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This article was originally published in issue #68
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Superb, characterful tones.
Surprising amounts of gain.
"Mach Schau!" circuit is a very cool addition.
Players seeking modern tones should look elsewhere.
Based on the rare Vox UL730 solid-state preamp, made famous by The Beatles (as well as other monumental names like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones), The Dr. Robert is an uncanny replica of the original used on two legendary albums; Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was the true secret weapon of their guitar tones. If any pedal is likely to whip up Nick Jennison into a Beatles' fan frenzy, this is it.
The Vox UL730 is a very rare, very sought-after and very unusual amp. Made famous by a little-known pop combo from Liverpool by the name of The Beatles, and made in very limited quantities (around 100 units were produced in total), the UL730 is responsible for the legendary tones heard on Revolver and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's a deeply quirky circuit, representing one of the earliest examples of "hybrid" amp design - a combination of valve and solid-state technology.
The Dr. Robert by Alcam Guitars is a faithful recreation of the preamp section of these legendary amps, with every component value referenced against one of the estimated 25 UL730s still in existence. It's a deceptively simple pedal, with volume, gain and midrange controls, as well as a footswitch and volume control for the "Mach Schau!" circuit - a boost that makes a nod of the head to The Beatles' tenure in Hamburg. The midrange control is actually part of a complete 3-band tone stack, with treble and bass trim pots hidden inside the pedal's enclosure.
Sonically, the Dr Robert is a joyous experience. With the gain set conservatively and the midrange at noon, it imparts a frighteningly convincing "Voxy" character on our Victory Super Kraken's (rather round and midrange-heavy) clean channel. The hollow midrange, the tight lows, the chimey highs, the subtle "burr" - it's all there! This tone is worth the price all on it's own, and it's every bit as good for evoking Rory Gallagher's more sensitive moments as it is for cranking out the '60s jangle.
Pushing up the gain yields a surprising amount of grind and sustain. There's a fantastic "blizzard of nails" quality that'll be familiar to anyone who's ever played an AC30 in anger, but it's fatter and chewier than a typical AC30 tone, with a more compressed attack. Kicking in the "Mach Schau!" boost takes things to another level entirely, and maxing it out with the gain dimed yields a thick and vocal voice with practically limitless sustain. At lower settings, it's also possible to use the "Mach Schau!" mode to clean the pedal up, while imparting a characterful midrange honk that's a lot of fun.
As a rule, amp-in-a-box pedals tend not to work terribly well as boosts, but the Dr. Robert actually makes for an absolutely killer dirty boost. I actually discovered this by accident - I'd accidentally left my amp on it's American high gain voice when I first kicked the Dr Robert on. The result was an unbelievably chewy and thick solo voice, with tons of fuzzy character. A happy accident indeed.
The Dr. Robert is a fantastic sounding pedal with a distinctive and very inspiring voice. Having never played a Vox UL730 myself, I can't comment on how accurate it is, but if the amp sounds anywhere as near as good as the Dr. Robert does then I can understand why they're so caught after.