Hi guys, Brian from World Music Supply here to talk to you guys about some cool, classic pedals from our friends over at Boss. I picked to do a basic run through of their Distortion pedals, as their line is possibly the most iconic in the industry, as many of us started our pedal boards with one of their little fuzz boxes. For the better part of thirty five years, Boss has been building and designing inexpensive, great sounding stomp boxes, that have shaped the sounds of millions of guitarists world wide. It could be argued that their most iconic was the DS1, our first pedal in today’s review.
The Boss DS1 came along at a time when effect pedals just didn’t play as great a role as they do today, sure people could buy a few little boxes, but these were often bulky, battery powered, and often broke down. This in large part was due to the lesser availability of compact circuitry, electrical know how, and quality of components that were available over all. My favorite example of this haphazard approach to guitar effects, is by far the DeArmond Trem-Trol, which used a small canister of mercury that would swish back and forth while the canister rotated, to create a very primitive tremolo effect. Sure it got the job done, but by todays standards, this sounds down right barbaric. In comes Boss, with their simple straight forward design, tiny little pedals, and amazing sounds.
The DS-1 has a very distinctive sound, with a lot of cut, grind, and a slight fizziness to it that helps lift it up and out of the mix. This pedal can do everything from classic rock grunt, with an almost KISS like edge to them, backing the controls back a bit, you would not be surprised at all that Joe Satriani used to use one of these as his primary means of distortion. The cool little yellow pedal doesn’t have a ton of versatility, it really was designed to take the place of the overdrive channel on an amp, taking a single channel amp, and allowing it to overdrive at much lower volumes. But that doesn’t matter, the DS-1 is Iconic, with a sound that has shaped literally millions of guitarists world wide, and you can’t allow this pedals lack of versatility to stand in the way of its massive, iconic sound. The DS-1 gets a solid 10 out of 10, because without it, who knows what modern rock would sound like.
Next up is the SD-1B the Super Overdrive, which is a warmer, more realistic sounding alternative to the DS-1 which more accurately emulates the sound of an overdriven tube amp. The tone is smooth and warm, with a slight graininess to it that really makes it feel like you really are playing an amp that is just grinding apart at the seams. The SD-1B, while not as iconic as the DS-1, certainly has its own place in the guitar pedal history books, listening to its classic rock style tones, with its simple, but far more versatile controls when compared to the DS-1. The tone of the SD-1B has a very blues rock sound, with a tone that sounds as close to Joe Satriani’s Ice 9 tone as you can get without buying his Ice 9 overdrive pedal. This pedal can go from that glassy, smooth blues drive, to very big, Marshall style crunch. While not as important to the history of the electric guitar as the DS-1, the SD-1B certainly earned itself a place in the history books, as well as a solid 9 out of 10.
Third up on today’s list is a pedal that is very near and dear to me, the MD2 which was my very first distortion pedal, and my second pedal over all, next to a cheap no name chorus pedal. These two little boxes helped me figure out who I wanted to be as a guitarist. I bought the little red distortion pedal, mainly because it said “MEGA” on it, and I thought it looked, and sounded cooler than its yellow and orange brethren. The big, 80’s distortion tones that this little pedal generates were perfect for the junky early 90’s metal and grunge that I cut my teeth on in those early days. This pedal emulates the sound of a heavily distorted amplifier quite well, with all of the hard square wave style clipping that you tend to get from a rectifier equipped amplifier, but with a lot more lower end than you would expect.
The pedal can do some “lower” gain settings, that could easily cover some Zepplin or ZZ top tunes, but what it really does best, is straight ahead thrash metal, and grungy rock. Now, this pedal is by no means a game changer, and by now it might just seem like another little buzz box, but this pedal made me feel like my little knock off Stratocaster, and my tiny solid state amp were really capable of being a rock star, and when you’re fourteen years old, you just can’t beat that. While it doesn’t cover as much sonic ground as the last two pedals, the MD2 does score itself a respectable 8 out of 10.
Second to last on today’s list, is the ML2, which is designed for people who tune down, and dig in deep. This pedal has virtually no versatility, no matter what this is going to sound heavy and distorted, this pedal is designed to play metal, it doesn’t matter if its thrash, hard core, speed, you need to sound as distorted as possible, this is the pedal for you. With all of the low end this pedal has on tap, you might end up competing with your bass player in that territory, so you will want to fine tune this once you take it back to the band to practice, I’ve known plenty of guys who find the “right” sound, and then get just eaten alive at practice because their sound just cant pull itself up and out of everyone else’s frequencies.
The ML2 might need a noise suppressor before it, just so you aren’t annoyed by all of the hum that a pedal with this much gain on tap can create, but at the end of the day, this pedal alone does its job of being aggressive, angry, and brutal. The ML2 might not be very versatile, but for people who need this much gain on tap, it will be more than versatile enough. If you don’t play metal, this probably won’t be your go to guy, but if you tune down, and want to be as heavy as possible, this is probably the pedal for you. A solid 9 out of 10.
Last up for today’s giant run down of fuzz boxes, is a box designed to recreate the pedals that gave the term “Fuzz” to them in the first place, is the Boss FZ5. Designed to recreate the very first commercially available guitar pedal, the Maestro FZ-1A, the big gritty smily face pedal, the Fuzz Face, and lastly the pedal that one Jimi Hendrix made world famous, the Roger Mayer Octavia.
The Maestro is probably most well known for making the almost trumpet like sounds at the beginning of the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction”, the pedal worked a lot like much later Fuzz pedals, by driving the signal all the way into a near perfect square wave, and was almost monophonic as a result of how it actually clipped the signal. This setting was cool, and very retro sounding, but like its name sake a little annoying, as it was pretty much monophonic.
Next up was the Fuzz face setting, which was a lot more friendly to modern playing styles, as it still can play full chords, and clean up quite a bit when you roll your volume back. It’s very clear why so many guitarists have one of these pedals on their board, they just do a great job at sounding great. Lastly is the Octavia, which takes one of the artifacts of the Fuzz circuitry and boosts it, making it very noticeable, which is the fact that this pedal kicks an octave tone up into the same volume range of your unaffected guitar tone. This results in a very cool effect, that really does remind you of Jimi at Woodstock. This pedal is a must for anyone who covers any band that was big before the mid 70s, and for anyone who wants to emulate the sound of those early rockstars. The FZ5 scores a solid 10 out of 10.