As we talked about in our last article on gain shaping devises, starting in 1961, guitarists started using electronic devices to make their amps clip, the very first was the fuzz box. Powered by germanium chips, these fuzz boxes allowed guitarists to drive their amps. Popular models were the Arbiter Fuzz Face, Vox Tone Bender and the Maestro Fuzz-Tone. These were used by Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and countless others but there was another box out that some other guitarists used, included are Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore and Billy Gibbons. These boxes were called Treble Boosters. The treble booster was used to add some sparkle to the dark British amps and in addition to adding more high frequencies, they also helped push the amps to the breaking point with a dbl boost and some added distortion. There have been a few different brands over the years but one above all others was king, the Rangemaster.
Dallas Arbiter Rangemaster - Without a doubt, the Rangemaster is by far the most famous of the treble boosters. Used by Eric Clapton during his days in the Bluesbreakers, the Rangemaster was an important part of his distinctive sound. Interestingly enough, the Rangemaster was not a stompbox but sat on top of the amp as it was originally intended to stay on all the time. Once again, just like in the old fuzz boxes, the germanium transistor is the key to the warm tone. Some other users were Brian May, Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, Rory Gallagher and Billy Gibbons. Funny, the chord notated under the Rangemaster name on the unit is a G7 chord in 1st inversion..
Analog.man Beano Boost - Although the original Rangemaster is no longer manufactured, there are currently many new versions being built. One notable one would be the Beano Boost built by Analog.man (named so because Eric Clapton is reading the comic “Beano” on the cover of the John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers record cover. This is the record in which Eric was first said to have used the Rangemaster).
Overdrive – The 70s gave way to new technology and along with silicon chips brought a slew of new clipping devices, Overdrive being one. Think warm and punchy
here. Often used to compliment or boost an already overdriven amp for added
sustain and volume. Overdrive is generally synonymous with soft clipping. On to
the history makers, old and new:
Butler Audio (Chandler, Tube
Works) Tube Driver – The Tube Driver actually has a single 12AX7 pre-amp tube on board to
create just enough warmth and sustain for solos. The most notable users would
be Eric Johnson, Billy Gibbons, David Gilmore and Joe Satriani (for a while).
Designed by Brent Butler and first manufactured by his company Butronics in
1978 or 1979 later changed to Audio Matrix until the company folded in 1982.
Paul Chandler later did the distribution, thus the most commonly referred to
name, the Chandler Tube Driver. This also led to litigation on who actually owns the design. It was
also issued under the name Tube Works Tube Driver for a while. Brent Butler still
manufactures a limited amount (6 units a week) under his current company name,
Butler Audio. It will also set you back about three hundred dollars.
Ibanez Tube Screamer – The Tube Screamer has
been used by countless guitarists since its debut in the late 70s. Most notable
is Stevie Ray Vaughn who used one throughout his career. The first model was the TS-808 (which
Stevie used) followed by the TS9 in the early 80s. These proved to very popular
as well and are the ones mostly seen in pedal boards. The newer models starting
in the late 80s and 90s such as the STL and TS10 proved unpopular. Generally
Tube Screamers are used to overdrive an already overdriven amp and set with the
volume up full and the gain set back to about one or more depending on how much
the amp breaks up naturally.
Xotic BB pre-amp, AC Booster
and RC Booster – Popular for their natural and warm sounding tones, Xotic makes a series
of overdrive boxes that many session players use, Steve Lukather, Scott
Henderson and Greg Howe to name a few. The RC Booster is simply a clean boost,
meaning it will give you a dbl boost without coloring your tone very much, sort
of what we have been doing for years with the tube screamer. Some players use
it in the front of their effect chain, leaving it on all the time for a dbl
boost and tone warmer. Although still pretty transparent, the AC and BB both
color the tone a bit in good ways while adding a dbl boost, the BB sounding a
bit more modern than the AC. One nice feature on all the Xotic boxes is a
separate treble and bass dial making the EQ section very versatile. Plus true
bypass, meaning when switched off, they don’t affect your signal chain.
Distortion – These hard clipping
devices are perfect when you need over the top saturation, especially when you
choose or have to use an amp that doesn't break up. They can also be used to
compliment an already overdriven up amp. On to the list:
Originally released in 1978, this distortion box may just be the best selling
distortion ever. Users have included at one time or another Steve Vai, Joe
Satriani, Mike Stern and John Petrucci. There are a few popular mods for this
box from Analog Man that make this pedal sound spectacular.
MXR Distortion Plus – Imagine, no tone control
of any sort, just output and distortion knobs? In the early 80s MXR was selling
around 20,000 Distortion plus pedals a year until Japanese manufacturers
created too much competition. Randy Rhoads used one of these.
so many makers of great boxes these days that it is impossible to name them
all. You really have to find one that works with your guitar, amp and hands and
experimentation is the only way.