Gear talk for the GAS-afflicted.

McPherson Rock Box Distortion!! Plus an interview with the man himself…

McPherson Rock Box Distortion!! Plus an interview with the man himself…

Oct 8, 2012

A whole new world…

No, not the Aladdin song – today Six-String Samurai is stepping into the brave new world of Youtube!

Our very special first guinea pig candidate is a local boutique effects pedal maker who has been attracting an increasing following both in NZ as well as all over the world. You may know him by the lack (Sans) of Comic-ness of his signature font, the sticky-outness of the extra knobs on his pedals, or merely by his name. They call him… McPherson.

All font jokes aside, the folks at McPherson Music were kind enough to send us two pedals to have a whirl on. The first of those is the Rock Box Distortion.

Here’s the website blurb on it:

The McPherson Rock Box Distortion™ has been developed to achieve the powerful and legendary tones of the ’87 Marshall® Silver Jubilee valve amp.

One of the Rock Box Distortion’s™ unique features is it’s Integrated Boost circuit.  This allows the pedal to be used as a complete system as opposed to two separate pedals in one box. The boost and overdrive circuits compliment each other and work together allowing easy, intuitive operation and setup.

The left footswitch engages the pedal, while the right footswitch engages our ultra transparent boost circuit. This unique circuit does not effect your tone when engaged, and provides an actual output volume (not gain) boost with more than enough power to cut thru the loudest mix. The overall output of the boost is set by the boost knob.

In addition to this, when the boost is engaged, the front panel drive control is turned off and the rear panel boost drive control is simultaneously turned on. This means you can have a completely independent drive setting for the boost, letting you have more (or less) drive saturation when the boost is engaged.

The upper left switch selects between two individually voiced speaker modes, Blonde and Brunette

The Blonde mode is voiced for a clearer more detailed tone associated with a Vintage 30 style speaker while the Brunette mode captures the woody warmer tone of the famous Greenback.

Cool stuff! The fact that it’s based on a Silver Jubilee, and is a dual-footswitch drive, basically meant that it was irresistible to me.

Let’s take a look

My first impression upon receiving the box was that… where is it?? Gimme!! The pedal was wrapped in a goodly amount of bubble wrap so it didn’t get damaged in transit – in fact, it took me a couple of minutes to get to the pedal itself!

Finally freeing it from its  bubble wrap prison, I was confronted by a really classy looking, powder-coated housing. The layout is neat and tidy, and the metal LED housing is a nice touch – extra protection just in case you’re a bit rough and prone to abusing your pedals! Awesomely enough, it comes pre-velcroed on the back, with some sort of low profile industrial velcro so it’s ready to stick onto your pedalboard!

The control layout is simple and effective:

  • Drive sets the amount of… well, drive. Or gain, or distortion, whatever you want to call it.
  • Tone to me sounded basically like an EQ on the treble side of things, so you can tailor your sound to be more or less prominent in the mix.
  • Volume sets the volume of the main channel.
  • Boost sets the volume of your solo channel. Yes!!
  • The sticky-outy knob up top, Boost Drive, sets the gain level of your solo channel. I think this is brilliant, so that you can go from playing a raunchy rock rhythm to an all out gainstravaganza WITH an additional volume boost to get your guitar solo right out there. Singers beware, we’re not afraid of you!
  • Blonde/Brunette is a voicing switch, meant to go between Celestion Vintage 30 and Greenback styled tones. Blonde is certainly a bit more prominent in the upper mids, with a bit more bark and bite to it, while Brunette has a little more “give” to the tone, and is less in your face.

Time to rock that box!

I got my trusty Gibson LP, plugged it into the Rock Box Distortion, and ran it into the Marshall-style channel of my Line 6 DT25 head. I put the DT25 through my Mesa Thiele cab, which has a slightly flatter, cleaner sounding speaker compared to the V30s in my other cab, with the idea of being able to hear the difference between Blonde and Brunette a bit better.

Mic’d up with my Audix i5 and we’re away!!

Now, here’s that Youtube video!! It’s basically the same concept as my previous Soundcloud-based clips, but… um, you can just see me twiddle the knobs.

Six-String Samurai – McPherson Rock Box Distortion Demo

 Pretty cool!

I rocked this at a band practice, and let me say that for a volume-manageable hotrodded Marshall sound, this is one of the best pedals I’ve ever had the privilege to play. I ran it two different ways – into my DT25 as in the clip above, as well as into a Joyo American Sound (Tech 21 clone pedal, review pending!) straight into PA when I was feeling lazy. The Rock Box excelled on both occasions!

I can definitely hear the Silver Jubilee vibe – it’s got a great level of saturation and sizzle, which gives you that almost hard-edged clip that Jubilees are famous for. Gain levels are good enough for most things up to “almost but not quite” metal – I’m really tempted to keep this one, and if I do, I might see if McPherson will mod it slightly to increase the gain for my more over the top solo widdles. But for a good, driving rock tone? It’s just AWESOME.

Coming into things, I had thought that the Solo Boost footswitching functionality could be a little clunky, seeing as you can ONLY engage the boost when the main channel is already on. However, using it in a band context dispelled that for me. It was actually really really handy to be able to be playing an overdrive rhythm section, boost up to a solo, then go back to a perfectly clean, bypassed section just by hitting one single switch instead of two. Especially useful for someone like me who has to sing as well, so the less fancy footwork the better.

Conclusions

Loved it. A well designed, well thought out pedal for the gigging rocker. Sounded great, looks superbly built, and definitely captures that unique vibe of a Silver Jubilee.

4.5 Fuck Yeahs!

Now… don’t go away just yet. What did you think of our new video? Do you like the retro 8mm look? Obviously I’m still getting the hang of things, and the next one should be bigger and better. The audio is still recorded in the same way as always, so hopefully you felt that the video maintained the same standard of toneclippage as we’ve always provided!

