I am still working my "definitive" pedalboard and, Weehbo pedals are what the doctor recommended me, talking about gain pedals.
Even that the Plexdrive delivers an incredible nice tone, I needed a bit more of gain while preserving the British character of the sound. I wanted also some kind of british overdrive that I could stack before other drive pedals to change their character but, without muffling them or ruining their own sound.
That's why I've thrown the dices for the Helldrive.
Also, in the hi-gain territory, I had a hole. None of my current Weehbo pedals was covering that gap. I was weightening whether to go for a typical Marshall hi-gain sound (JVM Drive), an American-like sound (Bastard, SLO) or some all purpose British hi gain pedal (Mastiff).
I thought, I could obtain some Marshall hi-gain sounds by pushing the JCM Drive harder with the Helldrive stacked before so, I've decided to go for the Bastard, since I know how a typical SLO emulation sounds and, I don't like it (love the crunch side and hate the gain side).
While I usually prefer highly dynamic and "clean" (or at least defined and with good presence) gain sounds, I am finding some lack of legato and smoothness for certain songs. This is what I was looking for in the Bastard.
This blog entry talks about my experience with those two new pedals, as well as how they sit in my pedalboard and interact with rest of pedals.
At the end, a demo video will let you hear them, in real applications.
As any Weehbo pedal, those come in nice cardboard boxes, wrapped in buble plastic and smelling quality and attention to the detail.
Inside the box, some rubber dots (this time not glued!, thanks!) that you can use as feet for your pedal, some ads and the typical short user's manual. As always, I am missing some sample settings that can make people to have a fast impression of the different possibilities of each pedal but, to be honest, those pedals just need you to tweak controls here and there until you get THE sound.
Controls and Sound
I will not go in deep discussing about controls, because you will find detailed description anywhere else, including Weehbo's official page.
I would like to take special attention to what makes them different from other Weehbo pedals, as well as those characteristics that I find more interesting for my needs.
The Helldrive is, by far, the best crunch box I've ever tested (and, I've owned any Wampler pedal, any Mad Professor pedal, MI Audio Crunch Box, among many other more common brands).
Once more the Dynamics switch of the Helldrive is a godsend and, allows this pedal to sound and behave like a cooked tube amp, with definition, just the exactly needed touch of gain and harmonics and, its controls allow you to tweak the exact amount of everything. I know there are still some internal DIP switches that allow you to go further in sound building but, honestly, I didn't felt the need on doing it.
As with most of Weehbo pedals, the input knob is like your gain knob in your amp, allowing you to addapt the pedal to any guitar / pickup to get the wanted body for your sound.
This pedal can sound close to the Plexdrive or the JCM Drive but, has its own distinctive fingerprint and, has more versatility, compared to those first ones that are a one-trip pony (because they mime a specific sound).
The Balls knob allows you to better define basses, body and overall crunch character and gain of distortion and, just sets the sound where you wanted it.
The Tone knob allows you to easily cut the mix but, removing an excesive harsh high end, when running this pedal with a brigth rig (as in my case).
For someone like myself, that has a very inconsistent voltage mains, the internal voltage doubler that the Helldrive includes, ensures that the pedal will work will more than 9V even under low voltage situations, what makes my rig more estable (this is a big difference respect of traditional pedals, running at 9V).
The Helldrive has two sections. First one is the drive itself, while the second one (second foot switch) engages a booster section (which character can be further sculpted with some inner DIP switches).
The good and the nice is that you can choose to stack the buffer section before or after the drive section.
If you stacked it before, you are beefing the gain, increasing the distortion, body and legato while preserving your output loudness.
If you stacked it after, you are just increasing the volume of the drive section. It's a clear dip in your output loudness, that can be of use when you need that extra volume for solos.
In my case, I prefer to run it before the drive section, just to have some kind of two channels overdrive, with light and medium gain, available on demand.
The Bastard is a hi gain distortion unit, with an American tone (in the line of Mesa Boogies, SLO, etc).
I don't feel it as trying to emulate the sound of a particular amp but, it has an overall all-purpose sound that can be tweaked with high versatility.
As it happens to me every time, the American sounding pedals doesn't cut so good as the British sounding ones and, even that you can dial very interesting tones alone, once you try to fit the sound in the mix, it needs additional tweaks to make it to set in the right frequential range.
To use a rough comparison, to me is like to compare the sound of a good EL34 against the sound of a good 6V6GT. Maybe the 6V6GT has a nice sound itself and alone but, to make an amp loaded with 6V6GTs to cut the mix with authority has been a constant fight (IN MY CASE !!!).
Well, this is the feeling I have with that kind of pedals. It happened to me with: AMT Californian Sound, Wampler SLOstortion, Wampler Triple Wreck, etc.
The active tone stack of the Bastard allows a high customization of the sound and a better control for the mix but, even this, still sounds a tad veiled and dark to my taste.
I am not saying that the Bastard sounds no good !. Don't misunderstand my words. It sounds amazing and, very specially with high output pickups, where this pedal shinnes. The question is that, every time more, I am more convinced that I should stay in the British side, because is there where I feel myself comfortable. That's all.
At least, the voice switch at left hand allows me to tweak a more cutting sound and, with the help of the active tones, I can use the pedal in real applications, even that I find it as muffled when used with some pedals before (vibe or wah).
I had to run a british overdrive before (Plexdrive or Helldrive) in some songs to give some presence to the sound, otherwise, it sounded to me as if the sound was veiled with some blanket or carpet.
