Outlaw Effects are a fairly recent entrant to the guitar and bass pedal arena, boasting a range of almost 20 micro-sized pedals. After spending some time with their Tubescreamer-inspired Cactus Juice Overdrive, I’m as big a fan of the pedal as I am of their jokes (their tag line is “there’s a new sheriff in tone”, and their entire range is creatively western-style named. Brilliant.) While some manufacturers might blatantly ripoff another famed pedal, the Cactus Juice retains its own character of Tubescreamer, and has some handy additions that turn it into its own micro-sized beast.
The Cactus Juice features a red LED that is bright enough to be seen on a dark stage and in the daylight, and the on/off switch is smooth and solid. It’s powered by a 9V adaptor (the pedal itself is barely bigger than a 9V battery), and has familiar level, tone and gain controls, as well as a toggle switch between ‘Juiced’ and ‘Normal’ modes that makes for two pedals in one tiny unit. Naturally, I went straight for the ‘Juiced’ mode.
The toggle switch on the Cactus Juice switches between a more familiar ‘Normal’ tone that breaks up nicely on a cleaner amp and ‘Juiced’, a creamier, thicker overdrive that brings the Cactus Juice into a league of its own. On a distorted amp channel, the ‘Juiced’ setting thickens up distortion, tightens bottom end and fills in gaps in tone while retaining a tight, noticeably modern dynamic. The ‘Juiced’ setting reacts and plays like a tone that is more finished and polished than a raw guitar sound, without completely colouring and altering your playing either, so it’s a win-win. The Tone knob is a bit more sensitive in the ‘Juiced’ mode, and the gain can be pushed hard without obliterating your tone. I’ve typically run Tubescreamers with all three dials at 12 o’clock, and even this as a starting point worked phenomenally and inspired some riffs (and a lot of chugs if we’re being honest).
Toggling over to the ‘Normal’ mode, the overdrive has more bite, with a snarl reminiscent of the original Tubescreamer. On a distortion channel, this setting is the last 10 percent of a great tone, and the tone and level are perfect for minor tweaks to get things perfect. On a cleaner channel, however, the Cactus Juice can be used for either a bluesy snark and bite reminiscent of AC/DC or a creamy, luscious lead tone á la Stevie Ray Vaughan. A little gain and tone on a clean sound can pushed just enough, or drive your already driven amp to begin to break up beautifully. The ‘Juiced’ setting also works great on a cleaner guitar, as it thickens the tone without overpowering your cleans. It inspires blues licks that ooze attitude. The Cactus Juice is particularly more responsive to player’s dynamics and feel than I’m accustomed to, but this is a welcome change. The pedal wouldn’t go astray on any pedalboard, and because of its tiny size, won’t take up much real estate.
Whether you own Tubescreamers or clones, the Cactus Juice Overdrive by Outlaw Effects would be a great addition to any signal chain, as this pedal really holds its own and brings some new features to the market. The dials are familiar, very usable and never unpleasant, no matter how hard you push them. Realistically, the toggle switch gives you two pedals, so you can push a cleaner tone or maximise a modern metal tone, and anything in between. The ‘Juiced’ channel gives a modern feel to a classic sound, with a more rounded, creamy feel and a controlled low-mid and bottom end response. The ‘Normal’ mode is a familiar snarky blues spank, or a clean amp pushed to break up to help you stand out, or sit back, in a mix. The pedal has inspired some music, as well as inspired me to check out the rest of the Outlaw Effects range.
Hits and Misses
Familiar but fresh tone
Two pedals in one
Too small to be run on a 9V battery