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Tried-and-true designs add some 21st-century tweaks

 

ST-9 Pro+ Super Tube $275 MSRP, $207 street, www.maxonfx.com

SM-9 Pro+ Super Metal $275 MSRP, $207 street, www.maxonfx.com

 

by Chris Loeffler

 

 

I’ve always been a fan of the “built like a tank” practicality of Boss, Ibanez, and Maxon pedals. Whether it’s biased nostalgia from the first effect pedal I bought or the love of a no-nonsense functionality they represent, there  is no denying the design’s pedal-board friendliness.

 

The  Maxon Nine Series keeps the classic “tank” design and classic circuitry, but the company also claims to incorporate 30 years of  feedback from gigging musicians. I can believe that, because Maxon’s  latest provide a truly friendly, and versatile, pedal experience.

 

Both  pedals use true bypass switching, which is not only pop-free, but  housed in a big, easy-to-hit footswitch – no hunting around for that  little raised pushbutton switch in the dark. The battery compartment is  easily accessible for tool-free swapping, and the LED battery life  indicator makes it easy to anticipate when you need to change batteries  for those gigs where a powered board isn’t in the cards.

 

A MODERN TAKE ON CLASSIC TONE

 

From  a circuitry standpoint, Maxon continues to produce circuits with  uncompromising attention to component and construction quality. While  that adds to the cost, it also adds to peace of mind on gigs.  Interestingly, both pedals I was sent for review feature a proprietary  voltage-doubling circuit, allowing a choice between classic 9-volt  operation for extended battery life and classic “sag,” or a stabilized  18-volt operation for increased headroom and frequency range.

 

ST-9 PRO+ SUPER TUBE PRO PLUS OVERDRIVE

 

As  one of the original manufacturers of the revered era of Ibanez TS-808   Tube Screamers and their own highly-regarded Maxon ST-9, Maxon has a   history with the Tube Screamer circuit few can claim. This newest foray   into the world of 808-inspired circuits brings with it some very  useful  features.

ST-9.jpg

The true bypass footswitch makes for a good-size target on stage.

 

The  singing, ever-so-slightly compressed output and subtle midrange boost  (more on this shortly) immediately evoked decades of the finest lead tones laid to tape. However, the addition of a Mid Enhancement knob and  Mode switch, along with increased voltage option, make this considerably  more versatile than the 808-type overdrives of yesteryear.

 

The  Mid Enhancement knob allowed me to dial in (or out) the perfect amount  of mid-range honk or transparency. The Mode switch selects between  Classic (as in the classic 808 sound) and Low Boost, which beefs up the  bottom end substantially. I tend to favor the fullness of the Low Boost  mode at home and for recording, but prefer the Classic mode when playing  live for its ability cut through the mix.

 

SM-9 PRO+ SUPER METAL DISTORTION

 

Like  the ST-9 Pro+, the SM-9 Pro+ Super Metal is an evolution from Maxon’s  original SM-9 design. This pedal is pure hard rock - it works equally  well for rhythm and lead work, and can reach major levels of saturated  distortion while still letting each note rip through distinctly. I  brushed the rust off my palm-muting chops for the obligatory “chunk”  test, and found the distortion tight and responsive for aggressive chord  work.

MAxon SM-9.jpg

Note the Scoop control toward the lower left, and (as with the ST-9 Pro+) the +18V option.

 

In  addition to the typical Gain, Volume, Tone (in this case, “Edge”)  knobs, Maxon added a Scoop control, which takes the distortion from the  fuzzy saturation of 70’s rock to the tight, scooped sound of modern  metal. The pure varieties (or eras) of distortion this little box covers  should satisfy those looking to add a little heaviness to their sound.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

As  a veteran of vintage circuits, I tend to be skeptical about “new and  improved” models. Sometimes they really are, but sometimes companies  “lose the recipe” when trying to improve on the classics. Fortunately, I  was impressed with the modern tweaks the ST-9 Pro+ and SM-9 Pro+ added  to Maxon’s time-tested circuits. The extra flexibility afforded by the  additional controls and increased voltage allowed me to really tune  these tone machines specifically to my rig and tastes. If you’re seeking  classic tones but also wish you could take that tone in more  contemporary directions, Maxon’s latest were designed with you in mind.

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