Mona Lisa Overdrive is the third book in William Gibson’s Sprawl series (of which the seminal cyberpunk work, Neuromancer is the first). Being a huge cyberpunk fan, I was decidedly impressed with the clever name, and I couldn’t wait to dive headfirst into the sonic capabilities of this pedal. The Mona Lisa Overdrive is a combination overdrive/fuzz, with a square wave LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) circuit integrated for some choppy tremolo. It has controls for Gain, Volume, LFO Volume, and LFO Rate. This pedal is chock full of different sounds and possibilities, some of which require players to think outside the box to integrate it into their rigs. Let’s dive into the world of police states, cybernetic augmentation, and renegade hackers as we explore l0/rez’s Mona Lisa Overdrive.
The design of the pedal is nothing short of awesome. The graphics are silk-screened, and the main text is in a really cool faded pink retro font, reminding me of those old sci-fi VHS tapes from the ‘80s. The control knobs are pink to add more to the retro feel, except for the LFO Rate knob which is a brushed aluminum. The knobs and switches are all sturdy and well-built, but one of the best parts about this pedal’s aesthetic other than the graphics, are the LEDs. Instead of opting for the same old boring red and blue, l0/rez put an orange LED for the overdrive section, and a pulsating pink one for the LFO section, which is a really nice touch. Upon plugging it in, I was rewarded with a very natural and tube like sound. It sounded like a fuzz with the Volume control rolled off, but it had a more modern, lo-fi characteristic. The overdrive has a wide range of tones, and using my guitar’s volume knob helped clean up some of the harsher overtones. The LFO tremolo is not subtle or vintage in any sense of the word, as to be expected. It boosts the signal and runs it through a choppy square wave tremolo; which is very cool, but hard to find more musical settings with. The Rate knob is the best part of this circuit, as it has settings for slow drones all the way to screeching modular synth-style self-oscillation. I felt myself wanting to use a foot controller, but this pedal has no input for one, which is a shame because it would have blown this thing to the stratosphere.
Being a closet analog synth freak, I found the most fun I had with this pedal was with the guitar not even plugged in. The sound design capabilities of the Mona Lisa are vast, as it rewards experimentation, and thinking outside of its parameters. Tuning the LFO to a steady chop, and adding an EQ (to cut out the highs) a phaser set to a slow sweep, a flanger, and delay, I felt like I was running from a police helicopter of the future with a piece of stolen tech under my jacket. Another cool use that I stumbled upon: I put my finger on the guitar cable, creating a ground loop to use as an overtone (Do this at your own risk). At slow speeds, this deep, ring modulator-esque sound felt like a distant alarm in a high-tech facility broken into by paramilitary cybernetic super-soldiers.
The Mona Lisa Overdrive is a wonderful pedal for the sonically adventurous guitarist, although it has a few problems. Foot control for the LFO was sadly left out, and the LFO and overdrive circuits are not independent, meaning you have to the have the overdrive channel engaged for the LFO to work, which is a shame because the choppy throb could have been great for ambitious clean tones. A mix knob for the LFO would also make it a bit more musical, because at times it can be a bit jarring and overbearing. Other than those gripes, the pedal is a wonderful addition to anyone wanting some cyberpunk-inspired sonic mayhem to set themselves apart from the pack.
What We Like: Dynamic and tube-like overdrive. Wide range LFO that ranges from slow chop to self-oscillation and plenty of sound design capabilities for the sonically adventurous. Awesome aesthetics.
Concerns: No foot control for LFO. OD and LFO circuits not independent; no LFO without OD circuit. Hard to find more musical settings without mix knob for LFO.