Danelectro Transparent Overdrive: CTO-1 vs CTO-2

Danelectro recently phased out their Cool Cat Transparent Overdrive CTO-1 pedal for the CTO-2 which adds features to let guitarists further customize their sound. These additions come in the form of four DIP switches located inside the battery compartment. Otherwise the look and function of the pedals and external controls are identical.


Danelectro Transparent Overdrive: version 1: CTO-1 and version 2: CTO-2

A Guitar, Effects Pedal, Amp & Mic

The audio examples were played with a Westone Prestige (Les Paul style double humbucker) using the bridge pickup into a Blackheart Little Giant Half Stack with EQ (bass, mid, treble) set flat at 12 o’clock. The amp was mic’d with a large condenser mic and recorded into Apple’s Logic Pro. No processing was added anywhere along the chain aside from the pedals. Here is an example of the clean signal: [audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/01_Clean3.mp3|titles=CT0-1 Clean]

The CTO-1 is a great pedal and “transparent” is an accurate description. I’ve tried a number of OD’s and have often been disappointed by the way they tend to drop the bottom out of the tone and emphasize the mid range. The CTO-1 maintains sonic integrity qualifying it by my definition as “transparent”. With gain set to zero and volume turned all the way up this pedal acts as a clean boost. It’s not much of a boost at these settings but there is a little bump and the sound is warm and full. As gain is turned up, output is increased and you can get more clean boost this way until the signal starts to give way to overdrive around 3 or 4 o’clock. This pedal gets loud so I had to balance the increase in gain with a decrease in volume. Here’s an audio example of the CTO-1 with gain turned up halfway: [audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/02_CTO1.mp3|titles=CTO-1 Halfway on the Gain]

Pump Up the Volume

With gain cranked all the way the pedal spits out a raw and heavy crunch which is very tasty! EQ controls include treble and bass. The pedal is in its flat setting with these two set halfway. Increasing the treble predictably increases noise but it was quieter than expected. The amount of gain plays a role as an increase smooths out any harshness and offers a razor like crunch. With gain dropped to zero the pedal becomes surprisingly quiet and in this case the increased treble gives the sound presence. In cranking the bass and gain knobs I got beefy, heavy fuzz sounds that made me want to play the riff from “Smoke on the Water” over and over. Dialing gain down to zero resulted in a more muted sound but still with a little extra body.

With the CTO-2 Danelectro reworked the circuity to allow for various degrees of compression by means of three DIP switches, each one offering more compression. A fourth switch offers additional gain of 6 dB. I love options but in this case the re-engineering of the pedal resulted in tone that is more harsh and metallic sounding than its predecessor. The following audio example is the CTO-2 with identical settings as the CTO-1 above with no DIP switches engaged: [audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/03_CTO2noswitches.mp3|titles=CTO-2 No Dip Switches]

A mid-level emphasis starts to give the sound a harsh and metallic feel that’s more like an electric-sounding boost than a warm analog crunch. For the next example I engaged DIP switch 3 which is J-Fet compression, the most restrictive of the choices. The concept is that headroom is reduced as transients are contained: [audio:http://blog.sharemyguitar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/04_CTO2_FETcompress.mp3|titles=CTO-2 with J-Fet Compression]

I found that this had a thinning effect and made the sound more brittle and harsh.

With gain turned all the way up on the CTO-2, the sound was very crunchy but not warm at all and it felt like my signal was clipping. Bass frequencies from my original tone were still there but were overpowered by an electronic feeling grit. With gain turned all the way down this pedal shined as a clean boost offering more of a bump than the CTO-1 and with the boost switch engaged, an additional 6 dB of gain is made available.

Cranking the treble is surprisingly quiet – Danelectro nailed that one. It gives a little clarity but not the more pleasant presence of the CTO-1. Adding gain with the treble cranked just adds harshness. Cranking the bass is like adding mud and as this control is increased, the pedal gets farty. Add gain and you get farty distortion. But there is a point at which it starts sounding like a synthesizer. While I’m sure this wasn’t Danelectro’s intention, it’s actually kind of cool for specific applications.

The Low Down

I have a lot of respect for Danelectro as the quality of their gear with respect to price is truly impressive and their pedals are fun! Unfortunately they’ve lost sight of the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” because the CTO-1 is a killer pedal all around while the CTO-2 comes up short in too many ways. I hope they realize their mistake and revert back to the original version because the CTO-1 is nearly impossible to find. If you do come across one, grab it!

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Danelectro Transparent Overdrive: CTO-1

PROS: Great sounding warm, analog, transparent overdrive! Great value.

CONS: None except you can’t find them anymore.

BUILD QUALITY – 8

TONAL QUALITY – 10

DESIGN – 8

VALUE – 10

OVERALL – 9

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Danelectro Transparent Overdrive: CTO-2

PROS: Quiet treble EQ. Up to 12 dB of boost. Affordable.

CONS: Harsh and artificial sounding. Compression switches limit sound even further.

BUILD QUALITY – 8

TONAL QUALITY – 4

DESIGN – 8

VALUE – 7

OVERALL – 6

  • Cool review Dan! you should change your name to dan electro 😉 Anyway, very cool audio samples too!! I want to get one of those original CTO-1’s for sure, while the gettin is good…

  • Ben

    The reason the CTO-1 sounded so good, and the reason it was discontinued, is that it was an unauthorized part-for-part clone of of Paul Cochrane’s Timmy overdrive, and Danelectro got busted. If you really want that (and you should) contact Paul and order one. The price is very reasonable–cheap, in fact–for a hand-made, made in USA “boutique” pedal with outstanding tone and quality, and you will have the added benefit of not having to deal with Dano’s annoying, hard to reach and impossible to see knobs. You will probably have to wait a bit, but it’s worth it. (If you are in a rush, you can see what they are going for 2nd hand on ebay–double what Paul charges. LOL.)

  • Great comment Ben! I heard it was a clone but didn’t realize it was an unauthorized clone. Veeeeery interesting. Thanks for the post.

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