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This article was originally published in issue #12
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A 'Spark Booster'? Doesn't that belong under the bonnet of a vintage Bentley? Maybe it does, but Rick Graham reckons TC Electronic's latest pedal might very well be worthy of pride of place on your pedal board too.
The Spark Booster is the fourth and final pedal in TC Electronic's compact series, which showcases the company's specific approach to drive, distortion and boost pedals. Following hot on the heels of the previous three of their hugely successful effects (the Dark Matter Distortion, the more modern voiced Röttweiler Distortion and the MojoMojo Overdrive) the Spark Booster is a boost pedal with a difference. Well, lots of differences in actual fact!
The first noticable thing about this pedal is that there are more than two knobs on it. More often than not, most boost pedals on the market have just one 'level' control and if you're lucky, it may have two. The Spark Booster is a much more feature rich boost pedal than most, offering a Gain and Level control and active Bass and Treble controls. The Gain control blends a very subtle overdrive to the signal which adds more 'grit' giving you access to those kind of sounds only accessible when your amp is being driven hard. The Level control enables and additional 26db which is more than enough for the moments when you really need to be heard above everything else. The active Bass and Treble controls really give you the opportunity to zone-in and boost or cut those frequencies so that you can sculpt your sound even further. As If this already wasn't enough, there is also the very welcome addition of a voicing switch offering clean, fat and mid boost settings, which enables you to emphasise different parts of the frequency spectrum according to taste. Couple all of this with its high build quality and true bypass capability and you have a formidable boost pedal!
Starting with the amp's clean channel with the voicing switch on the Spark Booster set to clean mode and all controls set to the 12 o' clock position, the boost really allowed our test valve/tube amp to open up more, giving the signal a much more dynamic sound. Pushing the gain control added a beautifully smooth and subtle level of grit and compression to the signal. With the Fat voicing switch engaged, the tone had much more body to it and the increase in the amount of gain available with this voicing allows for some great overdriven rhythm and lead tones. This is a great setting for fattening up your single coil, Strat-type tones and also adding extra attitude to humbucker equipped axes.
The Mid boost setting gives a mid bump and enables the signal to cut right through the mix. Personally, I found that the active EQ controls are such an important function of the Spark Booster and to have the option to fine tune those elements to your liking in addition to the voicing modes is fantastic. The Spark Boost works superbly with an OD pedal too, as I found when I placed it in front of one of my own pedals. I was treated to some stunning tones from low to high gain settings and yet all the while the Spark Boost retainined the classy characteristics that it is capable of. Long sustained notes bloomed into beautifully musical feedback and the tone was nothing short of inspirational!
There's no questioning the high quality of TC Electronic products and the Spark Boost is no exception. In some ways it's a reinvention of TC's early classic the Booster + Line Driver & Distortion - just with more features and greater flexibility. It's very well made and is thoroughly inspiring to use and with the fantastic features it offers at such a good price, it's pretty hard to beat.