A Guide to Dino Boost Pedals

The objective of this article is to give my fellow Dino brothers a generall understanding of the wide variety of Boost pedals used to achieve the Dino tones we've all come to know and love. A few classic examples are noted here, but there are many more available.

Article Topics

Overdrive Distortion Tube Boost Pedals
Overdrive Use Case Distortion Use Case Dino Tube boost pedals
Dino Overdrive pedals Dino Distortion pedals  

Background

The sound we think of as Dino first came to light in the early to mid 60's in the form of players taking drastic measures to distort the tone of their guitar. Up until this time guitar effects were basically in the realm of reverb and tremolo and vibrato. The sound of the ethereal and the heavens above.

But players such as Townshend, Clapton, Beck, Page, Davies, and Richards had an entirely different goal in mind. They were looking for something earthy and in your face that would take no prisoners. They were maxing out their amps trying to get to it. It should be noted that during this period, distortion coming from an amplifier was actually considered undesirable, and most amps of the period remained relatively clean even when run full out. So these pioneer rockers tried anything and everything to create the sound of a beast demanding attention. That demand would eventually be filled by numerous people skilled in the science of electronics. Solid state Analog Boost Effects were the result of their endeavors and would soon become an important part of many a Dinos arsenal.

Overdrive and Distortion

The result of overdriving an amps tubes or a pedals components is distorted tone. The tone has been pushed, or overdriven, beyond its initial form. It's nice smooth sine wave has been expanded beyond the available range of sweep and the wave has had it's top and bottom clipped off. That is, it has distorted.

What's the difference?

Overdrive pedals work best with tube amps because they are designed to help push the tube amp further into its own form of tube distortion while still allowing the pick attack and other playing nuances to retain an active role in the resulting tone. Overdrives can be thought of as a more transparent than Distortion pedals. More of the amp's tonal character, and more of the player remains in the overall sound.

By comparrison, Distortion pedals are much more apparent in the overall sound. Distortion pedals tend to mask or replace a lot of an amp's inherent tone and add their own voice in it's place. This doesn't mean, for example, that a Boss Distortion pedal will produce the same tone with any amp, or that it will make a ratty solid state amp sound good. But while DRG never recommends using solid state amps, Distortion pedals do respond a bit better to solid state amps than Overdrive pedals. However, the quality of the amp's voice still plays a key role, and like everything else, Distortion pedals respond even better to tubes.

And finally, while Overdrives play well with other pedals, Distortion pedals can bully the rest of your signal chain if you don't rein them in. Top

We're not Scientists!

We're guitarists. If you're interested in all the gory technical details behind this subject, other sites can (and do) provide far better technical info and discussion on the various kinds of clipping involved in overdrive and distortion pedals than we possibly can. So rather than try to compete with those sites -- and lose -- we'll just point you to one of the best articles we've seen on overdrive and distortion -- both from the amplfier, and for outlining the differences between many of the most popular overdrive and distortion effects pedals such as the TS-9 the SD-1 and others. That article is here: http://users.chariot.net.au/~gmarts/ampovdrv.htm (scroll down to Classic Designs). The whole GM Arts site is actually quite excellent.

If you don't want to get bogged down in all the nerdy science of transistors, sine waves, and such, here's a quick, dumbed-down, Dino version of what you might want to know about clipping, as it relates to tone and your pedal choices.

Hard vs. Soft clipping

Hard and soft clipping refers to how soon the clip occurs. This determines whether a clipped stage is entered smoothly or suddenly. Soft clipping results in a smoother overdriven sound. For the most part, the Ibanez Tubescreamer and Maxon Overdrive series are good representations of soft clipping. Hard clipping results in a more pronounced hard edged distortion with more harmonics. The Pro Co Rats and Boss Distortion labeled pedals use varying degrees of hard clipping and would be representitive of the sound.

Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical clipping

In general terms, you can think of Overdrive such as the Ibanez or Maxon as examples of symmetrical clipping. You can think of distortion such as the Boss pedals as Asymmetrical clipping. Some people even identify this form as Boss clipping. While symmetrical clipping provides a very smooth gain it also tends to cancel out even order harmonics. Asymmetrical clipping allows for even order harmonics to leap out. Overdrive beautifully accentuated the nuances of the player, but, because it was mainly derived from a symmetrical wave form it tends to sacrifice many of the even order harmonics. Distortion, especially when derived from asymmetrical wave forms, allows for both player nuances as well as harmonics. A perfect medium between the two and a mainstay for modern Dino tone. Top

Overdrive

Compared to Distortion pedals, most overdrive pedals are relatively low gain, and typically push the amp just a little bit more than its current gain setting. Your clean glassy tone becomes more tubular or bell like. The tone carries a bit more girth. Single coil pickups that sound a bit thin are fattened up. P-90s move from warm to sassy to nasty. Humbuckers take on a little more of the edge associated with Single coils, and dig in for a little bark and snarl. Depending on the amount of overdrive you can produce a nice crunch for rhythm work or a vocal singing voice for lead. Depending on the type of clip produced by the pedal you achieve added harmonics of different types. Top

Typical Use Case for Overdrive

Overdrive pedals are great for when you're getting (and loving) 99.9% of your distortion from your amp, and you just want to kick the amp in the pants — typically for soloing. You're not trying to change the amp's tonal character in any major way. You're basically just want to boost what's already there. Top

Classic Dino Overdrive pedals

IBANEZ Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro TS808
The Original. Designed by the Nisshin Onpa Company, Maxon, and marketed in Japan. Licensed to the Hoshino Trading Company, Ibanez, in the late 1970's for worldwide distribution under the brand name Ibanez. Carrying one of three type opamps. The Japan Radio Companies JRC4558D, Texas Instruments TI RC4558P, or a third chip, manufacturer?, the TL4558P. Symmetrical clipping produced by diodes in the opamps feedback loop rather than going from opamp to clipping stage to resistors and output stage. Clipping produced in this manner allows more of the opamps voicing to play a role in the tonality of the pedal. Thus began the well-documented debate over which opamp was the best. The TS-808 is known for it's exceptionally smooth and midrangey voicing, it remains a favorites of guitarists who lean toward the more vintage tone of this pedals time of production. Also, the 808 is considered to be the most transparent of the Tube Screamer line. Players claim it is more touch sensitive than the rest. I really like the tone of the original TS-808 Tubescreamer. Very, very smooth. Its reproduction of what you do with your picking hand is near perfect. Note: If you want your overdrive to boost a lot of bass frequencies you'll probably prefer the TS9 or TS9DX. Top

IBANEZ TS9 Tube Screamer
The follow up to the TS808 was the TS9. Produced and distributed by the same partnership as the TS808. The main change in the Tube Screamer circuit was in the output stage that caused the TS9 to be a little brighter, although harsher, in the high end as well as a little crunchier in the middle and having more bass presence than the TS808. The footprint of the TS9 is stronger which gives it a more powerful but less transparent sound quality. Also the width of the frequency range is a bit less than the TS808. Kind of a give and take. Give up a little smoothness and cleaner definition in the midrange and add some brightness and bass and a better ability to cut through the mix. The opamps used in the TS9 were, again, one of three. Sadly, the first of the TS9s came out with the JRC2043DD. Many Dinos who upgraded to this pedal were rewarded with an up close and personal knowledge of their vomit reflexes. Those that survived scurried back to their TS808s. Soon after, the TS9 was reissued carrying the Toshiba TA75558. Far better than the initial attempt, yet, to many, it still paled in comparison to the JRC4558D or the TI RC4558P. Many thought it had a bit too much crunch and had left too much of the smoothness on the drawing room floor. By the end of it's production run the TS9s all carried the JRC4558D. Initially the more recent reissue series carried the TA75558, but I've heard that the current production may be carrying the JRC4558D. Top

IBANEZ TS9DX
Turbo Tube Screamer In1998 Ibanez released the TS9DX. Externally the addition of a fourth knob, to select from one of four mode voicings, is the notable difference. Internally it contains the original TS9s circuit developed by Maxon, but, also contains additional circuit design elements created by Hoshino USA to meet marketing demands for a model with variable options of output, tonality, and gain amounts. Mode one is the TS9 circuit. The one I own sounds a little cleaner than the standard TS9. Mode two, +, is described by Ibanez as being Grittier. Oddly, while I hear more output volume and a more powerful presence with less high end and more mids I don't hear this mode as being grittier. This is actually my favorite mode to use on the DX. Additional richness, more harmonics, thicker without becoming muddy. Mode three, Hot, is described by Ibanez as being crunchier with boosted mids. Definitely not my cup of tea, it seems overly thick to the point of muddiness. No string separation to my ears. Mode four, Turbo, is described by Ibanez as being powerful, bottom thick, for today's modern/alternative guitarist. While it's powerful to the max it just doesn't sound like something I would ever use. There's a lot of bottom but not a bottom that has good definition. If you like your chords to rumble like thunder without too much concern about telling one from the next you may really like this mode. It can certainly Roar like a Dino, but, it always sounds like the same Dino just Roaring and Roaring until you feel like you could do a good deed by just putting the damn thing out of it's misery.Mode one is very good and mode two is even better. I've owned my TS9DX for many years and could count on one hand the number of times I've even experimented with modes three and four. Top

