Breaking into the boutique pedal business is pretty tough. In a market that is already saturated by every man hand his dog making pedals, you’ve got to have something that makes your brand stand out. Big Joe Stomp Box Company are a new-comer to this business, with an interesting brand image. Utilising the imagery of Big Joe Williams, a delta-blues guitar player who created his own 9 string guitar to wail his brand of blues, Big Joe Stomp Box Company definitely have a particular look that is different to all the rest. Every pedal has Big Joe painted on the enclosure, with the background colour of the enclosure letting you know what pedal you have. Big Joe (the stomp box company) were nice enough to send me out two pedals to review – the Hard Tube and the Saturated Tube. In this review I test out the Hard Tube.
The Hard Tube is an incredibly high gain distortion pedal with four controls on board. It is a little different to your standard three or four control distortion pedal where you might have a tone or a bass and treble frequency controls. The Hard Tube gives you a mid frequency control, and a mid level control. The mid frequency allows you to dial in the tone you want, and the mid control gives you the ability to boost or cut the mid frequency you’ve chosen. The gain knob goes from a nice amount of crunch up to ridiculous amounts of saturated distortion. Output is your volume control. This needs to be up pretty high to match your bypassed tone’s volume.
I tested the Hard Tube through my Blackstar HT-5 head, connected to a 1×12″ Celestion Vintage 30 loaded cabinet. The guitar I used was an Ibanez RG470, loaded with Seymour Duncan Custom in the bridge, Quarter Pound Flat in the middle, and Screamin’ Demon in the neck.
I dialed in a balanced clean channel tone to test the Hard Tube’s distortion prowess through. Starting with the gain knob at it’s minimum setting, the Hard Tube has a fairly tame crunch tone, nothing to write home about. It’s when you start cranking the gain that things start to light up. Set the gain at about 8 o’clock, and things start to really heat up. Set the mid frequency and level controls to your liking and you’ve got classic eighties metal tones on tap. Push the gain a little higher and classic thrash is where it’s at, adjust the mid level to scoop or boost the mids to your liking. Push the gain more and you can dial in tones ranging from heavier grunge, to modern metal tones, through to buzz saw death metal evilness. Noise is quite often an issue when you crank up a distortion pedal, and thankfully the Hard Tube has minimal unwanted humming and hissing. Notes also manage to retain a sense of clarity and articulation with high amounts of gain dialed in.
The challenging part with dialing in the Hard Tube is sorting out the tone. Setting up the mid frequency and level controls. They are not nearly as easy to dial in as the standard tone or bass and treble controls found on most dirt boxes. Persist though and you’ll find the right settings for your amp and guitar.
If you are going to be stomping on a dirt box on a regular basis you want it to be tough enough to take the bumps. Big Joe have ensured that their pedals can take the hits night after night. The Hard Tube feels almost as heavy as a brick, and the switches, jacks and knobs feel like tough reliable parts.
Overall the Big Joe Stomp Box Company Hard Tube is one heavy box of dirt. If you are after something that will tear heads off this is the box for you. Perfect for almost any kind of metal, the Hard Tube could almost be considered a one-trick pony, but what it does it does very well. Get your head around the mid frequency and level controls and you’ll be rewarded with crazy high gain goodness.