Square Amps is a company based around pushing the envelope on misconception. Where most people would say “It can’t be done,” Matt Richards says “Why the hell not?” We are in an industry that thrives on tradition; many of us have a preset idea in our minds of what sounds and looks like good gear, and we run with it. We all more or less drool over the same ’59 Les Pauls and ’54 Strats, the same ’59 Bassmans and ’64 JTM-45s. Where many builders would go the safe route and create a painstaking recreation both sonically and aesthetically of this hallowed gear, Matt Richards says, “Let’s build a guitar amp in a waffle maker.” (Before you ask, yes, it sounds glorious.)
TAKING THE SCENIC ROUTE
Today on the bench is the Scenic Drive from the mind that brought you The Farm (reviewed in Issue 128 of Tone Report Weekly) comes a pedal with a basic premise to deliver tones that range from sweet and mild to thick and crunchy. Let’s take the scenic route and dive right into this plastic pedal of doom.
TRAVERSING THE WINDING ROADS
The Scenic Drive is fairly simple, both inside and out. The enclosure is made of an impact-resistant ABS plastic, which as a gear nerd, is something I didn’t realize I liked until I held it in my hand. I could see all the little inner workings and components of the pedal, while being lightweight and pretty damn tough to boot. Try as you might, you would have a hard time trying to break this thing unless you had an industrial clamp or hydraulic press on hand. There are two simple controls for Volume and Gain, which react quite nicely to each other in a variety of different ways. Cranking the gain up reveals a nasty, primitive fuzz that still maintains its high end clarity. It’s not an incredibly complex sound, but it’s got just the right amount of air to make it sound dynamic and uncongested. While the higher-gain settings sound biting and toppy, rolling back the gain and cranking the volume creates a deep and brooding overdrive accentuated by a light grit liberally sprinkled on the high end. It’s got an unmistakably vintage tonality, and it lends itself more to being an all-purpose dirt then a one-trick pony.
DIFFERENT SHADES OF DIRT
When this pedal is stacked, it really shows its power and versatility. Running Square Amps’s own Bayou Drive after it (a tube booster and light overdrive), it opened up the midrange and created hollow and jangly tones reminiscent of a cranked tweed Fender Twin. Running a Uni-Vibe before it helped accentuate the low-mid guts of the Scenic Drive, creating a beefier and warmer tone. Being the all-purpose drive that it is, I tried it on a number of sources outside of the guitar. Running it through a synth added great harmonic complexity and warmth to the signal that would otherwise be a little too tame. Running my modified Hammond organ into it was perhaps the cream of the crop, as it took the signature percussive and full-bodied notes of the Hammond, and added lots of extra third- and fourth-order harmonic saturation, making it sound like the Canterbury fuzz organs of old.
The Scenic Drive is a multi-colored romp through what makes a good fuzz pedal shine. It is primitive yes, but it’s primitive tone and function is its greatest strength. It remains uncolored as a sort of sonic palette to add all matter of sonic goodness under it or on top of it. Those of you who like massive walls of fuzz or highly-tuned distortion—this is not for you, but for those of you seeking a primitive fuzz tone that doesn’t sound like a bag of bees and works on just about everything you throw at it (or on it), you will be satisfied.
WHAT WE LIKE:
Primitive fuzz tones that leave lots of room for experimentation with other pedals. Great vintage voicing that remains clear on the top end. Works great on other instruments as well!
May not please vintage fuzz enthusiasts or players who like their tones taut and tuned. With brighter guitars and amps, the high end may get unruly.