Wampler Sovereign
Wampler makes some grandiose claims for its Sovereign distortion pedal ($200). Before you’ve even opened the box, Wampler assures you you’ll soon be bowing down before the new king of crunch. The hyperbole goes on a bit, but after you’ve tried this pedal you’ll happily go along with the joke.

It’s endlessly debatable which is the best distortion pedal, of course, but Sovereign certainly offers a ton of useful tones, with some clever touches. Plus, for all its versatility, Sovereign is also intuitive, something that’s not always common in highly customizable pedals.

Wampler separates Sovereign’s functions into two logical rows. The first row runs like this: How much distortion would I like? Round or sparkly? Classic or hot? The second row is volume, midrange control (an excellent feature, since guitars tend to hog these frequencies) and tone to round things out. While using boost in the top line may cause you to rethink your initial gain setting, it’s easy to dial in the tone you’re looking for.

Seasoned to taste, Sovereign sounds organic through large and small tube amps and reacts very nicely to pickup volume, allowing easy shifts from crunchy rhythm to full lead roar with a twist of the volume knob. The bright switch really brings a guitar’s tone to life and adds clarity to leads on a live soundstage. Boost can be a little aggressive, but it’s easy to tame the distortion with a flick of a switch.

What makes Sovereign most impressive is that if you steer clear of its extremes, your guitar tone will sound great—and noticeably different—anywhere across its sonic spectrum. For this reason alone, Wampler Sovereign would be useful in the recording studio. But its easy ability to conjure up distinctively delicious tones should make it a hit with most players. – Howard Stock