MAXON OD-9
Overdrive Maxon is, as we all know now, the company that designed and licensed the TS808 and TS9 to Ibanez for worldwide distribution. A super group of designers and builders from the top down. Dino Guitar tone owes so much to the Maxon company that they should have been Sainted by now. The OD-9 Overdrive may very well be my favorite offering from Maxon, although the OD-9 Pro + Overdrive is also a contender. The OD-9 is a pedal that started out as being virtually identical to the TS9 Ibanez Tube Screamer. Today's issue offers the JRC4558 IC Chip and now use a single signal-distorting diode, the Panasonic #MA150, in the negative feedback loop. Also, today's OD-9 features different output resistors from the original, which decreases unwanted background noise levels without altering the tone. Lastly, the OD-9 is a true bypass pedal. All the sound qualities of the original with a reduction in noise. This can't be bad. Top notch components. Take a good listen to a Maxon OD-9 Overdrive and an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer. Both are really excellent pedals. The Maxon has a richer quality to it's tonality with slightly more harmonics as well as a transparentness similar to the Ibanez TS808 that the TS9 Tube Screamer lacks. Then again, The Maxon issue is going to cost you more. Other guitarists will hear the difference but the audience you play for won't. If your a tone stickler choose the Maxon, but, if money's an issue pick the TS9 Tube Screamer. It's almost the same for less bread. Top

MAXON OD-9 Pro +
Overdrive Using the basic circuit of the OD-9 as a staring point to build on Maxon changed the output stage transistor with a low-noise opamp. The goal was to achieve a wider dynamic range with less compression and more balance from low to high with less emphasis on the mids. The OD-9 Pro + is louder than the OD-9 and also adds a boost feature to bump up the mids, add some compression, improve harmonics and sustain, and make for a singing lead voice. Also it has an onboard DC-DC voltage converter that bumps the power up from 9 to 18 volts for more headroom. Maxon's write up says something along the lines of if you think the OD-9 sounds a bit anemic, (um. I don't.), then the OD-9 Pro + is for you. I like the OD-9 Pro +. That said, I don't know that I like it more than the OD-9. I think the OD-9 is excellent in its original version. To me, the OD-9 Pro + might have been better off using a different name. It has a very usable voice, but, in my opinion, it's a voicing I would use for something other than what an OD-9 is best used for. The Pro + without the boost on sounds like a louder but less vocal OD-9. When the boost is applied it becomes more of a higher gain lead pedal and moves away from being a basic overdrive. I haven't tried this idea out, but, I kind of think that with a solid state amp the Pro + might be the better of the two. With a tube amp the regular OD-9 seems to provide pretty much the right amounts of just about everything. Top

MAXON OD-808 Overdrive
This pedal kind of messes with my cookies. Does it have the Maxon / Ibanez thing going? Yes. Does it sound even remotely like an Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer? Not to my ears. I'm not 100% sure how to describe this pedal. I'm fuzzy and fussy on this one because the Ibanez TS808 is a long time favorite of mine. Maxon designed the TS808 that Ibanez distributed. This pedal just sounds completely different to my ears. I can't say it's bad because it's not. It just isn't magical to me. It doesn't make me freak out over owning one. Maxon rules, but, I'll buy the Ibanez TS808 three times over before I'll buy the Maxon OD-808. Top

