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This article was originally published in issue #42
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Seymour Duncan Catalina
There are so many drive pedals on the market now that any new releases have to really try to differentiate themselves from the background noise in order to be noticed by the consumer. We are surrounded by a raft of Tube Screamer clones and Marshall in a box pedals attempting to compete with one another but Seymour Duncan’s latest drive pedal, the ‘Palladium Gain Stage’, attempts to move beyond this copycat mentality with something more unique in its design and concept.
Seymour Duncan claims that the Palladium Gain Stage is ‘the first stompbox that actually captures the feel and responsiveness of a high gain tube amp’ - a lofty claim given the number of manufacturers who have claimed this before, but the design is very interesting, featuring three separate gain stages to create a high gain tone that attempts to retain the clarity, feel and three dimensional sound of a tube amp, no matter where the gain is set.
The pedal is built to the usual high Seymour Duncan standards. All of the company’s pedals are designed and built in the USA with top quality components and the Palladium is no exception with its high quality footswitches and solid knobs that are very responsive throughout their operating range. The pedal features a single in and out and can be powered with a standard centre negative DC power supply from 9v up to 18v. The controls are simple, with a top row of EQ dials offering Bass, Mid, Treble and Presence shaping with the sweepable mid-section offering a range of frequencies from 225-1100Hz. The EQ frequency of each control has been carefully selected to work as musically as possible for guitar players with the ability to cut or boost at up to +/-15dB, +/-12dB and +/-13dB for the Bass, Mids and Treble respectively. The lower row of controls offers Level, Gain, Resonance and Boost dials; the boost being of the pre-gain type for adding further overdrive to the tone if required, rather than a volume boost. Bypass and Boost footswitches complete the design, all housed in a strong metal chassis and available in white or black.
The three gain stages of the Palladium are controlled by the Gain, Resonance and Boost knob, with the Gain controlling the overall drive amount, Resonance for shaping the low frequency gain content and the Boost for pushing the front end of the pedal like a separate overdrive pedal in front of an amp. Having control over these three gain stages offers more versatility from the pedal, but also gives more of a tube-like response and tone from the pedal by allowing the user to balance between the feel and amount of clarity offered by each stage. The EQ controls are hugely useful in shaping tones with a large range of cut and boost for each frequency making the pedal react well with any amp you choose to pair it with. The parametric style Mid control is particularly useful and makes this pedal far more versatile and usable with almost any amp than many other pedals on the market. For those players that tend to be stuck with rented amps on tour this pedal will be a revelation!
Plugged into a totally clean amp, the first thing that hits you about the Palladium is just how responsive it is. You can pull a ton of superb different drive tones out of the pedal using the various controls that would be suitable for styles ranging from Blues to Rock and all out Metal, but at all times the response, touch and feel remain the most impressive element of the sound. String separation at higher gain settings is also a big plus point, something that can often be sacrificed with saturated sounds where the sheer amount of gain takes precedent over the clarity of the output signal. The Resonance control does a great job of tightening or loosening up the bottom end, whilst the Presence control will really help the sound cut through in a guitar heavy mix or band. Seymour Duncan has certainly done excellent work here in capturing that ‘3D’ element of a high gain tube amp that can prove so elusive with many drive pedals that claim the same thing.
Players that are often provided with clean amps and require all of their gain to come from a pedal will find that the high gain sounds from the Palladium are oozing with tube-like tone and feel that will serve them very well indeed. But other players would be advised to check this superb pedal out too - it’s much more versatile than you might expect, yielding some great Blues and Jazz/Fusion tones at lower gain settings. Very highly recommended.
Seymour Duncan Palladium
The Catalina is a true analogue chorus pedal with a mono input and stereo outputs for a wide and lush tone that can be shaped in a number of ways. The pedal has four main controls – Delay, Mix, Depth and Rate plus a small Tone control and a Dynamic section that allows for some unique sounds where the player's pick attack and dynamics control the depth of the chorus effect. A Hard/Soft switch and Threshold knob allow the user to alter the way the pedal reacts to playing dynamics whilst this dynamic depth control can be switched on and off using the Expression pedal switch on the lower right of the unit. Finally, a true bypass footswitch turns the pedal on or off with a small LED indicating the bypassed or engaged status of the circuit. The unit is powered by a standard centre negative DC input, but Seymour Duncan allows for voltage ranges from 9-18v without any issues for the pedal, allowing a wide range of power supplies to be used.
The pedal is very well built with quality components that match the best of the boutique market. All of the switches give a reassuring click or thunk and the dials feel solid and accurate. Positioning the ins and outs at the top of the unit allows for easier cable management and space efficiency on most pedal boards and all of the controls are easy to access for large or small hands. The metal chassis is attractively finished with a simple and effective design that makes the pedal very easy to understand and use without reading a manual. The Delay control increases the time between the dry and chorus sound, causing a more dramatic effect the further the control is dialled in. Depth and Rate give you control over the amount and speed of the modulation whilst the Mix control allows you to blend between the dry and wet signal for more extreme creative settings that won’t destroy your original tone or for subtler ‘always on’ tones.
Starting with a clean base tone, setting everything to 12 o’clock reveals a gorgeous, lush and wide chorus effect that is every bit as warm as a real analogue chorus should be, especially in stereo. Using the tone control allows the treble to be attenuated for even more warmth and increasing the Delay control can take you into even stronger chorus tones without getting into the ‘underwater warbling’ sound that can often happen when increasing the depth and rate controls too far. Rotary style effects can be easily achieved with a higher rate and depth and careful balancing of the mix control. This is a very versatile chorus pedal that offers a wide range of chorus and modulation effects, all of which exhibit a richness and warmth that can often be found lacking in other pedals of this type.
In its Dynamic mode the pedal becomes even more versatile. With the Dynamic switch in the Hard position more chorusing occurs as the pick attack increases, whilst in Soft mode the opposite is true with softer attack yielding more chorusing. This is fine-tuned using the Threshold dial that tells the pedal exactly when it should begin to respond to the dynamics of the player. It’s a very effective setup that gives some very cool and musical effects and lends another string to the Catalina’s already impressive bow.
There’s a great deal to recommend about the Catalina Chorus and very little, if anything, negative to say about it. The pedal is certainly in the boutique category with its high asking price (especially outside the US) but, if you want lush sounding analogue chorusing, it is set at the same ball park figure that other pedals of this quality are asking for, and is certainly worth the money considering the fantastic tone, build quality and unique dynamic mode.