Crusher and Freq Boost Stomp Boxes by BBE Sound
by Daniel Halbergon
I got an Xbox 360 recently and started playing a bit of “Texas Hold-Em” online. I’m not even remotely a gambler, so I don’t bet real money, but I do love the strategy of the game. Sometimes, you get two great cards to open – like two aces - but you have to avoid the temptation of tipping your hand by being overzealous. At first, you have to bait your competition into sweetening the pot. At this point, you can be conservative and let the dough trickle in, or you can drop the hammer by going “all-in”. At that point, the competition can either match you or get out. It’s risky, but the pay-off is huge!
One of the things I love about BBE Sound is that they are not a conservative company. A perfect example of BBE’s commitment to musicians and guitar players is their recent product introductions into the highly competitive pedal market. For years, professional guitar players were begging BBE to convert their hugely popular rack mounted Sonic Maximizer™ into a easy-to-manage pedal version. Listening to their customers, BBE released the Sonic Stomp and Opto Stomp to the eagerly waiting public. Already, the Sonic Stomp has achieved “must-have” status among stage musicians. That would be cool enough if that were the end of the story, but what you didn’t know at the time was that BBE was planning on following up with seven new pedals. Yes you read that right, seven! BBE is now “all-in” in the pedal market, and the first two pedals were just the pair of aces to open. Including the Acoustimax, that brings their total line-up to nine awesome sounding pedals in 2006.
GuitarGearHeads.com is fortunate to be one of the first to review the rest of this new line of pedals. In this review we will be focusing on the Crusher and the Freq Boost. These are certainly great pedals, but you’ll have to read on for details!
BBE Stomp Box Line-Up
Many of these new pedals are based on vintage sounds from ultra-rare pedals that you would have to track down on eBay…pay a pretty penny…and hope the darn thing still works. Here’s the new line-up with links to each of their respective product pages:
Freq Boost -- A treble boost pedal inspired by the now vintage '60s Dallas Range Master.
Crusher -- BBE original. high gain distortion pedal shaped using a passive 3-band EQ. Hard core thrash and trash!
Green Screamer -- An overdrive pedal with dual op-amp design, inspired by the sound of the amazing vintage Ibanez TS808.
Boosta Grande -- A transparent boost pedal with up to 20dB clean gain.
Free Fuzz -- A vintage '70s fuzz pedal featuring silicon transistors, inspired by the Dallas Fuzz Face.
Orange Squash (formerly Main Squeeze) -- A compressor built on a vintage FET Design, throwing a tonal “tip-of-the-hat” to Dan Armstrong’s Orange Squeezer.
To complete you overview of the entire line, here are the 2005 Introductions as well. The Sonic Stomp, the Opto Stomp and the Acoustimax have have all been previously reviewed here at GuitarGearHeads.
Sonic Stomp -- A Sonic Maximizer in a stomp box….’nuff said.
Opto Somp -- A compressor stomp box with the BMAX optical compressor.
Acoustimax -- An acoustic preamp that raises the bar for acoustic sound quality.
Evaluating the Crusher and the Freq Boost
You have to admit that it is a joyful moment when you pull a new piece of gear out of the box and realize that it was built to last. I won’t spend much time on pedal construction since we’ve already reported on the construction quality of these pedals. All of BBE’s pedals were designed and engineered in Huntington Beach, California and manufacturered in China. I love the rock solid metal casing and high quality metal footswitches, pots, and knobs (no plastic!). Another important feature is a true hard-wire bypass so you avoid the dreaded “tone suck” problem of units that are powered off but are still routed through the circuitry. These pedals also have a non-slip rubber bottom, and an easy-to-access 9v battery compartment.
Two other features are of note. The first is consistent pedal design. I think BBE took a page out of the BOSS design ergonomics book by making sure these pedals all have a common footprint. This makes it much easier to arrange a pedal board. The second is power options. All BBE pedals include an external power supply in the box, so there is no need for a separate purchase. These pedals will also run approximately 300 hours on a single 9V battery...and guess what…your first battery is also included, nicely wrapped and nestled in the battery compartment. That kind of foresight is hard to find these days.
The BBE Crusher is one of the pedals in the new line that stands out as a completely original design. It is meant as a high gain distortion pedal, but actually turns out to be very versatile, due to the passive 3-band EQ that enables a broad range of distortion possibilities. The controls on this pedal include bass, mid, treble, gain and volume.
