Nothing says classic TPS like a good old pedal roundup and shootout. And nothing says classic pedals like the Marshall Bluesbreaker. Arguably, it’s up there in the overdrive pedal pantheon aside other icons like the Ibanez Tubescreamer and Klon Centaur, yet offers up a tonal flavor and channels a gritty past unlike the others. Named in part after Eric Clapton’s blazing blues lines on his 1962 Marshall amp on the album Bluesbreakers with John Mayall, the pedal brings you to the edge of a modern blues cliff then nudges you off its overdrive precipice.
With the Bluesbreaker pedal first coming onto the scene in the early 1990s, it’s not surprising that these days they fetch a hefty price tag on the used market. Thankfully there’s a moderately-sized brigade of Bluesbreaker-esque pedals that draw their inspiration from the iconic effect. So if you’re on the prowl for a bit of bluesy overdrive for your board, here are three top picks from Dan & Mick’s tour de blues.
The JHS Morning Glory
I’m with Mick on this one: I had no idea the Morning Glory’s pulse was pumping with Bluesbreaker DNA. Yet, when played alongside the original, you definitely hear the similarity. Touch sensitive and responsive to your guitar’s tone and pickup configuration, the Morning Glory brings a palette of bluesy gain tones from breakup to meltdown. With volume, drive, and tone knobs plus a switch for low-high gain, you can recreate the sound of the original as well as engineer your own new sonic infrastructures of drive.
As Mick noted, the pedal also does a lot for remedying some challenges of its ancestor. “It solves the brightness issue. It solves the gain issue. It solves the volume issue. It’s a no-brainer because you can get loud and clean and bright, which the [original] Bluesbreaker simply won’t do.” In this sense, the Morning Glory does what a good clone does best: draw inspiration from the original by replicating its best features while rethinking areas for improvement.
The Wampler Pantheon
The Wampler Pantheon is one of the latest additions to the expansive and impressive overdrive offerings designed by Brian Wampler. The Pantheon is highly tweakable thanks to a generous offering of knobs and switches, which allow for customizable gain structures that react and break up in tag-team with your tube amp.
Dan noted one of the added, new features of the Pantheon. “First thing you’ll notice is it’s got a bass control, which is a Baxandall EQ.” A what? As Dan described, unlike most tone controls which are passive, like those on a guitar pot or most pedals, Baxandall-style EQs are active and cut/boost levels of the frequency as the dial is turned. In this way, the EQ sweep of the pedal is unlike the others, which is extended further by the presence knob and “overdrive voice” switch. As Mick noted, the Pantheon’s glimmer of gain in the upper frequency is one of its defining features, which could be a real asset for breaking your bluesy sound out front in a mix or for when playing direct.
The Keeley 1962x-2 Mode Limited British Overdrive
No overdrive roundup would be complete without a call in to Robert Keeley. The Keeley 1962x is his answer to the Bluesbreaker that went right back to the source in an attempt to replicate and innovate the sound of Clapton’s 2×12 Marshall combo. Only now, the stompbox comes with the added benefit of kicking in a higher headroom mode.
Dan’s review was a single word, “killer!” Mick unpacked this a bit by noting how the different headroom settings of KT66 and KT88 modes are inspired by the sonic space and ceilings of vintage Marshalls. “So if you wanted it really creamy, you’d max it out on the KT66 mode.” Then hearing the difference with the KT88 switch engaged, Dan commented, “the high-gain tone on that thing is amazing!”
Like many classic gain sounds, the Bluesbreaker is at once in a class all its own yet now stands among a rank of pedals that channel its style. Picking your best option can be a challenge, yet this week’s roundup on TPS might thin the pack for your top picks. For all these and more Bluesbreaker-style pedals, be sure to head over to Riff City in-store and online to add something more to your board.
TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars:Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335, Fender American Vintage ’62, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster, Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Standard.
Pedals: D’Addario Pedal Tuner, Marshall Bluesbreaker, JHS Morning Glory V4, Keeley 1962x, Z Vex Box of Rock, Snouse Electric Company Black Box 2, Analog Man King of Tone, Wampler Pantheon, Dunlop EP-103 Echoplex.
Amps:Victory V140 Deluxe prototype and V212VC cabinet, Sovtek MIG50 and Marshall 1960AX cabinet.