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This article was originally published in issue #23
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Vox is one of the longest established names in Rock - with a history stretching right back to the 1950s, when its original AC series of guitar amps first appeared. Vox was also one of the very first to enter the FX market, with a version of the original Gary Hurst Tonebender in the 1960s, followed by with the classic Vox wah wah. Today, the company is still very successful with its amps and is also no stranger to the pedal market, including multi effects units such as the ToneLab LE, which at one time could be found in most of the London West End theatre pits!
You would be forgiven for thinking that the company's new “Tone Garage” is a new multi effects unit, but it's actually a new range of pedals, consisting of five all-analogue stomp boxes, featuring three with real tube circuits and one (the Trike Fuzz) which does without a tube. In this review I will be looking at four of them; the aforementioned Trike Fuzz plus the Flat 4 Boost, Straight 6 Drive, and V8 Distortion. The fifth one in the series is a Double Deca Delay, which we may well look at another time but here we are just concentrating on the Drive/Boost side of things.
First a little more about the series. Vox claims to have captured the pure essence of analogue in these compact effects units by pairing carefully selected components with a unique design philosophy. All the pedals feature all-analogue circuitry and three of them use Vox's newly developed Hi-Volt technology, that should provide not only the warm tone expected from a tube but also the all-important feel and dynamic. Let's see what all four have in common.
The internal structure of the Tone Garage series contains no integrated circuits, such as op-amp ICs; it consists only of individual parts such as transistors, resistors, capacitors, and coils. All the pedals are True Bypass in operation and come with sturdy aluminium die cast bodies, which should deliver outstanding durability. They look great too, with their striking colours and valves/circuitry lighting up and on view.
While many manufactures these days are making pedals as small as possible to use up less pedal board space, Vox is very defiantly going against this trend: these pedals are big. As you can see from the video, we just manage to get four alongside each other on our music stand. If pedal board space is an issue for you then these may cause you a headache. There are good reasons why they are so big, however. The individual circuitry (as mentioned above), takes up room, as does adding a valve. Here's the real space killer though: if you wish to run these pedals with battery power, then be prepared to shell out some money, as each one takes SIX, AA size batteries... This is to power Vox's new Hi-Volt power technology and valve. They will run off normal pedal chain power, however, so that would be the better option. Let's have a look at each one in a little more detail.
This is an octave fuzz with three types of octave settings. Utilising specially selected diodes, it covers not only a range of one octave up, but also two octaves down. You can choose three types of octave settings: +1 or -1 and -2, or all upward and downward octaves to obtain think vintage fuzz sounds. In addition, there's a tone control for +1 octave and volume control for -2 octave, allowing you to create a diverse range of sounds. The higher octave setting sounded awesome - warm tone with bell like clarity, as did the mix of upper and lower octave. The lower one wasn't my cup of tea, as it seemed a little weak and lost in the mix. It may just be a case of playing around with the EQ on the amp alongside that of the pedal to get the most from that setting. Hours of fun can be had with this pedal: it truly does hit the “vintage” spot!
As the name would suggest this is a high gain distortion pedal that boasts an awe inspiring tone. In addition to the distortion sounds that are ideal for heavy riffs or soloing, you can also attain cutting high-gain lead sounds. It also provides a mid-shift switch that lets you change the band where the mid-range peaks. Turning this off gives you a broad range with an emphasized attack. Turning it on will shift the band to be more suitable for lead playing, giving a more scooped sound. This is one of the pedals that contains a valve and Hi-Volt technology, which enables the vacuum tube to operate at 200V while still running on a battery (well six...). The aim is give you a true tube driven sound, which it does achieve: you get the feeling of real power from this pedal, along with the response and dynamics that a tube amp gives you. A wide range of gain control gives you plenty of tone options alongside the EQ and mid shift controls. No sense of harsh, messy, muddy distortion here, just usable tones right through the spectrum.
FLAT 4 Boost
This vacuum tube booster can be used for mid/treble boost, and overdrive, in addition to a full range of boost. Like the V8, this pedal also features Vox's Hi-Volt technology plus an independent mid-boost switch that allows you to change the response of the mid-range. Many manufactures in my opinion get a boost pedal very wrong: either they do very little, or way too much ending up with a poor distortion pedal as a result. I have my personal favourite that I use and comparing this to that particular one, Vox has got it spot on. The gain control does not simply change the amplitude, but also changes the character in a subtle way. From zero to max, it yields an array of highly usable and natural overdrive tones. This is a perfect pedal for giving you that little bit of boost and crunch for rhythm work, and enough gain for bluesy Rock lead.
Straight 6 Drive
This pedal is designed to give you the traditional Vox British overdrive and it overflows with the wide dynamic range of Vox's signature flavoured distortion. Turning the bright switch on gives you a sparkling British sound with defined highs, that should even suit humbucker equipped guitars. Once again Hi-Volt technology is adopted in this pedal, as well as a heater current slow start circuit that ensures vacuum tube longevity. This is a great classic Rock drive pedal that delivers a little more than just a boost but not so much that makes it a full on gain fest. A gain control that allows you to vary the character of your sound, with EQ and Bright switch controls makes it possible to achieve all those classic Vox tones in spades.
At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that we have reviewed three fairly similar distortion pedals and one fuzz pedal, but each of these stomp boxes offers such different tones and levels of attack that they warrant individual attention. Guitarists are constantly on a quest to find the “right” boost/drive/distortion pedal and Vox have managed to cover most people's needs with this latest series. The valve idea works really well, as it did in their ToneLab boards giving that warm, powerful, natural sound that some modern pedals lack.
These pedals also work really well together, complementing each other and could be worth a pedal board all to themselves. If there is a downside it's their size. Even if you don't think they are worth having on their own separate board, they may well actually need one, as trying to squeeze any of these onto your existing board could prove a problem. As could the battery issue if you plan on powering them that way. On the other hand, if you have been hunting for great sounding, well made, unique pedals then these could well be the answer for you. I would urge every guitarist to go check them out asap.