Time to give your tone a kick in the amp!
Sunday afternoons were all about war movies for me. Growing up, any lazy Sunday afternoon became an opportunity to kick back with a classic war movie and relax while our boys in green took turns kicking ass and taking the requisite names.It goes without saying that The Dirty Dozen was one of my favorites, and within the first five minutes of that movie, my young mind learned two immutable truths about life:
- Lee Marvin is an absolute badass.
- Give any ragtag group of misfits a chance for pardon and a lengthy training sequence and you can blow up a hell of a lot of Nazis.
I’ve also become a big believer in clean boosts over the past few years – I love the extra definition and sparkle you get when you kick an amp in the teeth and get the preamp tubes a little extra motivation. There’s also a lot of new tones to discover by stacking a clean boost into another dirt pedal, which can often “open up” the dynamics of the circuit with very surprising results.
Basically, I have a clean boost on all the time, and my ears miss it on the rare occasion I turn it off.
As is usually the case, I had the idea for the name and graphics of this pedal before I knew the circuit that would go in it. I’ve played quite a few clean boosts and was in the process of working up a few prototypes, but always hovering at the edge of my tonal radar was the infamous treblemaker – The Dallas Arbiter Rangemaster.
Now, the Rangemaster’s not known as a full-range boost, and while I loves me some treble I was looking for a clean boost with a relatively even EQ to beef up the signal without adding too much color. I bypassed the breadboard since the parts count is so low, built one straight to perfboard, biased it up and plugged in to my trusty ‘66 Gibson GA-15RVT.
WHA-BAM! This thing is an absolute smack upside the head in the best way.
I immediately hit the workbench again to add in selectable frequency switching to take the circuit from a treblemaker to full-range boost. On paper this seemed like a no-brainer. Plugged back in and turned back up, these changes turned out to be a huge surprise and are now a big part of why I feel the Major Hardass is the best, most versatile Rangemaster-style boost on the market today!
Obviously the germanium transistor is the heart of the Rangemaster tone, which is why the Mjr. Hardass features a genuine NOS OC44 germanium transistor biased perfectly to 7.1V for optimum performance. I’m normally against socketing anything but ICs for reliability reasons, but I’ve made an exception on this one – The transistor is socketed so you can swap and experiment with different germ trannies – and I’ve replaced with the bias resistors with trimpots to re-bias, if you choose to do so.
The big feature, though, is the tone switching. While some builders give you a 2- or 3-way option, the Hardass has 12 different tone settings that take you from original-spec treble boost all the way to full-range punch.
Or to put it another way… This Major is also working with a dirty dozen.
As I auditioned #001, it was immediately apparent that the tone switching brought more to the table that I originally intended. The first couple settings are classic Rangemaster, with that top-end kick and clarity that make it such a perfect fit for lead lines and kicking your favorite British-flavored amp in the teeth.
As you turn the dial up further and start bringing more mids and bass into the equation, not only does the signal frequency start to level out but the OC44 starts to add some very smooth, textured clipping of its own! This smooth germanium edge combines with the added crunch and dynamics from cooking the tubes to create a wide palette of full, round overdrive tones. You can quickly go from a big rock sound to a tight, focused sting in a couple clicks, all while adding more punch and harmonics from the amp’s own tube set.
So what are you waiting for? Put Major Hardass in front of your amp and give them Nat-zis something to be scared of!