Chase Bliss Audio MOOD Review and Demo

How will my simple punk music mix with these granular looper, delay, and overall noisemaker?

Cost: $349.00 from Chaseblissaudio.com, Amazon.com, or Reverb.com!

Overview:

I’m not sure there is a more hyped pedal company than Chase Bliss Audio. And unfortunately, I think I have let that cloud my judgement at times. The MOOD is just the latest in a long line of audio achievements by the Chase Bliss team, and while the expensive price points scared me away for awhile, I am seriously attached to this noise generator now.

The MOOD is arguably too complicated for me to explain in one article, but I do want to give my personal opinion on what this beautiful delay/reverb/pitch shifter/granular looper does. The MOOD is built around two sides, a WET channel and a looping channel. The WET channel features a spread of amazing reverb, delay, and pitch shifting effects that can devolve into madness when needed or stay crystal clear as well. The control knobs basically all change depending on what mode you have the WET and looping channels set to. Specifically, the Reverb channel is best described as a group of smearable delay taps, while the Delay channel is a looping delay, that is heavily influenced by the clock control, which allows for you to record different looping delays over each other. Slip, which is still a bit confusing to me, is an adjustable playback head, with a controllable length of the buffer via the time knob as well control over playback speed and direction, allowing for interesting pitching effects.

Moving over to the looping side quickly, there are three looping modes titled ENV, TAPE, and STRETCH. ENV features a dynamic looping structure that allows for freezing a note, stuttering a loop, or time stretching via the length and modify controls. TAPE works to give you control over the speed and direction of the loop, like manipulating a tape reel. You can slice up the loop with the length control, with it swelling in and out with the knob turned counter clockwise. Modify sets the speed/direction on top as well. Lastly, STRETCH will time stretch the loop, with control over the amount of the loop stretched and the amount of stretching.

Not to diminish the many other amazing functions, but definitely turn to their incredible manual as well. Though the best feature may be the variable ramping control provided by the suite of dipswitches and the blend control knob that sits about the clock knob. Using your own creativity or their recommended presets, you can have a wide range of ramping features moving in and out of your sonically generated madness.

Review & Opinion:

There is little more that can be said about the genius of this pedal, especially from someone like myself who is barely qualified to use it to its full potential. However, I think the highest praise I can give it is that the MOOD is equally as fun as it is inspiring. I was really shocked and a bit turned off by these $300+ price points for a pedal. I’ve even stated before that I choose to avoid such things.

However the minute I heard the cascade of musical delay taps from this pedal, I knew they were on to something. Even without all the ramping and micro looping features, this pedal could stand on just the Reverb and Delay settings housed within the WET channel. With smearable, lo-fi tones easily generated, I found myself right at home trying to make my punk meets “The Unforgettable Fire” textures. But at the same time, the delay and reverb modes can get incredibly clean and precise which creates some beautiful contrast with the looping capabilities.

Once I dove into the loops, I could slice up and modify my loops at will. And while there was no shortage of musical possibilities with this feature, the highlight was the production of so many synth-like soundscapes that I could play clean, delay-laden phrases over. While it may seem simplistic to say “I love just making noises with the MOOD”, that is really the truth. There is an endless pool of opportunities when you mix a clean guitar line over a smeared loop, or a sliced up micro looping delay over a clean granular looped arpeggio.

I set out to record this stuttering, punk breakdown loop, and before I knew it I was having too much fun just hunting for sounds throughout the 13 minute demo. In fact, I’m going to need to do a part 2 and 3 just to further explore the ramping functionality and ability to run the loop into the delay and back.

But really what I want to emphasize here is that the Chase Bliss MOOD makes me want to play guitar a lot more than my other pedals do. And that is something to be celebrated.

Conclusion & Final Score: 9.25 out of 10

The big reason this isn’t a second 10/10 in 2021 is simply the price. It is a fair price for one of the most unique and exciting pedals on the market, but it is just not a pedal that everyone will need, want, or be able to even acquire. And no one really needs a $350 pedal to be a good guitarist anyway, so I do see the MOOD as kind of a luxury item. However, that is where my negative feedback ends.

To make a pedal that is actually an extension of a musician and their guitar is a huge accomplishment. The MOOD is equal parts instrument and pedal, providing a really fun live tool or at-home inspiration piece. It’s no doubt one of the coolest, and most intimidating, pedals I’ve tried and I’m looking forward to following up on this content as I dive deeper and deeper into it. I anticipate its score may even move up a notch prior to my end of the year ranking. But at least for the MOOD, Chase Bliss Audio is doing something that literally no one else seems to be able to do.

Walrus Audio Mako Series ACS-1 Amp and Cab Sim Review: A Cleaner Dream Come True?

With superb cleans, increased functionality, and stereo sounds will the Walrus Audio ACS-1 be my ideal pedal platform?

