Electro Harmonix Soul Food Review – Best “Klon Centaur/KTR” Overdrive Pedal?

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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.


Electro-Harmonix-Soul-Food-Review-Best-Klon-Centaur-KTR-Ovedrive-Pedal-02Let’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.

Features:

  • 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.

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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.

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Overall-Rating-4.5

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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Free The Tone Red Jasper Review – Best Low-Gain Overdrive Pedal?

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I’ve been generally quite impressed by the offerings from Japanese effects maker, Free The Tone, which include the Gigs Boson Overdrive, Matt Schofield MS SOV Special Overdrive, and Silky Comp Compressor pedals. But their latest release looks like it may be their most impressive to date. The Red Jasper is a low gain overdrive pedal designed to provide a more natural and responsive overdriven sound. Ever since the mythical Klon Centaur came on the scene, guitarists have been obsessed with low-gain overdrive pedals that enhance touch sensitivity, sweeten their tone, and push their amp harder without really coloring their sound. The Red Jasper aims to do just that as well and could become a hit with tone chasing guitarists if it lives up to its promise. Is this the best low-gain overdrive pedal available today? You’ll find out in our Free The Tone Red Jasper Review.

Free-The-Tone-Red-Jasper-Review-Best-Low-Gain-Overdrive-Pedal-02Features:

Drive control knob adjusts gain level.

Hi-Cut control knob reduces high-end when turned counter-clockwise.

Level control knob adjusts overall output volume.

HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) 3-stage bypass and buffer circuit for silent switching, consistent output impedance, and no tone loss.

Powered by 9-volt batter or 9VDC power adapter.

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Sound & Performance:

A pedal like the Red Jasper is one that often falls in the category of pedals for people who don’t like pedals. It’s one of those pedals that just provides a little something extra to help push your sound to where you want it to be. It’s not necessarily meant to have a dramatic effect on your sound in and of itself. But when combined with a great guitar, a great amp, and a great player, the Red Jasper may become just what you’ve been looking for to create your ultimate tone.

I started off with a little transparency test. Given how all the reputable low-gain overdrive pedals have a lot of their hype coming from their supposed complete transparency, it’s important to see just how the Red Jasper Overdrive compares to the guitar’s inherent tone. With the Drive all the down, the Hi-Cut rolled down around 1 or 2 o’clock, and the Level set around 10 o’clock or so, I was able to find a spot where the Red Jasper seems to have the least effect on the guitar sound when engaged. The Red Jasper produces beautifully transparent tones that have just a hint of extra upper-midrange presence for a gentle accent to your sound. The sound remains clean even with more aggressive playing and stays true to the guitar’s inherent character, letting the characteristics of your instrument be heard.

From here a slight boost of the Level knob to around noon and beyond adds some noticeable change to the overall sound. I find the Red Jasper to be right up there with the best tools I’ve encountered for adding a boost before an amp or another overdrive or distortion pedal. The Red Jasper can easily push your amp into breaking up with a subtle clean boost courtesy of its Level control. The breakup seems to occur as the spike in midrange volume becomes more prominent. Setting a slight dip in your amp’s midrange EQ will preserve a cleaner tone at higher volumes before breakup occurs if desired. The Red Jasper is highly interactive with your rig, and while it’s possible to just plug in and play, feeling out the best way to integrate it into your setup will reward conscious tone seekers.

Resorting to the Red Jasper’s own Drive control brings in more possibilities for overdriven tone. Turning the knob clockwise brings in a gradual increase in saturation that remains fairly mild even at the highest setting. You can use the Drive to add additional gain to your tone without necessarily having to push the Level too hard. This lets you achieve mild distortion sounds without spikes in volume. The Red Jasper delivers a smooth saturated overdrive that is very musical, pleasing in its tonality, and rich with harmonic content. As you crank the Drive, keep an ear out for any increase in treble frequencies that you may want to tame with the Hi-Cut knob. The Hi-Cut is very effective at rounding off those highs without sucking the life out of your sound.

HTS vs True Bypass vs Buffered Bypass?

I mentioned briefly in my review of the Matt Schofield MS SOV Special about his choice to incorporate Free The Tone’s HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) circuit into his signature overdrive pedal instead of the true bypass switching of the standard SOV-2 pedal he had used previously. Free The Tone have included their HTS technology in the Red Jasper as well. The idea of HTS is to solve the problems of the change in signal integrity when using true bypass switching and the often compromised tone that results from buffered bypass switching. To my ears the HTS circuit offers a smooth transition in switching with no audible click in the signal. With the Red Jasper bypassed and placed in a footswitchable effects loop, I could detect no change in tone. It sounds good to me. While Klon Centaur creator, Bill Finnegan, swears up and down that buffered bypass trumps true bypass (yes, the Klon Centaur is buffered), guitarists dissatisfied by the limitations of both options may be swayed just like Matt Schofield by the merits of Free The Tone creator Yuki Hayashi’s Holistic Tonal Solution.

The Red Jasper gives you great tone whether it’s on or off. Few guitar pedals are capable of accomplishing that task as well as this one. Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-4.5

The Free The Tone Red Jasper Overdrive offers a range of subtle clean boosting to moderately overdriven tones. And it does so without compromising the inherent character of your guitar. The Red Jasper melds your guitar and amp together with heightened touch sensitivity and responsiveness, resulting in rewardingly musical playability. It’s an exceptional pedal for the guitarist that just needs a little something extra to help achieve the perfect tone. If you’re looking for the best low-gain overdrive pedal, the Free The Tone Red Jasper Overdrive definitely worth considering.

That concludes our Free The Tone Red Jasper Review. Thanks for Reading.

 

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