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This article was originally published in issue #25
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Mad Professor may be a new name to some of our readers as the Finnish company, though it has been around since 2002, is still quite small and tends to be classified in the 'boutique' market. Fortunately, considering GI has such an international readership, Mad Professor has distributors just about everywhere (its products are widely available in the USA) and it also sells direct on the web.
The company offers two ranges of pedals - handwired and 'factory' made. That latter term doesn't really do them justice, we feel. The less expensive versions are 'factory made' in the sense that they use PCBs inside, but they are still bolted together in Finland, in the same facility and by the same people as the far more expensive handwired examples. With refreshing honestly, the Mad Professor guys say that they had intended to stop making the handwired versions, but the demand was there, so they kept going. They don't say 'we don't understand why because the PCB versions are just as good...' but you do kind of get that feeling.
So, take a high build quality as read. These are sturdy, metal clad pedals working from 9v batteries or via a step-down transformer. Everything worked exactly on our sample, just as it should on such a professional class pedal.
Let's jump right in at the deep end and say that Mad Professor's Royal Blue Overdrive is a very transparent and dynamic performer. It features four highly interactive controls: Volume, Drive, Treble and Bass and though it works much like a regular overdrive pedal, the way the drive control responds is more akin to a distortion pedal in that it can vastly change the tone of the pick attack. With the drive in extreme settings, the pick attack starts to sound squished and aggressive when picking hard, while at lower settings the pick attack becomes more articulate and clear. The bass and treble controls can be used as a neat way of cutting high and low end, or they can be used together as a mid cut or boost.
With the treble and bass on full, you can get a mid boost which delivers a thicker, soaring sound very akin to a classic Tubescreamer, or you can cut the mid by turning the treble and bass controls to zero, which delivers a very nasal, Brian May-esque tone.
One of the classic ways an overdrive is utilised is as a boost to push the front end of a lightly driven amp. The level control on the Royal Blue tailors the overall output of the pedal, so turning this control to full with the drive backed off, you can overdrive a lightly driven amp creating a slightly different feel and tone than if you were to overdrive an amp without a pedal, using its own controls. Pushing the front end of an amp seems to tighten and slightly compress the tone, whilst giving more overdrive and sustain. This is a common trick used by players from the bluesy Stevie Ray Vaughan to the super metal guitarists in Meshuggah.
What this means is that having an overdrive pedal in your signal chain is a great way to achieve a whole world of versatile tones and the Mad Professor Royal Blue does just that, without colouring your original tone too much. In fact the pedal is not putting anything ‘onto’ your sound - it's emphasising what is already there in the amp and the guitar you are using. If you have a spanky sounding Strat style guitar with single coils, you will get a fantastic glassy, saturated overdrive tone at extreme settings. If you have a Les Paul style guitar with humbuckers, you'll get a thick creamy burning tone. If you have an 8-string guitar, you'll be able to tighten the low end of that instrument making it fit in the mix better and sound heavy and aggressive with a clean cut articulate tone.
In the video demo for the Royal Blue overdrive I test out a few different sounds. For the most part, I'm using a modern all-valve amp with very little gain and all of the EQs set to mid way. One thing I did notice is that the pedal at first appeared very subtle in its tonal changes whilst sweeping through the controls, but it changed the overall sound of what was going into the amp, which made the amp controls more responsive than usual. This means that in many ways the pedal was giving me a way of shaping my tone before the signal reached the amp. Then, using the amp controls, I could re-emphasise what the guitar and pedal have put in.
The Royal Blue might not be as aggressive as some overdrive pedals on the market, but you certainly get a lot of versatility and quality in one neat box. I can highly recommend this pedal to a guitarist looking for a well made, broad range, versatile overdrive pedal.