Tech 21 is one of the most respected names in the upper echelons of pedal market. We gave Rick Graham two of the company's stomp boxes to see how they stand-up to today's increasingly tough competition.
The pedal market has exploded in recent years. At one extreme there's a flood of really cheap, mass produced pedals from manufacturers in the Far East, aimed at the beginner and occasional user market, while at the other there is an apparently never-ending stream of hand built pedals, often being made by 'one man in a shed' operations, most of whom claim to offer products capable of reproducing sounds from a 'golden era'. In between, there are companies which are neither mass producers nor one man operations. There's an advantage to this sector as it means they have some scale advantages when it comes to price and, more importantly, you can usually find a shop that has some in stock and get to try before you buy, which is often not possible with the products of very small companies. The US maker, Tech 21 falls into that happy space - you can track down a retailer who will let you to try them and yet still get a pedal that is made from individually selected components and of the sort of quality that satisfies pro players.
The two models I've been looking at are the Boost Distortion and the Boost Overdrive.
Tech 21 Boost Distortion
Like all of Tech 21's pedals, the company says its boost distortion is constructed using high quality individually-selected, hand-biased, discreet components, aimed at delivering optimised performance with studio-quiet operation. The distinctive feature of all the 'Boost' range is a very useful boost function that delivers up to an impressive 21dB of clean boost, which can be used independently from the actual effect itself. It is a true post-boost, which means that it raises the level of the original signal, without smothering it in unwanted distortion.
The Boost Distortion features four main rotary controls which are, from left to right: Level, Tone, Drive and Sag, with the Boost control being located directly underneath these. The level control dictates the signal output level, while the tone offers a low pass filter to help you dial in the sounds
that you want. The Drive does exactly what it says on the tin. The Sag control provides you with the option to emulate the sound of a heavily compressed tube amp. The higher the Sag control is set, the more pronounced this effect will be. It's a very robustly constructed unit and will fit on most pedalboards without taking up much space at all and it can be powered by either a power supply or 9v battery.
As you can hear and see on our video, the Boost Distortion pedal gives a rather substantial tip of the hat to some of the tones that you'd hear on classic Rock recordings of the '80s. Starting with everything set at the 12 O' clock position, it delivered a remarkably impressive tone, rich and full of harmonics, ripe for some screaming shred soloing! I wasn't expecting as much gain as is on tap with this pedal. In fact, even rolling the drive control off still resulted in a substantial amount of gain, so with the pedal engaged, you'd clean up the tone using the volume on the guitar, if you wanted to, of course!
The Sag control is a great feature and does a stellar job of recreating the dynamics of a real tube amp. Some tweaking with the tone control really opened up the sound giving lots of possibilities to explore.
I loved this pedal. From the moment I engaged it, it felt remarkably amp like and to be honest I wanted to take it home with me. Superb saturated tones for those classic '80s moments, plus lots more besides. A high quality pedal that is highly recommended, especially given the high quality of manufacture. It's well priced too for such a very high quality unit!
Tech 21 Boost Overdrive
Physically like the Boost Distortion, the Boost Overdrive features four main rotary controls which are, from left to right: Level, Tone, Drive and Sparkle, with that extra (and really useful) Boost control being located directly underneath these. The level control dictates the signal output level while the tone offers a low pass filter to help you dial in the sounds that you want. The Drive does exactly what you'd expect, while the Sparkle control provides you with the option to add more upper harmonics to your signal which results in a more open, snappy sound. Again, it's a very robustly constructed unit and will fit on most pedalboards without taking up much space and it the can be powered by either a power supply or 9v battery.
Soundwise, Tech 21's Boost Distortion pedal seems more '70s than the '80s feel of the Boost Distortion. As always, I set all of the controls to the 12 O' clock position before kicking the pedal in. One of the first things that I noticed about the tone was how smooth sounding it was. It still retained the characteristic bite of classic '70s Rock sounds but somehow sounded gorgeously smooth, allowing you the best of both worlds. Pushing up the tone and Sparkle controls together really allowed the pedal to open up, accentuating the upper harmonics for even raunchier rhythm and lead tones. Backing off on the guitar volume showed how well this pedal cleaned up. Very impressive indeed! Using the pedal in front of a clean amp works fantastically well but add it to an already slightly overdriven sound and it really does add lots of mid-range with tons of sustain. Check out the video!
Tech 21's Boost Overdrive is a superb pedal with a ton of attitude. Whether you are after recreating classic SRV tones, or a more edgy Rock rhythm tone, the Boost Overdrive does it all with serious attitude and with the kind of quality that shouldn't be ignored. Yet more excellent stuff - so much so that we are coming back for a look at two more Tech 21 pedals in our next issue.