The new Orthrus distortion from Cusack Music is named after the two-headed guard dog of Greek Mythology. But as far as I can tell, the Orthrus has way more than just two tricks. With a three-option boost function, a kill switch, and three-band EQ, it captures the power of the guard and the whole herd. It’s low on noise, high on tone, and can cover a few decades worth of rock and metal tones. Let’s dig in.
The three-band EQ is incredibly powerful, but the voicing is far from standard. To my ears, the Treble controls some very high frequencies, the Mid is much more of an upper midrange control (think pick attack and sizzle), and the Bass is almost a cabinet resonance control. In other words, if you just set everything at noon, you are missing 90 percent of the tone of the Orthrus. In fact, leaving everything at noon was my least favorite setting. To really understand this pedal, you need to experiment with every position of every knob.
Three Way All the Way
I won’t deny that I was skeptical about the three-way toggle switch for the Boost function. I like the ability to dial in just the right amount of boost for punching through the mix, but the three settings on the Orthrus are spot on. The 3dB setting is subtle and gives just enough of a volume lift to notice. The 6dB setting is pretty much spot on for slamming into a solo, and the 9dB setting is over the top. With the pedal in Boost mode, the bypass light is blue, and when engaged the light is violet (while normal mode is red) so you always know just what’s on tap.
Did you notice that the second switch on the Orthrus is labeled Boost/Kill, but there isn’t a switch for determining the functionality? Surprise—you step on the two switches simultaneously to engage the Kill function. And double surprise—you can engage and disengage the function while the Boost is active. Surprise number three: If you hold the bypass switch an extra couple milliseconds, it converts the kill switch into a toggle between the normal and boosted gain settings. With this arrangement, you can have all kinds of kill-switch fun on your leads and solos as well as your riffs.
Serious 90’s Dirt
When I say dirt, I mean Dirt with a capital "D," as in the 1992 Alice in Chains album of the same name. With Treble at 10:00, Mid at 1:00, Bass at 3:00, and Gain at 5:00, the Orthrus dishes coughs up a tone that is not unlike Jerry Cantrell’s riffs. On the bridge pickup of my PRS Mira, I had a blast tearing through “Them Bones,” “Would,” and especially the title track. With thick lows, precise but never grating highs, and the perfect spongy compression, the Orthrus is a blast.
What’s the Scoop?
I’m not a huge fan of scooped Mids—I worked that sound to death with a Boss HM-2 in my high school days in the early '90s. That said, I can’t deny the catharsis of tuning down to drop D and riffing out. And starting from the “'90s settings” outlined above, the Orthrus can scoop with the best of them. Dial the Mid control back to 9:00, push the Treble to 10:00, and plug in something with high output humbuckers—there’s nothing that a little Ministry or Helmet riffing can’t cure.
What We Like: The Orthrus offers up a wide range of distortion tones, clever switching options, and seriously great build quality. It also stacks great with other dirt pedals. I loved the added versatility of hitting it with my Cusack Screamer—instant EVH lead tones.
Concerns: It’s pretty amazing how interactive the tone controls and gain control are. But as a result, the Orthrus isn’t a “set it and forget it” affair. The Gain control has a tendency to “re-voice” the pedal as you turn it up and as a result, you have to adjust the various EQ controls in order to maintain the same apparent frequency response. It takes a little patience, but once you get a handle on it you realize it’s a feature and not a flaw.