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By Ara Ajizian
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
T-Rex Engineering's mission has always been to create pedals that do one thing and do it better than the rest. You won't find T-Rex multi-effect gizmos that claim to give you every tone you've ever dreamed of, but rather straightforward boxes that produce great, transparent tone. Three new offerings from T-Rex were sent my way for review—the Tremonti Phaser, developed with Creed/Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti, the ToneBug Reverb, and the ToneBug Overdrive.
The phase shifter is one of my all-time favorite effects. Whether it's adding some psychedelic swirl to a slow jam, or taking a heavy, distorted riff into outer space, a phaser can make any old song into something special when used properly. Creed/Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti is known for being a stickler for good tone, so it speaks volumes that he co-developed the Tremonti Phaser with T-Rex.
Although it's truly a modern phase shifter, the Tremonti Phaser also delivers the classic phasing of the most sought-after vintage stompboxes. The key is its 4 Stage/8 Stage selector switch. In 4 Stage mode the effect sounds a bit more lo-fi, while in 8 Stage you can get more modern phasing with a higher resolution. There are familiar Depth, Rate, and Level knobs for setting the intensity, speed, and volume of the effect, plus a unique Bite control that injects a touch of overdrive for a subtle but edgy boost. As a bonus, the Tremonti Phaser can run in stereo too. I ran it through a friend's stereo rig, and felt like I was heading into the cosmos as the effect swirled across the room.
The ToneBug Overdrive is another simple pedal that delivers superb tone. Anyone who's had the pleasure of playing through a nice vintage tube amp knows what really good overdrive sounds like. By pushing the preamp tubes, the amp's rich, natural tone gets broken up for warm, classic-style crunch. It's this sound that most overdrives aim to deliver.
With the ToneBug Overdrive, guitarists can get that same warmth and midrange bite, but much more too. Using its Gain, Tone, and Level knobs, finding anything from light, Stevie Ray Vaughan-ish break-up to searing lead rock tones is a cinch. And no matter where you go with it, the ToneBug Overdrive maintains its harmonic richness and depth.
I used it to push my all-tube Marshall's clean channel and found that it kept the amp's natural tone intact and pushed the best parts of its sound a little harder. In conjunction with the amp's distortion, the ToneBug Overdrive kicked in a nice midrange boost that added definition and sparkle to leads. It also interacted well with different pickup types. With my single-coil-equipped guitar, I turned the Tone knob down a bit to tame the high end, and the result was a beefier sound with loads of character. Each note stood out brilliantly as I picked it, yet there was much more "edge" to the guitar's tone, giving it more of a P90-type sound than the normal, thinner tone of the single coils. With humbuckers, the pedal sounded best with the Tone knob beyond the 12 o'clock setting. Sometimes when using my amp's distortion alone, my Les Paul can sound a bit muddy, but the ToneBug Overdrive brightened the overall sound and added clarity to rhythm parts. Leads came through with loads of the aforementioned definition, while the fatness that only humbuckers can deliver stayed intact.
We've all encountered musicians who simply "throw some reverb on it" in trying to add ambience and depth to a performance, without fully understanding the different types of reverb and their respective sounds. Reverb is simply an emulation of a particular room's natural reverberation properties, which is why you typically see descriptors like "hall," "room," and "church" attached to most digital reverb types.
Although digital reverbs typically offer more control and sound parameters, many guitarists still love the classic vibe and sound of a good spring reverb. The ToneBug Reverb gives you access to both via a simple switch that takes you from vintage-style spring reverb tones to modern, digital sounds. Straightforward controls for Decay and Depth make it easy to dial in everything from classic reverbs to the full range of contemporary tones. I found it worked just as well for a subtle touch of room reverb as it did for creating haunting, hall-like spaciousness. For such a small, affordable pedal, the range of the ToneBug Reverb is nothing short of remarkable.
There's certainly no shortage of effects pedals in the marketplace. From pricey vintage favorites to modern multi-effect units, it can be intimidating trying to sort through all of them and find the one that's right for your tone. With the ToneBug Reverb and Overdrive pedals, T-Rex has created affordable options for guitarists seeking world-class tone without having to spend half a month's pay. The Tremonti Phaser, endorsed by and developed with one of modern rock's most well-known players, has all the great sound of vintage phasers but also provides modern controls that will make it at home on any pedalboard, regardless of the style you play. T-Rex's commitment to high-quality, transparent tone is evident in all three of their newest pedals.