ProTone Jason Becker Distortion – Analog amp modeling in a pedal
First, this is the picture of the pedal I got.
They’ve changed the graphic to a different painting by his dad for the newer run of the pedals, I actually really like this graphic because of how the control colors correspond to the “elemental” association of the colors behind them, and the Burn and Drive controls are touching the fire and water, respectively. But the new ones look good too, and they’re probably closer to Becker’s general aesthetic style (check out his Peavey with its child-like appearance, he lived a great sense of humor in everything he did).
If you don’t know Jason Becker’s story, you ought to head over to the wikipedia entry on him, it’s sad, poignant, and inspiring – I won’t cheapen his life by giving a “short version” here. The pedal is made by Dennis, the sole proprietor of the Protone pedal company, and part of the proceeds go to Jason Becker’s family and causes.
I’ve had it in for a day or two now from FuzzHugger, and while I’m reserving a full review for the edition-after-next of FrugalGuitarist, I wanted to bring a killer pedal to your attention. The goal is pretty common, I guess – make a Marshall in a box. In this case, it’s aiming for an analog miniaturized solid-state recreation of the amp Jason Becker used to record his early album Perpetual Burn, but with additional gain on tap to achieve some of the higher gain tones he was using towards the end of his playing and recording career. Well, okay, not even counting the official Marshall pedals to that end, that’s the Box of Rock, Crunch Box, Plextortion, Hot British, etc., etc., etc. – there are tons of Marshallesque pedals.
This one’s different, though, in some important ways. First, all of the “volume” related controls on it have to do not just with output level but with the amount of crunch you get. The Master Volume on it behaves like an amp’s master volume, increasing volume and then sort of reaching a maximum output point and past that increasing compression/distortion. It has a Pre-Amp gain control and a Drive control as well. All three of them interact to produce the final amount of distortion of the dirt side of the pedal. The other side of it is a class-A boost, very warm and clean, I love what it does to my single-coil strat (and to anything, really, it’s a great boost). The boost has its own adjustable gain and is operable separate from the “amp” side of the pedal. I made a quick clip demonstrating it with my single-coil (Samarium Cobalt Noiseless-equipped) strat. For the FG review I’ll have clips with a few different guitars of course.
The control scheme seems a bit complicated at first glance, but it’s straightforward once you get it into perspective. It’s got a control layout like a relatively simple, single-channel amp with an overdrive pedal up front. So you’ve got your EQ section, Lows, Mid, Highs – that’s clear, tweak it like an amp. Then you’ve got your Pre-Amp gain and Master Volume. Those are the amp’s own controls. Then there’s the overdrive pedal control, which is just called “Drive.” The final control, “Burn,” is the boost control, so it’s really just a one-switch/one-knob boost that happens to be attached to the rest. It’s easy to get the hang of if you’ve ever played an amp more complicated than the Valve Jr.
Edit: I’ve recorded another clip to demonstrate how it sounds when used with a hot humbucker-bearing guitar, this time with an arrangement of a song that was pretty popular in the ’80s… Thanks, Jake E. Lee 🙂
Of course, it’s a fairly, ah, “liberal” arrangement… But in my defense, if you ever saw him play it live he improvs a great deal anyway, as did a lot of the ’80s greats (though by no means all, not suggesting they’re all hipshot gunslinger types who lay down a wicked improv solo in the studio then don’t bother to learn it for the road – but many did, a la George Lynch, etc.).