Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #21
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
Fret-King's Trev Wilkinson turns his steely gaze on the world of FX pedals. Can the guitar design wizard cast his spell there too? Rick Graham gets plugged-in.
If you cast your mind back an issue or two, you'll recall that I reviewed a Fret-King Esprit III guitar, one of a wide range of guitars launched under the Fret-King brand, all designed by the incredibly versatile Trevor Wilkinson. Trev originally made his name in guitar hardware and has since gone on to design several successful guitar ranges. Now he has turned his attention to a range of FX pedals. As we have six different in total, what we have decided to do is split them up into two groups of three pedals, so you'll find two videos in total with three pedals reviewed in each video.
I liked the Fret-King Esprit and it seems I'm not alone. Other reviewers have been similarly impressed and the number of pro users joining the brand as endorsers is growing, so my hopes were high that these effects pedals will be of the same kind of quality.
Clean Boost (see image)
This pedal, as with all of the Fret-King units, is housed in a very sturdy die cast aluminium casing with the kind of dimensions that you'd expect from a standard stomp box. It comes with dual inputs and output making it adaptable to a variety of connection configurations, should you need it. In common with the rest of its siblings it can be powered from both an internal battery or from a transformer, taking a mains feed down to the usual 9v, so there are no surprises or special requirements here.
The layout of the Clean Boost pedal is as simple as they come with one main rotary control for dialling in the amount of boost required and an on/off footswitch. The Clean Boost allows the user to dial in up to 20db power and as a clean boost, the focus is on retaining the original tone with no unwanted distortion added to the original signal. In action the Clean Boost is an impressive pedal with a very organic sound. I was able to push the level control up whilst still retaining a nice and above all clean, signal. When pushed to max, though, I did notice a substantial amount of distortion on the original signal. Never the less, the Clean boost is a well made, great sounding pedal.
Just about everything I said about the Clean Boost applies to this Power Boost too, so to cut to the chase, as they say, the Power Boost pedal is actually capable of an awful lot more than the name implies. Sure, you can dial in more dB of volume but the resulting effect when you do is beautifully organic tone, very reminiscent of a great quality tube amp just starting to break up. Crank the level control to full and you can get some really raucous tones going but all the while retaining that wonderful, organic tone. Great stuff!
I couldn't help but be impressed with the Klassic Overdrive. With just three controls I was able to dial in some great tones oozing that vintage vibe. Crunchy rhythm tones sounded as they should and cranking the gain all the way up gave a wonderfully creamy lead tone with great dynamic response, very much like a tube amp. The tone control offered further scope for tone shaping too. Overall, a great sounding overdrive pedal which captures a really classic sound!
Another straightforward pedal to use, with just three controls, the Distortion XXX proved itself to be surprisingly versatile. I was able to get a wide range of tones suitable for lots of different playing styles and techniques. Set with low gain settings, it was great for both rhythm and lead and the gain used in conjunction with the tone control, allowed configuration of the amount of bass and treble, was able to take me from slightly overdriven tones right through to hard metal in an instant. Lots of sustain on tap with this pedal too and couple that with lots of options for tone shaping and you have yourself a very formidable distortion pedal!
This pedal, as with all of the other pedals in the Fret-King range, is very sturdily made and in many respects follows the Jim Dunlop tradition in the way it looks and feels. It has single a single input and output and can be powered from both an internal battery or from the usual 9v mains connection. As Trev Wilkinson says: "One of the key factors to an authentic wah sound and response is using the right style of inductor". For the Fret-King Classic Wah, Wilkinson has been sure to use a custom designed, classic-style 'halo' inductor to ensure that it is capable o recreating vintage voicings.
And does it? Yes! The classic wah is a fantastic wah pedal. It feels great to use and most certainly captures that vintage wah sound. It's capable of a very versatile tonal sweep with clear bass and crisp treble whenever you need it. I tested it with clean sounds on funk style rhythms and lead settings as well as higher gain settings for lead tones and it felt really great to use and sounded as you would expect a good wah pedal to sound. Check out the conclusion for a revelation, however!
With just a simple on/off switch, the Line Doctor is as simple as they come. But what does it do? Well, when you are using lots of pedals in your chain, the tone can be affected - in some instances quite considerably and this is where the Line Doctor pedal comes in. The Line Doctor is essentially a buffer circuit that will boost your signal back to 100% health. Sounds like snake oil? In use, it soon proves that it's anything but. It also helps to 'recharge' your signal if you are using very long cables too. We used the Line Doctor throughout this review and it did a fantastic job of bringing the signal right back to full health!
I was hoping for good things from these Fret-King pedals and I wasn't disappointed - as you can hear for yourself from our video. What I wasn't expecting, however, was the bottom line: the price. These are very well made FX and they perform at a very high level. The price, however, is pitched surprisingly low for a premium quality brand. Do make a point of checking them out - they're all great value for money.