Gain pedals probably are the type of pedals that more often rotate in a guitarist's pedalboard and, I am not an exception.
From time to time, it seems that a new breed of pedals enhances the sound of your current gain pedals and, you want to check those.
I've owned / tested so many Overdrives and Distortion boxes that I can barely remember all them but, I went from the cheapest Boss and MXR units to boutique pedals from Xotic, Fulltone, Hermida Audio, MI Audio, Wampler, Weehbo, Mad Professor (hand wired), Butler Audio, etc.
The main issue is that I can not run my amps in their best spot. Tube amps are awesome tone machines and, sure, if you can krank your amp, the best distortion you could always find is the one coming from your amp.
So, to be able to krank your amp, you need to downsize your rig and then to go for a lower powered amp but, this has its drawbacks also. The lower the power of the amp, the less clean headroom and the more difficult to represent the whole range of frequencies and, very specially, the low end.
Also, there is a minimum of power that you will need if you need to rehearsal with a band and, if you need to play small gigs.
Also, even that your amp's distortion can be amazing, you often need a variate palette of distortions to cover different tasks. Well, there are multi-channeled multi-mode amps, with lots of switches and other goodies that make them really versatile and handy. But, usually, an amp sounds with a better singing voice the simpler its circuit design is and, the versatility of any amp can compromise the overall sound. It's difficult to have an amp that can cover everything and every style with spades. Usually the sound is being compromised to obtain useful tones in every mode but, not a killer or perfect tone in all them.
Anyway, what is every single guitarist after is his/her own business and relates to his/her individual quest for his/her tone.
I'm currently interested in an amp with good cleans that could be a great platform to sculpt my sound with my preferred pedals. I also need an amp with certain headroom, to be used with a band or for small gigs. That leaded me to the Fender Hot Rod III 212 Deville, which not being a top-notch amp is good enough for my current needs.
But, being an amp with a power of 65W and, with a couple of Celestion speakers of 12", it can go loud very soon and, at low volume level it lacks something and, that's when some particular pedals, as boosters or overdrives have a good opportunity to shine.
Re-tubing my amp
After few tests with some of my spare tubes, I've decided to try a complete re-tubing set from Watford Valves, that worked really nice, enhancing the stock voice of the amp, which was just correct (with Groove Tubes).
Watford's kit included a JAN/Philips 6L6 pair that sounds perfect in this amp. Pre-amp tubes are Harma STR and, they seemed to me relabeled JJ ECC83S Gold Pin but carefully tested and picked up, with correct specifications.
Still thinking on to swap the correct but anodyne Celestions with some Harma speakers but, tubes set the amp in a very good condition.
Re-building my pedalboard
You know, every new incoming pedal often shakes your pedalboard and, you are in the need to re-check everything again, to find the best way your pedals can inter-actuate.
I've found that my Area 51 wah wasn't working fine with my rest of pedals and, therefore, I wanted to check a Cry Baby this time. While I was weighting which want to choose, I thought... well... there is the Bonamassa's one and, that guy really rocks; if it works for him, it should work for me; reasonably affordable, why don't to try it?.
I've tested the Bonamassa's wah alone and delivered good tones but, I had still not opportunity to check the pedal together with the rest of pedals of my pedalboard. This will come later.
One of the questions I need to clarify is if I need to run such a pedal in Buffered or True Bypass mode.
I've started to build the pedalboard from scratch.
Firstly, tweaking the amp with the guitar direct to amp then, being increasing the pedalboard chain, pedal by pedal.
I've started with the tuner, the TC Polytune, which is theoretically true bypass but, I really suspect it's sucking the tone a bit, thinning it and making it brigther. But, until I can throw there a best pedal, as a Peterson's one, this is the best place for this pedal, since switching it off, the whole rig mutes.
After the tuner (that should be true bypass), the Wah is the natural election to lead the chain and, therefore, I've thrown there the Bonamassa's wah, in their stock setting (which I guess is buffered but, the internal dip switch has no sign that can help you, neither the user's manual. I've decided that once the rest of the pedalboard is ok, I will go back to the wah to check both modes and see how it impacts to the rest of the chain.
Next pedal, the compressor. The Wampler EGO compressor is the one I'm using for a long while.
Next pedal, just before my overdrives is where I like vintage vibes so, my Dry Bell Machine Vibe was placed there.
Then, I've tried the two Jetter pedals I love, the Gold 45/100 and the Jetdrive. While I had these pedals sorted with the Jetdrive stacked into the Gold, results weren't satisfactory at all.
This time, I've decided to swap the order of both pedals, stacking the Gold before the Jetdrive and... that was a great idea.
But, what I've noticed is that there was a drop in tone as soon as I've inserted the Jetdrive.
It seemed that the chain was safe with the five first pedals (tuner, wah, compressor, vibe and first overdrive) but, as soon as I've added the sixth, the tone started to suffer.
I've decided to insert the Wampler Decibel+ before those two overdrives, just to recover the signal level and guitar tone.
I've also discovered that the Vibe had a lot of impact over the overdrives, depending on its mode.
The Original mode (unbuffered output) worked better than the Bright mode (buffered output), as soon as I was able to recover the tone sucking with the Decibel placed just between the Vibe and the two overdrives.
Following those two Jetter's overdrives, I've checked several boxes that I wanted to cover the hi-gain distortion but, liked none. They all sounded or weak or undefined (compared to the Jetters).
None of the Jetter's distortions liked me: Red Square, Dharma; both seemed to me having less gain range than the Jetdrive itself.
