Crowther Hotcake: I figured it out!

Discussion in 'Effects, Pedals, Strings & Things' started by lesscold, Aug 8, 2016.

  1. lesscold

    lesscold Member

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    Hey all, first time poster here. My main focus in starting this thread is ensuring that people in the future who have the Crowther Hot Cake don't take as long to figure it out as I did. If you don't want to hear my story with this pedal, skip to the last paragraph.

    Here's my backstory with the Hot Cake:

    I just bought my first amp, an AC15, and was playing with a friend of mine who runs the Radiohead gear encyclopedia (Check it out, it's called The King of Gear). I asked him what kind of drive pedal I should get for a "transparent sound," because even before my TGP days, I knew I didn't want the distortion to sound crazy unlike my amp. He recommended me a Timmy (lol) or a Crowther Hot Cake. This is actually what led me to places like TGP and TDPRI. While browsing these sites, I found the Timmy was universally praised and the Hot Cake was... misunderstood? Only Vox players ever lauded it, and even then they never delved into what about it's feature set made it so great... only that it was "made for the amp." Regardless, in The Battle of Paul C.s, the HC won and Crowther got my money, and also I upgraded to an AC30/started playing gigs.

    Here's where it confounded me. I would always use it with the Presence knob rolled all the way back for gigs, because this knob would make it muddy in small amounts and icepicky and resonant in high amounts. Why?! People on forums said it was a "passive treble filter" but it didn't "feel" like it, and if it was, then the distortion character is just HARSH. I thought maybe it was a negative feedback loop letting in more low-mid from the clean sound at the front end of the knob and more high-mid at the back end. However, I couldn't be sure because there is barely any information on the web about this pedal at ALL. I shrugged my shoulders and went two years without thinking about it and leaving the Presence knob off.

    Fast forward to this week, I'm recording keys with my band and wanted to use my drive pedals for a minute bit of EQ/ saturation prior to it hitting the DAW. In a musical mix, it's important for any instrument/sound to make sure there's enough mid and treble harmonic content relative to the fundamental note to make it "cut through." So I was using my WF Rat because it has a gentle bass cut, and I wanted to use the Hot Cake so I had another treble filter so I hooked that up too (Chain was Fuzz Factory > Hot Cake > Rat.) We open up a frequency analyzer to make sure the sound we're recording looks okay, and I start to play with the knobs a little bit. I turn on the Fuzz Factory and it's just noise, then I go to the Hot Cake for a second and begin to raise the Presence knob. I then notice the frequency plot react in a way i didn't expect, and that's how I arrived at the crux of this post:

    The Hot Cake's Presence knob is NOT a "passive treble filter." It is an additive EQ band centered at around 800Hz. When the Presence is at 0, the gain of the EQ is at 0 so it is "flat mids." This makes SOOOOOOO much sense to me now, because there are literally only two notable things about the Hot Cake according to the internet: It was made in NZ in 1977, and the older version had a mid-lift instead of a Presence knob. Clearly, all Paul Crowther did in 2003 was make that switch into a potentiometer and give us a variable amount of gain @800Hz. Think about the pedal's gain character: As you increase gain, the Bass and Treble come up. How would you remedy this? By boosting mids! I hope that all current and future Hot Cake owners will be able to see this through the magic of the Internet, because now that i'm understanding what i'm hearing and how it affects the rest of my rig, the Hot Cake is very easy to dial in for virtually ANY distortion sound from Boost, to Lo-gain transparent OD, to Lo-gain boosty mid hump OD (Klon, Presence @ 9:00), to Med-gain flat mids OD (Blues Driver, Presence Full CCW), a Med-gain mid-hump OD (Tube Screamer, Presence @ ~1:00), a hi-gain mid-hump like a RAT (Full CW), or a scooped mid fuzz machine like a Big Muff (Full CCW). Okay, so knowing this, there are my 2 ways to dial it in, one being my favorite. First one is to start with an idea of the EQ you want, so you'd start at Unity Gain with Drive off, and sweep the Presence to your liking (ie. do I want flat mids, mid-hump or mid-scoop?) Once I get my desired mid content, I'll then re-sweep the level to re-match the volumes (SUPER IMPORTANT, the resonant peak of the Presence boost will affect your overall volume/the volume hitting the front end of your amp). Once I get the volumes even, I'll start bringing in the Drive, keeping in mind that the more I bring this up, the less prominent my mid-hump will be due to the inflation of Bass/Treble with gain. Because of the interactivity of the Presence and Drive knobs in this respect, I find this way works best when the Hot Cake is playing the role of a low/med-gain OD, because once the Drive passes a certain point the resulting Bass/Treble boost dwarfs any mid-boost you could make. The other way to set it up (and my preference) is to start with setting the Drive to the amount I want and then using the Presence knob to normalise the excessive mid-scoop inherent in turning the gain anywhere past 9:00. This seems to be the easiest way to wrangle the pedal, just seriously be wary of how much the Presence boost affects volume/gain staging too. Lots of gain + mid hump = you probably don't need as much level. And etc.