Cost & Overview: $399 from WalrusAudio.com, Amazon.com, or Reverb.com (some affiliate links)

With my month long trip to Chicago underway, I’ve had to fully commit to going without my Vox AC15. One of the pedals I brought along for the ride was the Walrus Audio ACS-1, a part of their Mako series that was unveiled in early 2021. Now the Strymon Iridium is obviously a big point of comparison here, but the ACS-1 is a unique take on this format that has surprised me quite a bit.

Most importantly is the ability to dial in stereo amp sounds using the L-R toggle switch. You can dial in a single amp when the switch is in the middle, the “+” setting, but you can set the left and right side of your headphones or signal to each be a different amp. So while I’m not a big user of stereo rigs, it is a really cool feature. In fact, I’ve been having a blast mixing dirty and clean Vox AC30 sounds on top of each other for my pedal demos and song scratch tracks. Don’t forget the mono and stereo output jacks as well.

Your standard 3-band EQ is a wonderful touch, as is the room reverb setting which really helps add a dimension of reality into your dialed-in amp sounds. You get three amp voices to choose from including Fullerton (Fender Deluxe Reverb), London (1962 Marshall Bluesbreaker), and Dartford (’60s Vox AC30). The choice of the cleaner Bluesbreaker Marshall amp instead of a higher gain Plexi is quite interesting to me, and furthers the slight limitations of the onboard gain on this pedal.

A built-in boost footswitch someone rectifies this, allowing you to keep your same tonal footprint but with the volume and gain increased to your liking. It also comes stock with 6 cab IR’s which are controlled via the ABC toggle, simply hold down the bypass switch while toggling them to go from the first 3 to the second 3 options. You can even save up to three presets as well!

Review & Opinion:

As you can see, there is quite the impressive spec sheet attached to this Walrus Audio product. The ACS-1 clearly set out to impress the tone tweaking side of the guitar world a bit more than comparable products have. For me, a lot of these features are not necessarily useful though I appreciate the detail put into this product. What really struck me though is how fun and natural these amp sounds are, particularly the Vox AC30 settings. While the onboard gain could use a little bit of tweaking, it still nails those edge of breakup tones and light overdrives. Activating the boost function does kick the amp into overdrive a good bit, and it stacks surprisingly well with other drives and distortions.

Fuzz pedals seem to be a little more touchy and require an extra minute to dial in. But I loved how the Blues Driver and Klon Klone I have interacted with the ACS-1. And the ability to dial in two amps on each side is quite frankly, awesome. Tracking song ideas and pedal demos was sick with both a clean and dirty Vox AC30 running side by side. You can hear a good bit of dynamics too, not quite as touch sensitive as the real deal, but way closer than I expected.

The true sonic highlight here though might be the pristine and rich clean sounds. With the room reverb control employed, this Walrus ACS-1 is a pedal platform dream come true. While the lack of onboard gain is disappointing, the fact that this takes pedals so well makes me think it would be a killer studio or gigging amp solution. The Fender and Marshall amps also sounded good, though I’m not as familiar with those amp models as I am with the Vox. So if the Vox was this well done, it is safe to assume the others are fairly true to form. When using the Bluesbreaker mode, it did have a really subtle but sustaining overdrive characteristic that was awesome for fingerpicking and lead lines too. Overall, I have no doubts this pedal could do anything I would need in a live or recording setting.

Final Conclusion & Rating: 9.3 out of 10

While my review may seem relatively short for such a complicated pedal, that is more a reflection of how easy it is to pull great sounds out of this Mako Series stomp box. While there might be a bit of options paralysis if you’re like me and prefer a stripped down amplifier, many of these features are not required to get your money’s worth out of the pedal. It’s been cool to mess around with running two amp voices, but mostly I’m just delighted to get high quality tube amp tones out of a pedal. Think of this as a $400 tube amp with multiple channels instead of a $400 pedal. Because personally, $400 for a pedal is something that would lose major points in my book.

This can no doubt replace my Vox amp and it already has for the pedal demos I’ve done while in my temporary apartment. If anything, I think this may sound better in the pedal demos than my mic’d up Vox AC15. While the Vox amp wins in the room while pushing air, this is quite transformative for late night practicing and quick recording.

My genuine first reaction to this pedal was “huh, Walrus is ripping off Strymon”. Really, I can see that they instead wanted to improve on that idea and make it a little more appealing for a different section of the guitar market. And most importantly, they executed these ideas really well. I think I would prefer the more simple Iridium for my personal needs, but objectively this is probably the slightly better product on the market.

Earthquaker Devices Astral Destiny Reverb Review and Demo

How will this shimmery, octave, celestial reverb fit into my rig and pedalboard?

Grab your own via Reverb.com, Earthquakerdevices.com, and Amazon.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Cost: $199.00

My first ever Earthquaker Devices experience could not have been more cool. I was shopping around Chicago Music Exchange when I decided I was going to try out some real weird pedals. At home, none of the stores have a particularly exciting collection of pedals, so I figured this might be my only shot to try some EQD, Walrus, or crazy boutique stuff.

