Imagine playing dirty greasy riffs, saturated Neil Young-type of rhythms and warm cutting leads that sound as if you are plugged into a vintage tweed amplifier from the 40s and 50s. Any axe slinger knows that those beige low watt boxes from the past can cost big bucks. Contemporary reproductions are also pricey. So how does an average picker or strummer get his or her hands on that tweed inspired sound? The answer is the Formula 5 overdrive pedal from Catalinbread.
Handmade in Portland, Oregon, the Formula 5 can transform most clean channels into tweed sounding bliss by merely plugging in. The F5 has gain, tone and volume controls which, when combined with high output pick-ups, like humbuckers and single coils, produces the desirable meaty sound for which tweeds are so famous. The pedal is a true bypass that functions as a preamp. Added effects and other pedals are usually placed before the F5, which runs directly into the amp.
Fuzzes, wah-wahs, boosters and compressors are no problem. Just set the equalization (reverb, tone, bass, master volume, etc.) on the amplifier and the F5 is good to go. Then it is time to experiment. The volume knob on any guitar can become a remarkably creative tool after the Formula 5 is engaged. What’s more, string attack is dynamic while extremely comfortable. This is when playing guitar can be a lot of fun.
A 5E3 Amp and Beyond
The folks at Catalinbread have successfully created the sound of a rich 5e3 amplifier with the Formula 5. The F5 can drive a tube amp in a way most other pedals cannot. According to Catalinbread, “If you’ve ever played a real 5e3 you know that it doesn’t really come alive until you open it up some.” The F5 does that and more.
The gain kicks in on the F5 where an old tweed amp would already be cranked to perhaps 3 or 4. Plus, when it comes to internal circuits, instead of the more common MOSFET gainstages, the F5 utilizes cascaded JFETs which eliminate the stiffness and brittle qualities often heard in competitors’ products.
The F5 does not require any special equipment, hardware or permanent adjustments. It runs on a 9v battery or an 18v negative tip power adapter. Note the 18v has greater tonal potential but battery power has plenty of sag and grit. Duane Allman sometimes talked about his fondness for pedals that had fading batteries inside because they generated a softer resonance. Are you listening slide players?
Proof is in the Pedal
On the Catalinbread website, video clips indicate the F5 was tested alongside a Princeton Reverb. We connected our battery equipped F5 to a 15 watt Fender Blues Jr. and Ibanez TS 808. Our axe was tuned one-half step down and outfitted with a Seymour Duncan 59 humbucker at the neck and a JB Trembucker in the bridge. Tone knobs on the guitar were pushed half-way and the volume almost at max. Settings on the Blues Jr. were all at 4.
With the F5’s volume at 10 o’clock, tone at 12 and gain near two, the results were nothing less than astounding. It was if a secret world of music had been hiding inside the guitar. What changed? Lush harmonics suddenly leapt from the strings and there was sustain like never before. Notes absolutely melted away according to pick attack.
Next was the slide guitar litmus test. After the tone on the F5 was lowered to around nine o’clock we cranked up the volume all the way on another American made solid body. A pair of 61 CreamT humbucking pick-ups performed exquisitely when the guitar was tuned to open-G (DGDGBD). The strings growled and snarled under a metal finger slide at all the right times. For this run, instead of the Tubescreamer, a Boss Blues Driver was employed. Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” never sounded better. No pick was used, just fingers.
The same held true for single coils in standard tuning. The sound response was gnarly with the perfect amount of edginess. We repeated everything with the 18v adapter, which had less sag but more complexity.
However, the F5 is not just a dirt box. The sound cleaned up well when the volume on the guitar was lowered. The humbuckers really chimed. But the gain is the fuel to the F5. Look out, because the higher you turn it, naturally, the wilder it gets.
The Formula 5, part of Catalin’s “Foundation Overdrive” series, retails for $149.99 USD. The Dunlop 18v AC adapter, part number ECB004US, sells for about $15.00 USD.
If you are searching for classic tweed sound with contemporary muscle, then try the Catalinbread Formula 5 overdrive pedal. You won’t be sorry.