The Coolest Looking Pedal I Own–Review & Demo

Which is entirely the point. Anyone can sound good. But can you look like Keith Urban while doing it? (Sorry to go country right there, but you gotta admit that Keith Urban’s got it going on. So does his gear. Wow. So many poorly chosen phrases in such a small portion of writing thus far.)  And the answer is yes. You can. With this pedal:

Matchless Hotbox

The Matchless Hotbox allows you to have an amp on your pedalboard. And not in a tone way. In a, ‘This pedal lights up like an amp’ way. Fabulous. This is only the second piece of gear in a long history of buying pieces of gear that I have bought because of how it looks. And it did not disappoint.

And I seriously thought about ending the review there. But then I realized that perhaps everyone is not as superficial and vain as I am. So, the tone of the Matchless Hotbox. It’s very, very good. But it is its own pedal. It doesn’t react to your rig. It’s a very trebly and chimey preamp that you cannot switch off. You plug it in, and it’s on. And it does do a surprisingly good job of transforming whatever you’re playing out of into a Matchless DC30 or Vox AC30. However, just a little false sounding to me. And that’s not the pedal’s fault…I just like more of a pure tone, and I feel like if you want to sound like an AC30, get an AC30. A pedal emulating it is not my thing. That being said, though, this pedal does do a fantastic job of it. It works as a great preamp if that’s your thing, due to its dual 12AX7 tubes.

This also allows it to be run direct, which can be nice if for whatever reason the venue says they’ll shoot you if you use an amp. This can be a great pseudo-amp, even though the term ‘pseudo-amp’ is just evil to begin with. And then the switch on the pedal. This, in essence, changes channels, like you have a two channel amp. And it has just a crazy amount of gain ‘on tap.’ (Sorry, it seems like these days it’s not a real pedal review without the cliche ‘on tap’ reference.) It gives you an extremely saturated, very compressed, distortion. And that’s really cool if that’s your thing. For me…not so much. Still too trebly for me, and too compressed, and changes your tone too much. It does work better if you’re already using it as a preamp, and then you switch channels. The change in tone there is much more smooth. But I’ve been trying it in a bypass loop and using it just for my ‘solo’ switch. And for that, it changes the tone from your amp a good deal.

All that being said, though, the sound that comes from this pedal is absolutely stunning. Great sound. Just not for me. So here’s the video, and you can hear what it’s capable of, and if you like it or not.

Clean Tone

Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. V pickups)–>

Loop-Master bypass looper–>
(–>Matchless Hotbox

Loop-Master bypass looper (master bypass on)–>

Divided by 13 RSA23–>

65 Amps birch cab (Celestion Blue & Celestion G12H-30

1994 (Mark Sampson-built) Matchless Hotbox:

So that’s the video. You can hear that it is just a great sounding pedal. But it definitely does not immerse itself in your rig, which is what I tend to like for pedals. And I cannot stress enough that there is no tone control on the preamp side of the pedal. Just a volume. So, you either like the sound of the clean boost or you don’t. The odd thing about this whole review is that I am leaning towards keeping this pedal. Not for any other uses than 1) for those terrible times when the worship leader or singer or whomever you’re playing with wants to do a Kutless or Nickelback song, and 2) just in case any even terribler (?) times come up where the sound guy is a large man (or, I guess could be a woman, too), with whom I value my life to much to argue the point of using an amp. However, the first situation comes up about once every 4 months, and the second…well…let’s just say I carry an arsenal of information in my head behind which I can form a bunker and fire fact after fact (some of them true, some of them…eh…we’ll just say ‘yet to be proven’) on why I should be allowed to use an amp. And I have never lost. So, this is kind of an expensive pedal to keep on the board to use so sparingly. I’m currently looking for a Big Muff clone that can actually be heard in a band mix to do the compressed heavy sound deal. In which case, I could sell the Matchless. But the Matchless is the only pedal I’ve heard that can do the compressed heavy drive sound without getting lost in the mix. So for now…

…Wait a second. It looks like this:

Matchless Hotbox 2

I’m so keeping it.

Oh, and just for the record, I dare you to listen to Keith Urban’s tone in this and not desire it.

