Guitar players love tubes. They are the lifeblood of classic electric guitar tone, and some players are obsessed with finding tube-driven sound projectors however they can. Speaking of projectors, the Bell and Howell 385 Filmosound film projector had a tube-powered audio section, and it just so happens that said tube-powered audio section can be made into a fantastic guitar amp. And while there is no shortage of amp-in-a-box pedals on the market today, the Walrus Audio 385 sets itself apart as a must-try device.
Like its other Walrus Audio siblings, the 385 has cool graphics on it, this time paying homage to its projector namesake. It is clearly built to high-quality standards, and feels like it will last forever. Volume, Gain, Bass and Treble controls give you access to a wide range of clean and dirty tones, and the pedal runs internally at 18 volts, so you get even closer to the feel of an amplifier than a typical nine-volt pedal can provide.
There is a wide range of delightful dirt lying within this pedal. Starting with the level, treble and bass knobs at noon, I moved the gain control from minimum to maximum and found useful shades everywhere on the dial. High gain settings start to enter fuzz territory, especially with the treble knob set high. It sounded great mixed with an octave pedal adding a high octave. Lower gain sounds are lively and responsive to touch, and with the gain set around noon on the dial, you can still get very clean sounds with soft picking, then dig in to get a gnarly roar.
The 385 has an inherent, but pleasing, brightness to it, and this can be dialed back using the Treble and Bass controls. If you’re a set it and forget it type player, you may want to pay more attention to your settings on the 385. It plays nicely with others, but because the treble and bass knobs are very interactive, you may need to adjust when combining it with other fuzz, distortion and overdrive boxes.
Because the 385 is modeled after an amplifier, you can treat it like one in your pedal chain. I had a blast running my board into the 385 as if it were the amp, and setting the EQ and Gain controls to enhance what was running into it. I experimented with placing the pedal in various parts of my effects chain, and while some sounds were more conventional than others, they were all useable and fun.
If you love the idea of funky cool vintage tube amps, but don’t want to spend a ton of coin on something that may fall apart at the gig, don’t sweat it—the 385 gives you a radical spectrum of drive and fuzzy-wuzzy tones in a convenient, easy-to-operate stompbox format that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Despite its simple layout, it can be used as a standalone dirt box, it stacks well with other fuzz, overdrive, and distortion pedals, and you can use it as a foundation for your entire sound by placing it at the end of your signal chain. If you like the idea of having an amp in a box, but want to step away from Fender, Marshall, Vox, and other popular alternatives, the 385 is unique enough to inspire, but musical enough to be right at home in any musical context.
What We Like: Great sounding overdrive and gritty tones. Works well with other pedals, as a standalone dirt box, and at the end of your signal chain for the amp effect.
Concerns: Your other pedals don’t look as cool.