I cautiously made my way toward the NAMM show exhibitor’s booth with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation usually reserved for a trip to the optometrist. You know: “Will these frames make me look every bit the rock star I know myself to be, or will I disdainfully rip them off of my face with the speed and fervor of a weasel with his snout in a beehive?” The answer being the latter can turn what was hoped to be a quick errand into an epic waste of time and while trade shows are no “in-and-out-in-a-jiffy” proposition, one can at least hope for a brevity and efficiency akin to that of a guillotine sometimes. This is especially applicable when sifting through the myriad dreams and duds on offer throughout the latest NAMM show’s seemingly endless stream of technological “Mystery Dates.”
As I drew nearer, I began to gain confidence in the wares on display from Truetone (www.truetone.com). Even from 10 feet away, these guitar effects pedals confidently projected the appearance of ergonomic design, aesthetic beauty, and robust build quality. I plugged in the demo guitar provided and started surveying through the pedals. While all of them offered something special, the two that stood out from the others were the Jekyll & Hyde Overdrive-Distortion ($179.95) and the H20 Liquid Chorus & Echo ($179.95). Both pedals are a part of the company’s new V3 series, the first new offerings since the company formerly known as Visual Sound became Truetone. For this review, we’ll concentrate on the Jekyll & Hyde.
I enlisted the experienced hands and ears of noted local guitarist Wayne Preis to put these pedals through their paces in an effort to gain a more thorough perspective. I thank him for his help and his Fender Princeton Reverb guitar amp…
The Jekyll & Hyde’s actually been around since 1997 and has a history of solid performance, but has been “re-designed from scratch” by designers Bob Weil and RG Keen. True to its name, it exhibits multiple sonic personalities, due to its “two pedals in one” design and the abundance of tone-shaping features and options it offers.
Its sexy, deep red housing sports six small but chunky knobs across the top of its face, clearly labelled DRIVE, TONE, VOL, HI-GAIN, TREBLE, and VOL, followed by a second row of four even more diminutive knobs: BASS, CLEAN MIX, BASS, and MID. Two footswitches are located at the bottom, each with a neighboring led to show if it’s on. There are also two two-position slide switches for BRIGHT (on/off) and VOICE, with an A-B indicator they shared. In addition to a 9-volt adapter socket, there is a separate ¼-inch input and output for each of the two pedals that live inside. This provides the unique ability to either separate or reverse the order of the effects, in addition to its standard operating mode.
The left (or Jekyll) side of the pedal is dedicated to overdrive effects, so your amp is always going to be an important element of the sound as you’re driving its input into clipping. Wayne’s first thought upon engaging this circuit was “very tube screamy,” making reference to the ubiquitous Ibanez standard. The “DRIVE, TONE and VOL” and “BASS and CLEAN MIX” to the left side of the pedal’s face are dedicated to this effect. I liked the creamy, vintage sound that it presented right away, which seems perfect for blues, country, and Americana tones. Turning up the BASS knob helped to drive the compression a bit. Working it in conjunction with the TONE knob yielded surprising versatility and adding in the CLEAN MIX really helped the guitar to retain focus. Oddly, this mode’s output had a lower output than expected, considering its purpose.
The right (or Hyde) side was where most of the real action happened, though. Immediately upon disengaging the overdrive and turning on the distortion, we were met with a ballsy ’70s-inspired tone that took on a wide array of flavors. The HI-GAIN knob certainly added a lot of gnarly classic rock grit for instance, but the TREBLE knob drove the output too, which revealed a treasure trove of depth and color when balanced along with the BASS and MID knobs. Rolling the MID all the way down had a hollow, scooped tone, à la Brian May and filled out the sound immensely when increased. The BRIGHT switch added air, clarity, and a bit of fizz when set to A, in contrast to the darker, more menacing character of the B setting. Switching the VOICE setting threw things even further afield, with the heavily clipped Dual Rectifier/AC30 sound of the A setting squaring off against the more rounded and organic Fender-styled bloom on B.
As if all of that amazing amount of control over the tone wasn’t enough, a whole other world of possibilities opens up when using both sides at the same time. Jekyll & Hyde is truly a monster in this mode, with a fat, hyper-compressed quality that absolutely bludgeons with its bad, bold, bigger-than-life quality.
Opening the unit gives access to a few more options, as well. There are two switches inside that allow users to choose the character of the footswitches: Off makes them “True Bypass,” completely removing any coloration to the signal when disengaged, while toggling them on employs the proprietary Pure Tone Buffer, keeping the pedal’s sonic coloration to the signal present even when the effect is bypassed. These can be set differently for each side. There is also a switch that disables the distortion’s noise gate, which we preferred, as the threshold seemed to be set a bit high for our tastes, resulting in unwanted chatter and other artifacts.
This is a truly a solid offering in more than just construction, a swiss-army knife of a unit capable of providing just about any tone you could be in search of. Next month we’ll add the vibey-depths of the H20’s chorus and echo effects!
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, mixing/mastering engineer and performer. Catch him at the Adams Avenue Unplugged Festival on May 1!