Stop – interview (hammer?) time!

I asked Waylon McPherson a few questions that might be of interest to you guys, and he kindly obliged with some really good answers. Read on, and if you have any more questions at the end of it – just ask!

1. Tell us about yourself and how you got into the effects pedal business.

I was always interested in electronics as a kid and took electronics classes at school, also playing guitar from when I was about 10 years old.

After leaving school I started a diesel mechanic apprenticeship. I completely loathed the job, but did enjoy the odd bit of electronic repairing that we would occasionally have to perform.

Through all of this time I was playing in bands and it soon became obvious to me that I was on the wrong career path. Music has always been a very strong passion of mine, but to the disappointment of many people, I left my apprenticeship and started working at a local music store. (P.S Brian Smith the owner of Music Mania is not my Dad, that rumor has been going for years!) While working at Music Mania I was reintroduced to electronics, as there was always a lot of repairs coming into the store to work on. An advantage of working in a music store is you get to try out many different effects pedals and really find out what you like or dislike about them both functionally and tone wise. Playing and gigging live regularly, both solo and in bands from a young age, I found I was often never really 100% happy with the units I was using. This lead to me to modifying my own personal units and eventually on to building my own pedals.

I eventually left the music store, focusing my time and skills on all my musical passions. I started building my own branded pedals, and along with the support of my wife and business partner Shelley, we created McPherson Stompboxes NZ.

2. What’s your favourite pedal design to date – and which one is the most popular?

Favorite pedal – McPherson Antique Overdrive. This is my perfect sounding Overdrive and the design is unique, with no Opamp chips or clipping diodes. Definitely not another Tube Screamer clone.

Most Popular/Best seller – McPherson White Fuzz. We have sold these all over the place from New Zealand and Australia to Finland, Japan, Argentina, USA, and Canada, this has been a really good seller for us, with lots of great feedback from customers.

3. I really like the concept of the Solar Fuzz – where did the inspiration for that one come from? And do you see the solar-power concept becoming more widespread in effects pedal applications?

The Solar Fuzz, like most of my ideas, just hit me one day while chained to my solder station. I am very much an ideas kind of guy and I thought it would be an interesting concept, something a little different.

As far as solar energy being used as a common means to power effects pedals, this may be a possibility in the future, but not without some serious technological advances…. But I’ve got my money on ‘hamster power!’ :)

4. What are your thoughts on any perceived differences between MkI and MkII designs of the Red Boost? (asked by Red Boost user Tod Robertson from the band Scatterhawk)

No too much difference sound wise. The MKII is a little dirtier with a little more top end sparkle, this is of course subjective to different setups (guitars/amp etc…). Also the use of Silicon transistors gives the MKII a much higher level of reliability, consistency and less overall noise.

 

5. Do you plan on branching out into modulation effects – chorus, flange etc, or delays?

We never say never when it comes to what we may make, create, change or the like next, so keep an eye out as there are plenty of new and exciting pedals and plans in the pipeline!

6. What does your own pedalboard look like?

See photo! This is my acoustic board which has done a ton of shows. The signal path is split into Piezo and Mic.

 

Guitar (Piezo Output) > McPherson Omega Acoustic Wah > TC Polytune > McPherson Black OP Comp > McPherson Custom 18v Echo > McPherson Black Boost MKI > Custom signal Mixer (Mixes Mic signal back in) > Akai Headrush E2 (for loops) > Inbuilt Custom D.I > to P.A

 

Guitar (Mic Output) > Goes straight to the Custom signal Mixer, to mix back in with the piezo

 

7. I’ve had a lot of people ask if I can demo your Omega Wah. When we first talked you told me that MkII was in the design stages – do you have any hints as to what direction the new design will head towards?

At this stage the new design is only conceptual with a few sketches and ideas jotted down. We are realistically 3-4 years away from an actual working prototype. There is always a lot of work to do and not enough time!

8. Do you do custom work on existing pedals to fine-tune them for a particular customer’s needs? I.e. if someone needs a little more gain, or a different EQ curve on a tone control or something?

Yes, this is something we do often. Custom circuit upgrades and tweaks are becoming more and more popular.

9. Is McPherson Music a full-time job for you? (asked by everyone, because they’re jealous)

Yes, McPherson Stompboxes is a full time job. I have a small studio/workshop/man cave where I can create, build and trial all my designs and circuit upgrades. We have a steady stream of customers phoning and emailing with queries, repairs and sales.

In addition to this I am also a busy musician playing the Auckland bar scene along with private functions, corporate and wedding work.

 

As a family run operation, we love the fact that we are a small boutique business and are really hands on with everything we do. It’s great having the freedom to control our hours and have a great work life balance with McPherson Stompboxes and family.

10. Who are your favourite pedal makers at the moment, people who are doing things that are interesting and inspiring to you?

Brian Wampler has a great ear. I’ve always liked his dirt units, his discrete based designs in particular.

I’ve owned a few Carl Martin pedals and they are so well built (+ sound great!), the Delayla XL and the Plexi-tone in particular.

WMD pedals are just so interesting, really original. When I first heard the Geiger Counter I thought the apocalypse had begun!!

Thanks a heap to Waylon McPherson for taking the time to talk to Six-String Samurai! Hope you guys liked the new video clip format – I’d love to hear your feedback on what could improve your experience with it. Also, watch out for the next McPherson pedal we’re reviewing – the awesome sun-powered Solar Fuzz!!!

Comments

  1. [...] 14, 2012 Following on from our review of the McPherson Rock Box Distortion, we were lucky enough to get a very special pedal from McPherson Music – the limited edition [...]


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