Amazing tone. Both clean and dirty. Desire it. Desire it a lot. And if you don’t, you can’t tell me you don’t at least desire those pants. Or legs that can make those pants look that good. I mean, desiring your own legs to look that good. Not desiring Urban’s legs per se. Hmm, I wonder if that’s going too far. Nah, I’m secure enough in my tone to say things like that. And by ‘tone’, I mean, ‘masculinity’. Although tone definitely needs some femininity in it as well. Okay, now we’re at a place that I don’t want to be. Everyone cool with changing the subject from Keith Urban’s legs blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity? Yes? Good. Okay, the hair…eh. And the actual song…decent. But the tone and the pants……desire was invented for these things.


49 thoughts on “The Coolest Looking Pedal I Own–Review & Demo

  1. “it doesn’t matter how it sounds” … this is classic, karl! hehehe 🙂

    oh yeah, the pedal sounds awesome! great platform to base your tone and supplement with pedals. btw, have you tried putting an OD in front?

  2. Larry–Delay makes everything better. 🙂

    And as far as compressors……of course! He’s a country artist. 😉 hehe And I’d say Secret #3…the fatty KT88-tubed Hiwatt behind him! haha Which is able to have a sweetly compressed sound depending on your playing, even without a compressor pedal on. But you’re right, he does have a Keeley comp on his board…like I said, he’s a country artist. hehe

    Rhoy–but seriously! Look at that thing! hehehe 😉

    And I have put a Zendrive in front of it, and it does sound quite, quite good. Very saturated. But nothing else, as I’m not using it’s preamp capabilities on my board. I guess I’m just not a clean boost guy…today. hehe

  3. Speaking of delay (Which no one did but…)….uhhumm….you did a complete pedal demo without using one. I’m so proud of you.

    And Keith Urban does have a great tone thing going. And what is it about bass players and bald heads. Does the lack of hair increase the level of funk and groove? If so, I may have to try that. I’m well on my way there already anyway.

    Oh…and the pedal is cool. Looks to be about the same size as a small aircraft carrier. I take it that it runs off of 110 with those preamp tubes in there.

    Play without an amp? Hmm…homey don’t play without an amp. I realize that we are all just servants but come on. A line must be drawn.

  4. Keith Urban does have some great songs. Very singable and great melodies. Good Elec. guitar tracks too.

    I think you should keep it. It’s definately one of those status pedals!!



  5. I’ve read that they are completely unreliable. It will just quit right in the middle of a song. And the lights burn out. And the chrome turns yellow. And it smells funny. And it causes acne.

    I’ll get rid of it for you Karl. That’s the kind of guy that I am.

  6. What was the other piece of gear you bought on looks alone?

    I play direct without an amp in church. This is partly because I can’t afford a decent amp right now but mostly because I am still the new guy and don’t have enough pull to insist on using one and get my way.

    Had I heard of the hotbox before I picked up what I currently use, I might have looked at using one. It does seem to be a decent substitute. However I am very happy with my Tech21 Liverpool right now.

    It really does do a decent impression of an AC-30. I leave it on all the time. I responds well to overdrive and the eq setting are very sensitive which is great for dialing in a good sound in whatever venue we’re in. (Our church is currently without our own building.) If one is looking for something to simulate an amp or to keep in a gig bag for direct to board “emergencies” you should check out the very reasonably priced sansamp pedals. They are no replacement for a real amp but they are as close as you’re likely to get for $150.

  7. “tone and the pants……desire was invented for these things”

    I just caught that. It was just plain weird.

    But here’s the real question: Was it the tone or the pants that got him Nichole Kidman?

  8. Mark–haha I did, huh! And usually I have to plug straight into the pedal and not my board to keep myself from turning on delay, but this time I was into my board, and still no delay. The world is changing.

    And yes, it runs on 110…it’s got a built in three prong cord.

    And it looks like you and I were meant to be brothers–never, ever, play electric without an amp! lol 😉

    Tom–if I can find a smaller pedal that’ll do the ‘heavy compressed rock’ thing that I need like, twice a year, then yes, I will absolutely sell this pedal. I’m looking! 🙂

    Nate–I agree, Keith Urban is actually an incredible musician. I think he gets lost in the mix sometimes amongst musicians because he’s country. hehehe

    And I have gotten more comments on this one pedal in like, three weeks, then some of my other pedals have gotten in years. And I haven’t even turned it on live, in the last 2 weeks. So…lol…you may be right, maybe I should keep it! hehe

    Tom–haha I promise, I’ll talk to you first!

    Keith–great info! I’ve heard a ton of good things about the Liverpool, and your word on it is really good. I might have to check it out just for the purposes of seeing for myself. Good times, bro!

