I’ve always believed two rules about bands and pedals:
- Any group of three or more musicians with a decent amount of talent and commitment can write at least ONE good song
- Any pedal has ONE usable sound in it. It might only be usable in the most limited context, but you can always find ONE thing a pedal is good at
Just as the Doors were the exception that proved the first rule, the Ibanez LA Metal pedal was the exception that proved the second. In its stock form, this pedal absolutely defies all attempts to make it sound better when on than when off. It is fantastically, mind-blowingly useless.
I have some pedals that are INCREDIBLY BAD–the DOD FX-17 Wah-volume, a Yamaha CP-100 compressor, an Arion Stage Tuner–and I have used several others, but nothing compares to the almost exquisite frustration of trying to get ANYTHING good to happen with a stock LA Metal pedal. It’s not even usefully horrible.
The Pedal – Ibanez LM7 LA Metal
This pedal has three knobs:
- Distortion – How much crappy fizz-bark you want to hear instead of notes
- Tone – Whether the crappy fizz-bark should be dull or piercing
- Level – How loud you want your crappy fizz-bark
The stock LA Metal pedal has three things going for it:
- It is in a bad-ass looking matte silver case
- It says “LA METAL” on it in big thick letters
- It’s actually a dumbed-down version of a much better pedal
The first two things make you want to have this thing in your board just so people will understand how damn cool you are (answer: As cool as LA METAL, fool!). The third one makes the pedal extremely useful.
The LM7 was built by Maxon, who built a lot of stuff for Ibanez at the time. Maxon also made a pedal for Ibanez called the “Fat Cat.” The Fat Cat was kind of a cover version of the ProCo Rat pedal. All they did to make the LA Metal pedal was remove the clipping diodes from the Fat Cat and move a few capacitors around. They even used the Fat Cat PC board to make the LA Metal. If you open up an LA Metal, you’ll see that the board is marked “FC-10.”
Yes! I am telling you that someone built a distortion pedal with NO CLIPPING DIODES. Or MOSFETS. Or anything like that. It’s just the sound of an op-amp being overdriven! YUMMY!
Why would someone do that? My only guess is that they were sitting in a room full of open containers of solvents, doing some deep breathing and listening to RATT on a Walkman that was turned up way too loud, and they fell in love with the sound. Then they married a canned ham. So curvy…
Anyway, with a few fairly easy mods, you can add some clipping diodes to the LA METAL (screw it–I’m writing it in all-caps from here on), swap around some caps, and end up with what is now my favorite crunchy overdrive pedal.
The main info on this mod is from this very useful thread, which has a nice summary of other threads/mods in it. Look for the post from Analogguru time-stamped “18 Dec 2007, 19:42” He runs down all the mods you need to do in order to convert the LA METAL to a Fat Cat.
I didn’t go all the way on this. I left the tone capacitor (C20) alone, to see if it would be useful as it is.
The end result is just a remarkably useful overdrive, with a wide range of tones available.
- The Distortion knob now covers everything from nearly-clean gain through light overdrive through heavier and heavier to almost out-of-control fuzz at the far end.
- The tone control is of MOST use between 10 and 2 o’clock. I could see changing the cap to use more of the knob’s range and get more fine control.
- The pedal gets louder as you turn up the Distortion, so the Level control is mostly used to set the pedal’s output to where you want it relative to when the pedal is off.
This is now my go-to overdrive, which is shocking when you consider how crap the stock version is. It’s particularly good if you like snarly crunch tones, which I much prefer to smooth, compressed kinds of tones. If you watch late-night talk shows filmed in LA, and you like how the guitar in the band sounds, or if your guitar only has one cutaway, this might not be the pedal for you.
I like the snarl, and I like the ampy-ness of the pedal. It’s quite responsive to picking dynamics and pickup/tone/volume changes. Also, having an LA METAL pedal on my board makes it easy for people to recognize just how cool I am, which has sometimes been a challenge since I thinned out my poodle cut and started wearing looser pants.
The boxes in the Ibanez 7 (10?) series are an odd compromise. The cases themselves are super-solid metal, with which you could easily knock a larger man unconscious. The battery access is excellent, through the nice big, square, spring-loaded footswitch. And the switch itself is just kind of OK. The switching feels solid under your foot, but the stompin’ area feels breakable.
I usually use this pedal in a true-bypass loop, so I don’t notice if there is any leakage when the pedal is off, and I don’t use the switch much. I think the average user would be happier doing things this way.
I just acquired a second LA METAL pedal a couple of days ago, and I’m going to fiddle with diode combinations on the new one. I might also put in a socket and mess with op-amp options.
If I can just give the world the perfect LA METAL pedal, I will know I have not lived in vain.