One of three offerings from Arteffect and the only pedal we’ve ever seen from Israel, the Zenith is an overdrive/distortion designed to offer maximum versatility. Huw Price finds out.
Tom Kochawi (formerly of Ariel FX) and Dan Orr established Arteffect in 2006. Arteffect currently builds three pedals: the Bonnie Wah, the Orangen Tone Boost and this, the Zenith, an overdrive/distortion designed to offer maximum versatility. Each pedal is handmade by Tom and Dan in Haifa in Israel, and all are covered by a two-year warranty.
Arteffect say the Zenith’s sounds ‘vary from spunky to gritty to liquid smooth and anywhere in between’. It can also be used to provide a clean boost, with some flexible EQ built in. It looks a bit daunting, but if you think of it as a condensed amplifier control panel it’s actually quite straightforward. Drive controls the amount of gain and Volume sets the output level, which is pretty much what you’d expect on any overdrive or distortion pedal, while Treble and Bass offer the usual cut or boost.
The Voice control, mind, is more involved. It’s a ‘dedicated variable frequency boost’. Voice is inactive when set ‘Flat’ and anti-clockwise, but the bass fills out as the knob is turned up and a midrange boost comes through as you move on to the ‘Focus’ setting.
Both the Drive and Volume controls incorporate push/pull switches. The Drive switch increases the gain, and the LED changes colour from blue to red to indicate status. The Volume switch provides higher headroom, with greater sensitivity and extra punch.
The Zenith can run off either a 9V battery or a power supply (100mA minimum), and an internal voltage doubler provides high-headroom operation. High quality components are used to minimise noise levels, and the on/off switch is true bypass.
Go online and you’ll find clips of a guy demonstrating the Zenith’s jazz fusion capabilities – but don’t let that put you off. At low gain settings the tone is neutral with Voice set flat, Treble in the middle and Bass at two o’clock. There isn’t a huge amount of clean boost potential, even with the rather subtle Punch setting engaged, but it’s a very capable line driver and equaliser.
The Gain range goes from fully clean to serious overdrive. I’d hesitate to call it ‘distortion’ as it’s not raw or edgy; wherever I set the Zenith it always sounded smooth, rich and musical. Even at maximum gain the note definition is outstanding, and it remains responsive to your playing dynamics.
The real heart of the Zenith lies with its Treble and Bass controls, which provide enormous variation without sounding artificial or processed. Add in the Voice control and you can mimic all kinds of classic tones from glassy blackface Fenders at the Flat end through fat, creamy Vox tones to a Marshall’s pumped-up midrange honk.
The Arteffect Zenith is extremely versatile, but accessing its features isn't entirely ergonomic. If you're tweaking sounds at home or in the studio it's fine, but it might have been more sensible to assign the gain boost or clean boost functions to a footswitch rather than to a push/pull switch.