DOD Overdrive Preamp 250 (old gray version) and Overdrive Preamp 250 ( yellow version) YJM308.
If any pedal manufacturer had a reputation for breakdowns, poor switching, etc. it would be DOD. DOD pedals have ticked off more players by dying on stage than probably any other brand. DOD, which at one time grew into DOD/Digitech and then split into two separate company, Digitech was the branch specializing in multi-effect products, managed to produce a pedal that, most notably through it's use by Yngwie Malmsteen, gained a legendary status. The original gray version of the DOD Overdrive Preamp 250. Well maintained examples of this pedal have been known to command prices well in excess of $300 or even $400 dollars on vintage equipment sites, ebay, and the like. The yellow version started out its issuance as virtually the same pedal but went through a number of changes that led to an overall poor opinion of the model. The yellow version has since been reissued and is, quite appropriately, made in China. The YJM308, named for Yngwie and one of his favorite Ferraris, while having a different opamp and other components than the original gray version, did come somewhat close to the original. Some consider it an excellent boost pedal. Yet, almost no one considers it to have the tonal quality of the original gray version. While getting a plus for being somewhat quieter, the YJM has less bass and more treble. It's not quite as full in the middle. The original gray used a 741 opamp designed in the late 60's while the reissue used an RC4558. For those who would love to lay their hands on a pedal that meets the original specs and parts list of the old gray version they should check out Analogmans site and look for his mod of the YJM308 or yellow version of the 250. Analogman worked closely with Michael A. Spitzer who worked with and managed Yngwie Malmsteen and is very familiar with his tone to come up with the mods used by Analogman to recreate the tone of the old gray version. Top

Fulltone Full-Drive 2 MOSFET
Fulltone's Fulldrive 2 Mosfet sets some pretty high goals for itself. It's a clean boost, a light to medium softer overdrive, a distortion control for medium to higher gain for producing a violin-like tone, offers switching between Vintage, mid-heavy, FM, flat mids, or CompCut, less compression for clean boosts or crunchier / less smooth gain tones, as well as a second switch to pick between two different clipping stages. The normal stage is a germanium / silicon pairing for an asymmetrical clip that produces an open and harmonically rich type of gain. The second stage is based on Mosfet type clipping which is meant to provide a smoother, more amplike tone. Not as asymmetrical as the normal clipping stage. A bit more compressed. I'd have to give Fulltone an A+ for effort. They asked an awful lot of themselves to put something like this together. Oldworld / New world. Soft or Hard. Boost / Overdrive / Distortion, etc., etc. In my opinion they may have pulled the damn thing off. With all the options there's a lot of tweaking involved. Plus, when you get everything just right you might want to write the settings down because it would be a shame not to discover the many other setting match ups that will also provide voicings to roar about. In less than an hour a salesman I work with from time to time was able to dial in a good half dozen settings that could be thought of as the setting. While researching this article, since Surprise I don't own every freakin' pedal out there, I'd turn to a handful of friends at different stores to give me a rundown and a chance to play through a pedal. The Full-Drive 2 MOSFET produced the worst G.A.S. pains I've felt in a long time. It's not anything like one of those modeling pedals with 84 dial and 91button and 68 footswitch options, but, for an analog 4 knob, 2 mini switch, 2 footswitch pedal it seemed to come up with one good tone after another with just a tweak of this or a press of that. How many overdrive pedals can you name that will create great Dino tones as well as great blues tones or great country tones or truly give you just a great clean Boost when required. It's just my opinion, but, if you like the Maxon OD-9 or Ibanez TS808 or TS9 but wondered what they would sound like if they used asymmetrical, added harmonic content, clipping rather than the smoother symmetrical clipping this would be the pedal I'd recommend to you to try out. If a well dressed man, Sir Abraham Maxon, hires and windsup knocking up a street wise hooker known for her crescendo-ing scream-laden performances, Little Miss Sassy Boss, and the child is born and raised at the monastery run by the good Abbot Ibraham Cristian du Fulltone who adopts the child as his own, well, prior to castration, his voicing would be very similar to the Fulltone Full-Drive 2 MOSFET. Top

FULLTONE OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive
For me, describing this pedal in an easily understood manner is a little tough. 1st off, it's now in it's four edition and each one sounds a bit different. Secondly, It doesn't have an exactly normal Dino overdrive tone to it. It's tone reminds me of one of two things or possibly both together. If you can imagine an overdrive that adds some of the extra harmonics you would normally associate with a Fuzz pedal your getting close. If when thinking Overdriven Amp your hearing a single ended amp in your head rather than a double ended amp your also close. Combine both of these examples and then make the Fuzz less fuzzy so the harmonics have a sparkly rather than an all tripping over each other quality and, if you haven't already decided to label me as fried and believe what I'm describing is an aural possibility without pharmaceutical enhancement, you've got it. Whew. I was worried this one would be tough. I think I'm starting to get this shit down. Top

