Menatone’s The King. Review – Best “Marshall” Distortion Pedal?

Menatone-The-King-Review-Best-Marshall-Distortion-Pedal-01

I’ll never forget the first time I first played a Menatone pedal. I was at Rudy’s Music on the famous “Music Row”, a strip on 48th St in Manhattan once lined with music stores. This store in particular was the place to go in NYC for boutique guitar pedals. After trying a bunch of distortion and overdrives, a shop employee recommended I try a few Menatone pedals. One of them was the King of the Britains, a roaring “Marshall-in-a-box” style distortion that was full of the exceptional tones you’d expect from such a pedal that does the job right. Fast forward to now, and I was recently surprised in the best possible way to learn that a new heir was inheriting the Menatone throne: The King.

“Menatone’s The King.” (yes, with a period at the end, although I’ll refrain from using it unless at the end of a sentence) is the latest and perhaps ultimate evolution of the flavor of dirt Menatone has tweaked over the years in various iterations of the King of the Britains. No this isn’t exactly another King of the Britains pedal, per se; it’s an all-new circuit that collects upon Brian Mena’s nearly 20-years of experience crafting pedals and is inspired by his favorite British amp designs. Think classic Marshall JTM45 & Plexi Super Lead tones to raging modern distortion. The King, if anything, just might be Menatone’s final word in Marshall flavored dirt pedals.

Features:

Controls:

  • GAIN: adjusts the overall gain in the preamp
  • DRIVE: sets the character of the distortion. set low for vintage ‘60s gain, middle settings will yield more ‘70s bark, and high settings will get you huge modern levels of gain.
  • MID: think of this as an overactive mid control, from 0-5 it acts as a normal amp midrange, from 5-10 it bypasses the EQ for a flatter response
  • HI: this increases and decreases the treble frequencies
  • LO: sets the tightness of the low end. turn past noon for a woollier fatter tone, turn below noon for a tighter more modern sound

Internal Controls:

  • EQ Shaping Trimpot: variable from 60’s ear, 70’s era, to modern era tones and anywhere in between
  • Modern/Vintage Switch: Selects between a modern sound & a more vintage tone. Use in conjunction with EQ Shaping Trimpot for best results

Power:

  • 9V battery or 9V power supply not exceeding 200ma, battery access is through the four screws on the back plate
  • Power Adapter: Negative Center – Positive Ring. After many years of repairing damage from mediocre power supplies, Menatone now only recommends Voodoo Lab Pedal Power supplies. Use all other supplies at your own risk!

Menatone-The-King-Review-Best-Marshall-Distortion-Pedal-02I want to make a few brief “The King vs King of the Britains” comparisons in terms of features and construction. The King of the Britains has been released in many iterations. (There are 4-knob, 5-knob, 6-knob, & 7-knob versions of the KotB!) Each of these different pedals elaborates on the theme, but all except the compact 4-knob version are pretty bulky in comparison to the featured-packed The King. Therefore, this pedal seems to one-up the previous “Kings” in terms of how much tone-shaping control it offers from its 6 surface knobs, internal EQ trimpot, and internal Mod/Vint switch while remaining relatively compact in size.

While the King of the Britains pedals are known for being point-to-point wired, The King uses a PCB with through-hole mounted components. This greatly contributes to why Menatone was able to condense this pedal to its compact size and fill it to the brim with features for maximum tweak-ability. This also allows Menatone to more easily hand-build these compact pedals while still keeping end user cost as low as possible. Basically, this is a good thing for Menatone and an even better thing for consumers.

Visit Menatone for more info about The King.

See the lowest price on eBay.

Sound & Performance:

After spending a little time with The King I realized that to simply try to judge this pedal in comparison to a particular amp’s sound is to sell this pedal short of what it does. Sure, I’ll summarize now by saying that The King’s tones do indeed fall into the realm of the classic Marshall amps that inspired this pedal. But there’s so much more to what makes this pedal special than that.

