The Story of the Clark Gainster Clones and the Hoochee Mama
The Clark Amplification Gainster and Browntone Hoochie Mama are two overdrive pedals that are rarely mentioned separately. This might be due to the fact that the latter, although inspired by the former, is still able to deliver something different enough and well enough to make it as relevant as the original. They have been flying under the radar for a while – but after well-respected boutique builders like ThorpyFX and Mythos Pedals released their clones, the secret is starting to get out.
Just Enough “Magic!”
Designed to provide the clean-to-driven voicing spectrum of a classic Tweed amp, these stompboxes produce very musical tones, with rich low end and clear, singing highs.
You may ask yourself: “what sets these two designs apart from other types of overdrive like the Tubescreamer family or more transparent ones like the Klon or the Timmy?” For starters, they are transparent pedals that still add their own mojo to the signal, not acting as an extension of an existing design. Their circuit is not meant to have the midrange-forward push like a Tubescreamer, and it’s not intended to be completely transparent like a Klon. What these pedals do is provide amp-like response and articulation that doesn’t totally take over your sound by giving you just enough “magic.”
The Hoochie Mama and Gainster circuits are similar, but there are some slight but impactful differences in their respective designs. The Gainster has a little more available gain and high end, while the Hoochie Mama has a bit of a lift in the midrange and low end. Both pedals work equally well with single coils as well as humbucker pickups, and they tend to like lower output pickups over hotter ones.
With a legend as big as its price point (over $700), the Clark Amplification Gainster has been around since the ’90s. It was out of production at one time but it’s now available directly from the builder still in the big-box format. It is meant to add pure gain to your signal, lending sustain to it without changing the signal’s tonal character. There is no compression on the note attack, which helps to open up the sound. It also has bigger components that provide an easier modding platform.
Browntone Electronics is one of those mysterious companies that don’t seem to need a website to be relevant. Their Hoochee Mama overdrive enjoys cult status among pedal connoisseurs and is based on a circuit that’s very similar to the Clark Gainster, but offers slightly more emphasis on the low end. Like the Gainster, it sports three simple controls with mysterious names like More, Jive, and Spank (volume, tone, and gain, respectively). It delivers fantastic note separation, but the true magic lies in how the controls are interactive, changing the character of the sound in a unique, musical way. It nails a wide range of tones, especially when balancing Jive while cranking the Spank.
There aren’t a lot of pedals inspired by these two circuits, but the ones that do exist are well-crafted and designed. Some are direct takes on the original circuits, some offer additional features, but all of them create their own version of that timeless Tweed tone.
Barber Electronics / Clark Gainster
Barber and Clark worked together on this model, as it doesn’t offer any additional functionality, but it is almost identical to the original. It sounds great but is very rare and comes with a hefty price point. It’s every bit as versatile as the original, working well with chords and single notes. There is chime to spare in the top end, but there is not much in the lower range.
Mythos Pedals Olympus
An homage to the design ingenuity of the Hoochie Mama and Gainster circuits, it features a slight mid push without losing clarity at the ends of the frequency spectrum. It cleans up nicely, whether you’re keeping the gain low on the pedal or rolling back your volume knob. It’s built with the highest quality parts and hand-assembled. It is probably the model with the most available gain.
BMF The Godfather II
This circuit is built to provide the response and feel of a real amp. It’s on the lower gain side of things, but perfect for a more subdued tone that doesn’t lack on sustain and clarity. There are three controls over level, gain, and tone and an internal trim pot that adjusts an optional bass boost.
Gas FX Drive Thru
The switch that selects between operating modes (Silicon/Germanium) sets this model apart. Silicon provides more crunch, and in this mode, the tone knob acts as a presence control would on a real amp. The Germanium side is a little cleaner with a gentle lift in the mid-range and works best pushing an amp that is already cranked. It has interactive controls like the Hoochie Mama, providing a wealth of tones in just three knobs.
KEP Clark Gainster Clone
This is the most affordable Gainster variation. The overdrive it produces is clear and cutting, even though it doesn’t get overly crunchy. There are no extravagant graphics or labeling, but great care goes into creating each pedal. The downside is that they aren’t rare, but not exactly easy to find either.
ThorpyFX Clark Gainster Clone (Discountinued, no video)
One of the rarer designs is handmade in England and allegedly sounds almost identical to the original Gainster circuit. There is a great attention to detail in the selection of each component, manufactured to the highest hand-wired quality. They are out of production, but if you’re lucky you might find one floating around the used market.
Murphy Mojo Gainsta (around $200, no video) – [Buy it on Reverb.com] It’s all in the name. There is plenty of Gainster mojo on tap here. Paper in Oil and Silver Mica capacitors are used, increasing the sonic quality of the signal. You can also increase the headroom via the internal switch that removes the clipping diodes. It’s not cheap, but the tone is well worth it.
Interested in similar overdrive circuits? Check out the following shopping guides:
by Brandon Stoner