Dinosaural OPA-101 Overdriven Pre-Amp Review
Transparent yet muscular, we reckon this new overdrive from the UK’s Dinosaural could be a future classic. Review by Richard Purvis….
Description: Overdrive pedal. Made in UK
Contact: Dinosaural – 07733 016732 – dinosaural.com – thegigrig.com – guitarexperience.co.uk
Do an eBay search for ‘Lovetone’ and, once you’ve filtered out the clones, you’re left with an array of stompboxes from the late ’90s priced anywhere between £400 and £600-plus. Sweet baby Jesus, why? Because these were unique and cool-sounding pedals, they were made in England in limited numbers, and they had big-name fans ranging from J Mascis to Gary Moore – a perfect recipe to get tone-hungry collectors salivating all over the ‘buy it now’ button. Lovetone designer Dan Coggins went on to found Dinosaural in 2002, producing just one more pedal – a stunningly good overdrive called the Tube Bender – and then everything went quiet.
Until, just last year, the dinosaur awoke. Coggins is back in the game after six years of silence with a new stomper, the OPA-101 Overdriven Pre-Amp, based on the Tube Bender but redesigned and with just two controls, Drive and Level. There’s also a secret weapon that you might be glad of when the pedal isn’t even on: hidden under a corner of the circuit board next to the battery compartment is a tiny slider switch for selecting buffered output or hardwired true bypass. Do you want to give your guitar sound a friendly push to compensate for signal degradation through the whole cable run, or would you rather let it glide by untouched? As both schools have their fanatical followers, it’s probably a shrewd move to offer the choice.
The pedal looks humble enough with its textured black finish, slightly fussy lettering and the same bumpy knobs as its silver-cased predecessor. We’re promised transparent, dynamic, valve-like overdrive, and at this price we ought to get it.
The OPA-101 comes with a double-sided A4 sheet of instructions, which might seem ever so slightly excessive for a pedal with two controls, but it’s worth taking at least one line of the advice it offers: to start with Drive at minimum and Level at noon for a ‘fairly clean’ sound that’s not too far away from the bypass tone. Well, it is fairly clean, but you wouldn’t eat chips off it. Your guitar still sounds very much like your guitar, but warmed up and softened down by an extra layer of amp-like gain. Turn the Drive towards halfway and the hairiness gets progressively more lush, but it’s still beautifully natural and responsive.
The only problem is that, once you start pushing this oh-so-smooth overdrive into full-on fuzz – as promised on the second half of the Drive control – things will surely begin to get mushy. Won’t they? No, they chuffing well won’t. With higher gain comes a pronounced hike in harmonic richness, and the top end grinds into life for both silky chords and cutting lead work. Close to maximum Drive you arrive at something like the boopy sustain of a Big Muff, but with less mid-scoop and more definition – which is to say you can still tell which pickup you’re on.
So does switching to true bypass make any difference to the clean sound? Not much. There’s maybe a sliver of top end lost in comparison to the buffered output, and this might be more pronounced if you’re using the Dinosaural alongside non-buffered pedals with long cables at either end. Don’t lose sleep over it, though.
Stompboxes are for stomping on, not investing in, but the likely collectability of anything bearing Dan Coggins’ fingerprints is just one of the reasons why you should consider taking a closer look at the OPA-101. The main reason is that it sounds glorious.
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