American-made compressor/boost pedal brings the sustain
American pedal brand Pigtronix has long specialised in the esoteric. Big enough to warrant a place on many a pro pedalboard, yet small enough to fly under the radar of many ‘regular’ players, the New York-based manufacturer has slowly carved itself a niche by offering slightly off-the-wall pedals to musicians who want to look outside the bigger brands. It must be something in the water over there; its state buddies Electro Harmonix are also masters at oddball tone mangling. Like EHX, Pigtronix offers a well-stocked range of pedals which take ‘regular’ effects and add interesting and unique features in to elevate them above the norm. Consider the company’s Echolution 2 delay pedal. A regular delay would be enough for most people, but then Pigtronix want to do more, so added in filters and LFOs – traditionally synth features – to enable you to really get wild with it. Or you might look at the company’s PXEP2 phaser pedal and wonder how on earth a phaser pedal needs so many knobs and switches. Regardless, if you consider yourself a sonic adventurer, Pigtronix pedals are well worth exploring. All of which makes it a bit underwhelming that the pedal on review here is merely a compressor. Except, of course, that it’s a Pigtronix compressor and nothing is as it seems… Anyway. Here’s our Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone review to explain more.
The Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone is a compressor and clean boost pedal which aims to make your existing amp/pedal tone come alive. Used in front of an overdriven amp, you will see a big dollop of sustain added to your tone which makes those creamy blues solos sing for hours. For this review we ran a 2015 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, with the guitar’s active boost engaged, into an Orange OR15 amp with the gain set at around 3 o’clock. Now, look. We know there’s that famous film about a spoof rock band from the 80s. And we know in said film a comment is made about a guitar sustaining so long you could go and make a cup of tea. But that was then, and this is now. Using the setup described above, I could have gone to China, handpicked my tea leaves, flew home and milked a cow, then handcrafted my own mug and the amp would still be sustaining. It’s ridiculous. So if there’s a theory about every pedal having its own ‘money shot’, ie the settings you use to show your mates the most wacky thing it can do, then absurd sustain is the Philosopher’s Tone piece de resistance. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to it than that.
The pedal itself is a baby compared to other Pigtronix models, and sits around the same size as an EHX nano pedal. Except, in this case, the layout is horizontal. On the right hand side of the pedal is the in/out connection jacks – more on this later – and at the top right hand side of the back is the input for a 12-18v power supply. 12-18 volts is an odd amount – most pedals these days seem to run off standard 9v power supplies, so the fact this pedal draws so much juice may explain how it gets its powers. You may have strong opinions on the chosen power rating; there’s no getting away from the fact that you won’t be using your daisy-chain psu to power this one, and there’s no battery option either.
Along the top of the unit are the control knobs. From left to right there are controls for grit, sustain, blend, treble and volume. Grit is a nice feature which allows you to add a touch of analogue dirt to your signal. With the knob set to zero, the grit function is bypassed but as you start to turn it clockwise you can hear a bit of hair added to your tone. At around 3 o’clock the Philosopher’s Tone becomes something of a fuzz box in its own right. Again, you may or may not want this, but at least you have the option to turn it off. Next up is the sustain control which, in this context, is as close as you’ll get to controlling the overall compression. As there’s no ‘attack’ setting – the time it takes for the compression to kick in – you have to find a balance between the sustain and blend knobs. This isn’t as bad as it sounds though, and you’ll easily find that happy medium with a bit of tinkering. A word of warning though – set both knobs to max and you’ll need to make sure your playing is up to scratch because, as anyone who uses compression knows, it can be pretty unforgiving.
The treble knob is interesting, not least because it doesn’t actually reduce the amount of treble in your signal, rather it adds higher frequencies the further up the dial you go. As with the grit knob, this is totally optional but a nice option to have if you want your solos to cut through a muddy mix.
Finally, the volume knob is the all important base setting for the pedal. It is here that the output level to which the rest of the pedal adheres is set, and which requires setting in the context of a full band prior to playing.
It is a little odd, it must be said, to have the input and output connections on the same side of the unit. We can see the benefits if, for example, you’re installing the pedal onto a board and you have either pancake head patch leads or, at the very least, right angled leads. If not, you may find yourself using the Philosopher’s Tone side-on which is no bad thing necessarily but does differ from most other pedals on the compact market.
The Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone is a chunky little beast, in line with the rest of the range, which definitely won’t crumble after a few heavy stomps. And, if you ask many a pro guitarist, the one pedal they all can’t live without is a decent compressor. So, if the Philosopher’s Tone’s quirks don’t put you off, what you get is an exceptionally well made, versatile, considered compressor which will beef up any tone you choose to use.
Check out the rest of the Pigtronix range here.