The term “Swiss army knife” is entirely worn out in popular writing, due in part to the term grossly exaggerating the feature set of any given item. These days, if an effect is a “Swiss army knife,” it has 3-way switchable diodes or something similarly trivially-above-average. However, perhaps no pedal in the history of effects is more deserving of the Victorinoxian cliché than the EarthQuaker Palisades. If an overdrive pedal with two toggle switches is a standard-issue Swiss army knife, the Palisades is the model with the fork, spoon, toothpick and compass.
The Palisades has 480 switchable settings. Perhaps that statement seems hyperbolic only because a pedal has failed to boast that many options until now. However, the truth lies within the math, which I’ll address later. The unit has a rotary switch, “Voice,” for six different clipping diode configurations: lift, silicon, asymmetrical silicon, MOSFET, LED and Schottky. These diodes clip the signal at different levels which adds compression and character into the mix. In the case of lift, or “no diodes,” there is very little compression.
On the opposite side of the pedal, there is a “Bandwidth” rotary with five different input capacitors from 33nF to 10uF. The latter is particularly huge; I was honestly surprised to see such a large value in there (though its corresponding sound—position 5—is proportionally enormous).
The footswitches are Bypass, Gain channel toggle (A or B) and Boost. The center of the pedal exhibits a switchable input buffer, a Bright switch, gain amounts for both channels, Boost volume, and standard Screamer fare such as Tone and Volume round out the feature set. With five- and six-position rotary switches, along with two stomp switches (not including bypass) and a pair of two-position toggles, this gives us the aforementioned 6 • 5 • 2 • 2 • 2 • 2 = 480 combinations.
Clearly, picking a starting point seems to be an arduous task, so why not start with the meat and potatoes? The sound is great, and though the pedal is an exhaustive take on a Screamer-style overdrive, there’s a lot to love about it even if Screamers aren’t the player’s forte. The pedal can nail a lot of different overdrive sounds, from the ubiquitous gear-forum “transparent” to impossibly heavy and tube-straining. This is mostly achieved by tweaking the Bandwidth rotary, which can go from leaned-out crunch to full-on madness. The Bright switch really works in tandem with the Bandwidth selector, as settings 4 and 5 can get a little muddy if a humbucker-equipped guitar is used. To that end, the Bright switch is a great boon to any humbucker player on any setting, as the Palisades seems most adept to making a Strat or Tele sound like a million bucks.
A stock Screamer pedal contains asymmetrical silicon clipping, and that configuration is preserved in setting 4. After messing around with the Voice switch, I noticed that different settings yield different output volumes, which is a byproduct of diodes clipping the amplitude of the waveform. That said, I prefer the Schottky setting for its fuzzy overtones; the setting really smooths out the drive and gives it a different character, although the Volume must be adjusted to compensate.
The boost circuit sounds great and really adds a lot to the Palisades, but unfortunately, the Boost cannot be used independently of the overdrive. One setting I found to be particularly awesome using the boost is Voice: 1, Bandwidth: 5, Buffer: off, Bright: (to taste), Gain: B, Boost: on. Have the Gain B knob set to 4 o’clock, the tone set to 11 o’clock, and the boost dimed. Adjust volume to taste and the sounds of blown-out ‘90s shoegaze roar to life from the Palisades.
One detail that needs mentioning is that I noticed the rotary controls are high-quality non-shorting “break-before-make” type, meaning that the settings never overlap, i.e. the connection between positions is “broken” before the next one is “made.” This results in seamless transition between settings for minimal sonic ugliness should a player wish to change the settings on stage.
It’s hard to believe that it took someone this long to make a pedal like this, but here we are, and the results are fantastic. The inability to use the boost separately is a little disheartening, but complaining about that is like complaining about a Swiss army knife not including the tweezers. If EarthQuaker didn’t include the option to toggle a certain setting, a player probably wouldn’t want it.
What we like: the incredible array of options, high quality parts and switches, good sounds on every setting
Concerns: Might be a bit intimidating for some players, boost unavailable when overdrive circuit is bypassed