Well, I plugged into this and quickly knew I had to buy it. The Astral Destiny is not only incredibly versatile, packing 8 reverb types into the pedal, but it just sounds like The Unforgettable Fire in a box. Shimmery, octave reverbs with flexible modulation and an awesome stretch feature, how could anyone not like this? The second footswitch, the aforementioned stretch, doubles the tail of the reverb, providing an echo-like aura of sound around your guitar signal. Depth, rate, and tone work a lot like they would on any modulation pedal you know and love, with mix controlling the volume of the effect relative to your dry signal. There’s even an area to save multiple presets next to the reverb’s length control and the rotary of options.

Sound & Opinion:

It’s stupid how fun this pedal is. And trust me, I feel like I was a bit prejudice against it when it was released earlier in 2021. It seemed like just another boutique reverb for the P&W crew to swoon over that was no different than a Boss RV-6.

I was so wrong. My disdain for most boutique “trendy” guitar pedals is well known, but so far, I’ve been way more impressed by the Strymon, Walurs, Earthquaker, and Chase Bliss stuff than I ever expected to be. The Astral Destiny is no different. With a plethora of cool reverb options, I was able to dial in a more “normal” cathedral reverb that I like with the Abyss setting. Shimmer does everything you could want from a shimmer reverb and way more when you dial in the speed and depth controls to modulate it. But the other octave settings are where this really shined.

The Sub Shimmer (both upper and lower octave on reverb tail), and the Sub (lower octave on reverb tail) produce such unique but useable sounds. Dial in a subtle, barely modulated Sub reverb and you’ve got an amazing punk lead tone. Crank the Sub Shimmer mode for lush sounding chords and arpeggios that would make an indie guitarist blush. Considering there are even more, save-able options like a regenerating fifth (Cosmos), downward pitch bend (Descend), upward pitch bend (Ascend), and a regenerating dual octave (Astral) you will never need another reverb again.

Now this will NOT do your spring/plate, sort of more vintage reverb tones. But it will do just above everything else. So for me, the best thing would be to pair this with an amp with onboard reverb, like an old Vox or Fender-style combo. Or go crazy and pair it with another reverb, that would probably be awesome!

Conclusions & Final Ratings: 9.5 out of 10

When I first tried this at CME, right before I bought it, I was shocked to learn it was $199. I genuinely was expecting it to be $250+. This pedal is a phenomenal value in the sense that it can do so much, it can do so much well, and it plays really nicely with other pedals. In fact, one of my favorite applications for it is pairing it with a gritty overdrive to produce this synth-like sound that I came up with at the end of the demo video above.

It’s going to be all over my music in the future. This Astral Destiny replaced the RV-6 on my board, and has offered me inspiration for some new lo-fi, soundscapes that I like to incorporate into punk breakdowns and solos. For something a little different, but entirely useful and musical, the Earthquaker Devices Astral Destiny is a must-try pedal from 2021.

Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special Review and Demo

Combining unique pickup configurations with top of the line specs, the Contemporary Strat Special is a keeper.

Cost: $449.99 from Fender.com, Amazon.com, and Reverb.com (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.4 out of 10

Announced earlier this year, Squier and Fender have drastically expanded their popular Contemporary Series of guitars. And it has gotten even weirder than it was before, to the delight of many. The Contemporary Stratocaster Special is a unique twist on the 3-pickup guitar that has dominated the market since its inception. While there are many noteworthy features on this sub-$500 Strat, the coolest might be the new pickup configuration that places the middle “SQR” single coil right up against the bridge pup, with all three slanted. The 5 way switching works like this:

Position 5: Neck

Position 4: Bridge + Middle + Neck

Position 3: Middle + Neck in parallel

Position 2: Middle

Position 1: Bridge + Middle in series

Other premium features of note include the inclusion of a C-shaped Roasted Maple neck with 22 Jumbo frets. For $450, that’s a pretty impressive spec. The Modern 2 point tremolo feels a long way from cheap Squier guitars I grew up with, adding a good bit of user friendliness. And if that hasn’t won you over yet, there is a sculpted neck heel for easy access to those higher frets. For those keeping track at home, the other specs of note include a poplar body with a gloss polyurethane finish, and 12″ fretboard radius.

Sound: 7

There are very few guitars in this price range that squeeze so many unique sounds into one package. This is not a Strat in the way that you know it, but it is still a phenomenal instrument any way you cut it. The middle pickup, by itself, is such a cool sound. It’s jangly and bright, but has a bit more body than you would ever get out of another Strat middle pickup position. It sounds great with some light gain for this punk/garage rock/garage pop sound that has always been a favorite of mine. All three pickups engaged is also a strange, but useful combination that yielded some truly interesting rhythm guitar tones. I’m really anxious to record this in a mix and follow up on how it tracked alongside my other Strats.

