Reinhold Messner was one of the first men to scale the peak of Everest without the use of supplementary oxygen in 1978. The latest pedal from Walrus Audio, named after this fearless German climber is sort of an homage to him, and according to Walrus Audio it is “…capturing the very environment [of the peak of Everest] and recreating it inside a transparent overdrive pedal.” While the association is a bit of a stretch and just a smidge kitschy, its statement still rings true in the delivery. The Walrus Audio Messner is indeed like a breath of fresh mountain air: cool, clear, and full of life.
The Walrus Audio Messner is a transparent overdrive pedal, by Oklahoma-based outfit Walrus Audio. Known for an awesome aesthetic and forward thinking, Walrus Audio has now decided to tackle the dicey and volatile world of the transparent overdrive. In essence, it is what many of us tone chasers seek: the natural, unadulterated sound of guitar and amp, with just a bit more of everything. While many pedal builders will rush to a certain “mythical creature” circuit for inspiration or as a starting template, Walrus Audio has instead opted to design this pedal from the ground up. While it may share some characteristics with its distantly related golden cousin, the Messner succeeds in creating a pedal that goes above and beyond the simple confines of the infamous golden box.
Adorning the front of the pedal is an image of Messner himself against a white background and a lovely textured finish. The knobs are high-quality aluminum, and the one switch has a bit of heft to it, passively reminding me of power switches on a very high quality guitar amp. On the front we have controls labeled Output, Color, and Gain, and one switch labeled Open and Closed. While this may seem fairly straightforward, this pedal has got a wide range of low-to-medium-gain overdrive tones just waiting to be tapped. The Output control increases the volume and adds some hair at the extreme end of the spectrum. The Color control is sort of like an interactive tone control, which introduces more high-end into the signal. The Color control is invariably linked to the Gain control, and when cranked adds a dollop of trebly gain. When the Gain control is cranked, the Color control is incredibly reactive, and will get very loud, sometimes ear-piercingly so. With the Gain backed off, the Color is more like a normal tone control, but still has a bit of that Dallas Rangemaster flavor. The Open and Closed switch is a headroom/compression control, and can drastically change the response of the pedal. In Open mode, it is incredibly transparent and has high headroom, with little noticeable compression, but still giving a recognizable note bloom. In the Closed position, it clamps down on the signal and accentuates the attack and character of this pedal; you can really hear what the pedal is doing to your signal in this mode. Notes have a great hollowness to them, and the compression that this pedal adds on is a stellar combination of the warmth and roundedness of an LA-2A, with the snappiness and clarity of an 1176. On the neck pickup of a Strat, with the Output set fairly high, the Color set at 9 o’clock, and the Gain set at 3 o’clock, this pedal really shines, with all these lovely little transients peeking out from within the compression. This was my favorite setting, and I had hours of fun jamming along to backing tracks and just listening to the great response of this pedal. However, there is one caveat: When set past 11 o’clock, the Color control can get incredibly bright, and with the gain cranked it becomes far too much to handle. I can understand the design philosophy behind this; transparent overdrives need lots of treble to sound the way they do, but I just wish that there were more slightly rolled-off tones and variation in the tone circuit. Other than that one gripe, the Walrus Audio Messner is indeed a winner, and deserves to be taken for a spin by even the most discerning of tone hounds.
What We Like: Clear and transparent. Lovely transients and a really excellent compression. Works great as a booster and overdrive.
Concerns: Can be far too trebly with the Color control past 11 or 12 o’clock.