Lately I’ve been simultaneously trying several different approaches to creating guitar tones: modeling, driving smaller amps until they sing, and driving big, muscular clean amps with pedals. You know how the electric guitar world has gone: the cutting edge guys are pushing the limits with modeling, the old guys are used to pushing an amp into power amp distortion, the younger guys are building pedal boards with all the sounds they need on the floor and moderately pushing the amp. I can hear the resultant sound differences between the approaches and, in the interest of not becomng fossilized, have begun experimenting with using clean amps and adding the necessary pedals to get my basic sound. However, I’ve tried several drive and fuzz pedals and have never been satisfied. Part of the reason is that I often find myself alternating between two sounds: a smooth distortion with compression and a clean, bright rhythm sound. The bright rhythm sound often doesn't play well with a distortion pedal. Another reason was because of the difficulty of running delay with distortion and having one or the other become saturated. That was where I stood when I ran across this video:
Now, I'll admit that I’m not typically a big one for combined effects, but advertisements and some other YouTube videos convinced me I should at least try out the Golden Cello from Mad Professor Amplification of Turenki, Finland. Initially the pedal’s name itself put me off – talk about reaching for the sky. Then the descriptions started coming out – "it is a combination of a smooth distortion and a delay that is supposed to essentially offer you Eric Johnson’s lead sound in a can." That goal is loftier still. But the YouTube videos hinted at something more than a simple EJ copycat sound and showed that humbuckered guitars such as the Les Paul could play nice with the pedal. The sound I was hearing also hearkened back even further, and sounded like it might be useful for much more.
THE BASIC FACTS
Small MXR-sized aluminum case
Four external controls: Volume (overall), Delay (mix), Drive, and Tone
Internal trimmers: Delay (x2), Repeats, Echo Drive
On/off switch (True Bypass)
Red LED status light
Side mounted In and out jacks
Dual 9v power: battery with input jack battery cutoff or Boss-type 9vdc supply
What’s in the box? The pedal and a brief instruction sheet
The box looked impressive enough, with the pedal’s face as a color graphic reproduced on the front panel and classy gold lettering on black. The slick but brief instruction sheet is shaped and printed to look like the pedal itself. Once unpacked from its plastic bag, the pedal itself looks impressive with its gold finish and white knobs. And sure enough, plug it in with all the knobs set at twelve o'clock as they come out of the box, and good sounds start dripping out.
First off, you should know that there is no tap tempo capability or external speed control on the delay. Let’s get this right out in the open: this is not a rhythmic delay, the pedal offers delay as an ambience. You can change the delay length but it requires removing the back plate and tweaking two trimmers. Think of it as a fixed, ambient delay. If you can get your head around that, it is a start. Secondly, as with all distortions, you’ll need to know your amp and how to set it. I ran this in front of several different amps, running all of them clean: the ubiquitous comparison amp - a Fender '65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue, a vintage 1973 Traynor Reverb Master through an open-back 2x12 cab, and a vintage 1963 Gretsch 6150T Compact Tremolo amp. The stock DRRI wanted the pedal plugged in on the dry channel because the vibrato/reverb channel was just too darned bright. With the Reverb Master I preferred to switch off the brightness. The Gretsch amp liked the pedal on either input and with any tone or volume setting. I auditioned the pedal with a Gibson ES-335, a Gibson Les Paul with P-90 pickups, a mid-‘70s les Paul Standard, and a Strat.
Once I had the basic sounds down, the pedal came through marvelously on all the amps. It has an extremely smooth, silky distortion with a lot of compression, which is exactly what I wanted. You can go from a smoother, less compressed sound to the left of the drive to a highly compressed sound on the right. With the drive up hight it is easy to find yourself in virtually infinte sustain requiring little left-hand vibrato to keep alive. Below 12 o'clock I hear very little added noise in the signal but pickup induction begins to play into things from there on up. Together, the delay and the distortion make for the magic, a great one-stop lead sound. The pedal dramatically thickens up the tone of a Strat and a P-90 guitar and rounds off the sharp attacks of both. When you play a sweet ES-335 through the pedal with the Gain control up around two o’clock the sound is indeed very much like the lead sound from Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover.” That original tone was the product of an ES-335, a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, and a Marshall Plexi amp with studio echo and reverb. The pedal definitely offers that smooth, familiar EJ tone that is based on the Marshall and the fuzz - it has the Marshall bark and fizz rather than the Fender midrange roar. In fact, when the Golden Cello first came out last year I saw a video of Eric playing parts of "Cliffs" through a Golden Cello and a Deluxe Reverb Reissue in a Guitar Center, and guess what? He sounded just like.. ummm... Eric Johnson.
However, another guitarist came to mind as I was surfing the pedal’s sound with the ES-335: Justin Hayward. The particular tone I heard was the one he had on the Moody Blues’ Seventh Sojourn album and on his and John Lodge's solo Blue Jays album from the same period. With the gain up around two o’clock I eventually found myself drawn into the double lead from “New Horizons.” With the gain up higher, the pedal gave me Justin’s smooth, sweet, thick, slightly fizzy, sustained lead sound from that song and from others like "This Morning" and "Saved By the Music." As I understand, at this point in his career, Justin was playing his ES-335 through a Marshall Supa-Fuzz into a Marshall stack or a Vox. It was a very sweet sound. I think I’ve got a song in the works that is just begging for that particular sound. The drive and tone controls allow plenty of variation between a softer, gentler sound and a really driven, saturated tone but the sound stays sweet throughout. So, is it also Justin Hayward in a can?
The tone control appears to be placed after the gain stages on this pedal like a Marshall tone stack, allowing you to either tame or unleash the overtones as needed. I keep seeing advertisements for distortions and fuzzes that “don’t compress the signal” so apparently that’s a characterist some prefer. However, for lead, classic players will appreciate the nicely compressed sound this pedal offers. And perhaps that best describes the sound of this pedal: a classic lyrical, singing lead sound. Through each of the amps the pedal evinced a slightly different character. Through the DRRI it yielded a straightforward, combo-esque feel. Through the Traynor it had a more muscular character. The little class-A Gretsch with its eight-inch speaker lent a delicious vintage, midrange tone to the affair. All offered useful sounds without requiring you to ruin the amp's clean sound when the pedal was disengaged by darkening things up too far. That has been my classic problem with distortions and fuzzes - to tame the insect-attracting overtones you have to throttle the amp's high-end. Also, the tone on all pickups came across as sweet as well. Funny that, but it is true. Basically the choice of pickups affects the amount of clarity and attack definition with the bridge sounds having more attack and definition. Interestingly, I didn't find myself feeling a need to tweak the inside trimmers to alter the echo tone and length.
Does it pass muster? It does, by George, and with flying colors. This one will be taking up residence. I think the guys from Finland got it right. To my ears, this is much more a lead guitar sound than a rhythm sound, but it is an extremely well done lead sound indeed. If that’s the sound you are looking for, go out and grab one of these. Mad Professor is offering the Golden Cello exclusively through Guitar Center and Musician's Friend. Neither outlet discounts them or allows coupons so you’ll be paying the full $200 entrance fee. But I have to say that in exchange, you’ll be getting a one pretty cool sounding pedal.