Menatone-The-King-Review-Best-Marshall-Distortion-Pedal-03On the surface you’ll find a typical amp-like “Hi/Mid/Lo” EQ section with familiar Gain & Level controls as well. The Drive knob is of special note as it seems to be a sort of ‘bias’ control that adjusts the overall headroom and gain output of the pedal. It’s used in conjunction with the Gain knob for dialing in the character of your sound and general response of the pedal. Lower drive settings are good for ‘cleaner’ tones as you’ll have less gain on tap from the Gain knob. But it’s important to note that the character of the Gain knob changes depending on where the Drive is set. Also, with the Drive set lower, the clean tones will be fuller and warmer sounding. If you crank the Drive and lower the Gain, the clean tones will be thinner but very articulate. If you max the Gain and experiment with various Drive settings, you’ll discover everything from classic overdrive to more modern distortion sounds.

Menatone-The-King-Review-Best-Marshall-Distortion-Pedal-04When you pop off the backplate, things get really interesting. The trimpot allows you to span an even wider range of sounds Menatone has labeled from 70’s through Modern to 60’s. Then there’s a Vintage/Modern switch, not to be mistaken as a general “hi-cut” switch as it also seems to affect the overall tonality and response of the pedal. These controls open up a whole new range of options for expanding the sounds of The King. The intricacies and sweet spots are near infinite, and it all comes down to your guitar and amp of choice. Personally, I’m digging the trimpot towards the 70’s area with the switch set to Vintage for my humbucking pickup tones. For single coils I usually roll the trimpot all the way to the 60’s extreme and leave the switch set to Modern. I’ve tinkered with these controls for hours, and these settings happen to work for me. But I’m with Menatone in saying that “there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ settings. Let your ears tell you what works for you.” Words to live by right there.

On that note I’ll emphasize that I especially dig using The King with single coils. My American Fender Strat seriously loves this pedal. Tone is such a personal preference, and you rarely find a single pedal that works well with such a variety of instruments as does The King. You often need different tools for different jobs, be that guitars, amps, or pedals. But The King is just a beast with single coils and really beefs up your sound. Quite frankly, it’s been taking my Strat into the territory that I usually call on my Flying V or SG for, so this pedal gets added points for thickening up a Strat for raunchy rock rhythm playing. But as I mentioned previously, all manner of clean or thinner tones can be found. A kingdom of great tone awaits your exploration.

An observation that I have to point out is that the Drive knob and internal controls are settings that you’ll typically find absent from most distortion & overdrive pedals. These seem like the kinds of values that a builder might preset in the circuit design to create the particular voice of a pedal. But for The King these parameters give the guitarist the final say in how the pedal sounds and feels, and they’re crucial to using The King most effectively. Its entirely possibly that a few guitarists could plug in and dismiss The King if they don’t find the sound they’re looking for immediately. For example, while I prefer the 60’s trimpot setting with my Strat, the default value was 70’s. Basically, this pedal is a sandbox of tone that you can tweak to suit your needs if you’re willing to get acquainted with it. Doing so is recommended as the greatest rewards are found with a little tweaking.

I have a few last things to mention. The mid-gain levels are particularly good if low to moderate overdrive is called for. And definitely try stacking it with an overdrive in front. Think Tube Screamer into a Marshall, and you know where I’m going with this. I find it particularly pleasing to dial in a moderate gain sound and kick it over the top with an overdrive pedal. Also, while I like The King’s higher-gain settings as well, the level of articulation you achieve will depend on your overall combination of the various parameters with your choice of guitar & amp. The versatile EQ makes this pedal a killer option for use as a tone-coloring boost as well. And The King will clean up well when you roll back your guitar’s volume knob just as any good tube amp does. The only real fault is that I wish the internal options protruded from the sides of the pedal (in knob & switch form) to allow adjustment without needing to remove the backplate. This would make it easier to alter the sound and response of the pedal for use with different guitars (assuming you don’t find a one-size-fits-all setting for your own needs).

There’s really no denying that The King is one of the best Menatone pedals released so far. Let’s see the final result.

