I remember the first time I played through the Gold. Stephen had been in mad scientist mode in his R&D lab at the pedal shop and he texted me to come test drive a pedal he was working on. It was so dirty and yet so clean all at the same time. It was incredibly inspirational and I remember writing riffs immediately. What started out as an idea to bring Marshall tones to your pedalboard has turned into one of the most inspirational and versatile overdrive pedals on the market. In this post, we go into the inspiration and the tech specs that went into the creation of The Pettyjohn Electronics Gold Overdrive.
MB: What was the inspiration for The Gold?
Pettyjohn: “It’s a funny place for a pedal to be inspired but it came from a color swatch from the powder coating company that we use for our enclosures. I was picking out the finishes for The Iron and the The Chime, and right next to them was this gold color. And I thought to myself “I’ve gotta do something with that! It’s obviously gold and in my mind that lends to either a Marshall or a Klon idea. Those are the classic gold tones. You don’t call something “gold” unless it’s going to be really good.”
“So I kept it in my back pocket for a few years and I knew it was there and I knew that it would be the ultimate completion of the trifecta when it comes to classic amp overdrive flavors. When it came around to digging into it, I was exploring a combo of my take on a Plexi amp with a little bit of Klon influence on the circuitry. I ended up going in more of a Marshall direction than the Klon idea.”
MB: “What makes The Gold stand apart from the massive amount of “Marshall in a box” pedals on the market?”
Pettyjohn: “So I like the sound of a Marshall after it’s come through the mics, the preamps, the console, engineered, recorded to tape, then run back through the mastering process back onto tape. That’s why I ended up using a more studio style EQ because that allows me to carve out the tone I want just like the engineer in the studio. That’s the Marshall sound that I like and that was what I put into this pedal. My biggest problem with doing a “Marshall in a box” pedal is generally, I don’t always love Marshalls when I plug into them but there are quite a few records that I enjoy that I found that were recorded with Marshall amps and I wanted to recreate the tone of those Marshalls that sound so great on recordings.”
“Ultimately my goal wasn’t to just create a Marshall emulation but to create a desert island golden overdrive that could go from low-gain, pushed amp, edge of breakup all the way to medium-gain distortion. So not the high-gain JCM-2000, that’s not what this pedal is designed to do. It’s more JCM800 and lower. But more of the Plexi range, which is the JTMs and the Blues Breakers. The early Marshalls back when Marshall was still modding Fender circuits.”
MB: “What are some of those records?”
Pettyjohn: “A lot of the productions from Howard Benson’s team. One record, in particular, New Horizons by Flyleaf. Some of the low gain overdrive tones on that record are pretty much a pushed Plexi and I love the way it sounded on the record. I wanted to do something that could capture those low gain tones and also be able to really nail the high-gain tone and sustain that Marshalls are known for as well as the Zeppelin tones and more classic rock stuff if you set it right.”
MB: “What makes it unique from a tech perspective?”
Console Style EQ vs traditional Marshall or Klon Tone Stack
Pettyjohn: “We used our most flexible tone stack circuit we’ve come up with to date. My thought there as I was looking at what a lot of the “Marshall in a box” overdrives do, I found that the majority of them use Marshall-inspired tone stacks. I started studying those and realized that what people love about each generation of Marshall is the mid-bell. Each model of Marshall has a different emphasis on the midrange. It’s really all over the place from model to model and that midrange is part of what creates “the Marshall sound”. So I thought, let’s create a sweepable bell that covers the entire range that any Marshall has ever had….plus a little bit. We based the tone stack off the kind of the kind of circuit you’d find in a recording console opposed to an amp. By doing that, we basically created one of the most versatile overdrives out there.”
MB: “And I heard that you got that EQ section from The Filter, is that correct?”
Pettyjohn: “Yeah. I designed The Filter prior to The Gold. And so I drew heavily on what I learned while developing that pedal. It’s a very similar mid-bell circuit to what’s in The Filter. When studying tone stacks, I realized that there were some limitations in the Marshall that I really didn’t love and I wanted people to have the flexibility to go as transparent or as colored as they want with the EQ. The idea is that the drive circuit doesn’t have any EQ built in. So all of the EQ is in the tone knobs themselves. I thought, “How about I just give the power to the people and give them the full sweep, full control?”
MB: “So it doesn’t have your typical Tubescreamer mid bump in the drive?”
Pettyjohn: “No. It doesn’t have a mid bump and it doesn’t have a low-cut (When the pedal is engaged, like most overdrives). The mids are exactly where you want them to be. The low cut is the only low-cut in the entire circuit. So it goes from 20Hz to 700Hz, Because for some people, the Marshall sound is that sub, low, so I wanted to give the user the ability to achieve that so I left that option open. The first 3rd of the low-cut knob, you’re not going to hear on most amps because it’s all sub. It’s 20Hz to 100Hz in that first part of the range. At that point, you’re not even getting into what most guitar amps are going to push so you can use it on bass and other instruments because it’s full range. You start feeling the low end tighten up around noon because you’re starting to get into that 200Hz to 300Hz range and then it goes all the way up to 700Hz. So you can really get that mid-forward sound and get rid of all of the low-end that you want to. The same is true with the highs. The high’s knob is a passive cut from 20K down to 1K. So it also sweeps. That gives the user the ability to let the full brightness of the guitar come through or shut that down as much or as little as they want. That’s where the capacitors we use come in.”
Pettyjohn: “We have two types of caps in The Gold. We have the Auri-Cap and an Orange Drop.”
The Auri-Cap on the high cut is ultra transparent. The Auri-Cap is mostly used in the hi-fi world in the crossover of high-end audiophile stereo speakers. I put it in the high-cut circuit, and it warms up without losing clarity. It really does a great job of preserving the articulation and harmonics. Again, I took the low-pass circuit you’d find in a recording console and I used that as the inspiration for the high cut. It’s a very simple circuit that consists of just a pot, a resistor and a cap that’s interacting with the tone directly so it’s not active, it’s a passive circuit with minimal loss. So I use the Auri-cap because I’ve found that it’s the cleanest.
THE ORANGE DROP
Conversely, there is an internal setting in the Gold where you can add an orange drop capacitor to that same circuit. What the orange drop does is more of a vintage amp sound, that’s the opposite of the Auri, It’s blurry but in the most musical way. People like orange drop because they have this kind of warm, fuzzy, smoothing factor that’s still musical. So the orange drop is different than the Auri-Cap but still musical so, throw that in there with the internal mini toggle and you’ll hear those harmonics blur more and become smoother and kind of rounder. So with a bright guitar or a bright amp, sometimes that orange drop will be a bit nicer. Personally, I prefer the Auri-Cap because, most of the time, I’m playing with darker guitars and darker amps. I usually don’t need more blur, I need more clarity to come through. So with, say an AC30 or an AC15, the orange drop might be a better option for you.”
Studio-Grade Boutique Guitar Pedals
What makes our pedals different than any other pedal company out there is that we at Pettyjohn Electronics strive to create “studio grade” gear. Though it’s quickly becoming a buzzword, it actually means something really specific. It means we are using the same quality of engineering and component selection that you see in high-end, studio gear. It’s inspired by the studio and built on years of experience recording guitars in the studio and the tones that Stephen has been going after behind the mixer for years.
The Gold is no exception and when you get the chance to play through one, you’ll be able to hear what we mean by “studio grade”. We strive to create gear that stands above the status quo of the pedal world and we honestly believe we have hit that mark yet again with The Gold. Test drive one at your local Pettyjohn Electronics dealer and see for yourself.