The people at Keeley seem to have lost their minds, and we’re all luckier for it. They’ve brilliantly assembled 13 good-to-great sounding effects in a two-standard-pedal footprint, and the thing streets for $300. Crazy, but wonderful.
Starting on the right, we have the Katana/1962 “channel,” which is activated by a dedicated footswitch. The Katana is a clean boost and the 1962 is Keeley’s take on the Bluesbreaker pedal (and amp); a toggle determines which effect you’re getting. Both the Drive and Tone controls are deactivated when in Katana mode because, well, it’s a clean boost, and a darn good one, too. In 1962 mode, the Drive and Tone controls are active, and as the gain goes up, the treble does, too, while the low end recedes. At lower gain settings, the 1962 makes a really nice overdrive, and if you need to boost the treble, the Tone control is there to help. I found that the distortion wasn’t convincing at high gain, but it doesn’t need to be, given the Oxblood channel that sits just to the left.
The next footswitch activates the Oxblood. While many have described the Oxblood as Keeley’s answer to the Klon, I found it to be the anti-Klon: it has the same contours as the Klon—dark, lots of mids, bass cut—but rather than being a big, tame low-gainer, the Oxblood is an amazing distortion machine, turning the Klon’s famous midrange honk into a sharp knuckle that will punch through the mix, no matter how dense. The Tone control and Phat toggle are vital, in my opinion, to compensate for the almost obsessive midrange attack in the Drive’s character (and I just about maxed out the Tone control to get some top end), but, man, what character! I had to make myself turn down the distortion through sheer force of will. The standalone Oxblood has a clipping control; I’m not sure what it does, but I get the impression it affects the gain. Assuming I’m right, I’m also going to assume that the higher gain setting has been hardwired in this version.
That brings us to the Mod section of the Mod Workstation. There are an astonishing 10 remaining effects to be found on this channel—they’re selected via an eight-position dial. All of them were useful, many of them were excellent and, right away, Keeley scores a win by including a volume to control to compensate for perceived output loss as different frequencies are affected by different effects.
My two most important modulation effects are Phaser and Tremolo, and this pedal nails both. The makeup gain and depth set the Phaser apart from some of the classics. I’ve got a very fancy Tremolo, and I use its bells and whistles to make sure my attack comes through the heavy chop of my square wave setting. Imagine my bittersweet surprise when the Mod Workstation’s Tremolo (which moves from square wave to triangle) managed to capture every nuance of my playing without those bells and whistles.
The Rotary setting is better than most pedals dedicated to the effect. I actually had a great setting right out of the box, but as soon as I started to tweak it, the pedal’s Tremolo foundation became apparent so, while the frequency sweep is very good—avoiding the digital whooshiness of many rotary pedals—you’ll want to be very careful when dialing in the setting. That said, the effect works well at slow speeds, something many Rotary pedals struggle with.
The Flanger (which offers tweakable feedback) never hit home for me; the effect always seemed a little tame. The Chorus lacked the depth I’d hoped for, but when shifted to Vibrato it worked quite well. Better still was the Harmonic Tremolo, which offers the shimmer of, say, a phaser or chorus without the more extreme artifacts. Finally, the ADT setting had a lot of range, although my favorite use for it was as a slapback.
If you’re like me, you might want to insert your fuzz between your overdrives and modulation. Well, Keeley has you covered: there’s an FX insert between the drive and modulation. “What about tap tempo?” you ask. There’s a jack for a controller; although that’ll take up a little more room, the Mod Workstation is so diminutive it’s hard to imagine that being a problem. If you’re still like me, you also want your phaser in front of your dirt. Well, tough luck, you ingrate!
What we like:
An astonishing amount of features in an astonishingly compact footprint for an astonishingly reasonable price.
None, but users should just think carefully about how they want their chain organized to make sure they’ll get what they want out of the Mod Workstation.