Yuki Hayashi, an acclaimed engineer and designer of guitar pedals, once had a dream. In this dream he heard a sound, a distorted guitar sound unlike any he had heard before yet similar to a high-gain tube amp. Upon waking, he rushed to his design lab, mentally visualizing the circuitry schematic on his way, and began rushing to recreate the sound he had heard in his head before it was lost. The final output was the Heat Blaster. After further perfecting his original creation, the HB-2 was born. Is this product of inspiration from a dream the best guitar distortion pedal in manifest form? I’ll put it to the test in my Free The Tone Heat Blaster HB-2 review to find out.
The Heat Blaster pedal that Yuki Hayashi developed while working at Providence Effects has garnered a reputation for being a great distortion pedal, so I am very excited to try this updated, handmade version of that classic design. After already playing such high quality Free The Tone pedals including the Silky Comp Compressor, Gigs Boson Overdrive, and Matt Schofield MS SOV Special Overdrive, I have a pretty good feeling that Yuki has taken the Heat Blaster to the next level in this Free The Tone incarnation. It’s time to feel the heat, so let’s run down the features real quick and get to the review.
Drive control knob adjusts the amount of gain.
Tone control knob adjusts the overall tone of the sound produced.
Level control knobs sets overall volume level of the pedal.
Hi Cut flip-switch reduces treble output for a sound that is great for soloing.
Low Cut flip-switch reduces bass response, useful for blending in a band setting with a full rhythm section.
Autographed by designer, Yuki Hayashi.
True Bypass for letting signal pass through unaffected when disengaged.
Sound & Performance:
I dialed up a flat, clean amp setting, pulled out my American Strat, and plugged the Heat Blaster in between. I also brought along the Gigs Boson Overdrive, as I’m always curious to see if a particular distortion plays well with others.
With controls of the Heat Blaster set at noon, I fired up the pedal and struck a few chords. The Heat Blaster provides a satisfying boost to your signal with a great full-range distortion sound and lots of headroom. This pedal loves being fed plenty of fat rock ‘n roll chords.
At this Drive setting, pulling down the Level to around 10 o’clock brings the pedal to unity gain with a clean amp channel. After switching the pedal on and off a few times, something becomes apparent. The Heat Blaster is a stellar choice for adding a high-quality crunch channel to a clean single channel amp.
The sound of the HB-2 is full and responsive with a thick bottom and a vibrant high-end. The Tone knob helps you sculpt the perfect tone. I find the tone knob of the Heat Blaster a bit more tailored to the mid to high end range. Dialing the Tone in somewhere between noon and 3 o’clock yields the most pleasing results to my ears. But this pedal has a few more tricks up its sleeve that are sure to trump the old Providence version.
The Hi Cut and Low Cut switches are very useful for further suiting the Heat Blaster to your needs. While the pedal typically has a very deep low end, the Low Cut switch will significantly reduce the depth of the bass response so your bassist and drummer can fill in the low frequency range, great for use in band situations. The High Cut is also great for achieving a slightly more mellow, vintage-style tone. This is great if your pickups have a bit too much high-end response or you want to reduce the harshness of your pick attack. These functions are a welcome addition to the HB-2 and give it a one-up over the original design.
The Drive control adds a full range of versatility to this pedal. On lower Drive settings the Heat Blaster can be used as a superb overdrive. The HB-2 is a very dynamic pedal and responds well to expressive playing. Play gently for a cleaner sound, and dig in for a cutting overdriven bite. And yes, the HB-2 cleans up exceptionally well when you roll back your volume knob.
I, however, like to crank the Drive on the HB-2. This is where you’ll discover the Heat Blaster’s namesake. At full Drive levels the Heat Blaster doesn’t overpower with too much gain. It’s actually a little more mild than I was expecting, but my expectations were surpassed in the best possible way by how refined and tight the response of this pedal is even at high gain settings. Many pedals promise to emulate the response and feel of a high-gain tube amp, but the Heat Blaster is one pedal that actually delivers. And while many distortion pedals seek to recreate a particular amp sound, the HB-2 defines a sound of its own although I can hear a bit of Marshall crunch and top-end with some Mesa Boogie depth and bottom.
The Heat Blaster also produces great results when paired with a distorted amp or placed behind an overdrive pedal. I used the HB-2 as a raging overdrive in front of an already dirty amp for some killer lead tones. And while using the Heat Blaster to add some crunch to a clean channel, I used Free The Tone’s own Gigs Boson Overdrive to take the crunch into high-gain lead territory.
Free The Tone seem to be one of the few companies that consistently release products of only the highest possible quality, a testament to the vision of Yuki Hayashi and the dedication of the Free The Tone team. The Heat Blaster HB-2 is another standout in the Free The Tone effects pedal line. Let’s see the final result.
The Heat Blaster HB-2 by Free The Tone is easily one of the best high-end distortion pedals I’ve ever heard. It’s dynamic and expressive at all Drive levels and cleans up well when you need it to. It’s a very refined distortion pedal that certainly packs enough heat for most needs. The HB-2 will cover the range of overdrive to crunch, making a great instant second channel to your clean amp. Pair the Heat Blaster with a distorted channel or your favorite overdrive for great blended distortion sounds and lead tones. The Hi Cut and Low Cut functions also give this pedal more usability than your run-of-the-mill 3-knob distortion pedal. If you’re looking for a distortion pedal of the highest craftsmanship and sound quality, the Heat Blaster definitely deserves an audition. Better yet, before you try it out, go ahead and make space on your pedalboard. This one’s a keeper!
That concludes our Free The Tone Heat Blaster HB-2 review. Thanks for reading.
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