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This article was originally published in issue #5
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Back in Issue Two, Rothwell effects more or less stole the show for us with two fabulous handmade pedals. We were so impressed, we've come back for more. Rick Graham samples the Hellbender and the Switchblade.
My fellow Guitar Interactive reviewer and all round great guy, Jamie Humphries, was tremendously impressed by the Rothwell Tornado and F1 Booster pedals he looked at back in Issue Two (still available via our website - Ed) so I was pretty excited when I was asked to take a look at two more products from this small, British-based, company.
For those who haven't encountered Rothwell before, the owner, Andrew Rothwell, isn't just renowned among guitarists for the quality of his handmade effects pedals. In fact, before turning his attention to guitar effects, he was previously an aerospace electrical engineer and went on to become a guru in the fiercely competitive (not to say incredibly faddy!) top-end domestic Hi-Fi market.
Both of the pedals we had in to review are handmade in the UK, use high quality components and are true bypass. Although there are lots of pedals on the market today that seek to emulate the sounds of classic amplifiers, this is not the case with these, as they are based on all original circuitry. In terms of appearance, I'm not going to beat around the bush. These things look classy. With their mirror finish and model name hand engraved onto the pedal, it's clear that these pedals are made by someone who really cares about their product. They are extremely well made and are certainly robust enough to withstand the rigours of the life of a gigging musician.
Starting with the 'Hellbender' we have three main controls: volume, gain and tone, alongside the true bybass on/off switch. Each control is reassuringly solid to the touch. Power can be provided either with a 9V DC battery, or via a power supply. They aren't power hungry, though, so a battery should give you plenty of playing time.
So, on with the playing - the Hellbender overdrive first!
Although aesthetics don't really have anything to do with the sound of a product, I had a feeling that this would deliver the kind of class that it exudes in its appearance and I wasn't wrong. It is a remarkably responsive pedal which followed my every move as far as dynamics are concerned. This is what a great product should do. After all, inspiration is at the heart of creativity!
Whether I was playing on a low gain setting or soloing with a more saturated, singing lead tone I couldn't help but feel like I was playing through a vintage amp. This is mainly due to the fact that the Hellbender uses more than one stage of distortion and more than one distortion mechanism. On low gain settings, it's possible to boost the clean channel of your amplifier into very natural sounding, slightly overdriven territory and it does so with clarity and warmth. Adding it to a slightly overdriven amp will get you deeper into Rock territory, but still maintaining that clarity and warmth of tone.
Bringing more gain into the picture from both your amp and the Hellbender will give you lots of possibilities to experiment with allowing you to create that perfect balance between gain and dynamics!The Switchblade is aesthetically exactly the same as the 'Hellbender' but delves more into a heavy/modern Rock soundworld. The heart of the Switchblade comprises a similar make up to the Hellbender, but with three stages of distortion and carefully designed filtering before, between and after each stage to sculpt the sound and control the way each stage adds to the distortion. So don't be fooled by the lack of knobs on this pedal, there are lots of tonal possibilities here should you wish to explore them!
Also, don't think of this pedal as just a high gain beast, because it can be used in a variety of different ways. Its high output level allows the pedal to be used as a clean boost, or can be used to simply add as much or as little saturation as you wish. Again, this pedal exudes just the same kind of class as the Hellbender but takes you into heavier realms if you want, while all time retaining the responsiveness and dynamics that a truly great pedal should.
It was a pleasure reviewing these pedals and I have to take my hat off to Andy Rothwell. It's clear that he is a man as passionate about electronics as he is about music and the result of combining both of those passions is something he should be extremely proud of. If you are in the market for a high quality overdrive and/or distortion pedal(s) you owe it to yourself to give these a try. Check out our video to hear for yourself why we've given these as high a rating as we've ever given any pedal!