Blackstone and Crunchbox... initial impressions

Discussion in 'Effects, Pedals, Strings & Things' started by Scott Peterson, Mar 12, 2006.


  1. Scott Peterson

    Scott Peterson Staff Member

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    Wow.

    I have two shows coming up this next weekend, St. Patrick's Day. So I reexamined my rig to fit this gig situation (new country genre).

    Long story short I took a flyer on the MI Audio Crunchbox and the Blackstone Appliances OD/Distortion.

    I had a major rehearsal today, full band, stage volume equal to gig volume on my "A" rig. (Melancon Custom Artist "S"; Germino Club 40; Tone Tools 112).

    My thoughts? Homerun. Twice. Out of the park.

    I have spent some hours on Friday working with both boxes prior to this.

    The MI Audio Crunchbox is the "amp about to explode" pedal for me. It is simply a cholesterol filled grease monster of a distortion. I totally dig the full on in-your-face punch and slam of this little red pedal. I really like it for big rocking solos; and with my Fulltone Clyde wah in front of it.... day-um fun. I am more than slightly blown away with it.

    The Blackstone is a completely different beast. It isn't just another pedal. It is one of those things in life where you just stop and realize that everything you thought you knew - deeply - is now changed. This thing doesn't just open the box; it is probably the most impressive OD pedal I have ever tried. My gear hound longtime buddy bassist Mike even noted, "Don't sell that one. Please. That thing is amazing." I'd have to agree with him.

    It isn't set up like ordinary pedals. You have two channels, Red and Brown. On the higher gain Red channel, you have volume and a gain pot that is at minimum at 12 o'clock; turn clockwise for fatter single coils gain (really fattens up the tone); turn counter-clockwise for higher gain humbucker tones (tightens the bass up). Really holds together and stays very tight, not loose at all. On the lower gain Brown channel, you have volume and gain on top; the gain works like the clockwise "Red" gain. There is a single "EQ" that starts flat at full clockwise and as you roll it counter clockwise it cuts the mids; past 12 o'clock it boosts the highs and lows.

    On the inside of the pedal you have a few options - first you have the buffered/non-buffer switch. If you can run this directly after the guitar, you can not believe how it reacts to the volume knob. Crystal clean to full on raging distortion on the red channel; insane. There are also two trim pots; one is for overall gain on the Red Channel and one adjusts the overall presence. If that isn't enough, you can swap out either or both of two caps that will change the tonal centers of the pedal. Whew.

    I upped the inside gain a bit, left the presence at factory settings and left it unbuffered (though I might change that, it doesn't like the Clyde in front of it when I pop it in the circuit). It allows me to ride the volume pot on the guitar - to far more effect than ever before with even just the amp (any amp) - to set the degree of bite/OD/distortion. Amazingly so.

    This pedal holds together so well under high gain, it is amazing. Dropped-D stuff just SLAMS with utter authority, no mud or run away bass. The frequencies it is dialed into just fit into the mix perfectly. So much more body of the guitar tone comes though... I was a little bit surprised. I thought that before I had lots of cut, punch and body in my tone that got through the "din" of the mix; this was just mind boggling. Under high gain with a humbucker, it was stunning. Unlike the Crunchbox, this pedal does not disguise or hide anything with "grease"; you gotta bring it real or you'll hear it instantly. The higher gain stuff really reminds me of VHT's type of grind, totally together, very punchy and just FULL. Tight rather than loose.

    The brown channel is extremely similar to the Timmy. Tighter, more in control than Timmy, but the essence of that Timmy does, is here. I was *right* at home for my single coil grindy stuff. And the way the Blackstone reacts to the volume knob on the guitar; man, it is something. Totally seamless, natural and it just feels good. Very very very impressed.

    Knocks on either? The Crunch box doesn't clean up very well, at all, with the volume knob. It is basically a one trick pony. That isn't really a knock, because it does what it does so damn well. It is my go-to solo box now. Single coils or humbuckers. Just BIG sounding, massive, greasy and full of that "stuff" that makes you smile.

    The Blackstone's main knock is the LED IMHO. You get red for the red channel, but the brown channel changes it to.... orange-ish/red. Perhaps in the dark you can tell at a glance, but I am color blind to.... you guessed it, reds/browns. I can barely make out the difference between them. It is easy enough to hear the difference, but don't want to be wrong in performance. So there you are.

    Verdict this early in the game?

    MI Audio Crunchbox - massive sounding little pedal with the "STUFF". If this thing doesn't make you smile, you've never had the chance to stand in front of a true Marshall stack and had your pants flapping. This pedal brings it REAL.

