When I first pulled the Matsumin Valvecaster from its box, I actually laughed out loud. “What is this thing?” I asked myself, thinking of the metallic protuberance on the pedal’s face. It was then that I realized that the strange protrusion was actually a vacuum tube. I anticipated genuine overdrive, but I did not anticipate that the Valvecaster would so wildly exceed my expectations. You heard it here first, folks. The Valvecaster from StanTone Benchworks is my new favorite overdrive-boost pedal of 2016.
StanTone Benchworks—run by Mr. Stanton Burris of Eugene, Oregon—is a small company, but it has already proven to be a company worth watching. Now, Eugene has in one way or another influenced its musically-inclined residents. Robert Cray, Corin Tucker, Courtney Love, and Frank Black, and your humble author here have all spent time in Eugene. Is it a bit of an exaggeration to say that the Valvecaster is now the most exciting musical development to come out of Eugene? I hope not.
But enough with the praise. What is the Valvecaster? It’s an overdrive-boost pedal with a genuine vacuum tube attached to its face. The Valvecaster, in other words, is not messing around. What it produces is genuine tube distortion, and what a beautiful sound it is. The pedal is just a bit taller than most because of the face-mounted vacuum tube. Otherwise, it’s a model of simplicity. Volume, Gain, and Tone knobs sit just below the tube, which is illuminated from below by a very cool red LED. It’s a good look.
My first thought upon playing with the pedal was, “wow, this sounds fantastic.” I don’t know how to describe it except to say that it’s this fuzzy, thick, rich overdrive which is reminiscent of guitar tones from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Especially when the pedal is pushed hard, the distortion takes on a semi-compressed sound which really lends itself to heavy power-chord work. I’m thinking of Jimmy Page, especially, but it also sounded great when I did my best Hendrix impression.
Because the overdrive seems biased more toward a darker tone, I found myself playing in my usually-neglected bridge pickup. I thought this bridge pickup’s trebly output fit perfectly with the Valvecaster’s darker sound. I even adjusted what seemed to be the pedal’s Tone knob for a bit more high-end, and was still pleased with the chimey results. The Tone knob seems to boost or lower the high end without really cutting the low end, which I thought was nice. Given the already darker tones of the pedal, I felt there was no need for a low-end boost, though maybe in future models a little button with a warning on it can do just that.
Now, some people might feel that an upright, exposed vacuum tube—the aforementioned protuberance—is a liability. I agree that it’s not always ideal to expose your tubes to the careless footsteps of eager fans. I can even imagine a gig during which one too many beers leads a person to stomp a little too hard on their box, thereby shattering the tube. But fear not, for the pedal features a handy metal shield which can, when properly used, protect the tube from the rigors of live gigging.
Despite that minor drawback, I believe that this pedal’s merits, in combination with its unbelievably good price, make the purchase of the Valvecaster a no-brainer. I’ll say it again: the Matsumin Valvecaster might very well be the best purchase you’ll make for a true, tube-driven overdrive in the near future—and that’s no laughing matter.
What We Like: Excellent value for what is probably my favorite overdrive I’ve heard this year. Simplicity of construction and design.
Concerns: A wayward foot might shatter the exposed vacuum tube, but it’s a minor concern.