I was able to test this pedal using a G&L Invader running though a VOX Tonelab driving an Atomic Amplifier. I may get some e-mail debate on this issue, but I really believe that dedicated pedals produce better overall tone than models (allowing for pedal quality, of course – junky pedals equals junky tone). However, modelers certainly have their use in my setup. With the Atomic Amp, I love to use the modeler on a relatively clean setting as the foundation, with the modeler handing reverb, chorus, and other “shimmery” effects. Additionally, what I like about the Tonelab and Atomic Amp combo (over say a POD XT) is that I can quickly dial in a convincing range of amp and cabinet combinations with real tube performance.
Using this setup as my base I plugged the Invader into the Freq Boost, the Freq Boost into the Crusher, and then the Crusher into the amplifier. My thinking was that I could experiment with the Crusher with the added benefit of a high frequency clean gain boost.
The Crusher really pleasantly surprised me at how “clean” the distortion sounded. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but my experience with high gain pedals has always been, the higher the gain the higher the noise. It’s great to run on the “wild side”, but too much noise can really damage the overall mix, especially when recording. The Crusher gave me all the overdrive and thrash I wanted without the noise I didn’t. This must be due to the natural compression aspects of the distortion circuit, because the sustain resulting from this baby was awesome as well. You don’t have to take my word for it, listen to the sound samples below!
The BBE Freq Boost was inspired by the Dallas Range Master, which was available during the mid-'60s. Basically the Freq Boost is a treble booster designed to juice up the higher frequencies. This results is increased harmonics, greater high frequency sustain, and fatter overdrive. Many bands, including Eric Clapton, Judas Priest, and Queen are known to use a high frequency boost as a secret weapon in their sound.
If you are using a Freq Boost – you should make sure that you are using high quality cables and a power conditioner, because the pedal will amplify any signal in the high frequency range. If your connections are bad or you pick up radiofrequency noise, you can wind up with more hiss than you’d like. This is not the fault of the pedal, it is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. If you take the steps to minimize noise, you can reap the benefits of this little gem.
I tested the Freq Boost using the setup described above and fell in love. First of all, this pedal could not get any simpler. One knob for volume, and one switch to kick the unit on and off. Second, my favorite setting on the volume knob was a dead-center five. At this setting I found that I was able to get my “freq on” with out excessive noise. The best thing about this pedal was that it didn’t change my tone, it was just basically my sound on steroids. If you listen to the “BBE Test Clean” sample below and compare it to the “Freq in the Middle” sample (i.e., the Freq Boost at five) you notice more overhead and sustain, with just a hint of overdrive.
Not able to help myself, I also put the Freq Boost in front of the Crusher and turned them both on. What resulted was a super tight distorted sound with plenty of upper end gain. To me, this added a ton of weight to the already heavy drop D tuning provided by the G&L Invader. The Crusher-Freq Boost combo was ultimately my favorite by far. The tone from these two combined is just blistering! Again, I’ve provided you samples of all of my tests for your enjoyment.
I know it can be hard to believe these reviews sometimes, so I thought I would provide you with some samples so that you can hear what I’m hearing. Some notes first though. First, these were rendered at a 128k bit rate so they are compressed slightly from the original. Second, I never know what to play during these reviews so I’m just messing around – so don’t complain to me if my playing sucks! If you agree then listen on!
Sample 5 – Super Crush – This is both the Crusher active at the “scooped” setting above and the Freq Boost on with volume turned to five. Make sure you listen for that incredible harmonic sustain at the end.
This is going to be a pretty easy conclusion to draw. I’ve tinkered with all of the pedals in BBE’s new line-up and they are all priceless depending on your tonal needs. In this review, I was able to dig deep into the features of the Crusher and the Freq Boost and found them both to be tone monsters. What I like best about the Crusher was the high gain distortion without excess noise. What I liked best about the Freq Boost was the wicked shimmer achieved by a simple treble boost. Putting these two bad boys together really created some magic – just imagine your heaviest tone with a glistening sheen of high-frequency sweetness.
Getting back to my poker analogy. We already know that BBE opened the game with two aces with Sonic Stomp and Opto Stomp. Adding the Acoustimax, the Crusher, and the Freq Boost gives them a full house. With four more pedals, BBE is clearly “all-in” in the pedal market and I think they are planning to win. These are great products and you owe it to yourself to give them a whirl. The BBE product pages all contain sound samples to see which ones best fit your style.
I can’t really pick a favorite here. Both pedals are fantastic in their own way, but together the tone is unstoppable. Therefore, I’m proud to give both the Crusher and the Freq Boost the GuitarGearHeads “Approved” award for 2006. Since they are now both sitting on my pedal board – I’m also giving them the “Rig Ready” award too – and I plan to make heavy use of these pedals in my upcoming projects. Congratulations to BBE for yet another great product.