Searching for a more liquid and bold distortion, I've checked also the Suhr Riot Reloaded and the Weehbo Bastard. None delivered what I am after.
I am thinking on to test the new Mesa Boogie's boxes, which sound as good candidates.
I've already tried Bogner's boxes and, probably the Red is a good candidate but, too big for my pedalboard room.
Anyway, I've decided to don't stack a higher distortion pedal after the two Jetter's overdrives until I have a firm candidate. So, my chain was ended with the all-in-one modulation effect, the Strymon Möbius and, my echo tape emulation, the Strymon El Capistan.
Jetter Gear Gold 45/100 and Jetdrive
These two are the two best overdrive pedals that I've tested up today and, the only two Jetter Gear's pedals I can highly recommend to anyone.
The Gold 45/100 is after nailing the tone of the early Marshall JTM45 and, I don't care how close it is to the real thing but, I really care (as always) is how useful it's for my needs.
There are several overdrive boxes that bring you that "Plexi" tone, somewhat close to the original Bassman tone (which the JTM was originally based on), which usually translates into a clean but warm sound, with a delicious break-up when picking hard.
Lots of good pedals are covering this soft-warm overdrive tone, as the Mad Professor Sweet Honey (delicious), the Wampler Tweed 57 or Plexi Drive or the Weehbo Plexdrive or Plexface.
None of the Wampler's had a really "clean warm" tone. They had a clear break-up that was there from the very beginning, as if the volume of the amp was always kranked, with more or less gain.
The Plexdrive had a lot of "clean warm" range and very few of "broke up" range, except if you switched on the boost section, which added a lot of floor noise (as the boost in Wampler's pedals).
Probably, the more balanced one was the Sweet Honey but, the kranked tone was a tad undefined to my taste.
I would say that the Gold 45/100 is closer to the good tone of the Weehbo, with an enhanced gain range closer to the Sweet Honey. As it happens with Weehbo pedals, one thing that defines Jetter Gear pedals is that they stand very defined even when at full gain but, differently from Weehbo pedals, the gain range seems greater in Jetter Gear overdrives (while their distortions lack gain!).
What I love of the Gold 45/100 is that, placed as the first gain stage in my pedalboard, it converts my amp into an old-school tube rectified amp so, my Hot Rod III Deville goes closer to an old Bassman, with that nice warm but sparkling clean. Rest of distortions stacked after, get an old-school tone that instantaneously remember the great bands of the '70s, when the Hard Rock was founded.
The Jetdrive is an awesome dual overdrive, with tons of gain on hands.
Playing with the Volume and Gain controls of each individual overdrive channel you can get lots of overdrive nuances, until you get the ones that better suit your needs. Tone control is highly responsive and, small touches have a direct impact in the sound.
The Green channel sounds to me with a crunchy attitude and, with an EQ probably bumped in mid-highs frequencies. The sound isn't compressed but, very open and in your face. Maybe, a British crunchy low to middle gain overdrive, more modern than vintage.
The Blue channel sounds to me more silky but slightly compressed, the EQ seems more even or with recessed mids. It has more gain available than the green channel but, surprisingly stays clean. Maybe a more American low to middle gain overdrive and, probably more vintage than modern (compared to the Green channel).
Stacking both pedals, you achieve tons of gain, enough to get the singing but liquid solos of a Peavey 5150 and, that remain so defined as in that amp. Sure, you cannot cover high gain metal distortion tones and, the pedal doesn't goes that hard in low end but, the tone is closer to the "brown sound" or the liquid tones that were available in the '80s - '90s.
The Gold stacked before any of the two channels of the Jetdrive or, before both channels stacked, adds warm and definition to the sound, taming down some high end.
Those two pedals together, give you 6 different nuances of overdrive/distortion, always very dynamic, responsive and organic. They sound more like an amp than like a pedal (as in the case of Weehbo's).
I wouldn't say that my pedalboard is already finish but, those two Jetter's are two clear keepers, right now. And, very interesting, I'm running those at standard 9V, since they are clear enough.
I made some video, while tweaking the pedals and, while testing them with some backing tracks to see how they help me with real performances.
First part of the video includes two improvisations over two free downloadable backing tracks. The first one was named "Blues in G" (If memory doesn't fail) and, the second one is based in "Old Love" by Eric Clapton. Pure improvisation, while testing the pedals, switched by hand.
The second part includes the building-on process of the foundational tone to which I add the the two Jetter's pedals. The foundational tone is built with the Wampler Decibel+ buffer/booster (to recover the signal level and tone lost after the Vibe) and the Strymon El Capistan (to add the Delay and better fit the guitar into the mix of the backing tracks).
Since my #1 guitar is on hands of my fellow friend Luthier (Alex Tirado, search that man if you are in Mataro or Barcelona areas!), I've used my PRS 513 Rosewood, since it can covers single coil, vintage and modern humbucker sounds so, I could get some compromised settings to be useful with the three types of pickups.
But, I've ended just checking singles and mid output humbuckers, in the building-on part. For the two improvisations, single coil modes were used, only.
Room' sound (and video) was recorded directly with a Zoom Q3HD device.
Sound wasn't processed in Pro Tools or any other kind of DAW.
In the Video Editor, I've just used IK Multimedia Classic Compressor (to bring back the sound level, dimmed by the low-sensitivity setting of the Q3HD) and the Brickwall Limiter (to avoid clipping). Nothing else used, no effect added.