A little box came in the mail the other day.
And holy mackerel! What a box!
What came in the box was an Analog Alien Joe Walsh Double Classic (JWDC). This is a boutique, hand-built pedal that combines an overdrive and a compressor. The pedal came about when Joe Walsh was touring in 2015 with an Analog Alien Rumble Seat, a combination overdrive, delay, and reverb. Joe called up the boys at Analog Alien, brothers Jack and Joe Napoli, and asked if it would be possible for them to build him a box with a tweaked overdrive and a compressor/buffer amp built in to allow him to shape his tone as it entered his pedal board. After some prototyping, consulting, and tweaking, this pedal was born. It immediately went onto Joe’s pedal board and soon his name went on the pedal. That's a first for Joe. I came across the JWDC when I was looking to add some smooth growl to a Leslie G37 rotary speaker system I recently acquired, but in the process of testing it out I soon discovered that the JWDC does a lot more than growl.
So, a few days after I placed my order, the box arrived in the mail filled with lots of nifty box candy. And who doesn't enjoy a little box candy? There is a foil-lined cloth carry bag, a bunch of literature, and they even threw in a One Spot power adapter. Given the cost of boutique pedals these days, it is a welcome gesture, even if there wasn’t any real candy. So, what's in the box?
Joe Walsh Double Classic Pedal (in a smaller box!)
One Spot 9vdc power supply
Matching color cloth carry bag
Analog Alien Logo Sticker
Analog Alien color product brochure
Ahem. The actual box in question
Yes, it is unquestionably bright yellow. Yes it is unquestionably gaudy. And yes, it is sparkly! And somewhat artsy. But the controls are simple, reasonable, well-laid-out, and color-coded, right down to the bright dual LEDs, one at each footswitch and the other next to the corresponding knobs to indicate what you have turned on. The unit runs on standard 9vdc external power.
What we’ve got here is a dual-function box:
1. There’s a low-gain overdrive, smoothly dishing out just a little more gain than a ‘50s-‘60s Fender amp.
2. There’s a very musical compressor and buffer amp that is fitted with a switch that allows it to be moved to either before or after the overdrive.
Overdrive: Bass, Treble, Gain, Volume, on/off footswitch
Compressor: Sensitivity, Ratio, Out (volume or gain makeup), Pre/Post toggle switch, on/off footswitch
The box has rear-mounted input, output,and 9vdc power jacks. Nuthin’ fancy.
Don't need a PHD to ride this train.
The Box: This is a two-space box with two, count 'em, two footswitches. Admittedly it isn't a micro box for the guys who count every quarter-inch on their pedal board. But guys like me who have duck feet and big fingers will think this package is just right.
That's a tough one, because the box doesn't seem to have much of a sound of its own. Instead, it sort of develops the sound of the guitar and amp it sits in between. I'll get into further detail below, but perhaps
I should just call this a "better box." If you've got a decent but uninspiring tube amp, this thing makes it… wait for it… better. Oh, I don’t know, perhaps we should just call this "canned attitude" or "an amp in a can." If your amp is a tad stiff you can use this box to make it sound and feel a bit looser. If your amp is too punchy, you can use the compressor to round it off. Or perhaps we should call it a "more box." Whatever your guitar and amp combination offers, this pedal can be used to make it a bit more. Does that sound like snake oil? Gather 'round kiddies!
I have tried lots of “overdrives” and have found many of them either too bratty or too fuzzy for my tastes. This unit is smoother, and sounds more like a real pushed amp than most I've tried. As you push the gain up, it first imparts a bright, sparkly sound and then begins to round things out. As in the real world, with amp gain – sometimes less is more. Quite often the sound you are looking for wants more compression and less gain like the ‘50s and ‘60s amps had. Also like the old amps, as you push up the JWDC's gain, the bass tilts up nicely, adding girth. The bass control allows you to control that to taste. In fact the gentle, two-band EQ allows you to gently tweak the amp section to shape the tone just a little to your needs. Throughout the overdrive section’s band of gain, your guitar’s character is maintained. In fact, with a little care, your amp's character can be maintained as well, while you simply add a tad more gain, presence and/or grit.
