I’m here today to talk about the new Formula 55 “foundation overdrive” from Catalinbread. This new take on a Fender Tweed Deluxe-voiced overdrive pedal came about when Howard Gee, Catalinbread’s chief pedal designer, learned that some of the parts in the Formula 5 were no longer available. Rather than spending time testing and specifying new parts, Howard broke out the bread board and started anew.
Increased Headroom and Low Frequencies
While the Formula 55 shares some family resemblance to the Formula 5, it has its own thing going on. The Formula 5 has been one of my favorite overdrives for home playing for years. I love the feel, the responsiveness, the flubby bass, and the way it compresses just like a real Tweed Deluxe. Of course, every time I try to use it with a band, those attributes that make it a blast at home become impediments. It’s just too spongy and too compressed. Luckily, for the Formula 55 Catalinbread designed a Tweed-flavored pedal that imagines the 5E3 preamp mated to a much more powerful output stage. It’s sort of like that trick where someone takes a Tweed Deluxe and modifies the power amp to take 6L6s or even EL34s. You still get the all the touch and feel of a Tweed Deluxe, but with a HUGE bump in low end and head room.
Wider Gain Range
You also get a much wider range of grit in the Formula 55. On the Formula 5, things were dirty with the Gain turned all of the way down and they only got crazier from there. The Formula 55 sports a Volume control rather than Gain control. And it also offers a push button control for selecting between Hi and Lo Gain settings. With Volume all of the way down, you get no output. Between 8:00 and 10:00, you get sparkly cleans. The range from 10:00 to 3:00 are where you find the edge of breakup tones and had me alternating between Black Crowes riffs and classic Tom Petty. From 3:00 to 5:00 you get a big crunchy tone that works well for AC/DC riffs (certainly not a sound you’d expect from a Tweed Deluxe). You have the grit and the grease of the Tweed sound, but with plenty of low end and punch—it’s a best-of-both-worlds tone.
Switching to the Hi Gain settings, you move into the heavier Tweed tones. Once again, with the volume all of the way down, you get no signal. As you turn it up, you start to get more sag, more compression, but still more low end than you might expect. It’s worth noting that the tone gets a little thicker in low-mids when you switch to the Hi Gain setting. The tones between 3:00 and 9:00 are wonderfully dirty, but they still clean up with lighter playing. As you turn the dial beyond 10:00, you enter the land of Neil Young and Crazy Horse—instant feedback. and it sounds like your amp is going to explode. There’s gobs of compression, but the bass never falls apart the way it would with a real Tweed Deluxe.
The new design is set up like a Master Volume amp but behaves more like an attenuator. The Volume control adjusts both volume and distortion and then the Master controls the amount of sound hitting your amp. With either of these turned all of the way down, you get no output.
Interaction between Tone and Volume
Just like a real Tweed Deluxe, there is a lot of interaction between the Tone Control and the Volume control. As you increase the Volume control, the Tone control makes less of an impact (especially in Hi Gain mode). But with the Volume lower, turning up the Tone adds extra harmonic complexity, grit, and compression. And of course, the Presence control is there to attenuate some highs (when needed) and to tune the Formula 55 to a mixture of guitars and amps.
Like all of the Catalinbread Foundation Overdrives, the Formula 55 was born to stack and it behaves like an amp when doing so. If it’s set relatively clean, hit it with a big boost and get a big jump in volume. When it’s compressed and distorted, hitting it with that same boost just adds to the compression and sustain. I had fun pairing it with a Catalinbread Naga Viper, a Way Huge Green Rhino, and a Catalinbread Belle Epoch—heck yeah it sounds good with delay running into it!
What We Like
The Formula 55 offers a wide range of Tweed-flavored tones in a simple, rock solid, and affordable package. It feels like a real amp and excels and grafting vintage Fender Tweed flavor onto any amp.
For straight up Tweed Deluxe emulation (warts and all), the Formula 55 doesn’t quite equal its predecessor. But given the option, I’ll take the added features and functionality of the 55.