When buying music equipment I typically buy based on what the piece of gear can do for me. Looks don’t normally play a part in a potential acquisition, it’s the specifications, tone, playability, versatility, etc, that interest me. In saying that, for the first time in probably a very long time I started GASing for a piece of gear purely on its looks. Back in late 2011 I saw pictures of a new pedal being released by boutique amplifier and effects pedal company Quinnamp. The Dirt & Ernie showcases some hilarious artwork of Sesame Street’s original odd-couple Bert and Ernie in a bathtub. I laughed out loud when I first saw this and decided on the spot that I would have to get one at some point. Fast forward a year and Quinnamp were having a Christmas sale on the Dirt & Ernie and I figured that with some spare cash in the PayPal account that it was the right time to buy one.
The Dirt & Ernie is a distortion (Dirt) & clean boost (Ernie) in one. It has a simple two knob layout to adjust output levels and gain, and a toggle switch to select the Dirt or Ernie modes. True bypass switching ensures that the Dirt & Ernie doesn’t colour your signal when it’s turned off, and the enclosure, jacks and switches are all rugged high quality items that won’t break in a hurry.
I tested the Dirt & Ernie through my Blackstar HT-5 head, connected to a 1×12″ Celestion Vintage 30 loaded cabinet. The guitar I’ve predominately used while testing the Dirt & Ernie is my custom Strat with a single EVH Frankenstein Humbucker in the bridge.
Dialing in a clean tone I tested the “Dirt” side of the Dirt & Ernie first. The first thing I noticed was that the tone was very similar to the MXR Distortion+. I’ve not owned one but i have built one in the past, so I was familiar with the parts and layout. I opened up the Dirt & Ernie, and my thoughts were confirmed. It was definitely based off the Distortion+.
Like the Distortion+, unity gain is fairly high up on the output level control, around 3 o’clock. That gives you a little wiggle room if you want the bypassed clean tone to be quieter than the pedal, but not heaps.
With the gain at 9 o’clock the Dirt & Ernie provides a nice gritty slightly overdriven sound. It works nicely for slightly dirty bluesy tones and probably gritty country (I’m not a country fan, but I can see how it may be good for those that are). Take the gain up to 12 o’clock and the Dirt & Ernie kicks in with some raunchy distortion perfect for classic rock. Push the gain to 3 o’clock and the distortion is much heavier. Great for hard rock and earlier forms of metal, but not tight and compressed enough for more modern metal. from there on in the Dirt & Ernie makes some great fuzzy tones that lovers of fuzz pedals will dig.
The great thing with the Dirt & Ernie is that with all this glorious noise it never gets too noisy when not playing. Single coil players will face the typical 60 cycle hum issues faced with some dirt, but those using humbuckers won’t be too bothered.
The “Ernie” side is very useful too. At 9 o’clock it boosts up the volume a little while still retaining a similar tone to bypass. Hit 12 o’clock and things start to get a little more raunchy. There’s a little overdrive, similar to a clean valve amp being pushed to the point of break-up. Around 3 o’clock things get a little more overdriven and distorted, but not overly so like the “Dirt” side. Push the gain all the way and you get some glorious clean crunch and a hint of low end boost. It’s easy to see that the “Ernie” side of the pedal would make a pretty nice overdrive pedal for already distorted tones, and that leads us to the next topic – using the Dirt & Ernie on an already overdriven amplifier.
Dirt & Ernie pushing some dirt
Dialing in the dirty channel of my HT-5, and setting the Dirt & Ernie to 3 o’clock for both controls I first tried out the “Ernie” side of the pedal. The resulting tone was fantastic, with a very transparent overdrive that didn’t affect the basic distorted tone of the amp, rather it just pushed the distortion even further, providing some awesome high gain metal tones.
Using the “Dirt” side with the same settings and the Dirt & Ernie created some awesome over the top fuzzing crazy grungy tones that just want to continuously feedback. I actually use the Dirt & Ernie in this way for parts of some of my bands music where I want some crazy double distortion tones.
Overall the Quinnamp Dirt & Ernie is a killer little stompbox that provides great classic rock distortion through to all out fuzz, and cool clean boost that works just as nice as an overdrive for an already dirty channel. The pedal is built with solid components designed to last, and keep your signal quiet even with the highest amounts of dirt that the Dirt & Ernie can achieve. If you are looking for a Distortion+ type dirt box with a little more on the side, top quality build, and some clever graphics definitely check out the Dirt & Ernie.