Jul 23, 2010

The Maxon OD-820’s color—vibrant pea green—announces right off the bat that this pedal is from the same neighborhood as the classic Tube Screamer. But the DNA runs even deeper than that. Maxon pedals come from the same factory that made the original Tube Screamers, which Maxon sometimes built for Ibanez.

So why not just buy a reissued Tube Screamer? Because the OD-820, which costs a whopping $217.50, is more… evolved. Even the chassis is re-imagined, housed in a larger body size that apparently prevents unwanted hums and clicks by giving the components more breathing room.

This pedal has another couple trick up its sleeve, too. Rather than distort the incoming signal, it blends the unprocessed guitar signal with the pedal’s distortion. Turn the blend pot, which is labeled “gain,” right down and you can use the OD-820 as a volume boost.

So how does it sound? Designed to push a tube amp, the distortion is warm and builds up fast. Go anywhere between nine and twelve o’clock, and you’re in exhilarating classic-rock territory. Any more than that and the blended-in clean signal that keeps the overdriven tone so musical starts to get lost in the mix, but if you’re looking for heat, the OD-820 has plenty to spare.

The test OD-820 does have a couple of annoying issues—after being put through its paces at a number of live gigs, the level pot is slightly scratchy and the knobs sometimes come loose and need to be screwed back in with a tiny Allen key. The sound it produces, though, transcends these niggling points. A little goosing by the OD-820, even on relatively clean tones, adds just a smidgen of underlying grit that just makes you want to keep playing. Crank up the gain to 10 o’clock, and you’re in vintage heaven. – Howard Stock

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