Carl Martin Greg Howe’s Lick Box
By Team HC |
A Plexi-style pedal, tweaked to Greg’s preferences
Author Credit: Brian Johnston
Greg Howe, guitarist extraordinaire, was both impressed by and has endorsed Carl Martin’s Plexitone multi-drive pedal. However, Howe wanted a few adjustments to hone in on his signature tone while combining elements of both the Crunch and High-Gain channels. The result became the Greg Howe Lick Box, one of the finest and most amp-like sounding overdrives I have reviewed.
What You Need To Know
Allow me to qualify the term ‘amp-like.’ I have worked with many overdrive pedals, and they all do a fine job of increasing the gain of an amp. Many tend to over-saturate the signal, which is all right if that’s the result you’re after, but few will sound like an organic extension of the amp while maintaining that high headroom quality. The Lick Box does that exactly.
Let’s consider its physical qualities and then get into its sound. Carl Martin is known for making solid and rugged gear and the Lick Box is no exception with its all-steel construction and inputs/outputs located at the back of the chassis (thus taking up less real-estate on most pedal boards). The knobs and pots are of solid construction (both firm and noiseless when turned) and the footswitches produce a solid click (although they’re completely noiseless in the signal during operation).
Generally speaking, the sound is very impressive. Both Crunch and High-Gain channels have plenty of headroom (internal charge pump circuitry allows it to run on a 9VDC 150mA supply while maintaining the +/-12V qualities of the Plexitone pedal it’s based on) and will make an amplifier come to life with added definition and harmonics. As stated, you can click the Boost or either Channel on/off and you won’t hear any pops in the signal, thus making it very practical when switching between rhythm and lead, combining channels, etc.
The Boost, which can be applied to either or both channels concurrently, offers 12dB of added volume, although it seems to be a lot louder. In the video demo I included the Boost in a few scenarios at its lowest level (a slight turn) and you can hear the difference. Turned up to only 9-o’clock (barely quarter-way), the volume difference is huge. Also, although it’s a fairly ‘clean’ boost, it does add more fullness/meat to the signal, which increases sustain on leads and adds more punch to rhythm parts. Hardly a bad thing for today’s demanding Rock and Metal musician.
Both Crunch and High-Gain have different outcomes with a clean vs. driven amp channel, and then you can combine both channels for a lot more tonal options. I’ll address each aspect. The Crunch channel through a clean amp has a fairly thick sound with a lot of midrange, although far from ‘muddy.’ Even with the tone knob all the way toward bass the signal remains pretty clear, and once approaching 12-noon and then to full treble the tone cuts through exceedingly well. With the Crunch’s gain up full there is modest saturation and the tone remains well defined. I added the Greg Howe Lick Box to a few driven preamps – The Sheriff V4 (plexi style) and The Countess V4, both by Victory Amps. With the preamps’ gain at 12-noon, I found the Lick Box’s Crunch between 9 and 11-o’clock sounded best – adding more aggression and note definition without making the signal messy. The most obvious response to my ears is that I could not get the same qualities from the preamps turned full gain (particularly without added saturation/boom and loss of definition) that I could with their gains turned down with the Lick Box in the mix. Adding a hint of Boost produced an even more pronounced result for some intense chugging and rhythm work.
When adding the High-Gain channel to a clean amp you get an unmistakable classic Plexi lead tone with plenty of gain on tap and higher end treble (less mid-range than is found with the Crunch channel). With the gain knob set around 1-o’clock there is plenty of headroom and sustain, which makes for some awesome lead tones. And if you want a more modern heavy rhythm tone, then choosing this channel over the Crunch will do it in spades. Added to an already driven amp channel, a little Lick Box gain goes a long way. I kept both the Volume and Gain to about 9-o’clock and the result was significant to say the least. Channel 2 of The Sheriff V4 (plexi-style) preamp sounded as though it was hot-rodded or given a third channel. When adjusting the tone knob toward full bass the sound was a bit muffled, mostly because the Lick Box’s High-Gain channel has more drive. However, a bit of turning really brings out the grain and aggression with 11 to 1-o’clock being the sweet spot to my ears. As with the Crunch channel, adding just a hint of Boost makes a big difference and it makes me wonder who is cranking the Boost up full on his pedal.
Now, what makes the Greg Howe Lick Box special and even more diverse is the ability to mix the two Channels (while adding Boost if so desired). Each channel has its own Tone and Level, and so there are dozens of mixing combinations to be had. If you want a thicker lead tone with more midrange, then combine a bit of Crunch with more High-Gain. Or if you want an edgier Crunch, then toss in a touch of High-Gain. Pushing both Channels produces a huge and fat tone that would sit comfortably with Stoner and Proto-Metal genres.
Overall, the Greg Howe Lick Box is an excellent option for various uses. If you have a clean amp and want to add both Crunch and Lead while maintaining that high headroom amp quality, then you can do it. Or if you want to improve the aggression and harmonics of a driven amp (thus keeping your amp’s gain turned down for better note clarity and definition), you can have that as well.
Limitations And Conclusions
Lastly, any good review will list pros and cons, although I cannot think of many cons with this pedal due to my bias for really liking it. However, here are a few considerations. One, some may find it too large for their already cramped pedalboards, although you are getting three pedals in one (Boost, Crunch and High-Gain). Second, the Lick Box is very much Plexi in nature and that may not be the tone you’re after (although I paired this up with a ‘darker’ preamp, The Countess V4, and it gave me more of a MESA tone). And third, perhaps it’s too much pedal for those playing classic country or blues, although you can ease off on the Lick Box’s gain for a hint of added spark to a drab amp. Regardless, you will not see the Greg Howe Lick Box on the used gear market often, because it ROCKS! -HC-
Want to discuss the Carl Martin Greg Howe Lick Box? Then be sure to visit this thread in the Effects forum right here on Harmony Central.
Carl Martin Greg Howe’s Lick Box ($266.00 "street")
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Brian Johnston is a guitar gear enthusiast who enjoys developing reviews and demo videos on stuff he likes. His YouTube channel is CoolGuitarGear