Overall though, this is just a fun sounding instrument with a very useful and unique sonic fingerprint. This Squier is also a little bit of a blank canvas when you need it to be. It took all sorts of effects really well and can easily be turned into a much more familiar Stratocaster with some of the classic positions still available.

Playability: 6.5

The Roasted Maple neck feels and looks great, providing a smooth experience up and down the neck. This is partially due to the inclusion of the neck contour, as well as the modern approach the C-shaped Strat neck they were going for. So why the slightly lower grade? The fret buzz was a real problem for me on this instrument. It wasn’t unplayable, especially in a live setting with high volume, but just jamming in my apartment, I expected way less. The fret work looks good and feels good, so it is likely a result of the truss rod needing a slight adjustment.

You would think that the somewhat elevated price of this Squier compared to others would allow for a better setup. Instead it seems they used the money to fill out the spec sheet but left a bit to be desired on the QA/QC side of things. Which isn’t a major ding on the playability, because a quick setup from a tech and you’re off to the races! But just something that will definitely keep this from being a superb score despite great tuning stability, a nice tremolo, and an awesome neck.

Finish & Construction: 8

Despite the annoying fret buzz, most everything else on the Contemporary Stratocaster Special is top notch. The finish seems to be close to flawless, certainly exceptional for the sub-$500 price point. And the inclusion of the painted headstock to match the finish is a big win in my book. It helps give the guitar a complete look and attitude that I really love. The choices of jumbo frets, Roasted Maple, and unique wiring are really carrying the weight here, and rightfully so. This is just one of the coolest Squier’s I’ve ever played and it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Otherwise, there’s no improperly installed hardware, no real pickup buzz or hiss that is out of the ordinary, or much else to complain about besides fret buzz.

Value: 8

All things considered, this feels like great value and a strong purchase. Squier’s Contemporary Stratocaster Special is just quirky enough that you can’t really get it anywhere else, but also effective enough that you really will want to play it in any scenario. The spec sheet also gives this a ton of amazing mod potential, as you have killer Strat bones to build around. The rest of the Contemporary line from Squier has been equally well received, so hopefully this will be expanded on further in the coming years. But if you’re looking for a Strat that is so much more than just a cheap copy, this might be the guitar for you. I think comparatively, this would outcompete a lot of Ibanez or Yamaha models in the price range in terms of feel and tone. I’d like to even through up against some of the cooler PRS SE models in the future as well. But this is getting a strong recommendation from me, Fender and Squier knocked it out of the park with this Contemporary Stratocaster Special!

Good for: Indie/Alternative Rock, Garage/Punk Rock, Pop, Stratocaster Fans, DIY Mod Projects, Players Who Want Something Quirky

Flamma Innovation FC-02 Reverb and FC-05 Modulation Pedal Reviews

Will mini pedals from an up and coming Chinese brand re-set my opinion about Amazon pedals?

Overview & Cost: $39.99 from Amazon.com (Reverb) Amazon.com (Modulation)

Flamma Innovation has recently carved out a bit of space for itself in the pedal world thanks to their larger pedals which feature an impressive amount of features for the $100 and lower price tag. However, their most recent releases make use of the mini pedal form factor while still packing in quite a few flavors of reverb and modulation. The FC-02 (reverb) and FC-05 (modulation) are $40 pedals that might look just like any old Amazon mini pedal. However, there is definitely a little bit more attention put into this little boxes.

The FC-05 holds a whopping 11 modulation effects in one pedal, with control, speed, and depth knobs for shaping each one. Classic modulations like Tremolo, Flanger, Chorus, Vibrato, Phaser, and Rotary Speaker are all present. A uni-vibe like “Liquid” voicing precedes an auto-wah (that’s kind of cool to see here), Ring Modulator, Stutter, and finally a bit crusher-type effect. Their website is exceptionally lacking in details about these pedals, though the control knob seems to work as a sort of mix or volume parameter that seems to change with the effect type. It’s a real grab bag of fun stuff that would be great for a utility role on a crowded gigging or recording board.

The FC-02 features 3 distinct reverb types by the name of Studio, Church, and Plate. Church has a sort of echo-like quality, while Studio sounds like a water down Spring reverb. The big decay knob seems to sort out how much body and echo the reverb effect will have. Mix allows for control over the blend of the reverb signal and your original clean signal, while tone seems to really sharpen or muddy up the reverberated signal.

