The perennial problem with overdrive stompboxes is that many of them excel at only one sound. And sometimes it's a bad sound. The Ibanez Tube Screamer (TS-808 and original TS-9 models) has, over the years, set a standard of sorts with its natural-sounding simulation of tube amp overdrive. For years, I've used a TS-9 (modified with a chip from a TS-808) because it gives my guitar more grit, but it isn't fake-sounding, and it pulls off the rare trick of retaining picking dynamics, even with heavy overdrive. The only beef most folks have with the venerable Ibanez pedal is that it's kind of a one-trick- pony; it sounds great, but you can't really get a huge variety of sounds out of it.
Enter an upstart pedal company known as Smart People Factory. When I first auditioned their Green Line pedal at a Weisstronauts rehearsal, my bandmate Aaron looked at it and said "Whoa, an Emo pedal!" Funny guy, that Aaron; but he was really only correct in the visual sense. The Green Line sports a bright white finish with simple Emo-sweater stripes and all-lower-case fonts. The kicker is the text underneath the on/off stomp switch; it clarifies everything by saying, in parentheses and lower-case lettering, "over drive." Tongue-in-cheek, yet informative. I like the smart people at Smart People Factory.
Housed in a sturdy Hammond-style box, this pedal yields a huge variety of overdrive effects. In addition to the standard Drive, Tone, and Volume knobs, there are two small toggle switches. One switches between Modern and Vintage modes and is really quite dramatic. In Vintage mode, the Green Line behaves like a Tube Screamer, but with a bit more gain, a seemingly wider tone sweep, and a hint of compression. Personally, the compression bummed me out a bit because my own style of playing relies on dynamics. However, there's no denying the compression was very smooth and musical. Someone playing a Les Paul through a cleanish amp like a Fender Twin would probably find the effect very desirable. In Modern mode, the pedal really shines. The overdrive effect is more pronounced and less "grainy," the EQ curve seems to get a bit more scooped, and there's more gain. In a way, the pedal becomes sort of a cross between an overdrive and a distortion device, stopping short of traditional "metal" aspects. I liked both modes and couldn't help but wonder if Smart People Factory might consider a version of this pedal with two footswitches: one for on/off and the other to toggle between Vintage and Modern modes. Just a thought. In any case, the Green Line's other toggle switch is simply called Mud. Flipping it up (on) makes the overdrive effect... well... more muddy. And this is not a bad thing, especially when using a single-coil pickup. In my case, it was just the thing for keeping my Telecaster from turning into an icepick in the forehead. Also, when the Mud function is engaged, the tone control behaves differently-in a very cool way. I was able to coax crazy, almost ring-modulated harmonic effects out of my guitar by fiddling with the tone knob while in Mud and Modern modes with heavy overdrive. Equipped with this cornucopia of overdrive/distortion tones, I was surprisingly hard pressed to get the Green Line to sound anything but good, better, and great. I dig this thing!
Pluses? Flexible-it yields a huge variety of sounds from subtle, cleanish boost to creamy ZZ Top harmonic fun. All of its sounds are excellent; it's hard to make the pedal sound bad. Sturdily built. High-end components. Minuses? Fairly steep price tag. Compressed sound is great, but if you're looking for a TS-9 type of dynamic, you may not have much luck. ($230 direct; www.smartpeoplefactory.com)