All About the Klon Centaur Professional Overdrive
It seems as though we are always on the search for the ultimate overdriven tone as guitarists. Sometimes we may find it in a particular tube amp, others may dig a particular pedal, and sometimes there emerges an indisputable hero. The Klon Centaur designed by Bill Finnegan may be one of those indisputable heroes. Let me tell you why that might be the case.This pedal was designed with one goal in mind, to create a boost/overdrive pedal that delivered something different (and specifically less colored) than the Ibanez Tube Screamer, which in the late ’80s was all the rage. With the help of MIT graduate Fred Fenning, Finnegan started working on the Centaur Klon in the early ’90s. After several years of research and development, the first unit sold in 1994 for $225 – and it’s now owned by Mr. Josh JHS.
The Sound of the Klon
The idea behind it was to provide a hand-built, transparent and dynamically responsive overdrive that plays to the quality of your guitar and amp. Rather than the pedal providing “the sound”, you are feeding a signal with just the right shape and force to make your amp and guitar provide “the sound”.
This approach has become known as “transparent overdrive,” but the Klon Centaur goes beyond that, allowing coloring of the top end through a Treble knob. People have said that the boost is not typical of any other pedal and adds the “Klon” sparkle. At noon, the Treble knob allows for clean signal boosting with no effect on your tone.
The thing that makes the Klon different from other similar pedals is that the Gain knob is a two-way control that mixes clean back in with the drive. It is still a pretty mysterious control to this day that makes many a builder scratch their head.
What it doesn’t do is provide the sound on its own. You can’t expect to have a poor amp tone and poor guitar and magically save the day with the Klon. That may be the reason why some folks spend their life savings on one only to feel that it is lackluster or over-hyped.
The circuit of the original device remained the same in the Gold and Silver models, with minor component changes being made around 1995. And even though Finnegan went industrial-scale with the Klon KTR in 2014, he kept building occasional units by hand until 2009, for a total of around 8,000. Finnegan stated that the hand-made and mass-produced units sound exactly the same.
What’s the Klon’s Hype All About?
So what makes the Klon tick? Why is it so highly coveted?
Supply vs. Demand
While the fact that original Klons are rare (and even the KTR version is not exactly ubiquitous) helps in the hype department by shrinking the supply, there are obviously many, many guitarists who wholeheartedly love what the Klon does to their tone, which feeds the demand.
On top of that, the fact that the original units’ circuit boards are gooped (covered in epoxy resin to make it harder to clone) may be another reason why… it’s become the most cloned pedal in history – file under: the power of mystery! A guy named Martin Chittum was able to “degoop” an original and reverse engineer it, producing this picture of the schematics.
Another mysterious thing about the Klon Centaur is that Finnegan famously stated that he used some diodes that no one else has access to, without which no Klone will sound like a real Klon. Of course, many pedal builders beg to disagree…
The Sound of the Klon Centaur
Interestingly, those who swear by it are typically the type of people that don’t like guitar pedals that much. This is probably due to the fact that the Klon’s main quality is to improve your tone, rather than changing it; it takes a good guitar and amp combo and helps it achieve the best overdrive tone you can imagine out of the two. Some guitarists use the Klon to create an extra amp amp channel. You’ve got the clean channel, the drive channel, and then the Klon channel.
If you love the capability of your guitar and amp combo and the different tones you can achieve through them, then the Klon takes this even further than you could have imagined, in a pleasurable way: it essentially sweetens and enhances an already good thing.
Cloning the Klon
The cloning of the Klon Centaur began in 2009, when Finnegan announced that he was going to stop making it and was working on a mass-produced version of it. The JHS Klone was probably the first replica, although the company agreed to discontinue it as soon as Finnegan’s new version hit the market, which happened in 2014 with the KTR.
As the pedal grew in popularity (and price) in the ’10s, more manufacturers started to release pedals either inspired by the Klon or downright intent on replicating its “magic.”
Below we hand-picked a selection of “Klones” in different formats, linking to more in-depth lists for those of you interested in digging deeper.
Part for Part Hand-Built Klon Replica
RYRA Klone PedalPresented as a “an exact, part for part, meticulously crafted replica of the infamous “transparent” overdrive pedal,” the RYRA Klone enjoys a great reputation among “tone-thusiasts” and is hosted in a much smaller case than the original (although not quite a compact one). Manufactured by a bonafide US boutique builder, it won’t break the bank: at $190, its price point is just right – and the graphics look cool too.