    Tom–I would love to say the tone. Really, really love to say the tone. But in m humble experience……it’s probably not. The world is not as it should be.


  9. Pingback: Blog Article and Video about  The Coolest Looking Pedal I Own–Review & Demo « Guitar for Worship - Keith Urban

  10. haha Ben, that was awesome!

    And Keith, I forgot to address your earlier question…the other piece of gear was a custom color HBE Dos Mos. I think the review is somewhere on this site.

  11. Have you tried it with your strat? I have a feeling it would shine with single coils. What a great solution for the situations where an amp is just too loud.

    I found Keith Urban when he was on American Idol this year. His recordings sound AMAZZZZZZING!

    Karl, how would you work a delay for that type of very wet, echoing sound? I thought it was a wet reverb since I couldn’t hear the repeats.

    Mmm. I’d pay for some primer videos on using delays. I can get one to two sounds with my timeline because I just don’t know how to explore it.

  12. +1 for the delay tutorial, think I could learn a lot from you

    Keith Urban is cool. Wish I also had 3 acousticguitar-servants to play some layers of rythm while I shine singin and playing lead guitar 😉

  13. Keith–sorry, I missed that at first, and then put it into a subsequent comment, but it wasn’t very prominent. The other pedal I bought for looks was a custom color HBE Dos Mos, and I think the review is on this site somewhere. Mmm, that was a gorgeous pedal. Simple and beautiful.

    James–I have with the strat, but this pedal on the clean boost is just too trebly for me, and the strat makes it even more so. On the overdrive side, it is very ‘pushing’ though, and sounds really good.

    Ya…I’m becoming more of a Keith Urban fan and less of a closet Keith Urban fan. hehe

    And I’m sorry…I am so far behind on those delay tutorial videos. People have been asking since last year, and I have the first one done, but can just never find time for the others. I’ll double my efforts and try to get ’em done soon. As for Keith’s delay, it sounds like just a quarter note delay with like 1.5 repeats. Then he sets it fairly low on the mix knob so it doesn’t draw attention to itself, and then sets the modulation fairly high so that most of the delayed sound you hear just sounds like spaciousness. And then he uses really good touch to make sure that the delay is only pronounced when he wants it to be.

    You could argue that he’s using an effect called ‘ducking’ on his Line 6 Echo Pro which allows the delay to only sound when you use harder pick attack, but not only does it not sound like it, in my humble opinion, ducking is no match for simple, good touch. 🙂 Hope that helps a bit!

    Ben–lol That seriously just made me crack up! You’re totally right!

    James–lol And a killer follow-up! hahaha

  14. Hey Karl,

    Speaking of delay (I’m sure that at some point in time somebody was.), have you seen those Lovepedal Echo Babys? Tiny! I may have to pick up one of those just so me guitar mates will look at it and say (Just to stay in the theme of your post.) what the heck is that. Sounds pretty nice. One knob. One switch. One light (Blue…mmmm).

  15. Mark, I’ve yet to try one out, but I do love how small they are! This may be the new trend in pedals, as everyone wants tons of sounds, but they want the ‘Japanese apartment’ style boards. hehe Catalinbread is starting to do the small pedals, too.

    As he’s probably too humble to promote himself on this site, so I’ll give a plug to Dan who posts here. He’s got an Echo Baby video on his blog:

    Good stuff. 🙂

  16. You have to admit… it’s somewhat questionable to call Keith Urban country. Dare I say he’s on his way to becoming a legend right along side John Mayer. It’ll be interesting to see where this next generation of kids raised on Eric Clapton, Jimmy Hendrix & BBKing will take us.

    Sorry, this really had nothing to do with your Matchless review… but hey, if we’re being honest I don’t really read your reviews for review sake… I just love the wittiness. Is that a word?

  17. Thanks for the mention! The Hotbox sounded great in the video. You know how you don’t really need something and then the video puts that tone out there and you slowly question whether you need that sound? haha

  18. Eric–very, very true. Country’s his genre, but he’s definitely pushing the envelope…and pushing it well. Good point about the generational thing…very interesting. 🙂

    And no worries for being off topic! I’m not so sure I even have a topic when I write the blog posts! hehehe 😉 Your latest post was great, by the way.

    James–I’m not remembering hearing that one. Goin’ to youtube! hehe And I’ll listen for the delay.

    Dan–no worries! Great vids on your site. And ya…I haven’t decided whether I need the Matchless Hotbox tone or not yet either. But then I always decide that I do need that lit up logo. 😉

  19. Hey there. Just stumbled onto your blog and found it to be very entertaining reading! I’m also a P&W guitar player and a gear junkie too… But I digress… I’ve had a few Matchless Hot Boxes and the Dirt Box as well. You’re absolutely right, it’s way trebly, but the Dirt Box is a lot more real sounding without as much gain “on tap”. I have one and really like it but don’t use it all that much since it takes up way too much space on my board. I’m really starting to consider putting it back on again after reading your blog! Keep up the good work brother!

  20. Andy–welcome!! It’s great to have you here. And thanks for the info! I’d be totally into checking out a Dirt Box. I need a new favorite Gear Page search anyway. 😉

    Anyway, stoked that you’re here, and looking forward to chatting more!

  21. WOW!!! Keith Urban that was sweet. I like the way he was on his bridge pickup and then rolls back the tone knob to soften the initial attack. He reminds me of John Mayer in feeling.

  22. That just goes to show you. Sweet, sweet delay can even make country music sound good.

    Seriously, that guy has some incredible tone and is an amazing player. Looks like I may need to apologize to a good friend of mine for the huge ration of teasing I laid on him after he told me he was a KU fan.

  23. Sal–totally! Incredible feel and soul, like Mayer. Nice catch on the tone knob thing. 🙂

    Eddie–haha Absolutely! Delay is the best. And hear hear. I got some apologies to make, too. hehe

  24. Saw Keith live here in Oz a couple of years ago. Before that I was a bit skeptical. He’s viewed as more of a pretty boy in the media here, more famous for being married to Nicole Kidman than for his music…

    … but after seeing his show I was a convert. The guy is a phenomenal guitarist, good singer, and reasonable songwriter (which I think should be the correct priority order of those three skills) Couldn’t believe the arsenal of guitars they brought out – changed for almost every song.

    If you want to check out more of keith, check out some of his earlier stuff. There’s an album called The Ranch which is great – it’s more country than his current stuff, but it rocks harder as well.

  25. Right on!! That’s so cool to hear. Ya, I heard a bit of his stuff a while back, thought it was great, and then forgot about him. And then I ran across this video, and whoa! Thanks for the info…I’ll definitely check out that ‘The Ranch’ album! 🙂

  26. Hey, I’m late to the party here, having just discovered your blog while seeking enlightenment regarding compressor pedals.

    I couldn’t resist responding to your comment about burly FOH folk! I fell into FOH mixing at church about 6 years ago, and am as passionate about mixing great worship as I am about guitar tone. A dangerous and often frustrating combination, to be sure.

    Anyway, my home church is a hexagonal painted cinderblock structure that has a very low tolorance for high stage volumes due to misaligned and reverberant frequencies torturing those trying to worship. This is entirely the fault of our congregation who didn’t hire an acoustic consultant until after the building was underway, and even then, didn’t take his advice anyway.

    I would LOVE to have high quality amps on stage, but even visiting touring bands acknowledge that our sanctuary sounds better if I mic their cabs backstage, which allows me to run an AC30 at about “3-4” rather than “0.5”.

    I’d love to hear about some of your “arsenal” as to why your amp should be onstage if it compromises worship (despite my best efforts). Or, if you’re OK with the amp backstage, why I should let you run the volume at your “sweet spot” if backstage bleed is misaligned and louder than the PA sound.

    Maybe I’ve missed the point, and you’ve been afflicted with FOH folk who are trying to please the 82 year old matriarch in the front row (who just happened to have paid for 8 wireless systems for the vocal ensemble to use, for example). Me, I’m trying to help my musicians sound FANTASTIC, but they seem to see me as the kill-joy.

  27. JayDub, great to have you here! I totally resonate with what you just said, as at my home church as well as other churches I play at, what you described is a perpetual problem…paying for the consultation of a sound engineer when designing the room, and then not taking his advice. Drives me crazy. And then we wonder why our sanctuaries/worship centers don’t sound good. haha

    You know what? I was typing out a response to the guitarist/sound engineer dilemma, and it was getting so long that I think I’m just going to do a whole post on it. 🙂 Hopefully that’s okay. Basically, it all comes down to understanding the perspective of the other person. I apologize if I made a comment in this post towards sound techs that was in poor taste. I didn’t mean any harm…but I have, as I’m sure you have as well, met my fair share of sound techs and guitarists alike with the people skills of a cactus. hehe

    I’ll try to get that post up soon. Cheers!

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