Clean boosts and compressors
In which I search for some pedals to "enhance" to my Vibro-King...
I bought an MXR Micro-Amp to use as a clean boost. It works quite well. It does add a bit of hiss when engaged, but only at extreme settings of both amp volume and boost. No surprise there.
I find that the boost is most helpful when I want to go clean-to-scream at lower volumes. I use the master volume trick with the volume at seven or above, roll back the guitar volume for cleans, bring it up for crunch, and use the pedal for extra sustain on leads.
I have tried a friend's Tube Driver pedals, but prefer the one-knob simplicity of the Micro-Amp. The basic character of the guitar tone is unchanged, there's just more drive when you kick in the boost.
However, this setup is really best for lower volumes. I still prefer the unadulterated sound of the VK cranked to performance volumes, where the sustain is aided by volume. Have I mentioned that good earplugs are a must-have item? (Right up there with having a private dwelling and tolerant neighbors...)
After messing about with the clean boost for a while, I realized that a compressor might give me a more manageable increase in sustain at intermediate volumes. So I did a bit of research on the net, walked to one of the local guitar shops (it's dangerous living within a fifteen minute walk of three shops), and tried out the Boss CS-3, the MXR DynaComp and the Carl Martin Compressor/Sustainer.
The CS-3 just sounded bad to me. Killed the tone when off, and sounded - like so many Boss pedals I've tried - a bit "over the top" when engaged. I like subtle effects, and Boss pedals have never suited me. And why the heck does a compressor need a tone control?
The DynaComp was somewhat better, but there was noticeable pumping right off the bat and it wasn't at all clear what the sensitivity control was doing - it seemed like some odd combination of threshold and compression.
The Carl Martin was the most complex of the bunch with four controls. But their function was obvious - just like a studio compressor - and the "busy" light was helpful in setting the threshold. Added bonuses: AC powered and a very quiet, transparent signal path.
The Carl Martin sounds great with my VK. A small amount of compression works wonders to thicken up leads at volumes that are too low for natural sustain to work its mojo. And I found that I can set the threshold so that rolling off the guitar's volume kills most of the compression to get nice crisp rhythm sounds, and rolling the volume up to full pushes the compressor - and amp - into a nice overdriven sustained sound for leads.
Now, I was pretty surprised by all this... I've tried compressors before and have never liked what they did to my guitar sound.
I lived with the two pedals for a while, and eventually retired them. I developed a sensitivity to how the pedals changed the dynamics of my guitar and amp. There's always a difference in feel between volume-driven sustain and anything you can get from a pedal. Once I got my Koll Custom DL, designed to get real amp-driven sustain at lower volumes, I no longer needed the pedals.