    Blackstone Appliances - this is a world beater. This thing is so far out of the box, it transcends the box. Two channels that will take any amp with a good clean into three channels of total control and REAL sounding tone. More cut/body/punch in the mix than anything I have heard in my life. So small and cool (the pots on top are recessed, you need a pick or fingernail to change them... so your settings are set!) looking; so tweakable. And the result is a box that really only folks that are truly experts with OD pedals might truly appreciate. If this was your first box, you might have a harder time dialing it in at first; and once you did it might ruin all other OD boxes for you. It is *that* good.

    I have owned some things over the years that just stopped me dead. I have owned so much nice gear (and not so nice) over the years, it sometimes can be a blur. Even the truly extraordinary stuff might spin your head and make you slow down for a while; the very few gems that make you stop and rethink what you "know" or "believe" about gear this way/or that way. For me, the Melancon was like that. I've owned and loved a lot of guitars; the Melancon was bought as a back to my guitars and totally reprogrammed my brain about what I "thought" I liked/loved about guitars. Stopped me dead. My Germino Club 40 totally reset my head. The Clyde Wah; my Hamer Custom Studio (my personal PRS-killer). Now this Blackstone; and yes, I feel that strongly about it.

    Just first impressions; but I like talking about stuff that I like... so there you are. Peace!
     
  2. John Hurtt

    John Hurtt Supporting Member

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    Interesting read, Scott....I've been checking into the MI pedals recently, I might have to try one out. Never checked out a Blackstone, I may have to search one out. I'm pretty happy with my Clay Jones/Tim/Timmy but you never know.
     
  3. Realfi

    Realfi trying to re-MEMBER

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    So Scott,

    Alt-Country tinged Alt-Rock. Shall I cancel my Klon order and get a Blackstone instead?
     
  4. drolling

    drolling Member

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    Scott! thanks for the vivid & tantalizing descriptions of these new additions to the tone family. My Crunchbox has been in transit since feb. 23, and the Blackstone is something that's always interested me.. moreso now, of course.

    Have these guys kicked your Xotics off the board? What about Timmy?!?

    Hope your upcoming gig goes well, BTW:BEER
     
  5. uberschall

    uberschall Supporting Member

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    I agree with just about all of Scott's review of the Blackstone. It has the most organic, rich, amp-like feel and note decay of any OD I've had. It also cuts through the mix like nothing else I've tried- it is just a laser. Because of it's knob-free design, I have mine directly in front of my tall-box Gristle King, for a lot of tone options/combos with almost no foot moves.

    I run the brown channel gain at 9-10:00; red gain at 8-9:00 (using with hums and mini-hums.) EQ pot always sounds best to me at full mids. I've experimented a bit with the trimmers & caps; I've got a slightly increased bass cap. When I'm using it at apartment volume at home, the red channel lows sound a little thin, but at gigs they are totally there, with no mud. BTW, Jon Blackstone is a great guy and was very helpful with tweaking advice and tech support.

    I have my Gristle King set for more body and "grease", and it's stunning how well the two pedals complement, contrast and stack with each other. I have a Crunch Box coming in- I hope it will be another monster to go with these two!

    They knocked my ZIM off the board for now, but I'm keeping it to use the Voice knob for recording, and to try the upcoming fuzz and octave cards.
     
  6. Scott Peterson

    Scott Peterson Staff Member

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    RC Boost still there. BB and AC... off for now. Not selling them though. Timmy.... off the board. Never thought I'd type that. Not selling either though.

    The Crunch Box took over from the Keeley Rat. Again, not selling it, but for a slammin' greasebox full of fire.... I am diggin' the Crunch Box.


    The Blackstone is just a revelation though. Truly. I am just so impressed with what it did today. Truest test coming at the shows...


    There is a post on here about the Klon, that's a totally different animal altogether. Just IMHO.
     
  7. 6789

    6789 Member

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    I've had my Blackstone for a couple of years now and it's still the best overdrive I've played. I keep reading about other pedals on the gearpage and I buy 'em and try 'em but the Blackstone always ends up back on the board.

    For a while I didn't like the pedal - then I turned the internal gain almost all the way up and the external gain all the way down on the brown channel and then turn the tone counter clockwise and I get a great low gain break-up that sounds so much bigger and better than other pedals I've tried.

    It's the only pedal I have that hasn't gotten chipped - it looks as good as the day I got it.

    The blackstone isn't a volume boost pedal - it has a volume knob, but it doesn't boost like a timmy does. I'm surprised to find that more often I prefer the sound of the amp set clean and the blackstone turned on rather than plugging straight in and turning up the amp or boosting for overdrive.

    [​IMG]
     
  8. Phil M

    Phil M Supporting Member

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    Isn't that Blackstone one of the coolest pedals around? I wish I could've afforded to keep mine. I will get another one some day. I was continually amazed at the ability to simply roll back your guitar's volume and have a thick clear sound. The yellow channel was killing, the red was good too. It's also the coolest looking pedal in the world; a fetish object!

