Four new dirt boxes with a little extra boost
By Phil O'Keefe
If you're familiar with some of Tech 21's other "Boost" series pedals, these are a bit different. Unlike their excellent Boost D.L.A. and Boost Chorus pedals, the boost being referred to here isn't the ability to increase the pedal's output level beyond unity gain with the level knob. Rather, these four new pedals include a separate, independently switchable boost mounted into the same case as the drive or fuzz. The boost follows the distortion in the signal path, so that your volume level increases when you engage the boost instead of having it slam the input of the dirt pedal harder. This lets you keep the same sound, but increase the output level for solos and leads.
Boosts are also great for driving the input of your tube amp harder, and these boosts can add up to 21dB of clean gain to your signal. You can dial up the dirt just the way you want it, then control the overall output with the boost. And since the clean boost can be used independently, you can also utilize it as a volume boost for clean leads too, without engaging the dirt side of the pedal. Adding boosts to dirt pedals is brilliant, but you have to start with great dirt to really get the most out of it. All four pedals are 100% analog, and feature an outstanding range of fuzz, distortion and overdrive sounds, depending on the model you select. While vintage inspired, the tonal range of each pedal is fairly broad, and each covers quite a range within their respective categories. With so many cool sounds on tap, I suspect many players will want more than one of these pedals.
All pedals in the series feature metal enclosures measuring 4.5"D x 3.5"W x 1.5"H, are powered by a 9V battery or 2.1mm center-negative 9VDC adapter (not included), and feature Tech 21's buffered bypass with silent actuators for click-free switching. Let's take a look at each of the four pedals.
BOOST OVERDRIVE ($195 MSRP, $149.00 "street")
The Tech 21 Boost Overdrive (Fig. 1) targets the classic bluesy overdrive tones of the 70s, and nails them. Your classic SRV type screamer tones are easy to get, but the Boost Overdrive has greater reach in terms of overall tonal range and drive control. Add in the boost and you can really take things up a notch. The Boost Overdrive worked equally well for me when generating all the dirt itself and feeding a clean amp, or when pushing a slightly distorted tube amp into full-out saturation. In addition to Boost, Level, Tone, and Drive knobs, the Sparkle knob adds in upper harmonics for more open sounding highs.
Figure 1: The Tech 21 Bass Boost Overdrive (click on images to enlarge)
BOOST FUZZ ($195 MSRP, $149 "street")
Featuring Level, Tone Drive, Sag, and Boost controls, the Boost Fuzz lets you dial up just the right balance of fuzz and volume. This pedal specializes in smooth, sustainy fuzz tones, but it is also capable of generating spitty, gated, and ragged timbres too, especially when you dime the Drive, Tone and Sag controls. The Tone control is very powerful and provides a wide range of timbres. The Sag control adjusts the way the pedal responds to your pick attack, simulating the slight compression you get with a tube rectifier when you really dig in. The touch sensitive responsiveness is impressive, and unusual for a fuzz pedal.
Figure 2: The Tech 21 Boost Fuzz
BOOST DISTORTION ($195.00 MSRP, $149.00 "street")
This is for the rockers and metalheads out there. The Boost Distortion doesn't need to rely on the amp for any help - it can generate ample amounts of grit and grind on its own, and when paired with a solid state amp, the low end response is nice, tight, and flab-free. The midrange is chunky and aggressive, and the highs are present without being piercing. This is a stout distortion that still cleans up well just by lowering your guitar's volume knob. The Sag knob is also present here, and allows you to adjust how loose or tight the pedal feels.
Figure 3: The Tech 21 Boost Distortion
BASS BOOST FUZZ ($195.00 MSRP, $149.00 "street")
Not wanting to let the guitarists have all the fun, Tech 21 thoughtfully included a fuzz pedal aimed squarely at bassists. Unlike some fuzz pedals that gut the bottom end when used on bass, this one stays nice and fat, even with the Drive knob cranked. Bring the +Clean knob up and mix in some of the dry, unaffected bass signal for even beefier bottom and better note definition along with your fuzz. The fuzz sound leans towards smooth and creamy, and the Tone knob's low pass filter circuit allows you to control the highs between 1kHz and 10kHz quite effectively. At higher settings on the Tone knob, the fuzz gets raspier in a very cool way, yet it still cleans up remarkably well when you lower the volume control on your bass.
Figure 4: The Tech 21 Bass Boost Fuzz
When these new pedals were announced at the 2012 Winter NAMM Show, Harmony Central's Jon Chappell had a chance to discuss them with Tech 21 founder and designer Andrew Barta, who gave some interesting details and insights about each of the pedals in the series. You can view this Harmony Central video on YouTube by clicking right here. Additionally, Tech 21 also has posted accurate sounding video demonstrations of what the pedals sound like. Clicking on the pedal names below will open the appropriate video.
I was very impressed with the sound of all four pedals. Each is built to Tech 21's high standards in terms of fit, finish and road-worthiness. With the independent 21dB boost on each one, it's like getting two pedals for the price of one - which greatly increases their versatility, and value. So whether you're looking for a hard rock distortion, classic overdrive, guitar or bass fuzz, be sure to check out the big sounds from the latest Boost series pedals from Tech 21. Their vintage inspired tones rock hard!
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.