Review: ZVEX Effects Distortron Pedal
ZVEX Effects is a boutique pedal company named after its founder, Zachary Vex. The pedals are hand made and are as unique and fun in the hand painted artistry gracing the exterior as they are in the electronic pizzazz generated from within. The Distortron is a new pedal in the company’s Vextron series and is promoted as the “gifted little sister to the Z.Vex Box of Rock.”
FRESH OUTTA THE BOX
The mini brick I received for review was just that: brick red in color and roughly half the size of an actual brick as used in construction. It felt solid and the electronics and 9V battery were sealed tight by four screws underneath. Contrary to most pedals, the controls are laid out horizontally: Volume, Tone, Drive, 3-way mini toggle to set the low frequency (Subs), and a 2-way toggle to set low or high gain. A small red ON/OFF LED light sits in the upper-right corner. This “landscape” design is in keeping with a majority of their offerings and is equivalent in width to slightly less than two BOSS-style pedals sitting side-by-side.
ENGAGE THE DISTORTRON!
To maximize full rocking thrash I called upon my good friend Johnny DeMarco to wail away for the audio samples. He used an Ibanez Jet King in the full humbucking bridge position. This ran straight through the pedal into a Blackheart Little Giant Half Stack. As a base, all dials were set to 5 (on a scale of 1 to 10) with the SUBS switch set to 1 and the GAIN set to lo. What came back was a heavy crunch, like tubes starting to give way but maintaining some clean signal. The distortion is authentic in that it sounds like the tone is actually breaking up as opposed to distortion being layered with the clean signal. The audio example starts with the clean tone for reference and then kicks into distortion, or rather, DISTORTRON!
With volume cranked to 10, THIS SUCKER GETS LOUD! For the output it’s generating, it’s remarkably clean.
Volume was dialed back to a level less compromising to the beams holding up the structure in my building, and we rolled through the tone knob. At its lowest setting “The Beast” (a more appropriate name in my opinion) was contained but was still a beast. It’s as if several roadies were holding a heavy blanket over the cabinet and struggling to keep it and themselves from being blown off. With the volume cranked, forget it. With tone full up it was as if the bass frequencies were stripped from the signal but “The Beast” just got angry and surged forward with mid-range to higher-end punch. In my experience, cranking all-in-one tone knobs can add harshness. The Distortron is a pedal that handles this better than most.
Experimenting with the SUBS toggle engaged varying degrees of bass intensity, similar to turning up the subwoofer in your car. The signal is at its lowest in the number 1 setting. Switching to 2 engages a bass boost. This is different from dialing down the tone which attenuates higher frequencies as opposed to this switch which increases lower frequencies. Switching to 3 was like invoking Thor, the Mighty Warrior with a big, thunderous boost. The following example includes running through the settings from 1 to 3 with each repetition of the riff being played at a progressively higher setting. Computer speakers do not do the audio justice. If you don’t hear much of a difference it’s your speakers, not the pedal.
The choice of gain includes “LO” and “HI”. “LO” can be thought of as a base setting with “HI” engaging a boost similar to saturating a couple extra tubes for a thicker, richer, distortion. The audio example starts with “LO” and switches to “HI”. Again, computer speakers may not reveal the true effect of this switch.
Finally, we rolled through the drive control. The words “Crackle Okay” are printed around the dial which I found curious. I turned the dial back and forth and heard what sounded like a dirty pot that wouldn’t break free of its dust no matter how much I spun it back and forth. And then I read the manual which explained that the “crackling” I was hearing was perfectly normal, hence the disclaimer. At a setting of 1 the guitar was fairly clean and sounding like it was just starting to break up. At 10 it was no holds barred thick, commanding, and syrupy with crazy sustain. It was too much but this is a good thing. Better to be able to venture beyond sanity and pull back then not have the option. The audio example rolls through the drive control from its lowest to highest setting.
THE FINAL WRAP
Tape your knuckles and prepare to spit in the face of your enemy with the Distortron! This pedal packs a wallop and offers a range of attitude from snarly hostility to full on in-your-face thrash. On the downside, ZVEX has a reputation for some of the coolest looking hand painted pedals around. Visually, the Distortron is about as plain as you can get and therefore disappointing in comparison, but clearly you can’t judge a book by its cover. The wide form factor is visually cool and allows for convenient spacing of the controls but is not ideal for pedal boards. Ultimately it’s about the quality of the tone and construction and ZVEX gets high marks for this.
PROS: Solid build. Wide range of tonal possibilities. Quite simply, it kicks ass.
CONS: Nowhere near as cool looking as their other pedals. Wide form factor could be less convenient for pedalboards. Requires a screwdriver to get at the battery.