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Michal Pilař -

Guitar Effects Guide #6: Amp in a Box Pedals

You know how it goes: you have a beautiful clean sound, but after smelting the tubes, your instrument's sound starts deteriorating. Or you even like the distorted sound of your amp, but you just want your Marshall to sound more like a Fender for a while. There could be dozens of examples, and there are two answers to most of them. Either get an eq pedal and play a little with the frequencies to suit you, or if you want a quicker solution, get one of these amp-in-a-box effects.

And what is it, actually? Basically, they're overdrive pedals that are tuned to sound like a specific tube amp. But that's just the first way of using these effects. The second is to use them as a true preamp. You turn down the gain and get a sound i.e. from a transistor combo that brings you closer to, say, 1950s tweed amps. I stress that the choice is of course purely subjective.

Catalinbread Formula

Catalinbread Formula Series

We'll stay with tweeds. If you're a fan of these amazing amps that shaped the sound of rock'n'roll, I have good news for you. Oregon-based brand Catalinbread has prepared a series of Foundation Overdrive pedals, including a trio of effects nicknamed Formula 51 (Tweed Fender Champ), 55 (Fender 5E3 Tweed Deluxe) and 5F6 (Tweed Fender Bassman). Each of these effects sticks to its template as closely as possible, so if you want to enrich the sound of your instrument with the roar of tweed combos from the past, you won't go wrong with this series.

Catalinbread DLS

Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret

We'll stick with these Portlanders, because they're the ones responsible for, in my opinion, the best Marshall box you can get. From the subtle Plexi crunch to the saturated distortion of the legendary Eight. The box is also incredibly responsive to your playing dynamics and the sound cleans up beautifully when you pull down your guitar's volume potentiometer. There's also a switch hidden inside that takes you from Plexi to the legendary Blues Breaker. For fans of black and gold amps with white logos, this is a true must-have.

EQD Acapulco Gold

EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2

There's no danger of getting this pedal wrong. Plus, there's no risk of overlooking that one knob, either. The only thing about this pedal is that it risks causing the speaker to jump out of your amp. It's overdrive, it's distortion, but mostly it's a monster that packs so much power it's hard to control at times. And that's what's fantastic and terrifying about this pedal at the same time. The pedal has no gain and volume pots, just one giant knob that you use to control the overall volume. The pedal is at full throttle from the very start. The Acapulco Gold is based on the refined vintage Sunn Model T, and when I say refined, I mean a full roaring high-gain amp.

Your amp will fight for its life, you can count on it.

Strymon Iridium

Strymon Iridium

The music market is oversaturated with various simulated amps, so when Strymon rolled out the Iridium, a lot of people didn't hide their curiosity. After all, with the reputation that Strymon has built up over the years, it was to be expected that Iridium wouldn't be just any apparatus simulator. Yes, there are stompboxes that will allow you to do much more, but more is not always better. You can choose from three types of amps: Round – Fender, Chime – Vox and Punch – Marshall. The other three options are your speaker simulations or downright specific amps.

In addition to the three-band EQ, there is of course Volume and also Gain. So you can use the Iridium as an already distorted amp – gain is plentiful. Another cool thing is the Reverb pot which simulates room size and the distance of the microphone from the speaker. The icing on the cake is the ability to save a preset under the Fav switches. Yes, there are many more comprehensive devices on the market in many ways, but the Iridium is temptingly simple by comparison.

Oh, and Strymon allows you to upload your own IR (impulse responses) to the Iridium. Isn't that great?

Tagy Guitar Effects Guide amp in a box Catalinbread Formula Series Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2 Strymon Iridium

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Michal Pilař