Pedals with themes always tend to go over well with me, especially themes linking to some of my favorite forms of entertainment. Pedals that connect to film, video games, television have unique shoes to fill; rather than trying to emulate one specific tone or piece of gear, they have to attempt to encapsulate the entire experience of the piece of media that they are referencing. When the theme is more ambiguous, it’s usually easier, as is this case with this pedal from the mind of Brian Mena of Menatone.
Brian Mena is one of the unsung heroes of the boutique pedal business. He has been in this game longer than almost anyone, kicking ass and taking names since Ross Perot was on the ballot (56k was still buzzing and bleeping in our homes back then, just to give you an idea how long this dude has been building pedals). On the chopping block this week is the Ms. Foxy Brown, a smooth, sensuous, and deadly weapon of mass distortion, brimming with soul and character.
The Ms. Foxy Brown is Mr. Mena’s attempt at capturing the sound of the Brownface Deluxe. With the Deluxe being one of my all-time favorite amps, this foxy lady had some pretty big pumps to fill. Did it strut or did it take a spill? Let’s find out.
The Ms. Foxy Brown is small and unassuming. It looks like any boutique (or otherwise) pedal that you can find today, albeit with a cool Cate Archer-esque artwork to it (kudos to anyone who can get that reference). On the front we have the standard Volume, Tone, and Gain controls, with an added control labeled “Soul.” The Soul control introduces low end back into the signal, for a well-balanced and smoother drive characteristic. I found myself having this cranked all the way the entire time during my test, as it added that balanced low-mid girth and width that I love so much in the Brownface Deluxe. The Soul control feels really like the difference between a massive 4x12 cab and a small 1x12 combo. Rolling it off will shave back the lows and expose the bright upper mids. Pairing this with a darker JTM-45 style amp really made it sing, with the compression from the pedal and the amp working together to provide liquid smoothness and bite.
CLEANER BROWN SOUNDS
A way to measure the quality of an overdrive is to measure how well it does a clean boost. Usually, that is an indicator that the builder left no stone unturned when designing the pedal. In the case of the Ms. Foxy Brown, the clean boost is almost as warm and juicy as the overdrive side. Rolling back the gain and bringing the volume slightly above unity, the sound was imparted with a rounded midrange warmth that really felt like the subtle glow of preamp tubes. To me it felt warm, alive, and organic, which is always a plus. Using it to boost distortions with the Soul control pulled back was a little harsh, but introducing the Soul again helped fill out those harsh upper harmonics and balance out the signal.
To really let this lady flex her muscles, I tried her against some comparable pedals with interesting results. Against a RAT, it seemed to have more high-mid focus and “clang,” and against a famous tube pedal which shall remain nameless, it worked much better maintaining dynamics and clarity at lower volumes. This is a pedal I wouldn’t hesitate to take to a small bar gig where volume would be an issue.
The Ms. Foxy Brown is truly an underrated gem in today’s saturated pedal market. It’s hard to quantify a single thing about what makes it so great; rather it’s a combination of Brian Mena’s clear intimate knowledge of this circuit, an attention to the small details, and of course 20 years of experience building amp-like pedals.
WHAT WE LIKE:
Dynamic, warm, with a very tube-like characteristic. Work great at lower volumes, and has controls to make it sound good on any rig.
Can sound a little harsh with the Soul control pulled too far back.