Petaluma, CA-based Mission Engineering is perhaps best known for high quality expression and volume pedals. Its latest entry into the stompbox world is the Delta III Tri-Stage Distortion. I couldn’t help but think of Chuck Norris’ Delta Force films when I read the name on the pedal, which of course set expectations high, and the Delta did not disappoint. Housed in a light yet solid red aluminum chassis, it has a straightforward layout with Lo Cut, Gain, Level and Hi Cut knobs for tone shaping. Mission has done you a solid by placing the input and output jacks on top, leaving room for one more mini stompbox on your pedalboard, and the soft click footswitch ensures there is no popping or clicking to announce “I am now turning on a distortion pedal.” The pedal runs on any standard nine-volt power supply.
What’s In a Name?
The brainchild of Mission President Paul Shedden, the Delta III features three transistors and Mission describes it as having three approximate modes, depending on where the Gain knob is set. Lower settings yield sweet and colorful boost flavors. Around noon, it is reminiscent of a certain mid-accentuated overdrive and at full blast it delivers distortion capable of being gritty, fuzzy and/or smooth. The tones will depend largely on how the Lo and Hi Cut knobs are set. When the knobs are turned clockwise, they enhance their respective frequency range. Back it off in the other direction and it will cut those frequencies accordingly. My personal favorite setting was Lo Cut and Gain at 3 o’clock, with Hi Cut and Level around noon. With humbuckers I got both early Tony Iommi edge and smooth Santana-esque sustain depending on my pick attack and pickup selection. With single coils, I preferred less drive and more level to achieve a sparkly, spanky low-gain boost. Into a clean tube amp, the Delta provides any level of boost, overdrive or fuzzy distortion you desire. With a dirty amp, there is plenty of saturation and cut to ensure your solos will melt faces. If you use this pedal with a dirty amp, pay attention to the Hi Cut knob, as extreme settings can be a little shrill.
The true test with any piece of gear is how it performs with others in a live situation. “Others” refers to both other instruments in your band and the other pedals and gear you’re using. On short notice, I went to a weekend gig that called for a bare bones rig. With very little room in the trunk of my friend’s car, I brought along the only amp that would fit—an Orange 1x10 solid-state (gasp!) combo. My setup was as follows: Gibson Jeff Tweedy SG, Delta III, TC Flashback Mini, and an EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master into the Orange. With the pedal on my favorite setting, I left it on the whole time and adjusted my volume knob accordingly. It sounded great and, if I didn’t know what amp I was using, I would have assumed it was a tube rig. In fact, after the show, I received compliments on my “Orange Tiny Terror” and SG combination. Sure, I could have corrected the fellow, but why bother? I grinned and thanked him for coming to the show.
The Mission Engineering Delta III Tri-Stage Distortion is a useful tone tool that will be at home in the hands of the bedroom hobbyist, weekend warrior and touring pro. Its variety of usable tones and practical design make it a perfect fit for the player who prefers simplicity coupled with power. If you’re looking for a pedal modeled after a specific amplifier or stompbox, this is not the box you’re looking for. If you want to enhance a rig that you already love, you will do well to add it to your arsenal and build your own Delta Force onstage.
What we like: Versatile, usable overdrive and distortion tones. Practical design.
Concerns: Extreme Hi Cut settings can be on the raspy side if you’re not careful.