High-End, Hand-Made, Custom-Built Mini-Klone
Decibelics Golden Horse
A high-end, hand-made-to-order Klon replica that is A/B tested against a real gold Centaur prior to be shipped. It features New Old Stock components and the same response values as the original. Constantly sold out, it may be found used at twice the original price.
Ceriatone Centura (built or DIY Kit)
This pedal is so hand-made that… you can build it with your own hands, if you wish! Available (after a few months of waiting) as a fully assembled unit for $250 and a kit for $215, the Centura is made with top-notch component and has a stellar reputation among tone connoisseurs, although its size, identical to the one of the original unit and therefore rather bulky, might be a drawback for some.
Quality Klon Replicas (not hand-built)
Wampler Tumnus V2
Fairly priced at around $150, this is one of the most popular Klones out there. Designed and built in the US, the Tumnus is a faithful recreation of the original 3-knob design in miniature shape from a builder with boutique credentials and a super solid reputation for overdrives. Running solely on 9v power (the case is too small for a battery) it convincingly delivers the goodness of the famed rich, dynamic and transparent Klon tone.
J. Rockett Archer (Silver or Gold)
Designed in Nashville and assembled by a small team in a California facility, the Archer features Silicon diodes but replicates the sound of an original Klon very closely – it’s fair to say few would notice the difference, in particular in a band setting. The Golden version of it – according to the manufacturer – sounds slightly warmer. Both pedals rarely get less than 5-star ratings in our affiliate stores’ review sections.
Mid-Priced Klon Clones
MXR Sugar Drive
An affordable and deceptively simple mini-klone. Just like in the original unit, the drive knob in this circuit blends the clean guitar signal with the overdriven one as you turn it up, while the circuit’s headroom is increased through what is referred to as a “Charge Pump.” A switch lets you choose between bypass or MXR’s buffered bypass.
Way Huge Conspiracy Theory
One of the newest, affordable, solidly built three-knob klones from a reliable manufacturer. It keeps things simple, compact and – what’s important – delivers authentic tones, although it lacks the less the buffered bypass and has a slight emphasis on the lower mids.
Wampler Tumnus Deluxe
This expanded version of the original Tumnus (the mini-Klone we covered above) makes a good thing even better, giving the player more control, although in a non-mini (but still compact) enclosure. The tonal flexibility is greatly expanded by a three-way EQ section, and a Normal/Hot switch allows you to get a higher gain version of the Klone tone. A side switch lets you engage true bypass for uncolored tonal purity.
Bondi Effects Sick As
This is a simple but very popular Klon evolution hailing from Australia, delivering the usual range of transparent tones from clean boost to crunchy overdrive. It features a toggle switch that controls the amount of headroom and character of the drive, and an extra Bass knob for added versatility. Both EQ knobs allow 15dB of boost or cut. Australian pedals rarely become popular in the USA. The fact that this hasinvaded that market is a testament to its quality.
ProAnalog Devices Manticore V2
A re-engineered but authentic-sounding version of the original, the Manticore V2 gives the Klon tone a fresh look, introducing an extra gain stage at the input level and a Savage knob that fattens up your guitar signal through a unique low pass filter. This opens up the range enormously, maintaining the dynamics and articulation of the Klon but allowing for a lot more, including full-on distortion at high gain settings.
Super-Affordable Klons (Under $90)
Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
At under $80, this is an extremely popular pedal by a company whose name is nothing short of legendary in the pedal realm, although some tone purists argue that it sounds thinner than the original. This is not surprising, since it’s impossible to get an authentic Klon tone without its expensive components. It maintains the 3-knob layout of the vintage unit, while a switchable buffer/true-bypass feature solidifies it as a contender against the others. It shines when stacked with other overdrives.
The most popular of the super-affordable Chinese Klones sold on Amazon, this mini-pedal offers the handy option to emulate not one but TWO versions of the Centaur Overdrive: Gold mode mimics the classic, transparent Gold Centaur overdrive pedal, and the Silver mode is a powered version with an extended gain range (Silver Centaur). And yes, it is said that Gold and Silver version had an identical circuit, but part of the Klon myth is that people disagree about this kind of detail.
Shootout Videos and Other Links
If the pedal demos we linked to in the galleries above weren’t enough to sway you one way or another, there are a series of videos where the various Klon inspired pedals get compared directly through shootouts: we’ve embedded here some of them to better inform your choice.
Klon Centaur Vs. Tube Screamer
For those who are wondering how different the Klon sounds compared to another legendary overdrive, the Ibanez Tube Screamer, you may want to check this video out: