Blind Overdrive Shootout–the Test: Gainster, Tim, & Fatboost

(EDIT: Here’s the link to ‘The Reveal’, where all the answers are given: Blind Overdrive Shootout–The Reveal.)

Let’s see how tone sounds without our eyes. This is gonna be the first in a series of blind shootouts (like the wonderful Johnny Depp towards the end of the regrettable Once Upon a Time in Mexico) that hopefully I’ll stay current on. The pedals are going to be in loops, and then I’ll engage the loops to engage the pedals. But I won’t tell you which pedals are in which loops until next week. And the rat’s nests of cables on my board will actually work to my benefit for once, as you literally cannot trace cables on my pedalboard. hehe


(How rad is it that he’s just making fun of his role in the movie. And if you don’t see it…wait for it…yep. There. He’s reading a ‘Judy Garland’ book in the movie. Classic. He’s also one of those guys who looks so good that he makes you want to hurt yourself, but I won’t say that out loud.)

The Players

–Paul Cochrane Tim (at 12 volts)
–Clark Gainster (original discontinued hand-wired version…because of course, ‘rare’ equals ‘tone’)
–Fulltone Fatboost (original version…again…except this time pretty much just because the color is better than the subsequent versions)

The Base Clean Tone

–Prairiewood Les Paul (Woletone Dr. V’s…using neck, bridge, and split coil on the middle position)–>
–Fryette Valvulator buffer–>
–Loop-Master bypass looper–>
(Loop 1–>nope, not until next week
(Loop 5–>I’ll never tell
(Loop 6–>nope
–Matchless HC30 (EF86 channel)–>
–65 Amps cab (Blue and G12H30)

Possible Biases

–None! It’s a blind test!

Possible Personal Biases

–Well, I did know which loops were which. So…let’s just say that they all probably evened out because the Gainster is gold and hand-painted, the Tim has a blue led, and the Fatboost has that cool ‘fits in the palm of my hand’ thing going on. Why is that so cool in pedals? Like, I feel like I could just grab it in my hand and show up to the gig like a rockstar with a pedal in one hand, amp in the other, and guitar slung over my back. When in reality, I’m hobbling in under the crushing weight of a pedalboard so big that I have to turn down gigs without double doors. (No, not quite…well, yet. The world is full of gear that is not yet velcro’d to my pedalboard. A fact that haunts me in the deep parts of the night.)

Why These Pedals

I subscribe to the theory that pedal overdrive sounds best when you keep your amp on the verge of breakup for its clean tone, and then use transparent-sounding overdrive pedals to ‘push’ your amp into its own natural breakup. Of course, some of them have better flavors of their own than others, even though the theory makes sense to me. So I thought I’d throw my favorite actual boost pedal into the mix, along with two pedals which are supposed to have great transparent, low drive sounds.

And the Blind Shootout:

So…which is which? If you want, post your predictions here, as well as which one you think sounded best. And next week, we’ll see who was right……so, post at your own risk. hehe And, just for the record, I did know which was which obviously, but whenever I do shootouts, I usually close my eyes and click random buttons, and I was definitely wrong a few times on this one. With two pedals in particular. So there ya go. And, because it’s ‘awesome’ (meaning, ‘not at all’):


(You cannot explain to me why Enrique Iglesias is in this movie. Nope. You just can’t. And he’s obviously ‘posing’ for some Calvin Klein commercial in his mind, rather than ‘acting’. Which, may be a good thing for us all. Oh, and one of his guns has two barrels. Maybe it’s some sort of boomerang gun to suck the bullet back for re-use later? I do not doubt that that could exist in this movie. It hurts me. It physically hurts me.)

So…what’s your choice? And if you choose ‘Enrique’, you’re fired.

Splendid.
Karl.

39 thoughts on “Blind Overdrive Shootout–the Test: Gainster, Tim, & Fatboost

  1. i have not tried or heard any of these pedals in person so this is just pure guess-work base on what i think what each pedal sounds :)

    1. Tim
    2. Fatboost
    3. Gainster

    Of course, if I miss all of it, you have to send me these pedals so I can try them out ;)

  2. I think loop 6 is the Tim… Loop 5 is the Gainster and loop 1 was it? is the fulltone fatboost… we shall see!!

  3. Wow, those were so transparent I couldn’t tell any difference. Are they selling pedals in various shapes and colors now with no electronics inside?

  4. I agree with rhoy:
    1. Tim- super transparent, and was only “more of what was already there”. (would love to take it off your hands….jk)
    2. Fat boost- typical fuller top end (not too fond of this, yet i own a fulldrive and OCD)
    3. Gainster- process of elimination, b/c i am least familiar with it.

  5. Rhoy–well, of course. That goes without saying. ;) hehehe

    Ben G–nice, nice! :)

    Randy–actually, ya…I was really impressed by all 3 of those pedals.

    Charlie–very, very cool. :)

  6. I think I liked loop 1 the best for a transparent sort of thing. Loop 5 was the least transparent of the three, but still a nice sound. I’d pick 1.

  7. Karl,

    What might work for these blind shootouts is: leaving the lens cap on the camera and saying “pedal 1″ and playing that pedal then do the same for the other two.
    I must say, seeing the mess of cable distracts me from the tone.
    And NOTHING should distract from that.

  8. Ben–very cool. :) I almost just said something that gave it away, too. hehe Just deleted it.

    Charlie–hopefully sometime Monday. :)

    Joel–great suggestion, bro. You know, I thought about that, but in the end I liked this way because I can at least prove they are different pedals. I would’ve gotten accused of just playing the same pedal or switching the pedals up to justify ’boutique-ness’ had I left the lens cover on the camera.

    Great idea though, and sincere apologies that the cables are distracting. You’re right, nothing should distract from tone! :D

  9. They are all very close, haha more close than I’m sure we’d all like to admit. I’m sure they sound more different in person though. I agree with the majority, on the first one being the TIM because it sounded the most like the original sound. I’ve owned the fatboost before and to me #2 sounded just like it. Don’t know about the gainster, but #3 was my least favorite.

  10. 1. Tim
    2. Fatboost
    3. Gainster

    I have a fb-2 and recognize the sound of that middle one (i hope lol). Fb-2 looks cooler than fb-1, its red and has a nice combination of knobs. Looks good on my board and works wonders as a solo boost.

    Hand wired makes no difference at all, if anything had wired pedals are worse because they’re less reliable and components are less accurate (like carbon comp resistors are +/- 5% resistance) whereas the ones machines use are very accurate. And you really need to learn how to build these things, it will save you so much money lol.

  11. I’m sorry I can’t remember the loop numbers. The first and second pedals you engaged sound the most alike through the camera mic. The third colored the tone more then the other two. The combination of the camera mic, and YouTube compression makes it nigh impossible to make an assessment. I’ve been interested in a Tim and was hoping to hear something in this comparison that might convince me to part with $200.

    Sorry, Karl. I don’t have a guess, other then #3 is less “transparent” then the other two. It, however, has some personality which the other two lack.

    James. As for the components “machines use”. Whether effects are point to point, or built on PCB’s, some hand assembly is required. Both builds typically use the same resistors. Some builders may choose to use tighter tolerance 1% resistors, but the industry standard is 5% tolerance. All quality builders individually test their components and cull all parts that fall too far outside the nominal value. I personally have found that most 5% resistors easily fall within 1% of the nominal value. You get a stray dog now and then, however, that’s why you test them. FYI.

    Also, for what it’s worth, most point to point pedals are built with much higher quality parts then the mass produced PCB pedals. There are quality PCB pedals also, but the big producers cut costs everywhere they can, and that means the cheapest resistors, caps, wire, switches, PCB traces. Longevity is not a concern for the big boys……..

  12. The only pedals I’ve ever had break are the expensive boutique style ones… Also check out cusack pedals, they’re all machine soldered and get some of the best reviews i’ve ever seen on HC…

    Just talking from my own experience.

  13. James,

    Sorry man, my previous post probably came off as preachy. My apologies.
    I don’t want to derail Karl’s blog here. Effect’s, and “tone” are pretty subjective things. When I said the big boys, I meant the likes of Boss, Ibanez, Line 6, Fender, etc. They produce at a level, where saving $5 in production costs on a pedal, or amp, translates into several million dollars in profit.

    I’ve had bad experiences with some manufacturers also, and I avoid them now. My experience has definitely been the opposite of yours, however.

    Karl. I love the idea of blind effects tests. I vote for a Timeline, Brigadier, Replica, Empress blind taste test next.

  14. Joel–absolutely! Who knows? I may have even used so ABY boxes to make sure it was the Tim in every loop for this one. ;) hehe

    RyanJ–awesome predictions. And ya, definitely better in person; but actually, they all even in person sounded surprisingly close. Probably can’t go wrong with any of these…which is nice to know, especially considering that those first version Fatboost’s go for around $60 used. Man, I remember 6 years ago paying $150 for one. Eh. But I digress. :)

    James–very cool. And I’ve heard both sides of the PCB vs. PTP wiring. Personally, it seems that the majority of well-built pieces and gear I dig the sound of, have been made by hand. Probably a lot of that has to do with the care that goes into making them, and how that care also translates into the quality of the parts they use. But then again, I also have a good number of PCB boxes that I love. I even read an argument one time stating that there was some type of circuit bleed that goes on between the connections, and actually creates more pleasing ghost harmonics. hehehe Maybe a little far-fetched, but interesting nonetheless.

    Just my contribution to the discussion. I like both, but tend to hear (or at least think I hear) a clarity in things like amps that have been hand-built. Of course, I’ve also played some horrible sounding hand-built amps. I won’t mention names right now. hehe

    DeeB–yep, youtube does compress somethin’ awful. But, it’s the best I can do without inviting you all over to my apartment to hear these firsthand. lol And I actually like using the camera mic instead of actually recording through my laptop, because it seems to level the playing field a bit. Meaning, if you can’t tell the difference with a camera mic, chances are you can’t tell the difference when playing live through a sound system. But if you can, then maybe it will make a difference through the house system. Just my philosophy on it. But actually, even in person, all 3 of these pedals sounded very good, and surprisingly like each other. :)

    And I totally agree with you on the quality of parts used in handmade pieces. And totally gonna try to do a blind delay shootout! :)

    And James, I’ll add the DD20!!

  15. … they all sound the same to me. or at least close enough as makes not difference. none of them sounded bad.

    What i’d really be curious to see is the same test with a cool cat transparent od thrown in also. Particularly since i’ve heard it’s supposed to be a Tim clone.

  16. i agree with pretty much everything here. all three are quite similar, but there are some subtle differences. Pedal one is the definition of transparency, and has the exact tone as before, but with more gain. Pedal two, adds some less than pleasing top end, but in its defense, el84s and an alnico blue aren’t very forgiving in that department (i know, my top hat club royale has the same speaker set up as his cab, blue and a G12H). The third colors the midrange, kind of ts808-ish but with more clarity. Just my two cents. I love them all, and would gladly take the one you don’t like off your hands =).

  17. I love it. Fantastic vox-ish clean. Still looking for the right overdrive. i would appreciate some suggestions.

  18. Right on! Every one I’ve heard has sounded great, without exception. You know, my tone mentor had that exact amp a few years back, and he sold his all his overdrives including his Timmy, for a Fulltone Fulldrive to use with it. He said he didn’t like the Fulldrive with any other amp, but that it just seemed to fit right with the Royale.

    Personally, my stock suggestion is always the Tim. haha But the Sobbat Drivebreaker seems to like those style amps, and I’ve also heard nothing but good things about the Ethos overdrive that’s out right now.

  19. the timmy and the zendrive have been on my short list. in my experience, my fulldrive II mosfet doesnt really get a nice smooth top end. I am a big nigel hendroff fan (sorry, i don’t love the edge as much as you do) and i like the smooth tone. Maybe once i get my duo jet things will be closer to what i am looking for.

  20. I watched the whole thing and thought, I like the first one he played. Went back and watched again only to realize the one that I liked was when you were playing clean through with no effects… Dough!

    After realizing which was which, I have no idea which is which (did that make sense?). ;)

    I like #5 because “number 5 is alive!!!” Seriously though, it sounded warmer to me.

  21. Charlie–right on! Ya, that Timmy is great, and so is the Zen. I agree…not a big fan of the Fulldrive. But for some reason, this guy just loved it with his Top Hat, even though he hated it with everything else. I’d still go with a Timmy. And a duo jet. ;)

    Ben–thanks, bro! :) Ya, the new site does seem a little cleaner and a little more ‘website-ish.’ hehe

    Eric–lol That’s awesome! So we’ve got a vote for the clean tone. :) And for #5…that’s a good choice, too! :)

  22. Oh, the worst tone i ever got out of that amp was when i borrowed my friend’s Jekyll and Hyde. I threw up! The tone sucked, and then the “TruTone” buffer added so much treble that it trashed my clean tone as well. It was brighter than when i plugged strait into the amp. needless to say, this made me keep my fulldrive and ocd. (OCD’s sole purpose is SRV and blues stuff; not very useful for worship.)

  23. hehe Ya, not my favorite either. Some people really dig ‘em, though. Is that what you’re playing now? Fulldrive and OCD? I’m gonna geek out right here and ask which version OCD. hehe

  24. Charlie–lol Oh, those waitlists. You’re a more patient man than I, my friend. Props to you for that. I just go to Gear Page and pay the inflated used prices. hehe

    Rhoy–lol I’m editing it right now. I wanted to give more people a chance to go out on a limb and post their predictions here. :) Hopefully it’ll be up today.

  25. Pingback: Blind Overdrive Shootout–the Reveal: Gainster, Tim & Fatboost

  26. Each of the 3 imparts a delightful gain-change, but listening to yer Prairewood and Matchless, I can’t stop thinking that if you’ve got 1–a good piece of wood (guitar) 2–good pups, 3–good pots & caps, and 4–an excellent amp, that if you start with the guitar volume pots on 5-6, set amp gain to “clean-hinting-at-crunch”, then work with the volume pots and pick dynamics, you’ll get most of the overdrive you need without a half dozen OD units. Says the guy with 5 ODs on his pedalboard. Bottom line–I wanna Matchless, and my Timmy isn’t coming until July!!

  27. haha But the od boxes are so perty! But seriously, that is a great way to run it, and you’re right that amp od will almost always trump pedal od. It’s just that with amp od, I’d need to put the effects in the amp’s effects loop, and I actually prefer them out front. So, the compromise for me is setting the amp on the verge of overdrive, and then using pedal to push it. But I’m gonna re-try the effects loop in a couple days, see how that goes. :)

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