This one is really simple.
The BBE AM64 is a distortion pedal for guitar. Yep.
I love overdrive pedals, particularly medium-gain ones, that let you control the amount of crunch with your picking or the volume knob/pdeal.
I love fuzz pedals, particularly the insanely gain-y ones where you hit the button and hold on for dear life.
I’ve never been a fan of distortion-distortion pedals, because they’ve always seemed like a kind of boring middle ground. Like the porridge that Goldilocks chose, and we all know that she just played the same damn pentatonic licks over and over until the bears ate her or whatever. Not sure on that–I didn’t read the book, because I knew it would just spoil the movie.
Anyway, what? Oh, yes–distortion pedals. Right. They have no real sensitivity to them, but they are also not crazy. That seemed pretty boring.
I just didn’t get it at all until I had to switch quickly between singing and playing guitar parts and soloing in the same song. Then I understood the value of just pushing a button and automatically getting That One Sound for Just This Bit of the Song.
Which brings us to…
The Pedal – BBE AM64
I happened upon this wonderfully cheap example of just how well production pedals CAN be made, did a bit of reading up, and it seemed really dumb not to get it. I think these things sold for well under $100 in their heyday, and then ended up getting cleared out at something like $30 a year or two ago.
For that, you got:
- A metal box (with a heavy plastic bottom, which is quite solid).
- Mechanical true-bypass switching, using one of them blue 3pdt switches just like the big kids use.
- Box film capacitors. Really.
- Full-sized Alpha pots. Really.
- Cleanly made board with all human-fixable (no SMC) parts.
This is a long way from sucking. It’s really how everyone should be doing it, PARTICULARLY folks who charge more than $30 for pedals.
The pedal has three knobs:
- Level is the output level
- Tone is the tone control
- Gain is how much crunch you get
There is no useful clean setting on the stock pedal. If you turn the gain all the way down, and the level all the way up, you’ll end up quieter with the pedal on than with it off. With the gain up at all, you start to clip. Yep, it’s a distortion pedal, and that’s what you’d expect it to do.
The circuit is based around a TL072 op-amp, and uses a pair of LEDs for clipping. Sometimes I like LEDs for clipping–I’ve used them in a couple of other mods I have done–but in this case, the result was pretty fizzly. I tried the pedal with a few guitars, and found:
- It’s kind of OK with humbuckers, but I don’t use them much
- On a Strat with regular passive pickups, it’s meh. Works fine on the bridge pickup, if you really jack up the gain on the pedal, but almost everything can do that trick. Boring in other positions, and notes fizz as they decay.
- Surprisingly good on my Tele-ish guitar. It’s got a P90 in the neck, and got along pretty well with this pedal
- Quite unpleasant with my Strat with Lace Sensors. No sir, I did not like it. The fizziness was really pronounced, and there was nowhere to set the tone on the pedal that wasn’t either a cloud of low mid or a piece of piano wire in your eye.
I did about the simplest thing I could do: I swapped one of the clipping LEDs for a 1n4148.
That seems to have sorted things out nicely. The disto is now thicker and finer-grained, which lets the notes have more body and the sustain makes more sense.
i figured that this would be a good first step. This pedal is a good candidate for putting in a socket and some switches and trying out a bunch of op-amp and diode combos. It might also benefit from some messing with the tone stack, as the stock set up has too much range. There are simply too many places you can turn the tone knob that sound awful.
But for now, this one change has made it a fine punch-it-and-go pedal for all those times you just can’t say with flowers.
Overall, this might be the best platform for distortion modding , because the base pedal is very well-made, most of the parts you’d want are already in the pedal, and the stock configuration sounds far worse than it should. I’d certainly pick up another one or two if I got them at the same price.