Looking for some new flavours to spice up your solos? Marcus Leadley tests Mike Matthews’ latest batches of hot sauce – one simple, and one complex…
Electro-Harmonix Lumberjack Log Overdrive
Description: 9V overdrive pedal, made in USA. 9v adaptor included
Controls: Log, Boost and Volume
Electro-Harmonix EHXtortion JFET Overdrive
Description: JFET overdrive, made in USA
Controls: Volume, Treble, Mid, Bass, Pre-gain, Gain. Boost section: Volume, Gain
Electro-Harmonix has come a long way since the early ’70s when a combination of great sound, decent prices and reliability turned the likes of David Gilmour and Carlos Santana on to the Big Muff Pi – and also Hendrix, according to EHX’s Mike Matthews. Looking though the company’s catalogue you can count 96 different pedals: delays, loopers, tremolos, reverbs, and no less than 34 distortions, fuzzes and overdrives. The Lumberjack arrives with the promise of a totally new and unique approach; the EHXtortion is billed as a new flagship model, one that’s all about delivering maximum tone and flexibility from a package designed to offer a very amp-like sound.
Lumberjack Log Overdriver
There’s a lot of speculation online concerning where the logarithmic aspect of this pedal actually comes in (type of potentiometer? diodes in the feedback circuit?) and Electro-Harmonix doesn’t seem to be rushing to clarify the issue. What they do say is that the Lumberjack’s character is very dependent on your playing dynamic. The unit’s not designed for screaming rock tones: think clean boost through to ragged break-up and gritty distortion.
Out of the box the unit has a contemporary EHX look with a black, orange and white graphic printed onto the top of the standard Nano series diecast enclosure. There are just three knobs: Volume, Boost and Log Factor. There’s also a stomp switch, a red LED and mono Input/output sockets.
It soon becomes clear that there’s a lot more to the Lumberjack than you’d expect. The three knobs seem very interactive, and working out how to control things with any degree of subtly takes a bit of head-scratching.
The best place to start is with a clean boost function. Boost pedals are very useful as they allow you to controllably nudge your level at critical points in a song or drive the amp into natural overdrive – very helpful if you have a single-channel amp. Setting the Log and Boost knobs to zero and winding up the Volume to max turns out to be the best place to start. Here, your guitar sound, tone and volume are basically the same when the pedal is bypassed or engaged. Switching on does lift the noise floor a little, but this is acceptable for a pedal at the budget end of the spectrum. Turning the boost control increases your output significantly. Up to about 12 o’clock this remains clean, then the amps starts to really hot up. The pedal doesn’t seem to colour the basic sound of your set up, so a big thumbs-up.
Leaving the Boost knob at zero and turning the Log knob brings on the grit. It’s subtle up to 12 o’clock and then things start to get interesting. There’s a sweet spot here where the breakup is very unpredictable, and playing dynamic does indeed control this. Suddenly every note sounds slightly different, and this can be manipulated to great effect. Bringing in the Boost can really nuance the sound, and if things start to get too loud you can rein back the volume without changing the overall character of the sound. Moving past this point on the Log control seems to drive the top end into progressively more bite, but at the upper limit it’s somewhat raspy and the sustain characteristic feels a little choked.
EHXtortion JFET Overdrive
With black graphics and lots of knobs, you can tell this pedal means business. JFET transistors are high-impedance devices, and in this configuration the circuit is designed to emulate a tube amp – and not only to deliver vintage overdrive and modern hi-gain, but also to ‘smarten up your clean tones’.
In addition to the basic Volume and Gain there’s a four-stage Pregain control offering a Full or Tight preset for a lower gain profile or a higher-gain hotrod sound (listening to online content from EHX suggests that Marshall and Dumble were the benchmark sounds). You also get Treble, Middle and Bass controls – and then you get the extra Volume and Gain controls of the boost section. This is slightly confusing: despite the separate Boost footswitch this is not a completely separate function.
This boost functions over the top of the primary section. When the unit is engaged, switching on the Boost control deactivates the normal Volume and Gain controls and references those in the Boost section, but the Pregain and tone controls remain active. This lets you create a louder or more driven replica of the overdrive tone you’ve already created, in effect adding two channels to your amp while retaining some logical tonal continuity. Further flexibility is offered in the form of a jack for a momentary footswitch to let you switch to boost mode only when the switch is depressed, so you can easily make sections of a solo louder or create volume or gated-stutter effects. The unit also has a DI out, so you can connect to a PA or PC for recording.
Perhaps the biggest issue with this pedal is that you can’t bypass the tone controls; you’re always starting from the point of colouring the basic output of your rig. This suggests you work with a big, clean amp rather than a boutique rocker with a tone you want to preserve… or you could use this pedal to make a budget amp sound a lot better.
Setting the tone controls to roughly noon, adding a little Gain and then working the Volume lets you match your basic signal pretty closely.
It’s a kind of ‘preamp mode’, and it can shape the sound very nicely. The tone controls are responsive and you can introduce exactly the amount of gain you want – so you can, if you wish, simply sculpt a range of cool clean tones. Then you can switch over to Boost mode, ramp up Volume and Gain and, hey presto – you now have a good clean tone plus a driven version. Alternatively, start out with a basic amp tone for clean work, generate the overdrive sound you want, and programme the boost section to give you a second version with more oomph. When it comes to overdrive shaping there’s a huge amount of flexibility and the Pregain setting lets you get close to the character of different vintage and modern amps.
The Lumberjack is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s an effective clean boost which doesn’t come with a boutique price tag and also a very characterful overdrive. We’re not especially charmed by its full-on sound – the sustain feels a little buzzy – but we like the lush, dynamic overdrive it generates at the midpoint, and you can really sculpt your sound into something a bit unique.
The EXTortion offers a more familiar palette of overdrive sounds in a well thought-out package: it’s a real working pedal designed to help you get the job done. The DI function is very useful – ideal if you practice with a PA or like to record ideas when folks are sleeping. You can use it to add a different sounding ‘channel’ to your rig, it can make a budget amp sound a good deal better, or it can massage a great basic tone and end up delivering some truly professional sounds.