Review & Opinion:

It’s unfortunate to say, but the FC-02 is fairly underwhelming. It is fine as a standard reverb pedal if you want to thicken up your sound or add some atmospherics. But I hear little difference between the three modes. Maybe I’m picky because I’m a bit of a reverb fanatic (Unforgettable Fire is one of my favorite albums), but it just doesn’t really do it for me. In fact, most of the sounds on this pedal aren’t really too useable. The decay knob isn’t super sensitive, though the mix knob can dial in some more precise tones. Including a tone knob seems a bit wasteful on this pedal as well? Below noon it is pretty muddy and turns your signal into a bit of a swirl of sound. If you’re into that real lo-fi sound maybe this is for you! But for most standard reverb applications, this isn’t really doing it for me.

I definitely think there are a few great sounds hidden in here and guitarists more creative than me might have no problem pulling them out. On the other hand, the FC-05 is one of the most fun pedals I’ve had in awhile. None of the effects will wow you with sound quality, but they are all mostly passable. For me, pedals like this are super convenient because I’m often making sacrifices on a live board, demo board, or even my home studio board when it comes to modulation. I rarely feature more than 2 on a board at a time, even though I’d love to have phaser, flanger, tremolo, and chorus at the least.

Getting all of those and more in one little box is super convenient if you’re not a world touring guitarist like myself with real space and budget limitations. There are a few redundancies and disappointments, but nothing that wouldn’t make me buy this pedal. The stutter is basically a faster tremolo, the auto wah is really a bit more phaser-ish than you may want. Also, the bit crusher is just…weird? It’s not very musical, though I think I just need to spend more time with it. The ring mod was a cool feature to have thrown in with the otherwise standard modulation mix too.

Conclusions & Final Ratings:

Flamma Innovations FC-02 Reverb: 5 out of 10

Flamma Innovations FC-05 Modulation: 6.8 out of 10

The FC-02 Reverb grades out as roughly average to slightly below average. I think it is a perfectly competent reverb if you’re only looking for a few, simple sounds. For anything more than standard tones, you should look elsewhere. And it really is a bummer that it doesn’t have a good spring sound because that is becoming more and more popular, especially in the new wave punk music I prefer. The $40 price tag represents fine value, but overall the pedal is just sort of boring, though not offensive. Which is what a 5 out of 10 really feels like to me.

The higher grade for the FC-05 Modulation is due to the higher versatility and thus higher value for money score I handed out while doing my ratings. There’s some interesting choices and unpleasant sounds, but overall, the FC-05 is a ton of fun that can solve problems and save board space for the needy musician like myself. Both pedals also feel a bit more sturdy and well put together than your average $40 mini pedal. So for me, it is safe to say they grade out above your Kmise, Amazon Basics, or Mosky products. I definitely am intrigued by the larger, more complex Flamma Innovations pedals after trying these, as I think they might be on to something here with just a bit more of a refined touch.

Interchange Noise Works Unveils The Streamline Series And I Got The I Overdrive

How will the latest release my from favorite pedal company stack up to the dozens of drives I employ?

Overview & Cost: $94.99 from Interchangenoiseworks.com

Interchange Noise Works is back with a new line of pedals called the Streamline Series, which offers up three different gain stages all under $100 USD. With only a single volume knob, these pedals are curated to provide affordable, easy to use gain tones that every guitarist should love. The series consists of the I overdrive, the II transparent drive/boost, and the III distortion.

I decided to go with the Streamline I myself, as I was looking for a sort of gritty, always-on overdrive. The Streamline I is based off of an old Electra Distortion circuit with some tweaks and mods to dial in the overdriven sound. With convenient top jacks, a single knob, and an affordable price tag, this is an incredibly user friendly overdrive pedal. This is definitely an overdrive that is more of an amp sizzle, borderline distortion generator, instead of a rip off of a Klon/Tube Screamer/Timmy-style circuit.

Review & Opinion

I’m a huge fan of this Streamline I overdrive for one simple reason: it perfectly emulates the type of overdrive and distortion you only get from cranking an amp way too loud. Even though it is based around the rare Electra distortion, it really doesn’t feel as derivative as most overdrive pedals I review and demo. In fact, it kind of sounds nothing like the drive stages I usually employ. It nails the sizzle and overloaded sound that I use a treble booster to achieve.

It also gets major love from me because of how nicely it cleans up as you roll down your guitar’s volume knob. It doesn’t just get quiet, it actually really cleans up, letting you play pretty dynamically with just a slight adjustment to the output. Overall, the Streamline I does cross over into the distortion realm a good bit more than you might think. But it isn’t similar to that compressed, sort of saturated distortion tone that comes to mind from more well-known gain stages like a DS-1, RAT, etc…

Instead, it is a this very bright, crispy, sizzling gain that is quite enjoyable. I layered it with shimmery reverb from the Astral Destiny and had this killer fuzz-synth sounds emerge. Kick off all other pedals into the amp and you’re left with a gritty, punk or garage rock sounds. It’s even close to that shredded speaker sound of The Kinks or The Who. My glowing recommendation of this pedal goes out to those who want a unique sounding overdrive that will naturally blow up their amp.

