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Vox Distortion Booster V830

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Here's one you don't see every day.  Bought one for $50 in mint condition in the box and I'm waiting on delivery this week. 

Image result for vox distortion booster model v830 pics

I bought my first used electric guitar back in 1969 when I was 12 years old. It was an Italian made Vox Apollo V266 guitar which had built in active electronics including a Treble/Bass booster,  E Tuner (E pitched note that played through the amp you tuned up to)  and it had a built in distortion.  I haven't come across a distortion with that same flavor since owning that guitar 50 years ago so I'm hoping this pedal at least comes close to it. 

 

Vox does make another V810 Valve tone overdrive pedal which looks identical. Several reviews say the V810 is a better pedal but I've never put allot of trust in forum reviews where there are only a few of them out there and many of those seem to have been written by amateurs.  The production on these pedals were very short and given they typically sell for around $100 they cant be all that bad. 

The V810 has a circuit design similar to a TS 808 Tube Screamer but with different voicing and different op amps.  Both pedals use Texas Instruments RC4558 op amps which are smooth sounding, high quality low cost op amps typically used in Hi Fi gear.   Some mentioned modding the pedals and using the JRC4558 op amps used in Tube Screamers which makes no sense.  If you want a Tube Screamer pedal there are no shortage of those available, just buy one and keep the Vox as an alternate option. 

I did listen to some clips of them being used.  They were so poorly done you couldn't tell much from them except for the one that used an LP.  The player was able to Nail a Jimi Page sound so I suspect the pedal is voice similar to a Tone bender.  I'd be happy with that.  I'm not a huge fan of how fuzz pedals feel playing but I do like their tone.  If I can get a fuzz tone from a distortion pedal it might fill some gaps in my tone collection. 

I've also heard this pedal works best when run with other drive pedals thus the name Distortion "Booster"  may be the key to its tone.  I have a bunch of lower gain drive pedals that qualify for that.  We'll see soon enough. 

 

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Here's a video that does a pretty good job showing off the tone possibilities.  As with any pedal, feel is just as big a factor when it comes to finding good tone.  One pedal can sound great but makes your strings feel like you're flying a dead stick.  Others can feel fantastic but you hear a recording of it, and it sounds like trash.  This video has the guitar sounding fairly bright, sounds like a Fender guitar to me.  The drive is medium, clarity very transparent and an edge to the top end.  Might make this one excellent for blues stuff.  I read articles where the entire chords and overtones remain intact vs some drive pedals where you can barely get two notes to sound without all kinds of string beating. 

This video makes me suspect this pedal can be stacked with others and even retain its sparkle with a compressor in front of it.  Ideally for live stuff I run a compressor, 1~3 drive pedals of different types,  Chorus, Echo, and use whatever reverb the amp has built in.  This one in combination with either a Tube screamer Sweet Honey, and a Marshall Governor is likely to be a good lineup.  I use the Marshall tones allot for leads, I like Vox tones for chord jangle and Blues. A tube screamer gives me Fenderish driven tones and the Sweet Honey more modern overdriven tube tones.  

I have a number of different compressors I can try too.  The Edwards Marshall, one of my favorites because if the tone control, Boss, MXR, Rolland, Ross, Mooer, Hofner, a couple of generics like Joyo, and a couple I built from kits including a nice optical compressor.  Each do different things when pushing drive pedals. Lately I been hooked on using the Hofner.  I'm pretty amazed at what it does for the cost. Its what I'd call a classic type of compressor that produces the kind of squeeze you've heard a million times on different records. Feels excellent playing too.  You can definitely produce violin tones and it does darken the tone as you dial back the volume much like a Gibson guitar's volume does. 

I'm figuring, between the Vox bright edge and the Hofner's roll off of those same frequencies, I might have the perfect match.   You got of kind of figure that both being British/Europe voiced pedals (even though Hofner is German made its commonly classified as having a British invasion tone. The Marshall pedal is British voiced too, go figure.  Maybe I should focus on a solid American tone pedal board next, but I already have that covered by a bunch of stuff I have including my 60's Blackface Bassman amp.     

 

https://youtu.be/_iKJa-ENS_A

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Got this one on Friday so I had the whole weekend + to mess with it, both through and amp and recording.   

I really like what this one does.  If I had to classify it, where it sits in the food chain, its got similarities to a Big Muff when it comes to the tightness and brightness of the distortion. I suspect that's because they both have 4 gain stages, but a big muff has two sets of identical diode clippers, one set on the second and one across the third stage.  The first and 4th gain stages are input output buffers. 

