The Electro Harmonix Soul Food is meant to do one thing: give guitarists access to the sought after style of clean boost and overdrive tones made famous by the Klon Centaur (& KTR) overdrive guitar pedals. And it’s meant to accomplish this lofty feat while costing about as much as a console video game. Sounds like good food for the soul to me.
Mike Matthews Vs. The Hype Machine
Few pedals are as sought-after as the mythical Klon Centaur (& KTR) overdrive pedals. Yes, these legendary stompboxes do sound fantastic, but many guitarists have realized that their inflated second-hand prices are fueled by greatly exaggerated hype. Yes, their tones are great, but there is a bit more surrounding why these pedals have soared to such lofty prices on the second-hand market than simply their great sounds. Less than 10,000 Centaurs were made, and the pedal has since been discontinued. While Centaur creator, Bill Finnegan, denies having any hand in fueling the hype, he adamantly refuses to build any more Klon Centaurs, a pedal that guitarists have begged and pleaded for him to produce. Bill alludes to the hype in print on the KTR overdrive pedal itself, adding even more emphasis to the hype he denies having any hand in making. Whether it’s intentional or simply by a matter of circumstance, he keeps the supply of Klon Kool-Aid limited, has attempted to hide the magic formula (the circuit and “mythical diodes” in this case), and occasionally sells a scarce derivative of the Centaur, the KTR, at a price that’s out of reach for budget-minded guitarists. Even if supposedly unintentional, it’s a brilliant marketing strategy as Bill’s actions have, in fact, directly fueled even more demand for his nearly impossible to attain pedals, creating more hype that could arguably be of his making. But with countless “Klones” flooding the market and every knock-off pedal builder wanting a piece of the Klon pie, something no one anticipated happened. Mike Matthews of Electro Harmonix decided to lay the hammer down on the Klon hype once-and-for-all and get in on the action in a big way. And like some kind of Robin Hood, Mike Matthews’ mission was to share this great wealth of overdrive tone with guitarists far and wide for a mere pittance compared to the lofty price of a second-hand Klon Centaur. The Soul Food is a Klon Centaur style of overdrive pedal that any budget-strapped guitarist can afford.
Let’s find out if this is the best “Klon Centaur/KTR” overdrive pedal you can buy in our Electro Harmonix Soul Food review. Here’s a spec list before we serve our first helping.
- Transparent overdrive.
- Boosted power rails for extended headroom and definition.
- Super responsive.
- Controls for Volume, Treble, & Drive.
- Selectable true bypass or buffered bypass modes.
- Compact, rugged design.
- 9.6DC-200 power supply included. Also runs on 9 volt battery.
Sound & Performance:
There’s one thing that few guitarists would argue with: the Klon Centaur is an excellent overdrive pedal, indeed one of the best. The Soul Food is an original circuit design inspired by the Centaur. It aims to take your guitar into that realm of tone for a tiny fraction of the cost of a second-hand Centaur. From the moment you plug into the EHX Soul Food, you can’t help but notice that it does indeed sound very Klon-like. There’s no mistaking that it’s an overdrive in the vein of the classic Klon Centaur. While the Soul Food isn’t a one-to-one replica of the Klon Centaur, it does a commendable job of producing similar overdrive and clean boost tones yet with a flavor of its own. Mike Matthews and his engineers at Electro Harmonix have performed a heroic task in making this exceptional pedal available to guitarists with a discerning palate for Klon-style tones.
Is it unfair to compare the Soul Food and Klon Centaur because of the sheer difference in cost of these pedals? No, this comparison is essential and emphasizes how comical it is that the Klon Centaur has reached such outrageous secondhand prices. But if that didn’t happen, guitarists probably wouldn’t have access to the Soul Food today. The silly prices Klon Centaur pedals fetch is a testament to just how much value the Soul Food provides as nearly any guitarist can afford one. The Electo Harmonix Soul Food is easily on the short-list of modern effects pedals that every single guitarist should own or at least try out. It really is a great pedal that’s worth far more than it’s humble asking price. Rather than being a direct “Klone”, the Soul Food’s slight variances in sound may even sound more favorable than the Centaur to some guitarists.