Menatone-The-King-Review-Best-Marshall-Distortion-Pedal-05

 

Overall-Rating-5.0

“Menatone’s The King.” is a well-rounded overdrive, distortion, & boost pedal and one of the most versatile pedals chasing the “Marshall-in-a-box” sound. It’s overflowing with options for shaping your sound from EQ’d cleans to mild and heavier overdrive to all-out Marshall-inspired roar. I particularly recommend trying this pedal with single-coil pickups as it made me not want to put my Strat down. Fortunately, this pedal is tweak-able enough to pair with any guitar & amp combo thanks to its extra voicing options under the hood, essential parameters for making the most of this pedal. Pair it with an overdrive for a match made in heaven. There isn’t much this pedal can’t do. For many guitarists it will prove itself appropriately named. Hail to The King.

That concludes our “Menatone’s The King.” review. Thanks for reading.

 

Want to buy Menatone’s The King.?

See The Lowest Price on eBay

Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Review – Best “Marshall” Distortion Pedal?

Catalinbread-Dirty-Little-Secret-DLS-Review-Best-Marshall-Distortion-Pedal-01

It’s no secret that the classic Marshall Super Lead and Super Bass “Plexi” amplifiers produce some of the most sought after guitar tones in rock history. From mild bluesy warmth to the roaring sound of a cranked Marshall stack, these legendary amps laid the foundation for great tones that guitarists still seek to this day. But with vintage amp prices soaring ever higher and the sounds of a cranked Marshall requiring, well, a cranked Marshall, Catalinbread have released what could be the end-all pedal for conveniently capturing that classic Marshall Super Lead/Super Bass sound: the Dirty Little Secret.

Catalinbread’s latest Dirty Little Secret is the 3rd iteration of their Marshall-inspired “foundation overdrive” as the DLS has gone through a few incarnations as Catalinbread strove ever towards achieving the ultimate Marshall-in-a-box pedal. But this version may well be the pinnacle of the DLS’s evolution as it finally reproduces the authentic tone stack characteristics of both Super Lead & Super Bass amps, complete with a 3-band EQ and internal Presence trimmer. Here’s a rundown of features before we find out if this is the best “Marshall” distortion pedal around in our Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret review.

Features:

  • Classic Plexi to early 70’s Marshall Super Lead and Super Bass sound and response.
  • Master knob controls overall output level.
  • Pre-amp knob sets level of input gain distortion.
  • Bass, Middle, & Treble knobs control tonal response.
  • Presence internal trimmer adjusts overall high-frequency response.
  • Super Lead/Super Bass mode switch selects between 2 difference modes of operation. The Tone circuit gets reconfigured when switched from Super Lead to Super Bass mode and vice versa.
  • Power by 9-18VDC power adapter.

Visit Catalinbread for more info about the Dirty Little Secret.

See the lowest price on Amazon.

See the lowest price on eBay.

Sound & Performance:

This pedal rocks. The Dirty Little Secret holds a record with me for being the fastest pedal to win me over from plugging it in to earning a place on my pedalboard. I’ve played a lot of great distortion pedals, even some pedals that capture solid Marshall style distortion tones, but the Dirty Little Secret is truly something special beyond the norm.

When first plugging into the Dirty Little Secret, you’ll find it set to Super Lead mode. This mode offers a highly versatile distortion with a focused attack, a searing amount of gain on tap, a tighter frequency response, and an altered tone stack with an upper-midrange emphasis. In short, the Dirty Little Secret is one of the most Marshall-sounding stompboxes I’ve ever plugged into. I generally like to set the Pre-amp knob (gain) pretty high and use the guitar’s volume knob for any subtle tweaks or cleanup. You’ll also notice the feel and distortion character change a little in the upper range from around 3 o’clock to maxed out. And frankly, this is one of the few distortion pedals that I like with fully cranked gain as it can take you into ripping JCM800 territory. Throw an overdrive in front, and Super Lead mode kills!