Others popular Overdrive pedals

  • The Visual sound V2
  • Route 66 Overdrive and Compressor
  • The Digitech Bad Monkey Tube Overdrive
  • The Menatone Red Snapper
  • The Toadworks Death Rattle Dual Overdrive + Boost
  • The Visual Sound V2 Jekyll and Hyde
  • MI Audio's Blues Pro
  • T.C. Electronics Vintage Overdrive
  • Vintage Overdrive Pro
  • Retro-Sonics Eight O Eight Overdrive

Distortion

Distortion is a term applied to very extreme forms of overdrive. Where Overdrive pedals let the player to retain pick attack and and individual stylistic quality with a partial sacrifice of harmonic richness, Distortion pedals, when properly designed and built, should provide the best of both worlds — harmonically rich overdriven tones that retain the nuances the individual player's technique. Distortion produces more harmonics as well as more types of harmonics than Overdrive. They provide extreme presence when soloing over a powerful rhythm section. Distortion pedals tend to sustain notes longer than an Overdrive. Top

Typical Use Case for Distortion

A Distortion pedal is a good choice when you are trying to:

  • actually add something more to your amp's character
  • get a less subtle level of distortion than what is provided by the amp
  • get a significant portion of your distorted sound from the pedal rather than the amp's tubes. For example, Zakk Wylde's Marshalls use 6550 tubes (rather than the typical EL34s) that provide a lot of clean headroom, but very little crunch on their own. Most of the distortion in Zakk's sound (his whole sound, not just his lead sound) comes from the Boss SD-1. Top

Classic Dino Distortion pedals

MXR DISTORTION +
The MXR Distortion + was one of the analog distortion pedals that led the way into the early 1980s. While labeled as a distortion it shares more design similarities with the analog overdrive pedals of the time. When you think of the MXR Distortion + the first name that jumps to mind is Randy Rhoads. Wolf Hoffmann and Accept also used them to get more Metal tones from their plexi Marshalls in the pre JCM 800 days. The Distortion + has a lot in common with the DOD 250 that Yngwie put to such good use. It took an overdrive circuit and added a harder clip, that gives it its own characteristic and recognizable sound. The D + is not a transparent pedal! Compared to many of todays distortion pedals it's definitely a lightweight, but, travel back near 30 years and listen to it being used in front of a Marshall. Dominant enough to deliver the Dino tones of the day and yet still able to reveal the pick attack and hand skills of the player. The MXR Distortion + has a place in the evolution of Dino tone that makes it a classic. Top

BOSS DISTORTION DS- 1
The Boss DS-1 is a very popular pedal among many Dinos. It's tone can be described as having a very edgy or sharp quality to it. Very cutting. Rolling back on the tone control adds more body to its sonic signature. Also, when your looking for bang for the buck this one's a top pick. Priced like a lower end Danelectro but with much better tonality as well as build quality. Yes. Build Quality. Did you know that one of the pedal mod options offered by different mod shops as an upgrade for many of the pedals produced by Ibanez, Maxon, etc. is to replace the original stompswitch with a Boss type stompswitch because it's considered to be more road worthy and dependable and tends to outlast other types. True. We're not talking true-bypass here, but, many pedals players love are not true-bypass. Boss claims the DS-1 and the MT-2 as their two most popular by sales totals distortion pedals. Of the two the DS-1 is definitely the more preferable for 1980s Dino Tone. Both Satch and Vai use or have used modded versions of the DS-1 on their pedalboards. Vai actually used two on his board. When you look at distortion pedals topping out at well past the $200 to $300 dollar price range a pedal like the DS-1 with a street price usually under $60 is a freakin' steal. Top

BOSS SUPER OVERDRIVE SD-1
The Boss SD-1 is a medium gain pedal that actually shares part of its circuitry with the Ibanez 808. True. It has a different type of chip and asymmetrical clipping to achieve its sonic results. Considering it's clipping stage it still manages to retain more smoothness than most of its kind. A little more rough around the edges than a symmetrical type but also offering a wider palette of frequencies. It should be noted that the majority of it's fans utilize the SD-1 with tube amps rather than solid state Through a solid state it becomes sterile sounding. It needs to interact with tubes to really come into it's own. This really is not a favorite of mine. To me it's one of those types that try and bridge one type of gain with another and end in coming up a little short on both ends. It doesn't have the vocal quality of, say, an OD-9 or a Fulldrive or a TS808, and it doesn't have the volume or gain to complete with many of Boss's more robust boost pedals, still, It does have a following among some Dinos. Top