When cutting the Drive on the Soul Food all the way, you’ll achieve a pretty transparent sound that’s great for using as a clean volume boost. Clean boosting is one of the most popular ways to use the Klon Centaur, and the Soul Food performs just as admirably in this area, offering sounds that some guitarists might even prefer in a double-blind test. Electro Harmonix took great care in getting a wide range of clean gain on the Drive knob’s left side of noon. You can push it up slightly around 9 o’clock or so to get just a little more punch from your guitar. While the Soul Food doesn’t add a lot of extra low-end presence (hence some after market mods offering additional low-end shaping options), the sound has a nice mid-range punch that’ll make your guitar pop a little more in a band mix while not treading too deeply in your bassist’s frequency range. And quite frankly, as I’ve said before, some guitarists might even prefer this pedal’s sounds to a Klon Centaur on the same settings or may even have a hard time hearing much difference at all. Basically, while discerning ears will notice subtle differences, they aren’t night and day.
The Soul Food has a slightly more aggressive top-end when you dime the Drive. You’ll notice a bit more sizzle that may warrant some taming with the Treble control. But when you get back to lower Drive settings, you’ll be treated to some usable boosted tones with a slight hint of added color and harmonics. As with the Klon Centaur, the Soul Food also shines in the range of Drive tones found between 9 o’clock towards a little past noon, and this can cover your moderate crunch needs with ease. Back to the higher Drive settings, you’ll even find just a little more gain than your typical “Klone” although I typically resist the urge to max it out for smoother overdrive sounds. As Klon connoisseurs will mostly agree, this style of drive is really about the cleaner, low-gain side of the overdrive spectrum.
It’s worth pointing out that this pedal plays well with just about any pickup configuration, particular on its lower gain settings. If you’re using darker humbuckers, open up the Treble control. If your single-coils are on the bright side, cut back that Treble a bit. The pedal is also articulate enough to retain note definition even when using warmer, duller-sounding pickups. It’s very easy to dial in settings with the Soul Food that just work with your guitar and amp for sounds that may even have you leaving the pedal on all the time. I especially like the added touch sensitivity offered by the clean boost settings with the Drive rolled all the way down.
The optional buffer is a huge plus. While the original Klon Centaur was buffered bypass all the way (it’s creator, Bill Finnegan, swears by it), many modern players have come to prefer using true bypass. (Sorry, true bypass is not almost always worse to many guitarists.) It’s great that the Soul Food offers options to satisfy both needs, another testament to how EHX puts the needs of their customers before their ego. You can use it to drive a strong signal to your other pedals with the buffer or have the Soul Food get completely out of your signal path with the true bypass option.
Also, while most guitarists may use a dedicated power supply for all pedals on their pedalboards, it’s nice that EHX included a power adapter with this pedal, adding yet even more value to what you get out of the box. Even if you don’t necessarily need it, you never know when an extra adapter will come in handy.
All-in-all you can’t beat the tones and value the Soul Food offers at this price. It’s seriously one of the best bargains around. Electro Harmonix have created one of the most indispensable and essential pedals to come along in a while.
The Electro Harmonix Soul Food is one of the best overdrive pedals you can buy and offers unmatched value at its unbelievably low price point. EHX could have slapped a $100+ price tag on the Soul Food, and its tones would still be a bargain. While guitarists with cash to burn may not mind shelling out a couple grand for a pedal, the Soul Food offers premium sounds for the tone savvy at a price that makes buying a Klon Centaur at current second-hand prices seem absurd. The clean boost tones of the Soul Food are exceptional, making this pedal a worthy Klon alternative despite its minuscule price-tag. Whether you want the Soul Food for its great clean boost tones, hard-rocking crunch, or everything in between, you won’t mind not sipping the Klon Kool-Aid when getting your fill of Soul Food.
That concludes our Electro Harmonix Soul Food review. Thanks for reading.
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