Fender MTG Tube Distortion Pedal
By Phil O'Keefe |
Yes, it actually uses a real tube…
There are a lot of dirt pedals out there that attempt to emulate the sound of tubes that are being driven hard, and even some that use the word “tube” in their product names, but there really aren’t all that many overdrives and distortion pedals that use an actual tube in their circuitry. Sure, there are a few, but they’re rather rare. So when Fender first announced the MTG Tube Distortion pedal, I wondered if it was just another distortion pedal that emulated what a tube can bring to the table. However, it turns out that this pedal actually does use a real tube. Let’s take a closer look and see what else it has to offer.
What You Need To Know
- Designed in cooperation with amp legend Bruce Egnater (of Egnater Amplifiers), the Fender MTG Tube Distortion was designed in California and is manufactured in China.
- Don’t let the name fool you - while it’s definitely capable of moderate gain distortion tones, it’s equally capable of producing less intense, overdrive-type sounds too.
- The Fender MTG Tube Distortion pedal uses an actual vacuum tube - specifically, a NOS 6205 tube. This is a military-grade “subminiature” type tube that was originally developed for use in military applications, such as missile guidance systems. They’re designed to handle extreme vibration, shock, and high temperature conditions that would destroy lesser tube types. Similar subminiature tubes are sometimes used in microphones and other musical electronics, and they’re highly regarded.
- 6205 tubes are significantly smaller than the preamp tubes (like the ones often found in guitar amps) that you’re probably familiar with, and unlike the typical 12AX7, they are not mounted into sockets, but instead, their 8 long, transistor-like wire leads are soldered directly to the board. Because of that, they’re not as readily replaceable as socket-mounted tubes, but because of their ruggedness and exceptionally long life, you probably won’t ever need to swap one out. However, they remain readily available due to the huge stockpiles of them that were created for the military, so in the unlikely event you need to have your pedal serviced, parts shouldn’t be hard to find, or expensive.
- Housed in a copper-ish colored anodized aluminum housing that measures 3.75” W x 4.9” D x 1.75” H, the Fender MTG Tube Distortion pedal weighs 1.2 pounds. All of the graphics and control labels are done in white silkscreen.
- All eight of the pedal’s control knobs feature blue lighted LED indicators, so it’s super easy to see your settings, even on a dark stage. The LED indicators can be turned off with a rear panel mounted switch.
- Also on the rear panel, you’ll find the power input jack.
- No power supply is included with the pedal, and the MTG Tube Distortion requires a fairly hefty 9V DC regulated power supply that can provide at least 290mA. The power jack uses the industry-standard 5.5mm x 2.1mm plug format, and is wired center-negative, so it’s compatible with a wide range of third-party power supplies. Just make sure yours provides enough current - it takes more than a little bit to fire up that tube!
- The 1/4” input and output jacks are mounted on the sides of the pedal. Input impedance is 500 kOhm, and the output load is >10 kOhm. The input and output jacks are offset, so that when using two pedals from the new Fender line together, the output of one doesn’t get in the way of the input jack of the next pedal.
- The controls and their layout are straight ahead and super-easy to figure out. The top row contains four EQ controls, with Treble, Middle and Bass controls, along with a fourth knob labeled “Tight.”
- The three traditional EQ controls are “flat” when they’re at the 12 o’clock position, and each is capable of boosting or cutting; they provide quite a bit of tonal control and allow you to shape the overall sound of the distortion to your preferences.
- The Tight control works on the low end, and tightens it up as you turn it higher, which can be very helpful in keeping high gain tones from becoming overly muddy or flabby sounding.
- The second row of knobs features a Level control for setting the overall output level of the pedal, as well as a Gain control for dialing up the amount of distortion you want. The available range is fairly broad, and the MTG is capable of serving up lower-gain overdrive tones too, as well as higher-gain distortion sounds. There’s also plenty of output available, so you can easily exceed unity gain and use the pedal to drive the input of your tube amp harder if you’d like.
- The two inner knobs on this row control the MTG Tube Distortion’s onboard Boost. The Level control here adjusts the output volume of the boost, while the Boost control sets the amount of added gain, allowing for louder and/or more distorted tones when the Boost circuit is engaged. This makes it very useful for getting a second, footswitchable level of dirt, and as a lead / solo boost. It’s almost like having a second, footswitchable channel, although both share the same EQ.
- The Bypass switching is true bypass. A second footswitch on the lower right of the pedal is included to turn the onboard Boost feature on or off, and a second, smaller LED located in between the Boost Level and Boost knobs illuminates when the Boost circuit is active.
- On / off status is shown with a slightly smaller, but otherwise amp-like jewel lamp located in the center of the pedal. Unlike many of the pedals in Fender’s otherwise excellent new line of pedals, the orange-colored amp jewel style on/off indicator is not nearly as bright - and that’s a good thing, since some of the pedals in their current lineup have indicators that are almost comically bright. This one is bright enough to be easily seen without blinding you.
- As mentioned previously the tube is not something that the user can easily swap, but due to the type of tube that Fender decided to use, you probably won’t ever need to. It’s also nice to know that 6205 tubes remain easily obtainable and affordable in the event the pedal ever does need servicing.
- The MTG Tube Distortion is adapter-powered only, and can not be battery powered.
- The boost section of the MTG Tube Distortion can not be used separately - it only functions as an addition to the main overdrive / distortion circuit, and can only be used when it’s active.
For this pedal, Fender hasn’t just utilized their own considerable in-house design talents - the MTG Tube Distortion was created in collaboration with tube amp designer Bruce Egnater. The teamwork paid off, and their combined efforts have resulted in a true tube-based dirt pedal with plenty of attitude. Fender’s latest lineup of effects pedals is by far the best collection of effects that they’ve offered in their long history, and in this reviewer’s opinion the MTG Tube Distortion is one of the stars of the series. It has most of the other cool features of the line, such as the illuminated control knobs, cool jewel style power indicator (that’s also thankfully, less annoyingly bright than some of the other pedals), and rugged anodized aluminum case. Unfortunately (but understandably, for a tube-equipped pedal) it can’t be battery powered, so it’s missing the cool front-panel hinged battery compartment of some of its stablemates, and you’ll need to provide your own power adapter. I do wish that the boost section could be used independently, but that’s a relatively minor complaint. It does provide a nice level increase for solos, or can be used to give you even more grit when the occasion calls for it. Ultimately, a distortion pedal lives or dies mainly by how reliable it is, and most importantly by how good it sounds. With the choice of a long-lasting Mil-spec tube, Fender not only took tube replacement worries away from the user, but also helped to insure long-term reliability too. While a lot of pedals try to simulate the sound of tube saturation, the Fender MTG uses the real thing, and the sonic results are undeniable - this is a great sounding overdrive / distortion pedal! -HC-
Want to discuss the Fender MTG Tube Distortion pedal or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Effects forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Fender MTG Tube Distortion Pedal ($199.99 "street")
Fender’s product web page
You can purchase the Fender MTG Tube Distortion pedal from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.