Drive and fuzz are some of the most oft-used guitar effects. Many players search far and wide looking for pedals that sound great as standalone dirt devices as well as team players that sound stellar in concert with others. It can be difficult to find the right combination, and coming up empty-handed again and again can be exhausting. Fortunately for you, JHS has created a stellar fuzz-overdrive combo pedal in the form of the Calhoun, designed for living legend Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
The Calhoun is divided into two parts: fuzz and drive. The right side of the pedal is the fuzz unit. It features familiar Volume and Fuzz knobs as well as an EQ and a Bias knob. The EQ colors the tone in bright or dark shades, while the Bias control varies the voltage, giving you access to a wide range of fuzz tones from healthy, high headroom to sickly saturated rage. The left side is the drive unit, and Volume, Drive, Treble and Bass controls deliver everything from clean boost on minimal gain settings to raspy, aggressive drive akin to an amplifier on the verge of dying a glorious death. A toggle switch allows you to choose the pedal order—fuzz into drive, or drive into fuzz. Both sound great, and it’s a lot of fun dialing in tones while switching back and forth between the two.
The fuzz side of the pedal is not particularly smooth. It sounds tough, like raw rock and roll. If you’re looking for smooth, subtle sustain, this ain’t it, but for everything from rowdy rockabilly to high-paced punk, it sounds right at home. My favorite feature of the fuzz portion is the Bias knob. You can dial in Neil Young-like fierce fuzz that sounds like a bullwhip made out of open power lines, or lighter, more polite fuzzy tones that sound great on single staccato notes.
The drive portion of the pedal sounds fantastic, and yes, I did play “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” immediately when I plugged into the pedal. The characteristic of the drive sound is not what I’d call transparent, and that’s a good thing; there’s a lot of flavor in this box. You can get lighter, clean boost-type tones on low gain settings, but it’s way more fun to play with a generous amount of drive and control the amount of saturation with your guitar’s volume knob.
The best part about the Calhoun is the ability to use both circuits together. If you want wild, fizzy fuzz laying on a bed of rumbling overdrive, you got it. Smooth, high-gain sustain? You betcha. The combination of the two yields an endless amount of tones that can’t be achieved when used separately. My favorite way to use the Calhoun was with the Fuzz going into the Drive portion, for thick, powerful, yet incredibly dynamic fuzzy drive.
The Calhoun is an excellent do-it-all dirt pedal, assuming you don’t need scorching nu-metal tones. With the simple layout, ease of operation, and exceptional tonal variety, it’s definitely something you need to try if you’re in search of a new overdrive, fuzz, or just want to sound like all of your favorite Tom Petty songs. It isn’t cheap, but considering the time that went into it—not to mention the fact that 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Tazzy Animal Rescue Fund—it’s well worth the price of entry, and you can rock hard knowing you sound great and contributed to a worthy cause. JHS, you’ve done it again.
What We Like: Huge range of overdrive and fuzz sounds. Quality build designed for a rock star. Cool graphic, especially for dog lovers. Proceeds benefit animals in need.