In Greek mythology the centaur was a hybrid creature with the legs of a horse and the upper body of a human. It represented both something old and something new, which united in a never before seen form with unrealized potential. In the ever expanding pantheon of guitar pedals, the Klon Centaur symbolizes a similar coming of age. But where did it come from and why is it so sought after?
The real superpower behind the Klon brand is the boutique pedal designer Bill Finnegan. In the late 1980s, Finnegan played gigs in the Boston area with a no-fuss rig comprised of a Fender Telecaster and Twin Reverb amp. In these days, the Ibanez Tubescreamer 808 and TS9 were typically the effect interceding this instrument and amp combo. As Finnegan recalled in an interview, he never quite felt inspired by the mid-range character and transient response of the famed Ibanez overdrive. It was at once too much and not enough.
After some initial tinkering, Finnegan connected with a recent electrical engineering graduate from MIT. His pitch was to explore a new type of overdrive design with a fundamentally different approach to engineering gain. After working for almost four-and-a-half years on various prototypes and with a few other local partners, Finnegan’s design was ready for the world. The Klon Centaur traversed from mythic legend to reality.
Where most effects of the era aimed at overlaying your guitar sound to make it something different, new, or unexpected, Finnegan’s approach focused on enhancing the underlying tonal structure of your instrument and amp. As Finnegan stated in the interview, “I was working from the assumption that there were a lot of guitar players with really good guitars and really good amps who were looking for an overdrive pedal that — whether it was adding dirt or not itself — wouldn’t mess up what they already had and liked.” With a basic set of controls for gain, treble, and boost, your signal remained intact yet elevated. From then on, the catch phrase “transparent” was in vogue among makers.
Between 1994 and 2009, there were approximately 8,000 Klon Centaurs trotting out of Finnegan’s shop which had to expand due to increased demand. As many of these found their way onto boards and into studios the fame of the legendary beast spread. To keep the tonal recipe secret for as long as possible, Finnegan and crew “gooped” all the circuits of every single pedal. Essentially, this common practice meant coating the components and innards of the effect with epoxy making it a dangerous surgery to uncover what laid beneath.
But no goop was strong enough to withstand the popular demand for this pedal and curiosity of pedal designers and modders. Eventually the guts were hacked, the circuit revealed, and now the expanding universe of guitar effects includes a veritable standing army of Klon clones. With original Centaurs fetching prices routinely in the $2,500 range, in 2012 Finnegan released the Klon KTR Professional Overdrive which is essentially a re-up of the original design. Aware of the controversial cult status of the effect, on the front face of the stompbox you’ll read the following inscription: “Kindly remember: the ridiculous hype that offends so many is not of my making.” Whether you’re a fan of the Klon Centaur for its historic value or hype, there’s no denying that this pedal pioneered the way forward for the wide world of modern effects today.