Never saw it coming. Another day at work at the Dock (our spanking-new studio spot in Sacramento), helping my bud John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees, Coachwhips, Damaged Bug) spray fuzz guitar all over everything, and I'm blathering on as usual, "Gahd damn I wish I had a bunch of Death By Audio stuff, but I'm tight on the duckets, ya know." He in turn gives me the John Dwyer patented, "oh gawd you are such a ding dong" look and makes a phone call to somebody. The next day, much to my shock and awe (sorry), we are in possession of three of the coveted boxes in question, and I am changing my shorts (ew). The Echo Dream 2, Robot, and Apocalypse are immediately pressed into service. Equal parts joy and deafness ensue.

For those of you not personally intimate with the, um, "nature" of these beasts, I will try to summarize why I think these are a different (and worthwhile) animal. Guitar pedals have always been engineered to be functional within a volume range that is sort of ballpark compared to when the pedal is bypassed; i.e., it doesn't need to get too much louder than the guitar to be musically useful. My guess (wildly uninformed - I'm a guitar player, gimme a break) is that op amps and such that go louder/cleaner are more expensive to buy in quantities for mass production, so why waste bucks on something that will just make it too crazy to hang with other pedals? So it is that guitar pedal volume ranges tend mostly to fall into a middle-of-the-road norm. (One of those teeny $20 plastic dudes aren't going to blow anything.) One of Death By Audio's key differences is they just said "to hell with it" and made these things louder. Way louder. I don't know what the output voltage on the Apocalypse is on that most-clockwise mode, but with my trusty 100 watt Marshall on "2", there were coffee cups falling off the piano. The Apocalypse is the Death Star of fuzz pedals. Point it at Alderaan, and PFFFT - buh-bye. But though it's bonkers loud, the audio has a glassy clarity. It's odd - the pedal "fuzzes" the sound in a very "caveman club" way, but then sends it out with high headroom and clarity. It's neat how it's pure evil but weirdly hi-fi at the same time. I had an experience where I bought a clone EQ pedal that had super lousy headroom, only to find the schematic online and discover that the builder had used the cheapest possible option for the IC. I don't think that this is the case here!

Subsequent sessions have seen these dudes pressed into service regularly. The Echo Dream 2 plays nice with the Wurly - the modulation of the echoes being a useful function. Also of note was our use of the Apocalypse on harmonica (!) through a pair of Twins, dimed of course. Jeezus. Sorry, neighborhood.

So in closing, if you got some expendable duckets, get your earballs on some of these things - totally worth the trouble. And get one of those arc-welding masks - except for your ears instead of your face. Or something.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

Or Learn More