MI Effects Crunch Box Distortion – review

Big Heavy British high gain goodness.

The MI Effects Crunch Box Distortion is MI Effects take on high gain hot-rod British amp distortion. It offers a strong mid-presence that is commonly associated with Marshall amplifiers, and a wide range of gain is on tap.

It may be small, and seem like it has a fairly limited control set-up, but don’t be fooled by this. The Crunch Box offers up everything from low gain, throaty crunch sounds a la AC/DC, through to ripping high gain that will suit most metal genres, and shredding lead guitar styles.

The Crunch Box comes with three fairly standard controls for distortion pedals, Volume, Tone and Gain. These controls all offer a wide range of tone shaping options, which at first take quite a bit to get used to.

Dialling the Volume control you will find a huge amount of volume to deal with. It also shapes the tone somewhat, so it can be a little difficult to dial in first. MI Effects suggest that the best place to start is at about 12 o’clock, and tweak slightly from there.

If you want a wide range of gain options from a distortion pedal the Crunch Box will give that to you. It also cleans up nicely when winding back the volume on your guitar. Almost all distortion pedals will introduce a certain level of unwanted noise when dialling in lots of gain, but thankfully due to high quality electronic components the Crunch Box is fairly quiet.

The thing that sets the Crunch Box apart from the others is the added Presence control hidden inside the enclosure. This allows you to shape the overall presence of the Crunch Box to suit the amp you are playing through. No longer is it a matter of finding a distortion pedal that works with your amp, you can make the Crunch Box work to your liking.

With true-bypass wiring the Crunch Box will not affect your signal when bypassed.

Plugging into my Blackstar HT-5 I was a little perplexed by the resulting tone I got from the Crunch Box. I could hear the Marshall type sound coming out of my speaker, but it just seemed to be lacking. It sounded too much like tinned distortion pedal crunch. I had a think about it, and figured that it may be due to the fact that the HT-5 is kind of voiced like a Marshall amp. Dialling the ISF control over to the US side didn’t really seem to help too much either. I just could not seem to dial in a ‘great’ sound, just merely a ‘good’ sound.

I decided to try the Crunch Box through the clean channel of my Kustom KGA65, and to also run it through my AMT Electronics SS-20 valve Pre-amp, which has a Fender-type clean channel.

My what a difference I heard through this amp and pre-amp! Through the Kustom’s clean channel I was greeted by glorious Marshall type crunch. This was no cheap sounding generic distortion pedal sound, it actually sounded like a singing high gain channel on a nice valve amp.

Hooking up my AMT Electronics SS-20 pre-amp through the power section of my Blackstar HT-5 and things were even better. The SS-20 has a beautiful clean channel, but with the Crunch Box engaged it turned into a fire breathing monster.

UPDATE: 05 October 2010
I’ve been reviewing the Goosoniqueworx Seventh Heaven distortion pedal (review will be here soon), and I realised that I had made a silly error in my pedal chain. I had a non-true-bypass overdrive in the chain after the Seventh Heaven, and I worked out that it was colouring the tone of the pedal, and not in a good way.

I worked out that when I was testing the Crunch Box that I had the same pedal after it. I pulled the overdrive out of the equation, adjusted the presence control on the Crunch Box, and what a difference! I was hearing the same sort of sound out of the Crunch Box with my HT-5 as I did through my Kustom KGS65, and my AMT Electronics SS-20. So if your amp has a bit of a Marshall vibe already, don’t worry, the Crunch Box will sound awesome.

This is a great lesson in paying attention to what is in your pedal chain, and it’s position in the chain, as some pedals will colour your tone.

The Crunch Box cleaned up nicely through both amps when rolling back the guitar’s volume knob, and the pedal was as quiet as a high gain distortion pedal can be.

Construction wise the Crunch Box is a nice solid pedal, with a strong but lightweight aluminium enclosure, top quality pots and jacks, and a high quality 3PDT switch which should withstand thousands of stomps. I was amazed at how tiny the PCB was, and the attention to detail is apparent with this hand-made pedal.

If you are playing through a reasonable solid state amp with a nice clean channel, or have a nice Fender-ish valve amp, and you want to introduce a big Marshall type tone to your rig, the Crunch Box is your best bet. It will also work nicely with Marshall type amplifiers too, so if you have an amp that just doesn’t have enough gain the Crunch Box is for you. It is nicely priced, well built, and jam packed with massive British crunch. It might take a little fiddling to find your tone, but it is very worthwhile spending the time as it is a very rewarding pedal.

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