BOSS METAL ZONE MT-2
The Boss MT-2 is an extreme high gain unit that few players find a middle ground with. Some love it for the mega-harmonics it can throw out and its searing sustaining lead quality. Others claim everything from nightmares of being chased by killer bees to headaches and mild nausea to testicular pain from the rigidity of muscle contractions that have been known to cause Dino thighs to slap together at inopportune moments of sac positioning. I have noticed that player/singers who rely on the MT-2 for their signature tones have a higher pitch to their vocals. Whether you like it or not tonally you have to admit the little bastard is a fire breather. It'll singe your shorthairs as well as the shorthairs of others standing too close while it's in use. Now, even after making fun of this pedal I will admit that I own one, have put it to good use, sparingly, and have retained a very deep singing voice. For just a few select types of music I enjoy from time to time I seem to just hang onto this pedal. I don't want to sell it. I wish it was thicker in the mids. I wish it was less buzzy. Yet, for that industrial metallic nose bleeding sound it just seems to work. Note: Wear earplugs whenever playing through it and just keep reminding yourself.....Do not clinch. Do not clinch. Top

BOSS OVERDRIVE/DISTORTION OS-2
The Boss OS-2 is one of my favorite Boss boost pedals. To me, Yes. I own one, it does everything right in the fence sitting department that the SD-1 doesn't. Of course, it's a much newer design. This pedal can produce the gain of a DS-1, though not an MT-2, when it's 4th last knob is rolled all the way to the right. It has more mids than a DS-1 when in this position but less high end and bite. If the DS-1 is a wild lion roaring after the kill then the OS-2s tone, while still powerful, sounds more like a lion in a zoo pissed off because his supper is late. When the 4th knob is rolled all the way to the left it really leaves the world of distortion behind and, to me, sounds more like a Boss Blues Driver BD-2. It really is very versatile in it's tonal offerings and again, for someone on a budget who needs both an overdrive and a distortion pedal this is an excellent model to consider. Top

PRO CO RAT
The Pro Co Rat was a big player in the sound of the 80s. Its distortion knob allowed for a very wide range in the amount of distortion produced. When required, it could deliver huge amounts for that time period. It also had a more vocal quality than most distortions. It was identifiable rather than generic. Despite its strong sonic footprint many players were able to come up with settings that allowed their playing skills to remain quite prominent in the sounds produced. The Rat was a distortion pedal willing to share with the rest of the signal chain. Not fair and square like a good overdrive but much better than the majority of distortion units. By todays metal standards the Rat might now be considered a bit anemic. Better relegated to 80's hard rock or vintage metal. Pro Co also recognized this and has produced multiple generations of the Rat that have offered higher and higher amounts of gain. The original has always been a favorite of mine while a couple of the updated models have also caught my ear from time to time. Top

ELECTRO-HARMONIX BIG MUFF Pi
This pedal is a dinosaur from the early days of distortion pedals. It straddles the line between distortion and fuzz. While having a devastating effect on the players role in the production of tone it still attracted a strong user base. Almost too rich in harmonics. Having a somewhat furry quality to its voicing. Producing too much on the low side for most humbuckers to contend with. Players still bought it. It provided a sound that fit right in with some forms of Psychedelic Rock. There was no lack of trippyness in the Big Muff Pi. A picture of the Zig-Zag Man would have been quite appropriate had someone chosen to stick one on it. All those extra harmonics provided an excellent backround score for all those dancing colors. EH has gone on to produce multiple Muff pedals with a variety of fuzzy distortion voices. If your ever hired or invited to play at an old fashioned Freak Out you might want a Big Muff Pi in your arsenal. And bring your own aspirins. Top

MAXON SD-9
Sonic Distortion The Maxon SD-9 Sonic Distortion is another unit dating from the 1980's and remains in production to this day. While never gaining the following of the Rat it did have enough of a following to justify its production. I always thought it would have been more popular had it been produced ten or fifteen years sooner. It sits on the line between overdrive and distortion and the distortion it produces sounds overly fluffy or too smooth. It's not a razor blade. I've never opened one up but I'd bet its circuit is designed around symmetrical distortion. I could be wrong but that's what it sounds like tonally to my ears. While it produces many usable distorted tones I just don't see it as a Dinos distortion. It just never had the wild going that would make me think a Dino would choose the SD-9 as their primary distortion signature. Top

