pedals already in this area - including the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret and Xotic Effects SL-Drive - while this one is slightly more authentic still. Special attention must be made to the Voicing switch - which allows you to go from Super Bright Super Lead, to Super Pounding Super Bass mode with ease (vs other's internal dip-switches). You also have a handy Presence control for further taming the top end frequencies. Marshall is all about getting the texture and bounce of the Chewy Mids Character just right - and for my taste this King does it better than most. It looks like a lot of knobs and switches, but everything works just as you would expect it. The 3-band EQ is essential - as is the Voicing switch - this is the perfect Plexi in a box! Note that the middle voicing option tempers some of the brightness of that Channel by removing the bright cap from around the gain control.
This King has 8 self-explanatory Controls :
I struggled to find decent demos that did this pedal justice - and in the end selected an OK one featuring the larger original pedal that this one is based on. I feel we need to get RJ and Alberto involved here for some sufficiently suitably impressive demos that do these pedals justice.
In some ways I'm weirdly most excited about getting the Top Boost in a Can at last in the right format for me. I'm a huge fan of Brian May, and while the Bearfoot FX Emerald Green Distortion Machine has served me faithfully for years in that area, the TBIAC has long been considered The definitive Top-Boosted Vox style pedal by most. Even though it looks like it may be missing out on a Mids-control, this Treble-Booster augmented distortion circuit really needs the extended High Frequency controls - i.e. Treble and High Cut to make the most of its saturating tones. While the Sag control here is another necessity for shaping the lower-end character and feel. This to me also has an incredible chewy character to it - somewhat distinct from the Marshall's Chewy Mids - but just as, if nor a little more endearing at times too. This was surprisingly easy to dial in - and I really like it with the boost on. It doesn't have the Brian May guitar volume cleanup - but I have my own tricks for getting around that - hence be extensive pedal-chain.
The TBIAC harbours 7 logical Controls :
This pedal really has that distinct rich saturation character that is so distinctive for this genre. Like I said it was easy to dial in, but I'll probably spent the next few weeks doing all the minute variations until I finally settle into a longer term groove.
Each of these pedals is a masterpiece in its own right - so much prowess in each single box - and giving you the perfect signature tones for Natural Overdrive, Smokey Blues, Super Plexi and Top Vox. I consider myself very fortunate indeed to possess all three.
These are not hurriedly thrown together iterations either, but each contains the very best received edition of each of those core circuits. These are the tent poles and de facto flagships of Brian's Menatone range and they very evidently carry within them nearly a quarter century of circuit innovation and evolution - Brian's first Red Snapper was launched in 1996.
Each of you will have a favourite here for sure - and each probably appeals to a slightly different audience. Not for the first time would I find it impossible to separate my own favourite from the three. These are all flavours I love dearly and consider to be essential parts of my own core sound. Meaning that each went straight into my pedal-chain per the above visual / placements. I feel that the TBIAC will be owner of its slot for the longest time - while the others are more prone to rotation as I simply have more fantastic options and alternatives in those areas while I really only have 3 Boosted Vox Style pedals - including also the Catalinbread Galileo besides those I have mentioned already.
As a final statement I would like to reaffirm how much I like these particular formats of pedals - the size, the looks, the control topology and the dual-footswitches - besides all the amazing core tones they deliver. These are for certain sure the perfect kinds of pedals for me - and I hope they will find many happy homes - in fact I'm pretty sure they will once people are fully aware of them.
Two are already available on the Menatone Store - with The King of the Britains due to be added too imminently. Note also that there are brand new Version 2 iterations of the Dumbstruck and Wreck'T due - which hopefully Brian should be forwarding me images for soon.
So Brian gave me a quick sneak-peak at the new V2 Wreck'T and Dumbstruck Drive pedals - which he's also shared to his Instagram - albeit I did my usual touch-up on the image.
Both are actually significant different to their forebears - with the Wreck'T pedal the more visibly changed - and going from 6 to 8 control knobs.
It's 8 knobs are now :
Where the previous 6 used to be :
The 6 controls of the Dumbstruck are now more conventional - and more similar to the new Wreck't topology, so :
Where the previous 6 controls used to be :