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This article was originally published in issue #15
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The world is awash with effects pedals, so to grab attention a newcomer needs not just great products but something that makes them stand out from the crowd. US designers Paul and David Christian decided to name their new range after Bluesman Big Joe Williams. But what matters is how they sound Michael Casswell tried a classic overdrive to find out.
The Big Joe Stomp Box company is a new name to me. In fact it was a new name to all of us at GI, until they contacted our editor asking if we'd like to look at one of their pedals. The one they sent us was the 'Classic Tube' pedal, which is more of an overdrive than a distortion or fuzz. An overdrive style pedal will do nice things to your cranked and slightly crunchy tube amp, whereas distortion and fuzz style pedals can turn things into a mess if your amp is already cooking.
On all of the 'Big Joe Stomp Box' pedal range is a stencil of Big Joe Williams, who was born in 1903 and passed away in 1982. Joe Williams was a Blues singer, songwriter and guitar player who played his own style of Delta Blues on his home modified nine string guitar. How and why this pedal manufacturer has decided to associate itself with the Joe Williams, the Blues legend, I'm not sure, and I will leave you to form your own opinions on whether it's a shrewd move or not. Their website sells it as ex-freelance music photographer Peter Amft and brothers Paul and David Christian forming the company because Peter was a friend of Big Joe in his latter years and the Christian brothers were analogue circuit designers, so they all teamed up and formed the Big Joe Stomp Box company. Makes sense, I guess! You even get some Peter Amft photographs of music legends such as Mike Bloomfield, The Stones, BB King etc, in the little product range book which comes with each pedal, which is a nice touch. Maybe more to the point is that the Christian brothers have 25 years or more under their belts as top class circuit designers and have worked with some of the industry's big names (apparently including brands F and G) making products sound right. This bodes well.
So the Classic Tube has an all analogue circuit design, is true bypass and gives what the company describes as 'Texas Flood style grit' with 'thick, chunky harmonic saturation' which is not too far off the mark. Like all overdrive pedals, it depends a lot on what amp you are running, what guitar and pickups you use and how you play, but these descriptions help to put you in the ball park of what to expect. Apart from the onboard presence, gain and output controls which most overdrives will have, there is a little two position cabinet simulation toggle switch which engages some speaker simulation circuitry. Running into the front of my tube amp, this switch is very subtle, and if it really was kicking out good speaker simulation, I would expect to hear more of a marked difference. Wherever you stick the little switch, or however you set the three controls, the pedal sounds good, organic, natural and musical, which are all the ideal descriptive words when talking about overdrive pedals.
The pedal is not cheap, but is about average for a handbuilt boutique type product, of which nowadays, there are many. The choice out there is truly vast and it seems every company over a certain price bracket is pushing the true bypass, analogue, handmade, quality components 'thing' to get your money. In truth,. most of them make great tools of the trade and this is no exception. A good player can make the cheapest, most modest of basic stomp boxes sound great and 'boutique', because tone comes from the player, not the stomp box. That said, a good quality pedal does certainly help things for those less able and in that respect, this is a great product. Check out the video to hear it in action.
Overall, this pedal sounds great, but it does take up real estate on your board because of its fairly big size, and there are pedals out there that sound similar, but are tiny. It also seems noticeably weighty, which was a comment given by a few people who handled it. Still, this is a good sounding pedal and if the rest of the range is this good they are definitely worth you checking out if you in the market for some good quality organic analogue tone. I'm sure Big Joe Williams would have approved.