Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra

  • By David A. Evans @tonereport
  • October 27, 2014

Imagine Johnny, a formerly upstanding young guitarist whose once twangy and horn-rimmed riffs now thunder and groan. His hair grows long, he’s late to practice, and his cigarettes smell criminally…“herbal.” Johnny’s probably been listening to Black Sabbath, and has taken more than a small liking to guitarist Tony Iommi’s heavy, iconic style.

Luckily, the respectable Catalinbread company’s new Sabbra Cadabra offers a legal means of obtaining the heavy tones that Johnny and legions of Iommi’s other disciples have emulated. The Sabbra Cadabra is more than a simple distortion; it’s basically the same treble-boosting and amplification circuitry through which Iommi himself played on Sabbath’s noteworthy proto-metal albums. The Sabbra Cadabra offers a tonal experience that’s as close to the original as one might get, all without the hard work of loading dozens of Laney amplifiers onto a stage. 

From the moment it’s plugged in, the Sabbra Cadabra will generate the sort of distortion that calls for slow, heavy riffing. Even in the lower Gain settings, the Sabbra puts out a respectable amount of distortion, but one that’s certainly less raucous than can be found at higher settings. In this respect, the Sabbra behaves more like a distortion pedal and less like an overdrive pedal for which it might be mistaken. The Sabbra will respond somewhat to changes in dynamics here, but the pedal’s really made for rocking.

In the Gain settings above noon, it’s possible to generate a pleasingly compressed, even blown-out level of distortion. However, unlike a blown-out amp, the Sabbra Cadabra will maintain tonal integrity. An “A” chord will sound like an “A” chord. Surprisingly, the Sabbra Cadabra will clean up in its lower Gain settings. At around 7 o’clock, its lowest setting, the pedal will distort the incoming signal, but it’s easy to back off with one’s playing to achieve a relatively clean tone. Yet hard strumming or a harder pick attack is all that’s needed to achieve a moderate amount of distortion even at this setting.

Catalinbread incorporated two controls, Presence and Range, which seem to adjust the frequency range of the effect. Whereas the Presence adds a subtle boost to the higher end of the signal, the Range knob seems to “open up” or alternately compress the effect signal. The compression was most obvious in the higher Gain settings, and lent the effect the impression of massiveness. More compression lent the distortion qualities that, at least psychologically, conjured notions of some sonic juggernaut, a force that was greater than the sum of its component parts. In all seriousness, the compression creates the impression of loudness without the need to actually boost the volume to the highest possible levels.

One thoughtful addition that will appeal to the avid user is the pedal’s capacity to accept variable power level inputs, from nine to 18 volts. A greater voltage gives the pedal greater headroom. Especially in the lower settings, the pedal will clean up a bit more in these higher voltage settings, which is good for those rare moments when only a slight amount of distortion is appropriate.

Responsible people everywhere ought to applaud Catalinbread for producing wonderful “anti-drugs” such as the Sabbra Cadabra. Reliable sources inform this writer that the pedal sounds just as cool as Black Sabbath does after smoking a marijuana cigarette, or “joint.” It’s a handsome little pedal with cool, very Sabbath-y graphics, and encased in an enclosure that will last through the heaviest and darkest of days.

What we like: Plenty of distortion with compression that’s easily dialed back for relative cleanness of tone. It’s a legal means of achieving mind-altering heaviness.

Concerns: Will this pedal be a gateway to other legal means of achieving monumental tone?

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  1. Dan S.

    How is it with single coils?

  2. James Polston

    I found my Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra to be much more versatile on stage than this review suggests. Through a clean amp, I can dial back the grit with the guitar’s volume knob, crank it to play a lot of rock without going over the edge up to around 7 on the guitar, then take it to full-on Iommi territory depending on how I play the guitar. Through the crunch channel of my amp, this pedal absolutely makes converts and believers.

    Being a treble boost pedal fan, I could instantly feel the tweaked Rangemaster emulation and was able to find a good number of sweat spots in my setup with this pedal. The Laney amp emulation added a very cool character to my sound—which has never gotten any complaints—but still let me sound like me. Definitely more than a one-trick-pony pedal.

    This was powering the pedal with 9VDC via a Voodoo Lab Mondo power supply. I just bought a voltage doubler y-cable from Voodoo Lab for it. (Getting ready to re-wire my revamped pedalboard.)

    As expected, this great pedal slays with a guitar loaded with P90 pickups; I didn’t play my Strat nor my Les Paul Custom all weekend. My band plays southern rock and classic rock, originals, and some Molly Hatchet/Danny Joe Brown Band tributes to our former bandleader the late Danny Joe Brown.

    Gain structure:
    1979 Gibson Les Paul Pro with Gibson P90 neck and Seymour Duncan Stacked P90 bridge pups > Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra > Keeley Engineering 30ms Automatic Double Tracker > Electro-Harmonix Lester G > Peavey 6505+ head (Clean and Crunch Rhythm channels mostly) running Mesa 12AX7s and Ruby 6L6GC valves > DIY 2x12 cabinet running Eminence Governor and Swamp Thang speakers.

    Going to see how the Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra stacks with preamp pedals and fuzzes next. And will be wringing it out with my downtuned ESP Viper at the next club jam.

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