    If I toured and had to rely on rented amps, I would be fine with a Blackstone in front of a clean amp.
     
  9. Guinness Lad

    Guinness Lad Silver Supporting Member

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    Glad you like it, I owned one and only sold it because I bought a Guytron. I've been trying to everyone that this is probably the best overdrive out there. The best thing about this pedal is it's own overdrive, it doesn't need an amp on the verge of breakup or any other thing. From what I have read you can take this pedal and run it straight into the board and leave your amp at home, now that's impressive. My only negative would be is it does seem to such batteries quicker then most other pedals and you need to run it first in line but the quality and the little screw head knobs more then make up for it. How's the new version? I owned the 2nd generation.
     
  10. El Jimbo

    El Jimbo Member

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    I believe the design is based on multiple gain staging to get the warm, natural amp like effect. I'm wondering how it compare to the MI Audio Tube Zone which also uses multiple gain stages for the same reason.
     
  11. newstrat60

    newstrat60 Member

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    Woa awesome review, giving GAS for the Blackstone
    do you think a Blackstone could serve a Strat into a clean Blues Jr, for home OD rythm work ?
     
  12. A440

    A440 Member

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    thanks for the review Scott. I've always been interested in the blackstone, but wasn't crazy about the couple clips I've heard.

    I'm digging my crunchbox also. I can dial into the same ballpark as my old stock small-box rat, but it has even more dist/gain on tap.
     
  13. drolling

    drolling Member

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    Ahh - well, that's it then.. have to try one..

    Seeing that pic sure didn't help any, either - in these days where the esthetic du jour seems to be represented by a sloppy, handmade look (popularized by ZVex and further refined by BJF?) w/ *cute* graphics, the Blackstone Appliance just exudes a retro, pseudo-scientific, industrial vibe that really appeals to me..

    ..I'm really, really gonna have to stop coming to this place..
     
  14. Realfi

    Realfi trying to re-MEMBER

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    It does really look like one of those cool retro appliances-what's that famous brand of blender?...can't remember
     
  15. sstweed

    sstweed Supporting Member

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    Finally! Someone good at writing reviews sings the praises of the Blackstone! I have been touting the Blackstone since I bought my first one in early 2000 (version 2). It has NEVER left my board. It has gone head to head with Keeley DS-1's and BD-2's, BJF Dyna Red and Baby Blue, Neo drives, Mosferatu's, Timmy, MI Tube Zone, VL Sparkle Drives and Overdrive, Tech 21 Double Drive, a couple more probably best religated to the "misc" category. Today I own a Blackstone and a Ge fuzz and that is it.

    I have had a version 3.1 since 2003. I have tweeked it a little. I changed the 330pf cap to a 250pf and that really opened it up (for strats and teles). I found myself stepping on the Blackstone 10 to 1 over any other pedal(s) on my board. The only time I turned on my Timmy was to stack with the Blackstone for really outrageous gain. (Very cool by the way). I just really connected with this pedal (though there have been love-hate moments).

    I have used my Blackstone with a Deluxe Reverb and a Vibrolux reverb most of these years, but this year switched to a tweed Deluxe as a main amp. I worried a little how Blackie would do with the new amp. No worries. Tone heaven. In fact the gritty textured nature of the Blackstone sounded more like an extension of a tweed amp than any other pedal I could imagine. I really don't think there is any pedal that melds itself more to the nature of a guitar amp than the Blackstone. I have heard the term "amp like" applied to pedals of almost every kind these days. I run out and buy these "amp like" pedals based on reviews only to find they have pretty cool tone and all out distortion, but no dynamics, don't clean up, distort way smoother than any tube amp, and have no bandwidth. IMO, opamps and clippers don't sound "amp like" no matter what you do to them. Some of them are fun pedals, but to me they just aren't amp-like. Nearly every pedal on the above list has good tone, but all lacked the "feel" of a tube amp IMO (BTW, some of the pedals in the above list are discrete designs with no opamps, but fell short IMO just the same).

    This is where the Blackstone is in a category all its own. The Blackstone isn't a true overdrive IMO. Most overdrives are brute power trying to overdrive your amps preamp, and adding a little mild clipping along the way just for gravy (and probably to disguise some of their transistory nature). Your tube amp is part of the picture, so no real need to make the pedal "amp-like". Your amp takes care of that. Blackstone is more of a mild distortion generator. It is really a little amp all its own, and gives a great sound into a clean amp without trying to overdrive the amp and without the amp being overdriven to start with. However, I use my Blackstone into an overdriven amp and it sounds amazing that way too. The Blackstone really is more like a totally modern version of a Ge fuzz (in character only, not circuit) in some ways. It is wooley, dynamic, warm, and cleans up amazingly well (with the internal buffer off). The red channel even has about the same, or maybe even slightly less, gain than your average maxed out Ge fuzz face clone (which is to say, not a huge amount by modern standards).