BIXONIC EXPANDORA
The Bixonic Expandora is classified by its manufacturer as a distortion pedal so I am including it here. Through its use by ZZ Top and Megadeath it's gained a somewhat classic status. The Expandora offers multiple tones. It can sound similar to a TS9 overdrive or power packed like a DS-1 distortion. It has an extremely bright quality to its voicing which allows it to work well with humbuckers and darker toned body woods. I don't recommend it's use with single coil pickups. With humbuckers it can cut through like a knife. With singles it cuts like a razor blade or a lazer. For a player to retain a good mid frequency band with this unit a humbucker equipped guitar is Highly recommended. Top

Others popular Distortion pedals

  • Diamond Fireburst
  • AMT Fatal Tube or Astral Tube
  • Damage Control Demonizer
  • T-Rex Bloody Mary
  • Digitech Metal Master Heavy Metal Distortion
  • Digitech Scott Ian Black-13
  • Fulltone GT-500 Overdrive
  • Homebrew Electronics Big D or Power Screamer
  • Pro Tone Body Rot II
  • Wasabi Distortion

Tube Boost Pedals

This third type of boost pedal actually uses a vacuum tube as part of its makeup and is similar to running a tube preamp into your amp's tube preamp. Some tube boost pedals also use pairs of diodes to create added clipping. These pedals are a sort of hybrid preamp consisting of both tube and solid state to create a gain voicing. This type of boost pedal is becoming more available in recent years but is by no means a new idea. They were used during the late 70s, but went to the back burner with the arrival of digital technology. They were given even less notice during the great Analog / Digital debates of the 80s and 90s. Where digital is usually cheaper than analog, analog is usually cheaper than tube hybrid. To the tonally acute player these have always been a viable worthwhile form of outboard gain effect. To the majority of Dinos they're often a bit too expensive to justify their use. They need a heavier more rigid built casing, added care is involved when transporting or using on stage, and tubes do burn out and need replacing, although not as often as is generally assumed. The gains produced can be hauntingly beautiful or richly saturated when the time is taken to fully understand the way they work and the how the appropriate settings are applied. To the medical community intent on finding a cure or even a control medicine for EJ-Tonalitis, the third and most wretchedly devastating form, the tube hybrid boost pedal has been a godsend. Top

Dino Tube Boost pedals

CHANDLER TUBE DRIVER
Back in the late 70s Brent Butler created a guitar pedal version of his earlier Leslie drive sound effect for keyboard and released them in limited numbers under the Butronics brand name. While early models carried a 6AV6 single-triode tube with a transistor stage for added sustain / compression, later versions switched to the 12AX7 dual-triode. Today, under the Tube Works brand name, reissues are available. There have been multiple versions over the years. It's no secret that for the majority of his career Eric Johnson has sworn by the tone this pedal creates. Think Violin. Think long smooth rich sustain. Addendum. Tube works has gone out of business. Top

BUDDA ZENMAN
The Budda Zenman was a 2 X Hi Gain 12AX7s that originated from a tube overdrive pedal called the Phatman. With added upper mids and four gain stages and a circuit modded for distortion, pick attack, and sustain. George Lynch made good use of this pedal. Although discontinued they turn up on ebay and the like from time to time. Top

MAXON ROD 880 Real Overdrive and MAXON ROD 881 Real Overdrive/Distortion
Both of these Maxon Tube boost pedals use a 12AY7EH preamp tube along with other circuitry to produce tube gain to send to your amplifiers preamp. The ROD 880 goes from an 808 type of overdrive to a full frequency chunky sound. The ROD 881 adds a distortion mode for a saturated high gain type tone plus a boost function. I've tried out the ROD 880 and, while it produced a good overdriven tube tone I thought it paled in comparison to the Tube Driver or the Zenman. Certainly not a Dino gain. I've never tried the ROD 881, but, I wonder how they achieve a form of saturated high gain tube tone when they're still using a 12AY7 rather than a 12AX7. Who knows? Top

Sources for the information presented in this article.

Books and Magazines

Guitar Effects Pedals the practical handbook, by Dave Hunter and released by Backbeat Books.

Analog Mans Guide to Vintage Effects, by Tom Hughes and released through For Musicians Only Publishing.

Effect reviews featured in Guitar Player, Guitar World, and Vintage Guitar magazine.

Websites

Top