Saturday, August 21, 2010

Guitar's Best Friend

Spencer Amps

That's right kids... I've hunted down another kickass effects pedal company. And his little outfit has really caught me by surprise. Spencer Amps is the brain child of one Bill Spencer, a passionate and experienced brother on a mission to build some of the best sounding and performing musical gadgets. Bill's outlook on the pedal game is aimed in one direction and one direction only...... to bring us tone hungry players as many original and interesting designs as possible. We're talking a cat that built his first fuzz box back in 76', a cat with numerous pedal and vacuum tube circuits under his belt, and a cat with 28 years experience in electronics, digital hardware design, patents, and repair. Throw in a musicians passion for tone and there you have it, Spencer Amps.


Overdrive w/Fuzz

  • X-Mode Switch: Provides Xaggerated, Fuzz, and Normal
  • Volume: Dishes out loads of output
  • Tone: Enhances bass,treb, and mid frequencies
  • Gain: Adds various types of characteristics to tone


For me it was most definitely the X-Mode Switch that reeled me in and had me hooked. In the Normal mode alone I was pretty satisfied, but things just got even better when I tapped into both the Fuzz and Xaggerated modes. Another thing I dug about this pedal was that Bill was able to deliver an extremely versatile dirt box, while able to keep things familiar, and without going overboard on the controls. Many dirt pedals with the same types of capabilities will end up having twice as many controls, on twice the size enclosure. I was able to find usable tones in all modes, found it worked great through clean tones (huge plus!) as well as dirty ones, and the Mystique also played well with others. The simple handcrafted design of this pedal really comes though and it reminds you that there are still a few die hard boutique operations out there.

I don't even know where to begin, this pedal hit me with way more than I was ready for. I guess I'll start with my 4x10 Deville and 60's Strat build. Like many of you I'm sure know by now, I rarely push my Deville to overdriven levels. This means I must either A: have a pedal/pedals that will maintain my root tone, or B: a pedal/pedals that will enhance my root tone. The Mystique went way beyond any of these expectations. I first set the pedal to it's N setting (Normal). I matched the volume output to the amp's, rolled back on the lows just a tad to accent the amp's round sound, and started with the gain at around 15%. What I got was this; The Strat's booomy/spanking tone, amp's tight'n'warm sound, and Mystique's defined and rich vibe.... all in one sound! As I kept cranking the gain level up higher I noticed that the clarity and definition of my tone stayed intact, as if it were pushing out a hint of my clean signal along with the dirt. This my friends was be-a-u-ti-ful. I sometimes mix in a dirty signal through a parallel effects looper to achieve this same feel. It provides an enormous sounding tone that cannot be rivaled. Like playing through two amps. This was the type of sound the Mystique's N setting did for me. This effect would become more intense, and my overdrive would become more gritty when played through humbuckers. The break-up in my notes came and crumbled away with ease, never being too harsh and always working with my hands and fingers. Next I switched into the F mode (Fuzz). Something that really caught me off guard in this setting was the intensity and usable nature of the sound. The sound was howling mad at times, producing these huge throaty fuzz tones. But just like a well put together engine and exhaust of a killer muscle car it was tolerable and killer sounding. It also sounded great and adapted beautifully to my clean tone, and even better than that was this sound through a dirty tone. With the gain control set light while in the F I was able to produce these cool 50/50 distortion/fuzz tones. My favorite was definitely P90's, a slightly gritty amp tone, and a light pedal fuzz tone. Think of Tom Petty's Mary Jane guitar tone and you got the tone I'm talking about. It broke up beautifully, had plenty of splat, and lots clarity. To get a lead tone out of this tone all I did was push it with a clean booster or overdriver. Some pedals do not play nice with others.... this pedal does. In medium fuzz settings the pedal created fat'n'smooth fuzz tones that worked for both rhythm playing or lead lick work. Next it was time to switch amps, I wanted to see if this pedal worked good in small gig settings, studio levels, and bedroom levels. Cause as we all know, there are lots of pedals that can do either a solid quiet or loud tone, but rarely both. If there's one thing I hate it's not being able to reproduce my stage tones into the studio, or late at night when I'm writing and rocking out. For finding pedals that sound and work great with small amps are always a secret weapon and a gold find. The recruit for experimenting with some low level tones was a 15/7 watt head set to 7 watts, a 1x12 cab, and a Tele with a bucker in the neck. In light to medium fuzz settings the pedal and amp created these tight'n'focused fuzz/distortion tones that worked great for rhythm playing. Big, chunky, and full of body. Rolling off the guitar knob about half way brought about some tasty semi-clean tones, and once again pushing this tone with a booster provided me with some lead tones. I was stoked at how many sounds I was able to get from this one setting. At full blast the F setting did things that just plain scared me. The sound was somewhere between a super smooth distortion pedal and screaming vintage style fuzz box. Last was the X setting, where things got even wilder and cooler. This setting was kind of a mix of the other two. I was able to get some over the top overdrive/distortion tones, while able to also get lots of clarity, punch, and sparkle. In this setting the lows became much fuzzier, highs became more intense, and mids more pronounced. This setting sounded especially good when cranked up real loud. It pushed out this big meaty tone that ate up everything in it's way. A great setting for cutting through any mix. I also found the X setting sounded nice when stacked up with another dirty guitar, and when playing up in the higher frets of my guitar. Playing blues guitar with the tone at around 9'o'clock, gain at noon, and volume slightly pushing the tubes, created a tone to die for! It was tuff to pin-point whether I was hearing a modern or vintage tone through the X mode. It had the same characteristics of an brutal modern distortion tone, but also the forgiving nature of a vintage overdrive sound. The more I cranked the gain knob or used the volume to push the amp, the more the grit reacted like a vacuum tube. This meant it responded well to the guitar's volume, and was also a great candidate for clean boosters and other drive pedals. By the time I was done playing with this pedal I was dizzy with excitement, like being tone buzzed... if there is a such thing. Bill Spencer's mission to deliver a unique and usable dirt box is totally captured in the Mystique. At times I felt like I was playing some priceless 60's fuzz box. While other times I felt like I was tapping into something completely new. This is the magic behind Spencer Amp's pedals, the experience that Bill owns, and the visions he is skillfully able to bring to light. Get some!


Make sure and check out the new Spencer Amps website at Analog War Cry will be looking into more of these super cool pedals and sharing with ya'll our insight and feelings behind them. Stay tuned for more from Spencer Amps!

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