This week on TPS, the rodents took over! Dan & Mick delved into ProCo Rat territory with a look at reissues and remakes of the classic, in-your-face, edge that only comes from a vintage black box. So what makes a Rat distortion pedal so unforgettable and where might you go to find that sound today?
What Makes the Rat Sound and Look So Classic?
The Rat saga starts back in the late 1970s in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Decades later, the pedal has ascended into the pantheon of all-time classic dirt boxes. (I’ll save you the history lesson here, but if you want to know more, head over to the recent article in the Riff City Sunday Papers.
The Rat has a look all its own and a sound that is equally iconic. The original Rat has an almost punk rock tuxedo look. White on black, with an edgy yet elegant design. For a visage modeled closely after the original, check out the Rat2. For a touch of flare, check out the added red typeface on the ProCo Turbo Rat.
As Dan described, the sound of the Rat is a “hard clipping distortion pedal as opposed to something like a Tubescreamer,” which creates its overdrive tones by subtle and soft clipping. The sound of the ProCo Rat2, however, is “really thick because it has this asymmetrical clipping diodes after that fabled LM308 chip in there.” As Dan noted, this chip is honestly “rubbish” for standard audio purposes but in the context of a distortion pedal, it’s brilliant.
In terms of controls, the Rat has three parameters: distortion, filter, and volume. While the function of the first and last of these is immediately evident, the filter control is less so. As Dan summed up, “the filter control is just a tone control that is set up backwards.” This gives an unexpected, almost vocal sound, of the upper-mid frequencies when dialed in. So what kind of distortion can you expect from a Rat? For Mick the sound of the Rat has become “a bit of a staple” as it fills the gap “where your bluesy middle of the road guys use Tubescreamers and your edgy dudes use Rats.” As Dan commented, “you can see why when that came out it caused quite a stir!”
Three Retakes on the ProCo Rat
So let’s say you’re in that place of between blues and heavy rock and the Rat feels just right, where can you go for a classic yet modern take on that instantly recognizable sound? Here’s three options for any budget from Dan & Mick’s board:
- ProCo Rat 2: If you want to land as close as possible to the original, go with ProCo’s own reissue in the Rat 2. This pedal harnesses that history without the worry of buying a vintage pedal that might come with its own problems. If you’re curious to know exactly what the pedal sounds like, click through Dan & Mick’s episode as this stompbox provided the standard reference for all a/b comparisons.
- Walrus Audio Iron Horse: One of the advantages of the Iron Horse is the three-way toggle switch for engaging different diode clipping options (tandem, single, or none). For Mick, it was bells and whistles like this that made the hard and crunchy Rat-style circuit versatile and even inviting at lower gain settings.
- Mooer Black Secret: To give a nod to the budget-friendly option, the tiny yet powerful Black Secret held its own in a world of roaring Rat-type pedals. Though small in footprint, Mick noted that the options for “vintage” and “turbo” mode is meant to model the sounds of two of the most classic Rat pedals.
If your overdrive collection is infestation free, perhaps it’s time to add a little Rat to your board. If you’re looking for a variety of ProCo pedals or are into a Rat-inspired circuit, head over to Riff City in store or online to get that classic black grind and gain on your board!
TPS Episode Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster, 1961 Gibson Les Paul Junior, G&L Fullerton Deluxe ASAT Special, Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335.
Pedals: ProCo Rat, ProCo Rat 2, JAM Pedals Rattler, Arc Effects Soothsayer, JHS/ProCo Rat 2 Pack Rat, Mooer Black Secret, Walrus Audio Iron Horse, 1981 Boss DS-1, Ibanez Tubescreamer Mini, Walrus Audio ARP-87 Delay, Walrus Audio Fathom Reverb.
Amps: Marshall 1987x and 1960AX cabinet, Sovtek MIG50 with Zilla custom cabinet.