Blues King 1 56936.1338536539.1280.1280For irredeemable tone tweakers, this “low-gain” distortion pedal (it actually has plenty on tap) VFE’s Blues King (street $144) is a Pandora’s box of grind. Built by hand by a small family business out of Pennsylvania, the Blues King has “Buy American” credibility right off the bat. Couple that with top-flight components, an unusual flexibility of tone and a competitive price and the Blues King seems a natural choice.

A note on the flexibility: in addition to the standard overdrive controls, the Blues King lets you choose between symmetrical and asymmetrical soft clipping, the ability to blend the distortion characteristics of silicon diodes and germanium diodes, and a bass cut knob to control the overall roundness of the tone. If that isn’t enough, there’s a trim pot inside that adjusts the level of compression.

My feelings about this approach are similar to the ones I have with Korean barbecue: the ingredients may be terrific, but you’re still cooking it yourself. Contrast that with sublime flavors and textures produced to the exacting standards of a culinary tyrant and I know which one I’d go for. But if you are a relentless researcher of tone related subtleties, you may be stunned by this pedal’s malleability.

One note of warning though: Unless you’re really listening for differences between one type of distortion and another, it’s hard to tell symmetrical and asymmetrical soft clipping apart. On the plus side, the compression (maxed out at high noon on the distortion blend knob) adds a pleasing heft to the tone, and the bass contour really helps lead lines cut through. Ultimately, this is a vinyl-versus-CD argument, which may excite the passions of audio nerds but is ultimately a matter of personal taste. For guitar nerds whose soft clipping needs change at whim, the Blues King may just be the pedal you’ve been waiting for.  — Howard Stock