    I hope this has been informative, and I hope none of you spend nearly as much time as I did thinking a such wonderful piece of engineering is so utterly worthless.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2016
  2. ProDeco

    ProDeco Member

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    This is interesting. I've had the hot cake on my mind as well. Thanks for posting.
     
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  3. Michael_V

    Michael_V Member

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  4. JimGtr

    JimGtr Member

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    Hmm. Maybe I'll break out the Hotcake again and try some of this. So you're using a vox. How are you running the amp? dirty? clean? edge of breakup? I'm running a vox-y amp very dirty and I found that the Hotcake was too transparent until it got too gainy.
     
  5. Gumbygreeneye

    Gumbygreeneye Member

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    Hell of a first post kiddo. I'll be sure to dig out my Double Hotcake and give it a go!
     
    Dave Orban, fendergeek and lesscold like this.
  6. JagFan

    JagFan Member

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    Great first post. Thanks!

    How did you find the hotcake played with the rat?

    I'm just about to build a project pedal with a hotcake on one side and a rat on the other to use with my AC15 (so they can be run separately or together) and I'm curious to hear how you thought they sounded stacked together.
     
    lesscold likes this.
  7. van_delay

    van_delay Member

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    Great post!

    The Hotcake is my absolute favorite overdrive tone with my Vox AC15HW1x. The somewhat unconventional nature of the pedal did require some time and phases of love/hate to finally figure it out. My biggest stumbling point was that the Hotcake was always too bassy or woofy at mid to higher gain tones.

    My tips:

    1) Make sure that your amp is at or above the edge of break up, otherwise the Hotcake will just sound fizzy (unless you're using it purely as a clean boost).

    2) Instead of getting more gain from the Hotcake's gain knob, don't be afraid to use the level knob on the Hotcake to drive the amp further into overdrive. This also helps to keep the Hotcake's tone bright and prevents it from getting too 'woofy'.

    3) If you're doing #1 and #2, you will now notice that you can afford to back off the Hotcake's presence and still retain a clear, cutting tone.

    4) Manage expectations. The Hotcake is not a traditional overdrive/distortion pedal that cuts bass as you crank the gain. At some point on the Hotcake's gain knob (~12-1 o'clock), you will not be able to dial out enough bass to get a tight distortion - it only gets bigger, fuller, and fuzzier. The presence knob can help with this, but only to a point.
     
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  8. ChipOnly

    ChipOnly Supporting Member

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    Great post. This is the kind of edifying thing I come here for. Props!
     
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  9. lesscold

    lesscold Member

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    Running my Ac30 TB channel a little hot, around 10-11 o clock. Definitely try varying this and finding a spot where you are happy with the base level of compression. Then i'd say if it's problem is becomin inarticulate, start by adjusting Presence first and then adjust gain to yr liking (might need less than you need, or none).

    If I could have that pedal yr making, I'd run out and get it. Rat is my favorite Drive pedal. The combo sounds best Hot Cake > Rat, in my experience. However, I actually use the Hot Cake as my lo/med/hi gain box first in the chain (Volume knob is incredible here) and then use the Rat just to further focus the mids and smack the front end of the preamp section a little harder. If you use yr drives for different things, you might place em differently. I remember liking the Rat into the HC when the HC had a very mild Presence boost and the rat was doing most of the "gaining."