Conclusion & Final Rating: 8.3 out of 10

While the Streamline I misses out on a top tier score due to a lack of flexible controls, everything else about this pedal is extremely impressive. I love the price point, how it fits on my board, and that it is not just another derivative overdrive circuit. I’d love the chance to stack this with the II and III, as they were built with that signal chain order in mind. But by now, Interchange Noise Works has established themselves as my absolute favorite pedal company when it comes to gain and distortion. Looks like this will have a long life on my main board right behind the Element 119!

Introducing StripFX and their KC94 Klon Klone

A Klone in a custom orange encasing from a company that will build custom clones and pedals? Sign me up.

Cost: $125 from Reverb.com, also hit up StripFX on Instagram!

StripFX is a relatively new pedal maker on the scene and unlike a lot of the pedals you’ve seen me demo and review, they mostly focus on making customized or one off clones with a creative touch. Many of StripFX’s products are custom orders, though they also experiment with some pretty cool concepts themselves. Just after I got this, they posted a killer Klon + Tube Screamer 2 in 1 pedal that I bet sounds just as killer as this Klon Klone.

The pedal in question here is pretty straight forward however, with your standard gain, tone, and volume controls for the sought after transparent overdrive. The simple, bright orange big box enclosure is a nice touch however, and StripFX makes several colors available when it comes time to order your own pedal. Dubbed the KC94, this pedal sounds best with the gain at noon or higher, like the original Klon was intended for. So all of you out there using the Klon or a Klone as a clean boost, what are you doing??

Review & Opinion:

For the price, this is one of the best takes on the Klon I’ve tried in a while! While my trusty EHX Soul Food will always be a great budget option, this isn’t too much more expensive and has a bit more of a unique visual profile. The StripFX KC94 definitely works best with the gain cranked up, providing a nice sparkle and body to your guitar tone that sits somewhere between distortion and overdrive. I’m really loving how it sounds with big, open chords, it is definitely something that I’ll use for rhythm guitar tones quite often.

The controls are also really sensitive, with a good bit of sweep and control over the tonal and gain sounds. So while this isn’t anything I haven’t heard or experienced before, it’s honestly really cool to have my own Klon Klone in a finish of my choice that is well built, and more affordable than most options on the market. And while I am a fan of cheaper pedals, of which there are many Klones, the sonic fingerprint of this KC94 from StripFX is definitely superior to anything you’d find on Amazon.

While I’m relatively new to transparent overdrives, I do find the Klon circuit to be really easy to use. There’s no bad sounds in it, and it can do everything from boost to drive to heavy dirt when paired with a good amp. This specific pedal can also be had in a standard sized pedal enclosure if you’re worried about board real estate, but I loved the idea of having a larger, more Klon-like shape!

Conclusion & Final Rating: 7 out of 10

For $120 I got a custom colored Klon pedal that sounds like the real deal. That’s a hell of a deal, especially in today’s inflated pedal marketplace. If you want two classic circuits in one box, an uncommon expensive circuit at a better price, or really anything you can imagine, it seems StripFX might just be the pedal maker to talk to. Their instagram is littered with cool builds, concepts, and ideas.

I’m all about helping highlight smaller builders and companies, especially when they don’t really come with a boutique price tag. And I think StripFX is really worth your time to check out. As much as I love all the unique pedals I get to try, it is nice to really solid, reliable basics on my board for live gigging and recording. This KC94 perfectly nails that need and I’m very happy to recommend it or another one of their builds.

Strymon Iridium Amp and Cab Sim Review: Is This A Dream Come True?

I think I finally found the amp in a box solution I’ve been looking for.

Overview & Cost: $399.00 from Strymon.net, Amazon.com, and Reverb.com (some affiliate links).

I’ve long been a hold out when it comes to making the switch from tube amplifiers to amp and cab sims and modelers. While the Line6 Pod Go got me pretty intrigued by the whole process, it did not replace my beloved Vox AC15. Enter the Strymon Iridium.

At the time of writing this review, I have switched over to doing all of my pedal and guitar demos with the Strymon Iridium at the end of my signal chain. While all three amp channels sound good, the chime (modeled after a Vox AC30) is unbelievably close to my actual amp tone. The other two are no slackers either, based off a Fender Deluxe Reverb (“Round” setting) and a Marshall Plexi (“Punch” setting). There’s also 9 iconic guitar amp cabinet impulse responses (IRs) that come stock on the Iridium, though you can also load your own IRs via their websites Impulse Manager software. So, you can plug your pedal in and really dial in or download the cab IRs you want in addition to the fabulous ones pre-loaded (which include AC30, Blues Junior, GNR, Mesa, and many more iconic amp sounds).

You also get controls for room reverb (SUPER useful), bass-middle-treble, drive, and overall level. The EQ controls can also take on different roles depending on the amp you picked, i.e. you get the classic Vox “Tone Cut” knob control via the mids knob when on the “chime” setting. You can save your favorite setting, and recall it anytime by hitting the second footswitch on the left.