Catalinbread-Dirty-Little-Secret-DLS-Review-Best-Marshall-Distortion-Pedal-02I’ll go ahead a cover the tone knobs before we get into Super Bass mode as it’s vital to understand how and why this pedal’s tone controls are unique and how to use them with best results. Essentially, the Dirty Little Secret was designed to accurately reproduce the same characteristics of the passive tone stacks found in Super Lead and Super Bass amps. Basically, you’re dealing with a real Marshall tone stack, and thus, you’d use the controls on the DLS as you would on an actual Marshall amp. If you’re expecting to just dial the knobs to noon for a flat setting, that isn’t the case here. The controls are passive, so they attenuate, or cut, the frequencies. Also, the Treble knobs works as a sort of blender between the treble and middle/bass frequencies. You’ll generally notice a slight mid-scoop in the sound with more presence in the bass and treble frequencies when the knobs are straight up. When cranking the Pre-amp it may also be worth attenuating the bass to significantly lower levels to keep your bottom end from getting muddy. Otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to dial in a “bad” sound from this pedal, contributing to why the Dirty Little Secret is such a joy to play.

Now I must admit, I played the Dirty Little Secret for weeks before even trying Super Bass mode. I knew it was there. And I intended to try it. But the Super Lead mode sounds so good that I was already in love and couldn’t bring myself to pop off the bottom plate to flip the mode switch. But I must say, try not to make the same mistake when you get your hands on the DLS. I figured the the whole “2-pedals-in-one” hype surrounding the Dirty Little Secret was just the usual marketing talk about a mode that would essentially just have a slightly bassier sound. This is not the case at all…

The Dirty Little Secret’s Super Bass mode starts by offering a fuller frequency input response compared to Super Lead mode. This immediately gives it a more open sound that’s less compressed and more dynamic. It’s a little darker sounding at first, but you can reduce the Bass and boost the Middle & Treble to find less bass heavy tone if you’d like. Super Bass mode also has less gain than Super Lead mode, but this works exceptionally well if you’re stacking an overdrive or fuzz pedal in front. This gives you an experience like stacking pedals in front of a real amp. You must hear it and feel it to believe how amp-like the Dirty Little Secret is. You’ll also notice that Super Bass mode has a Fender Bassman kind of vibe going on which is not surprising considering that those early Marshall amps were Fender clones. Of course, it still has that distinctive Marshall flavor which is what made the Super Bass a desired amp in its own right. The “British Bassman” vibe becomes even more fun when you stick a Tube Screamer in front for some Stevie-meets-Jimi jamming. Ultimately, the Super Bass mode is this pedal’s dirty little secret and is well worth exploring. It may quickly become your default mode.

I expected the DLS to be a good pedal as it’s been growing in repute for a while among players who’ve discovered its charms. But it’s quickly become one of my favorite guitar pedals regardless of its classification as a distortion or Marshall-in-a-box pedal. It just sounds great and is a blast to play through. There are only 2 minor points of fault to consider with the Dirty Little Secret in its present form. For one, the Presence control, while typically a set-once-and-forget parameter, is something I’d like to see receive it’s own dedicated external knob. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it would still be handy for experimentation. Also, and this is a somewhat bigger wish, I’d love to see an external Super Lead/Super Bass mode switch. Frankly, both modes are so different in sound, response, and playability that the DLS really is 2 pedals in one. It would be incredibly convenient to have these great modes accessible without having to open the pedal. This doesn’t compromise my final score as this pedal is supremely good in either mode you should choose. The fact that you do have access to another great mode is an incredible bonus.

The Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret is rock ‘n roll in pedal form. Let’s see the final result.

Catalinbread-Dirty-Little-Secret-DLS-Review-Best-Marshall-Distortion-Pedal-03

Overall-Rating-5.0

The Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret is one of the most incredible Marshall inspired distortion pedals I’ve played. It’ll go from classic Super Lead and Super Bass tones all the way to hot-rodded JCM800 style grind. While the default Super Lead mode already offers an incredibly wide range of ways to get your Marshall fix, the Super Bass mode captures a great “British Bassman” vibe that must be experienced firsthand. Super Bass mode is amazing on it’s own or with your choice of fuzz or overdrive pedal placed in front. The Dirty Little Secret rocks hard and is a must-play.

That concludes our Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret review. Thanks for reading.

 

Want to buy the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret?

See The Lowest Price On Amazon

See The Lowest Price On eBay