Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Review: Battle of the Clean-blend Overdrives
I spent some time this weekend rocking out and comparing the Way Huge Pork Loin and the T Rex Crunchy Frog. The reason I compared these two, is that they both offer the option of blending your clean sound with your overdrive. And silly names aside, both of these pedals offer up great tones. The Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive is in this camp as well, but since I traded mine (and regret it) it feels wrong to include it in the comparison.
I tested both pedals with my Reverend Roundhouse HB (LP) and my Malden Mozak (tele) through my Reverend Goblin (set just on the edge of breakup and with the schizo switch in the “UK” setting). Both pedals sound great and have plenty of volume on tap (the settings in the above picture show each pedal at unity gain). The Pork Loin is best described as dark and thick and smooth while the Crunchy Frog is more bright and gritty. The Pork Loin wins for being more “amp like.” It responds better to picking dynamics and the overdrive has less of a mid hump and a more natural decay. The Crunchy Frog wins for bang for buck.
I haven’t looked at the circuits in either of these pedals. But based on sound alone, I’d guess that the Crunchy Frog is yet another TS-based overdrive. As you can see in the picture, it has plenty of gain and brightness on tap. With these settings, I had a tone with plenty of grit and more than enough cut. Edging the tone beyond noon, things get a little ice-picky. And edging the gain beyond one o’clock, things start to lose definition. But it should be noted, I’m not a high gain kind of guy.
The Frog excels for lead work and the independent boost is a great feature. Unlike the Fulldrive, the boost function on the Crunchy Frog comes after the dirt and works with or without the dirt engaged. So rather than just adding gain and thickening the tone, this boost can increase your volume and even work as a clean boost.
The Frog doesn’t respond especially well to rolling off your guitar’s volume knob, but it lightens up a little if you back off on your pick attack. The clean blend is the real star on this pedal. Blending your clean signal into the overdrive makes for great definition and thickness. With just the od, the Crunchy Frog would be fine for lead but a little thin for rhythm work. With the clean added, your can dial in a great rhythm tone with just enough dirt and grit. If you are looking for a TS-style pedal or a good lead boost, the Crunchy Frog is a great choice.
The Pork Loin is a hard dish to perfect. With seven controls and a generally darker tone, it’s tough to dial in (at least with my rig). But once you get it setup, it really comes to life. Rather than just offering a blended clean signal, the Pork Loin runs your clean sound through a “Brittish-voiced preamp” and blends that in with the overdrive. What you get is a thick and boosted clean sound paired with a natural tube-like overdrive. There is also enough volume on tap to work as a serious clean boost if you turn down the overdrive.
I started by dialing in a nice overdrive tone and then adding clean signal to thicken it up and round out the sound. The tone that came out reminded me of some of Rich Robinson’s sounds on the first Black Crowes record. Distorted but still pretty clean. The Pork Loin works wonders with single coil pickups. It’s fattens them up without making them muddy. Pairing it with a bright tele bridge pickup creates a tone that is thick and cutting at the same time and that cleans up nicely when you back up on your attack.
With the Roundhouse, running the bridge pickup makes for a beefy tone that’s great for riffing, power chords, and leads alike. But I had a hard time using anything but the bridge pickup. Pairing the middle combination or the neck pickup alone with the Pork Loin left me with a tone that was too dark for my rig. But then I tried putting a Rangemaster (HBE Germania44) in front of the Pork Loin. And yes, I realize we’re cheating now since we’re only supposed to be comparing two pedals. Oh well. Hitting the Pork Loin with the Rangemaster created a sound I can only call “the closest I have come to a Vox AC30 simulator in a pedal.” It’s a sound that is rich, thick, and chimey. And thanks to the dynamics of both pedals, you can go from semi-clean to roaring with just picking and volume knob. If I were only doing roots-rock, alt/country, or blues, I could see getting by with just this setup.
Both pedals are great. The Crunchy Frog wins for versatility. It has good base tones, offers a separate clean boost and should work well with any guitar/amp combination. The Pork Loin wins for “tone” though. It’s finicky for sure and takes some tweaking to unlock it’s potential. And with humbuckers and a darker amp, could be lost in a band mix. But with single coils, a brighter amp, or humbuckers and a treble booster, it is nothing but fun!