Review & Opinion:

This is, without a doubt, the closest I will ever get to my amplifier tone in the room via an amp/cab sim. The Vox “chime” voicing is just dead on when you actually use the room reverb control. As my friend Taylor from PedalHaven astutely pointed out “Use the room reverb! There is one key difference between playing through a real guitar amp and an amp simulator. The room. When playing through a real guitar amplifier, your sound bounces around and interacts with the room the amp is in.”

This couldn’t be more spot on, as all three amp settings (Fender, Vox, Marshall) totally come alive with the room reverb around 9 o’clock at least. It really accentuates the strength of the Iridium, which in my opinion is the onboard gain sounds. You can dial in real warm, rich amp distortion on the Vox and Marshall channels especially. And as someone who gets a lot of their basic gain structure from my Vox AC15 being cranked, this is a game changer for me. I’m in my apartment late at night but can’t crank my amp to record a pedal demo or write a song? Not a problem anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, this pedal will not make me sell my Vox AC15, but will certainly make it much easier to record, practice, and even gig without hauling my amp around or sacrificing tone. That’s totally worth the price of the Strymon Iridium. The price is even more reasonable when you treat this as an amp, not a $400 pedal (which is very much not something I’m usually into). I love that I can dial in my perfect Vox settings, save it, and then play through a cranked Marshall Plexi with my personal tone now just a click away thanks to the “fav” footswitch.

Conclusion & Final Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Yes, this pedal genuinely deserves the high score. This isn’t something Guitar Player Magazine BS where they just give the trending pedal a high score, the Strymon Iridium is thoroughly impressive and a bit life changing for me as a staunch tube amp conservative. As much as I want to do my thing, and rail against expensive gear, this isn’t a $400 pedal. It’s a $400 amplifier. That changes my weighting, scoring, and approach quite a bit.

In the sports world, saying that someone is versatile as their best trait is usually a polite way of saying they aren’t very good. That is not the case here when I call the Iridium a versatile solution to amplification. The Marshall, Fender, and Vox channels are all excellent in their own right for recording or playing but it is so fun to have all of them in one box. Of course there are other amp flavors out there you’d want, but you can’t expect them to squeeze an old Ampeg or niche Silvertone into this pedal.

All that and I haven’t even dived into the world of creating and loading my own IRs. There is a lot to like here and I’m anxious to continue to find out how to best use the Iridium. But for now, it has successfully given me something that makes me as happy as my Vox AC15 does, but with more portability, convenience, and flexibility.

Musiclily Fuzz and AD-01 Analog Delay Pedal Review

Upgraded pedals from Musiclily have arrived and it is a mixed bag of sounds, form functions, and quality.

Overview & Cost: $47.42 from Amazon.com!

Remember those small, re-branded Kmise pedals from Musiclily I previously reviewed? Well these new pedals are a lot more exciting than those! Musiclily has released a whole line of bigger box pedals that cover all the basics at a convenient $40-ish price point. The prices seem to fluctuate a bit between $42-$47, but either is still generally affordable. I was sent the FUZZ and AD-01 Analog Delay pedals to review, but they also have some interesting SD-1 and English Invasion-inspired drives as well.

The AD-01 is a short and sweet analog tape delay pedal with your standard delay controls for mix, delay time, and number of repeats. The FUZZ pedal is a bit more interesting, with your standard level, tone, and sustain (gain) controls that you might find on a Big Muff pedal paired with a toggle switch. That toggle switch lets you go between two voices that include a Big Muff-style fuzz labeled “Special” and an Octave Fuzz labeled “Normal”. Why they consider the Big Muff to be more “special” than the octave fuzz is beyond me. Both of these pedals can be powered by your standard 9v power supply and have adaptors if you wish to use a battery instead.

Review & Opinion:

Let’s start off with the FUZZ, which is the better of the two pedals by far. The Big Muff “Special” side is a wonderful surprise. With rich, distortion-like sustain, you can really nail a ton of vintage fuzz sounds akin to early Gilmour sounds as well as the new wave of garage rock and lo-fi rock. Think your Black Keys or Jack White’s projects or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as well. The controls are not all that sensitive, with the tone quickly muddying up the fuzz when it goes past 10 AM on the dial. Meanwhile the sustain works best if you are adjusting the volume accordingly. When you flip the toggle switch over to the octave side it becomes a new beast.

The octave fuzz isn’t going to replace my Danelectro 3699 fUZZ, but it adds some wonderful versatility and value to this affordable fuzz pedal. I found the octave setting to be a bit weak, it was hard to really adjust the volume of the octave effect. Though it certainly did thicken up single note phrases and riffs nicely. If anything, it adds a second fuzz sound that will help keep things interesting on your pedalboard. It is worth noting that the fuzz changes from a distinct Big Muff sound to a clearer, more Tone Bender-like sound.