    Unlike a fuzz face, the Blackstone is one of the few pedals ever that nearly stands alone. I have never done it, but I bet you could almost go straight in to a board with Blackstone and survive the night in a pinch. It would be a little too much transistor for a tube purist like me, so I fall short of actually making the claim, but Blackstone is almost that good. I have heard people not like the Blackstone for their particular application, and for valid reasons. Tone is subjective, and some people play music that doesn't rely heavily on dynamics. Blackstone isn't a really high gain or particularly modern voiced pedal. Dynamics and feel are its forte. Jon says on his website that he modeled it after some modded Marshalls, yet it really doesn't sound like anything in particular to me. And you really can't make it sound like anything in particular. It is what it is. You have to let it do what it does and either love it or hate it. Some critics I have read were looking for a Marshall sound, or SRV/Hendrix sound, or some other particular sound. Those people will rightly be disappointed with the Blackstone. To me it sounds like a Blackstone. That said, Blackstone is actually very tweekable. For a pedal that looks like it has no knobs, you can sculpt the tone of the Blackstone more than many pedals I have owned. Internal trimmers, socketed caps, and two channels give it alot of flexibility.

    My only dislike about the pedal is that the treble trimmer is inside the pedal. Generally I hate trimmers, but I realize you can only put so many knobs on the outside of a small pedal (BTW it is a small pedal - the other thing I LOVE about the Blackstone - unbelievable that Jon did all this in an MXR sized box). The gain trimmer is ok inside, because I have found it to be a set it and forget it deal. The gain settings of both the internal gain trimmer and the external gain controls, affect the final tone of the Blackstone so you tweek them as much for tone as for gain, and once you find the magic spot, you probably won't want to change it. But the treble trimmer is different and can be used to subtly tweek the pedal to different amps and even different rooms. It is a very affective control for this. It would be way more convenient on top of the pedal. But I have found a good over all setting and it sounds beyond great most of the time so it is a minor complaint over all.

    As for the MI Tube Zone, I bought it based on the same questions. It is a multi-stage pedal so will it be like a Blackstone on steroids? Sorry, no. They are nothing alike in my opinion. The wonderfully gritty harmonics of the Blackstone were missing as was the amazing clean up. The Tube Zone is a cool pedal, and has scads more gain than Blackie. But not the same character.

    The Blackstone is a collection of subtlties. It doesn't blow you away right out of the box. It sits there and simply sounds good. FEELS good. It feels like you are playing through a little amp, not a pedal. The pedal doesn't really get the attention it deserves in these circles. Maybe because it is Jon's only pedal. He has been making these things for years and nothing else. But look at them on ebay. Somebody knows about them, because they consistantly sell for close to $200 and they aren't hard to get new ($235 list I think). To my knowledge there is no back order situation holding their used resale artificially high. There is just a bunch of people out there that know the secret. It won't be for everybody, but if you tend to play your pedals rather than just kick them on and play through them, you will love fuzz faces and Blackstones. They just politely let you decide how the music should sound without stealing your dynamics.

    PS: Don't forget to open you version 3.1 and check out the circuit board. Close to the trimmers Jon left the words "Stop obsessing & play some music". Sage advice!
     
  16. sstweed

    sstweed Supporting Member

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    Good grief that was long. Sorry.
     
  17. Realfi

    Realfi trying to re-MEMBER

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    No really it was very handy to know, thanks.
     
  18. drolling

    drolling Member

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    No, no - don't apologize.. that was a good read & extremely helpful. If I could make one request, it would be to add a paragraph space here & there, next time you respond so thoroughly - I've got *geezer-vision* and tend to lose my place in a block of text that size.

    BTW, it's the CrunchBox, not the TubeZone we're discussing here - altho' I'm sure there are similarities, as they're both made by Michael Ibrahim. I'm currently using a Timmy and an MI Audio BluesPro together. At a combined price of $175, I've become a bit reluctant to spend a lot on a single OD pedal, but the urge to order one of Jon's appliances is becoming very difficult to resist.

    Thanks for posting.
     
  19. DodsonLP

    DodsonLP Member

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    Ok, I'm going to dig out my Blackstone and tweak a bit and see what it will do. I admit I have had one for years and not spent much time with it. Anyone have some favorite settings?
     
  20. duende

    duende Member

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    Curious...

    I'm a big fan of the blackstone as well. Still have my early version 2. How is the latest version different from earlier revs??


    Thanks
     

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