Buying Guide:Keeley Luna Overdrive
Out-of-this-world grit machine
By Buddy Lane, Contributor, Harmony Central
Owners of Ibanez TS9s, BOSS Blues Drivers, and ProCo Rats, among others, have long turned to Robert Keeley to improve the sound of their stock overdrive and distortion pedals. His modifications have become famous among players concerned with tone. Keeley’s own pedals have consisted of his legendary compressors, as well as some boosters, a preamp, a fuzz, and a fixed wah pedal. Conspicuous by its absence has been an overdrive/distortion pedal—until now.
For his first overdrive pedal, Keeley had no interest in cloning any of the effects he had been modifying. Instead he sought to incorporate his own ideas about overdrive and distortion. The result is the Luna Overdrive, which chains op-amp clipping with tube-like JFET gain stages.
The JFET is placed last in the chain to closely simulate a tube amp. Keeley has voiced this stage like a Fender or Marshall-type preamplifier circuit, designed to work well with any kind of amp, other effects, or even direct recording. Essentially, what you are getting is two stages of gain, like an overdrive into an amp: all within the pedal itself. A tone circuit is placed between the op amp and the JFET stages—but not just any tone circuit.
The High and Low knobs on the Luna Overdrive pedal do not operate like the single or dual tone controls on most overdrive/distortion pedals. The Keeley pedal uses an active Baxandall tone circuit that is more complex and costly than most effects manufacturers would normally install. Robert Keeley became fascinated with the circuit through reading old British Hi-Fi magazines and schematics. Much work and experimentation went into making what was originally designed for radios and record players sound right in a guitar pedal.
In the passive controls found in most pedals, full output is achieved when the knob is all the way up—everything below that cuts output signal. In the Luna Overdrive pedal, flat tone and normal output occurs when the knobs are at noon. Turning them up boosts the bass or treble, while turning them down cuts them.
In addition to the High and Low controls, the Luna’s compact, rainbow-sparkled, metal housing sports Drive and Master knobs, and a Classic/Modded mini-toggle. Operating the Luna Overdrive is deep but simple, once you understand the basic differences between it and other distortion devices.
I plugged in a 1965 Fender Stratocaster equipped with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups, as well as a Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster, sporting a Sheptone humbucker in the neck and a custom-wound Seymour Duncan humbucker in the bridge. My amp was a Fender Blues Junior.
It took even an experienced gearhound like yours truly a couple of minutes to reset my mind from standard overdrive operating procedure to Luna time. At first I cranked the High and Low knobs, figuring more is better, right? I couldn’t understand why it was hard to get a mild overdrive sound even in the Classic setting. Once I remembered that the higher output of the active lows was driving the pedal harder it became easy: I just reduced the lows a little below noon and presto—vintage overdrive goodness, still with plenty of bottom.
With humbuckers, the overdrive range I was used to with Tube Screamers and their clones became available with the Drive control set between almost off and a quarter-way up; single-coils remained in overdrive territory until about 10 o’clock. After that the sounds started edging into more distortion than overdrive. If this doesn’t seem like much range for a pedal labeled Overdrive, let me assure you that manipulating the tone and drive controls created many terrific overdrive sounds within that small area. Turning up the Highs and turning down the lows conjured Texas blues goodness, while the reverse flirted with Dumble smoothness. The tone controls were sensitive, so small changes had a noticeable effect; the reward was a variety of usable overdrive levels. The Luna had none of the compression inherent in a Tube Screamer, and a slight British edge, courtesy of the tone circuit from across the pond.
Creeping the Drive past noon moved into distortion pedal territory, more natural sounding and amp-like than your typical DS-1 or Rat—all these cool tones, and I hadn’t even left the classic mode.
All the modded cons
Moving into Modded mode definitely added gain and seemed to add nice sag to the response, giving it a softer attack than the Classic mode. I found overdrive effects were still achievable with single-coils, and was still able to produce some nice blues attitude, but the real joy of this mode was all the fuzz tones I could approximate from in your Fuzz Face, to a more articulate version of a Big Muff. I say “approximate,” because the Luna Overdrive pedal isn’t trying to emulate anything but great, gritty tone.
If you want a Tube Screamer sound, buy an Ibanez, a clone, or better yet, a modded TS-9 or 808 from Keeley. But if you a want a pedal to deliver musical distortions from mild to wild, tones that don’t sound quite like anything else on the market, check out a Keeley Luna Overdrive pedal. It’s a new experience in tone.
If you like your distortion to be unique and to run the gamut from mild to wild, check out the JFET-equipped Luna Overdrive from Keeley. Order today from Musician’s Friend and get our 45-Day Total Satisfaction and Lowest Price Guarantees.