The AD-01 Analog Delay gets much lower marks from me sadly. For whatever reason, this delay just can’t really cut through the mix and make much of an impact. It is an incredibly short delay, maxing out at just a slight echo really. Even with the mix, time, and repeats all dimed, it still barely sounds like an oversaturated analog delay I know. There aren’t many repeats available simply put. It’s maybe even more of a reverb than an echo to be honest. It sounds fine for what it is, but it does not do what any analog delay fan would want, or expect for their delay to do. I would argue you avoid this pedal unless you specifically want a short, reverb-like, slap back delay only.

Conclusions & Final Ratings:

Musiclily AD-01 Analog Delay: 4.5 out of 10

Musiclily FUZZ: 6.5 out of 10

I love that Musiclily invested in their own pedal line that is (seemingly) not a rip off or rebrand of anything. The FUZZ pedal is on to something, providing an affordable and versatile gain stage for beginners and pros alike. If you’re cash strapped but looking to expand your board, that is definitely a pedal I’ll be recommending in the coming months. However, the score is still limited by the fact that the first one they sent me ended up being defective, which has happened to me a few times with Musiclily products. Frankly, their quality control needs some work. The AD-01 is also just a poorly designed, or at least poorly labeled circuit. Perhaps if they re-market it as a slap back or reverb/echo it would make more sense. But overall, I’m not scared off from Musiclily pedals, just a bit skeptical and of their origins, quality control, and marketing.

Music Box Pedals Lyla Drive Review

My first experience with a Timmy circuit is equally as impressive as it is eye catching.

Overview & Cost: $169 from Musicboxpedals.com or find one on Reverb.com!

Searching for that perfect overdrive pedal is a never ending quest for me. And that’s partly just because I feel like I’m still learning about all the different types and variants. I didn’t even really know the difference between a Blues Driver and Tube Screamer until a few years ago. So with that eagerness to learn about the different types of drives, I had settled on a Timmy-style circuit being next on my list.

Little did I know the Lyla Drive from Music Box Pedals was even a Timmy. I was attracted to the pedal thanks to the fact that it shares a name with one of my favorite Oasis songs. Featuring a 2-band EQ (high and low controls), gain, and volume controls, the Lyla Drive is a transparent drive, meaning it doesn’t alter the signal outside of the volume and gain boost. Additionally, the mini toggle switch lets you choose between 3 clipping options, a very nice touch that helps this pedal fit a variety of situations.

Like the Timmy before it, the Lyla Drive is characterized by the smooth increase in gain and slight volume boost that isn’t as overpowering as some mid-boosted drives. The Lyla Drive does come in some cool custom colors though, and Music Box Pedals seems inclined to continue making pretty diverse finish options.

Review & Opinion

While the Lyla Drive may not be as inventive as some of the gain pedals I’ve reviewed to date, it is still refreshingly fun to plug into. It’s my first experience with a Timmy-style drive, but I can easily see why people are so fond of the circuit. First off, the ability to switch the toggle to control the clipping styles brings a ton of versatility to this pedal. You can get an assymetrical, almost TS-like sound, and then switch over to a pristine, transparent drive sound. Additionally, the 2-band EQ is a great feature as well which gives this pedal so much more power than those with just a standard tone knob.

Specifically adding in more bass at times helps really thicken up the distortion and higher gain sounds. But you can also roll it off to control the mid and bass punch that can sometimes muddy up a low gain or boost setting. So really, it can be tailored to a wide variety of settings you might want or need. I think the Lyla Drive sounds best as an always-on low gain overdrive. It is crispy, clear, and nails that edge of breakup amp tone that I really love for my playing. The softer you pick, the cleaner it will be which makes it a breeze for me to go between indie rock swirls of modulation and raw punk tones.

Versatility and clarity are probably the Lyla Drive’s calling cards, even though the unique color options and form factor are incredibly appealing as well! Music Box, in my opinion, seemed to prioritize crafting a pedal that could work for almost anyone with their take on the Timmy and it really nails that in my opinion. From Blues to Rock to (surprisingly) high gain Metal, this Lyla Drive can do a ton!

Conclusions & Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Whether you are looking to dip into the Timmy circuit hype or you’re looking for a truly versatile OD, the Music Box Pedals Lyla Drive is a great option. The $169 price point seems to be really mid-price range for a boutique pedal and I feel that’s an appropriate cost for what you’re getting. I do think there is some further value in the fact that Timmy-style overdrives have not exactly proliferated the market at affordable prices. Klons, Tube Screamers, Blues Breakers are available in every imagine-able flavor, price point, and form factor. Timmy? Not as much. But more importantly Music Box Pedals has just seemed to really put together a solid pedal that sounds great, looks great, and can play a number of roles for the modern guitar player! It’s definitely going to be one of the highlights of this year for sure!