I find it better for works with humbuckers and, specially medium to high output ones. There this pedal makes full sense and delivers way better sound than with vintage output single coils. Maybe it's a matter of impedance, or resonance issue, I dunno, but it clearly shines with humbuckers and it's not so good with singles.
Discussed with Eike (the tone-wizard who runs Weehbo Efekte), the Bastard has no Dynamics switch because he didn't found significative difference running it a 9V or 18V, because of the complex gain structure of such a pedal.
Eike finds this pedal working better at 12V and, this is how I am running it.
I am usually working with my number 1, that loads vintage single coils so, I would probably go for Weehbo's JVM Drive for my own needs but, I've tested the Bastard with my Charvel SoCal Type 1, with Bareknuckle's Nailbombs and, IT'S DA BOMB!. Highly recommended if you are using higher output humbuckers and drop-D tunings, etc. You will have complete control of the right amount of (massive) low end, being able to achieve anything, from scooped mids to more traditional settings.
Interactions with rest of pedals
I've not tested all possible combinations, still.
When I did that with Wampler's pedals, I had some surprises and I had to forget the typical approach (from lower gain to higher gain) and arrange the pedals in the order where they sounded better stacked.
Since Weehbo Plexdrive, Dumbledore and JCM Drive are some kind of vintage-amp-in-a-box effects (as happened with Wampler's Tweed '57, Black '59, Plexidrive, Pinnacle, etc.), my first try was to put them in same order I've found as working well for Wampler pedals, that is:
overdrives -> vintage-amp-in-a-box -> distortions -> modern-amp-in-a-box
But, this order didn't delivered any good in the case of Weehbo pedals.
Discussed it with Eike and, he said me that he never stacks his pedals but, if he had to run them stacked, he would go for traditional order, from low gain to high gain and, that's what I did this time.
I've stacked Weehbos like it follows:
Plexdrive -> Helldrive -> Dumbledore -> JCM Drive -> Bastard
The complete pedalboard is ordered as follows:
1. TC Electronics Polytune (Tuner)
2. Area 51 Wah
3. Wampler Decibel+ (just the Buffer section, Booster is off)
4. Wampler EGO Compressor
5. Dry Bell Vibe Machine v1
6. Weehbo Plexdrive
7. Weehbo Helldrive
8. Weehbo Dumbledore
9. Weehbo JCM Drive
10. Weehbo Bastard
11. Strymon El Capistan (Tape Echo delay)
The Plexdrive gives a nice clean tone (with some crunchy harmonics) that is just delicious and, helps to give some presence and cut to other pedals, without increasing the gain so much.
I've discovered also the Boost section of the Plexdrive, like a nice way to push other pedals stacked after, without changing their natural voice. The Boost section can be switched on, independently on the Plexdrive voice itself. I've got it at unitary volume level, currently.
The Helldrive has a crunchier tone than the Plexdrive and works better for Rock stuff. With the Plexdrive stacked before, the crunch is more potentiated and both pedals together cut the mix with authority and with a very dynamic, crunchy and interesting voice.
But the Helldrive sounds nice by itself. The booster section inserted before the gain section gives you a two-channel crunch box that delivers a nice sound alone.
I am sometimes using one or the other to help to sit in the mix other darker sounding pedals, as the Bastard or, when I find that the interaction with other pedals (Wah, Vibe) doesn't work so good with some pedal alone. Sometimes, stacking before the Plexdrive or the Helldrive, the pedal works better with Vibe or Wah.
To me, Plexdrive into Helldrive is one of the my preferred sounds of all the times!. If I had to downsize my pedalboard, I am quite sure both will remain there. Not so confident with the Dumbledore or the Bastard, by example.
While the Dumbledore allows the Plexdrive or Helldrive to be stacked before and, is able also to push the JCM Drive in a good way, I find that the Bastard usually works better alone. Any pedal stacked before, usually makes it so gainy that you get instantaneus feedback but, sometimes, I am using the Plexdrive or Helldrive (whichever that works better) to help the Bastard to fit in the mix, specially when combined with Vibe and Wah.
Demo / Test Video
In past entries I was describing the Area 51 Wah, and rest of Weehbo pedals.
Since there are videos enough that show how pedals work alone, going in depth across the controls, I don't wanted to be repeatitive and, I've prefered to make a video testing those pedals in real applications, improvising over some free downloadable backing tracks.
The video starts with an improvisation over "Happier Times" by Joe Bonamassa. This is not a cover, in any single sense and, I am using it mainly to demo the beautiful sound of the Plexdrive and, how nice the Plexdrive into the Helldrive sound (at least, to me).
After this song, a demo of the clean sound (including Wampler Decibel+ buffer and Strymon El Capistan tape echo delay) and, comparison with the Plexdrive and Helldrive alones.
Then several songs follow with variated tests, to check how pedals interact and help to my sound in the pedalboard.
In second song, I am stacking the Vibe Machine into the Bastard, to get some kind of fusion tone.
In third song, I am stacking the Wah into Helldrive into Bastard. I am feeling the Helldrive as needed to open a bit the sound of the Bastard, that I find a tad muffled when combined with the Area 51 Wah.
In four song, I am using just the Helldrive, both channels on (booster before driver), I find it enough by itself for this kind of tones.
In fifth song, I am using the Wah (from middle of song) into Vibe into Plexdrive into Bastard. Once more, I find the Plexdrive as needed here, when combining the Wah with Vibe, while the Helldrive doesn't work so good in this case.
Finally, in the sixth song, I am using the Plexdrive into the two channels of the Helldrive, for a bright, dynamic and aggresive blues tone, that delivers to me one of the best tones of all tested.