Damage Control, a relatively new company started by a few Line 6 alumni, has made a splash with a pair of impressive high-end guitar pedals going by the very rock- and-roll names of Womanizer and Demonizer. As stompboxes go, these pedals are pretty large (about 9 x 7 x 3 inches) and share the same Star Wars-style cast-aluminum housing. They look sort of like a cross between a squashed Darth Vader headpiece and a stocky Millenium Falcon. There are two 12AX7 tubes visible through small windows on either side of the units, a confidence-inducing chrome roll bar/carrying handle, and a swirly "magic eye" input meter. These pedals may look a little contrived for the marketplace, but they're clearly built like tanks, and I have to admit, their appearance can surely serve as a conversation-starter. Any reservations I had about these devices due to their looks (not to mention the Womanizer's un-PC name) were tossed out the window as soon as I heard them.
The Womanizer is the more subtle of the two-perfect for rootsy and classic rock tones. Aside from the familiar Drive and Level knobs, there is a very flexible EQ section comprised of two pairs of concentric knobs; one set is a guitar-voiced, sweepable (200-800 Hz) boost/cut affair that feeds the tube stage, while the other is a more general bass/treble set that comes after the tube stage. I found these EQ controls to pretty much cover any tweaking I would need to do, ranging from radical wah-like mid- boost to general sweetening and enhancing. My only beef with the EQ controls is that it would be helpful if the boost/cut knobs had center-detents. No biggie, but it is a bit of a guessing game to zero the knob. In addition to the EQ controls, there is an opto-compressor which really helps set this pedal apart from others. This compressor does not sound at all like the typical guitar compressors that often have a too-quick release time and hence change the picking attack character. The Womanizer's compressor behaves like a one-knob (it handily adds make-up gain while gain reduction is increased) LA-3A. Incredibly smooth, musical, easy to use, and it doesn't call attention to itself. There are two footswitches on the unit, the main one being a true-bypass effect switch. The other is simply labeled with a nuclear fallout symbol; this switch adds a generous 14 dB of gain. This "nuke" switch is really handy for kicking into solo mode, and effectively makes the Womanizer a two-pedal-in-one device; kind of like having a clean boost as well as an overdrive pedal. The two visible tubes on either side of the unit are illuminated by different colored lights that indicate the state of each switch. The left tube chamber (over the bypass switch) glows green when the pedal is bypassed, and either orange or red (depending on the state of the "nuke" switch) when the unit is engaged. The right tube chamber (over the "nuke" switch) glows either orange or red, depending on that switch's status. This color scheme may seem gimmicky, but I found it very intuitive to read and helpful in an onstage situation. The back of the unit has the standard input and effect-out jacks, and also a buffered direct-out jack-with a twist. The twist is that Damage Control did a whole bunch of research to develop a complex circuit that emulates (non-digitally) the sound of a mic'ed, closed-back 4x12 speaker cabinet, and it sounds great to my ears. If you do a lot of direct recording into a DAW, this feature alone may convince you to buy this box instead of mucking with plug-ins or hardware amp emulators.
The Demonizer shares most of the same features and visuals as the Womanizer but is geared more toward heavy rock players. For example, the level control behaves the same as the Womanizer's, but the gain control adds more of an aggressive edge to the sound. The two sets of concentric EQ knobs are voiced more for stylized metal-type tones; the pre-gain set is a sweepable (200-1200 Hz) boost-only control, while the post- gain set has a treble boost knob and a sweepable (500 Hz-2.2 kHz) "scoop" knob. A little unusual, but actually quite easy to use and to get a seemingly endless variety of heavy, "chuggy" tones. The opto-compressor knob is also part of the Demonizer's bag of tricks, as is the "nuke" switch which, in this case, imparts a whopping 20 dB of additional gain-plenty.
As guitar stompboxes go, yes, the Womanizer and Demonizer are on the expensive side. But I think for the right user, they offer great value: for about $350 street price, you get an incredibly flexible and good-sounding tube overdrive/distortion with true-bypass, plus a truly comprehensive EQ, a top-shelf opto-compressor (a rarity in guitar pedals), an output for direct recording of amp-like tone, and the handy "nuke" switch. ($499 MSRP each; www.damagecontrolusa.com)