    Thanks to all who have been posting nice things, I'm glad to contribute!
     
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  10. JagFan

    JagFan Member

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    Thanks :)

    The idea was to build a "Vox Killer" pedal that gives me a range of drives that work well with my AC15

    I think I'm going to build it so it's hotcake>rat and have the hotcake as a mild overdrive and the rat running a bit hotter. In future I may get a bit more clever with it and work out a way of switching the order but I'm not there yet.

    Thanks for the brilliant info about the hotcake, it will certainly save me a lot of time once I've actually built it!
     
    lesscold likes this.
  11. lesscold

    lesscold Member

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    Sounds awesome. TBH, I think the Rat might honestly sound better through the AC circuit than the Hotcake. Maybe not as "transparent" or married to the amp sound, but the gentle bass rolloff beginning around 1.5kHz is just SO useful for cutting through muddiness in gain saturation/amp cabinet resonance, I just can't say enough good things about it.

    Also, when you run HC > Rat, begin dialing in the stacked sound (with both on) with the Rat filter Full CCW and bring it in slowly. Hot Cake is very mushy so it behooves the player to set the Rat for a different tonal signature (a little more buzzy/strident). Just my .02c
     
  12. straightblues

    straightblues Member

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  13. feet

    feet Supporting Member

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    i didn't want to sit through all that, but i'm glad i did. fascinating. thank you for that. mid bump pedals have been the bane of my vox existence.

    i always wanted to try a rat and hotcake again, now that i know more about my ac15hw, how to use it and what i want from it. i had variants of those two pedals early in my vox career and they didn't exactly work out the way i had hoped.

    the one thing i noticed they both had in common, which ultimately became a deal breaker for me was that they needed to be loud as **** to sound awesome. they weren't quiet, jamming at home pedals at all, which is what i needed at the time. i was struggling to balance volume, gain, clarity and tone with my amp and hotcake. now that things are different, i'd love to try it again, though i really don't need more pedals.
     
  14. rumstove

    rumstove Member

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    Great post. The Hotcake really is the best drive pedal ever...well,that and the Big Muff :)
     
  15. broken_sound

    broken_sound Silver Supporting Member

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    Great first post!

    When thinking of versatile drive pedals, I've never given the Hotcake a decent thought, maybe I should.
     
  16. sanhozay

    sanhozay klon free since 2009 Silver Supporting Member

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    these pedals sound so good with tweeds, low powered marshalls and all things vox. incredible versatility & excellent buffer, too!
     
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  17. tinkercity

    tinkercity Supporting Member

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    Great and intelligent post... And welcome! :)
     
  18. mach1

    mach1 Member

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    Nice write up. The presence knobs is definitely the key to the Hotcake. I have found that if I match the position of the presence knob with the gain knob, it works beautifully.
     
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  19. lesscold

    lesscold Member

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    Thanks! Definitely get where you're coming from here, the Rat's bass cut and strident high end don't sound too pleasant in isolation. The Hotcake sounds REALLY uncompressed below 11:00, so that openness of dynamic range in the bass frequencies vs the other areas really makes it sound muddy at low volumes.

    Funny how the solution is the same for totally different reasons! The Rat benefits from cabinet resonance in the low-end, and the Hot Cake benefits from the speaker excursion and it's resulting compression of the bass (esp. in something like an underpowered Alnico Blue in an AC30)

    Ooooh I can't believe I didn't try this earlier!!!
     
  20. e-flat

    e-flat Supporting Member

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    This is incredibly relevant to me, as I've owned several Hotcakes and have always approached the PRESENCE pot as a MID control. Great Post!

    Here's a link to a post of mine comparing the difference between the Kometcake version and the Standard version, too, if you're interested:

    http://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/a-tale-of-two-hotcakes.1379868/

    Also worth noting : Far and away the best Hotcake I've ever owned was a 2 Knob / Mid Lift switch version from 1991. I was never quite able to match the sound of the "flat" setting on that OD with any of the other 3 knob Hotcakes I've owned. To my ears, it actually scooped the mids just slightly --- It was a thing of beauty for pairing with mid-emphasized amps & speakers like an AC30 with Blues.
     
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