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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.