 

The Vox has diode clippers across the first stage, and there is a second set after the second stage that grounds peaks above a certain level. Quite different then the Muff, and it also has different results when playing.  The drive is tighter and chord clarity and evenness remains excellent even at the highest gain levels.  I suspect the eveness comes from the High Fidelity op amps used.  The Frequency response of the pedal is broad and flat, at least for what a guitar pickup puts out.  Most drive pedals produce bumps in the frequency response so when you play a chord, some strings/notes will dominate and others will disappear. Extremely common effect with SS drive.  Most drive pedals will therefore target certain frequencies using Tone caps and frequency roll off to enhance a targeted range of notes.

Its different with this pedal.  There's some roll off on the bottom end. If I were to guess it rolls notes off below 100 to 150Hz to get rid of mud tones.  Above that the pedal produces a very flat drive tone all the way up to at least 10K or more, well above your normal guitar pickup ranges.  The response is flattest with the tone set center and the top end above maybe 4.5K will boost or attenuate with its tone control.  This was very noticeable running direct through a flat audio system recording. 

Through an amp, the amount of high frequency attenuation the tone provides is going to be based on the amp type you use.  If you play through an amp that has a speaker with a roll off of 4K, the Vox pedals tone control will be above that range and have very little effect.  I used it through my small Marshall combo and its tone taper was nearly identical to the Marshalls Treble control,  attenuating frequencies above 4K. 

The result here is the pedal wont mute a bright amp unless you take the control down below 50%.  In short the pedal is designed for British amps for British tones with minimal amp coloration.  The sustain turned up was excellent too. I was able to regenerate secondary and harmonic notes as wall as get a guitars body resonance to self sustain at fairly low volumes.  I mostly used my Semi hollow body Tele with Mini Humbuckers and find it to be an ideal match.  I'm going to try a couple of others this week including Fender tele and Strats, High and low gain Humbuckers plus one with EMG's, Dimarziom and Seymour pups just to check its range. 

I didn't need to use a compressor with this pedal either.  I actually tried this pedal in combination with a Tube Screamer, Sweet Honey,  and 3 different compressors trying to find a good combination recording.   When this Vox was placed before the TS or SH pedals there was a noticeable high end roll off when either were turned on.  I tried them before the Vox and they did more to boost the mids.  I suppose this might be an important combination when playing live and you want a tighter drive tone and boosted mids for certain songs.  The compressors were surprising too.  Tried an MXR and it was definitely too noisy.  Same with the Hofner. The optical Comp was pretty good. Much less noise. I was able to record a song using it but it was a one trick pony combination, not very versatile.  I then tried my Boss Compressor. it wasn't bad but simply more of the same. I then decided the Vox simply didn't need any compression to sound its best.  Surprise,  surprise. 

It does sound excellent in front of a compressor, echo and reverb.  I recorded a couple of songs using the Vox and chorus only.  It was dry as hell but not nearly as bad as some pedals.  I then added Echo and reverb mixing and that's where my eyebrows went up.  The sound was absolutely huge and transparent.  If I can get past recording such dry rhythm parts this pedal might yield some excellent results. 

Oh I did put the pedal through a Aroma cab emulator pedal when recording.  That pedal does what a regular amp cab does to attenuate the frequencies of guitar pedals and allows you to use any guitar pedals you want recording direct.  Saves all kinds of time trying to emulate a miced amp in the box. 

The absolute best thing I like about it is being able to play entire chords and being able to hear all the notes sustain evenly without all that string beating and dissonance associated with odd harmonics.  This pedal really does produce a very tube like drive.  I'll need to cramp up my tube amps and see what it does in front of them. 

Its defiantly not bashful through a live amp.  you know somethings happening when you turn this one on. String Harmonics are super easy as are pinch harmonics.  ZZ Top stuff will be a cakewalk.  Zipper tones from pick slides are excellent too, especially after using pedals that mute those tones.  Definitely nails older Beatles drive tone up to including White album stuff.  I need to try my Rickenbacker through it. No doubt I'll be able to pull off stuff right up through the Abbey Road recordings. 

There are some things it may not work as well on. American blues stuff may not sound the same. Its got a dense drive tone.  It can be dialed back however, maybe not to clean tube tones but pretty close.  I wouldn't mind having a second switch that cuts the drive pot level in half. It would easily take the place of a 2/3 channel amp where you could switch between clean, crunch and lead.  I'd hate to mess the pedal up to do that.  Maybe I could install a push/push pot or an external  switch jack and get that extra option. 

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