The JWDC features a really gentle, soft-knee compressor with very simple controls. Interestingly, the soft-knee feature eliminates the need for an attack control. To get started you'll want to adjust the Sensitivity to match your guitar’s pickups. Passive single-coils will want to start with the Sensitivity rolled over towards the right. Active pickups will want to start with the Sensitivity rolled back to the left. Humbuckers are in between. Once you get that set you can start playing with the ratio control. Ratios from 2:1 to 10:1 are offered as you sweep the Ratio pot clockwise. Down at 2:1 you can use the compressor section as a nearly transparent buffer amp. Up at 10:1 you are squishing pretty well and will find yourself using the gain makeup to bring up the signal high enough to be useful. In between, as you dig into the guitar, the soft knee compressor adjusts the ratio, responding to how far over threshold your signal is. The higher the input signal, the higher the compression ratio. Thus a hard pick attack is heavily moderated but a soft one is gently affected. That's how we get by without an attack control! It “feels” nice, much like leaning into a pushed-up power amplifier. The compressor itself is quite pretty when run solo. Running it into the "amp" side of the pedal further smooths and rounds out the overdrive's sound and adds some girth. Switching the compressor side to the post-overdrive position makes it behave more like a studio compressor, not contributing to the frequency balance of the guitar as much but simply controlling dynamics. I'll probably find the compressor set to "pre" more often than "post."
The fact that these tools are presented together in one package is what makes the box so useful. So often you listen to an amp and think, "Hmmmm... It needs something." That something may be a little more sustain and a little more bloom or a little more sustain and a little more grit, or a little goose to push it a little further or maybe just a touch of EQ. You'd typically have to employ two or more boxes to get the stuff you need but in this pedal you've got access to everything needed to accomplish these tasks.
You know how some amps just don’t seem to quite get to that point where they compress and round out for the perfect lead sound? This is the tool to make that happen. I brought the JWDC into the studio and plugged it up to the '71 Champ and ’63 Gretsch 6150T amps I keep here. Boom! I got smooth drive and sustain out of the little Champy - a great, meaty Fender lead sound. My Champ has been modified to take a 10” speaker that allows a little more bass than you would expect from a Champ and this really lit up that lower end. I was also able to get quite a bit more gain from the Champ than I was used to without it getting too nasty and bratty. With the Double Classic the little Gretsch 6150T with its less-clean sound and 8” speaker turned into a lovely, woolly, vintage lead monster that offers smooth, round distortion and gobs of midrange push.
The next round of amps I tried with the pedal contained a Fender 5E3 Deluxe repro, a '73 Traynor Reverb Master, and a Mesa Express 5:25. Each amp retained its own character but moved into a sort of "more of itself" mode. The Deluxe repro became woolier quicker than normal and did so at (admittedly loud) apartment levels. It really didn't need much compression so that opened up the use of the compressor side to cook the amp and bloom the overtones. The chimy Reverb Master developed even more chime than usual with the compressor side of the pedal and of course, also sustained more. An interesting side-effect when I used just a tad of compression was that the amp took on this "effortless" feeling when playing lead on an ES-335. When I added the overdrive side of the pedal the amp showed a more meaty, classic distortion than usual. The Mesa showed the most interesting development: Rather than heading out into a hard brattiness like Mesas tend to go towards, the amp ran back towards its classic Fender roots with a softer, smoother distortion.
I spoke before of "cooking" the front end of a tube amplifier, the business of using a booster to goose up the preamp to the point just before it starts putting out audible distortion and instead just brightens up with a bloom of overtones. With its two different sections this pedal offers two different takes on this process: clean and slightly dirty.
Another great application for the pedal is as a "third channel." Many amps offer two sounds, clean and dirty. But in truth, live playing often wants three: clean, crunch, and lead. With its compressor, tone controls, and overdrive, this pedal is just about the best tool I've seen to add the third, lead channel to a two-channel amp. You can choose to increase the distortion or just goose the level, the overtone bloom, and/or the sustain, based upon what sound you are reaching for.
And then there's the primary application I chose this for: to put some righteous grind ahead of a modern hybrid Leslie G37 rotating speaker system with a tube preamp and a solid state amplifier. While there are limitations with the Leslie's bratty overdrive, the pedal moderates the brat and splat and allows the amp to develop a nice crunch sound with some growl as the rotors swirl around in Chorale (slow) speed.
Sometimes you come across a product that simply does what it says it will. That's great! But sometimes there's a product that does all that and a bunch more. This is one of that second class of products: The JWDC has turned out to be a pedal that I wish had been in my tool box a bunch of times in the last decade because there are dozens of applications for it. And who knows? In case of black helicopters, perhaps you can don the foil-lined bag as a hat and use the carrying handle as a chin strap? The pedal is highly recommended! But enough of my yakkin'. Here's a demo: