There is definitely something in the air in Sweden that makes their designers so good, particularly when it comes to innovation. While the rest of the world wallows in the ‘form following function’ entry-level principles, the nation that filled the world’s houses with flat pack furniture has delivered on this stereotype so many times that it’s getting to a point where we’re going to have to ask them to leave some of the good ideas for the rest of us. TC Electronic is a shining example of the aforementioned ingenuity. They already lead the new breed of pedal peddlers by the time they bought out their Tone Print equipped models, a change which propelled the rocket of tonal possibility farther into the stratosphere than ever. It seems like every time they bring out a new pedal it instantly becomes that year’s must-have.
With this new line of their self-described ‘tonal smorgasbord’, it seems the Swedes are taking a well advised look back at their tracks to make sure no stone is left unturned. There are four pedals in the distortion range; the Cinders Overdrive, Grand Magus Distortion, Rusty Fuzz and Fangs Metal Distortion, all powered by the same 9v, 100ma amount of juice. Without a word of a lie, with all four strung up on the floor in front of me I had the distinct impression that there was no gain sound in recorded history that I could not conjure up.
Moving lowest gain to highest, we’ll start off with Cinders. TC Electronic really hammers home the point that all of their pedals are 100% true bypass and this is the first build of theirs where that difference is unmistakable. With the volume and tone pots at 12 and the gain all the way down, you’d be forgiven for thinking the light was on with nobody home. This is perfect if a touch of super transparent clean boost is all you’re after, but dial in a pinch of colour and at around 10 o’clock you start to hear some classy clipping peering around the edges of your tone. It has a twinge of the much sought-after, vintage glory of a Fender Princeton amp running just a little bit hotter than the manual would advise. Sweep through everything from Klon style sweetness to full tilt drive and it’s clear that this build has the potential to be either an always-on colour box or something that you save for just the right moment.
THE GRAND MAGUS
Stepping up from there we are introduced to The Grand Magus. Designed to be your go-to pedal for classic distortion, it has a little bit more of a lived-in, gentlemanly quality to it’s voicing than I anticipated. Like the Cinders and Rusty Fuzz, it is dressed sparingly by three potentiometers, volume, tone and gain, but this design has by far the broadest palette. Across all three variants the tone pot wrangles an incredibly wide arced treble boost/cut, which pitches the clipping stage into any number of honestly useful areas from crystal clear boost to the creamiest, 70s plexi tones. I had the most fun playing with these first two siblings in various combinations, using one to max out the immense headroom of the other and coming up with some incredibly dynamic and furiously playable sounds.
THE RUSTY FUZZ
Here’s where things start to get deliciously ugly. The Rusty Fuzz is the sort of machine that should only be handled by professionals. It is packed full of ribbons of velvet and cream that would have Hendrix asking himself if he was all that experienced after all. The voicing is similar to the classic 60s, rolled-off sustain, but there is a generous dollop of sensibility underpinning the wildness that makes it feel a little more user friendly than many other fuzzes. Dialed back, it has that practice amp blistering that we all know and love, which is a nice place to start, but you can practically hear the pedal pleading to let it’s hair down. When it does, it shows its appreciation by giving you all the shredded, J Mascis woof you asked for without the ground hum, volume drop or insufferable hiss that too many fuzz fiends find unavoidable.
FANGS METAL DISTORTION
With a few more options on its matte black faceplate than it’s decidedly better-behaved cohorts, TC Electronics’ engineers have covered just about every layer of hell a metal-head would sell their soul for. The ‘raw’ setting on the voicing switch gives you that ‘power violence’ friendly speaker grinding sound that fills DIY venues everywhere, the ‘fat’ setting has enough beef to make Metallica great again and the ‘scoop’ setting will have you dive-bombing and pig-squealing like Dimebag never died (RIP). Seriously though, metal-styled distortion pedals have a nasty habit of being one-trick-ponies so it’s a welcome change giving metal heads more options for self-expression than just the usual leather and spikes.
TC Electronic may have streamlined proceedings somewhat for this series of stomp boxes but they certainly haven’t abandoned their admirable dedication to the simple joy of uncompromising tone. All the elements are in place, super silent switches, smooth dials and perfectly malleable tonality even at their unruliest.
Hits and Misses
Headroom for days
Almost unfettered tonal possibility
Pedal board friendly housing
I don’t have Grand Magus or Cinders on my board yet