REVIEW – BOGNER ECSTASY BLUE PEDAL

I’d like to preface this by saying I have NEVER been a pedal guy. Sure I’ve messed around with some overdrives and distortions, some good, some not so good. I’m aware there are now a whole raft of very “amp-like” distortion pedals on the market. The Suhr pedals have interested me for some time, I liked the Tone Freak pedals and I was always a big fan of the good ol’ Guvnor. The Ecstasy pedals have been on the market for over a year now and I keep catching myself thinking “Could I…? Really…? Just two pedals and a Bassman…? Nah, I’ll stick with my channel switchers!”

Fundamentally, I like amps. I like the way amps respond when you dig in; I like the tight, warm bass that pedals never seem to capture; and I like the three-dimensional richness – like you can feel right through the tone in your fingers and in your gut. I like Marshalls, old and new, I like all kinds of modded Marshalls, I like the 5150s a LOT, and I like Bogners. I really like Bogners. I’ve owned two 101bs and they are (in my opinion) the best all-round versatile channel switcher going. At the core of that versatility is the musical, grinding, saggy yet tight, warm yet defined, smooth yet cutting blue channel.

So the blue pedal arrives in a beautiful textured moleskin style black box. It comes with rubber feet (Bogner rubber feet, no less), an instruction manual and a card of authenticity which welcomes you to the “Bogner Galaxy” or something. Unlike Bogner’s website, all of this stuff is full of wonderfully coherent, informative English; which is just as well because the thing has a few switches.

Bogner Ecstasy Blue Pedal
Bogner Ecstasy Blue pedal

I started in 101 mode with the dials pointing straight up. The sound was immediately rich, full and inspiring. It has midrange that breathes, sparkling highs that either sing or rip depending on the attack of your right hand; and an organic, chewy distortion grain that reminded me immediately of the Bogner amps I’ve played. The bottom end was saggier than I expected and there was a fair bit of fur around the notes, but all in all it was a lovely tone. Engaging b1 livens things up a LOT, and b2 boosts the midrange as well for even more of that typical Bogner grind. With b2 engaged the mids really start to churn. I quickly realised that – just like the Ecstasy head – the controls mostly like to be above halfway for the most present and alive-feeling tone. I found the best settings for me with almost everything around six or seven. Even then there was still plenty to play with in either direction. But something was still missing…

Flipping over to 100 mode, it becomes immediately obvious that what was lacking from the 101 mode was midrange definition. Which is strange because the 101b head has it in spades… In any case, 100 mode livened up the midrange and tightened the bottom considerably. I found myself boosting the Bass control on the pedal to max in order to match the bass response of my amp (a 5150 III 50w set to the clean channel). This is a wonderful sound, with all the qualities of the 101 mode but more alive and present, with better pick response and less of that fur around the notes. But the bottom end was almost not enough at times.

Finally, flipping to 20th mode, all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Here is the responsive, punchy feel and vocal midrange of the 100 mode, along with the bass response of the 101 mode. If anything, it’s tighter and seems to have fractionally more gain. For me this mode really was the best of both worlds and it doubles as an incredibly potent advertisement for Reinhold’s newest Ecstasy head. I could very easily roll back the Bass control to approximate the response of 100 mode if needed, or I could palm mute and chug my way through some Blink 182 or Metallica at a push. Again, the sweet spot for the Gain control seems to be around halfway or just above. At more extreme settings the bright switch makes next no difference (a deliberate design feature) and at very low settings it makes almost too much difference. I found that by setting the gain around six or seven (there’s a theme developing here) I could clean up from the guitar easily, and mould the tone incredibly powerfully with just the bright switches and the built-in boost. If I wanted a lower gain sound, I simply left all the controls where they were and switched to Plexi mode. More on this later…

Bogner Ecstasy Blue Pedal - side view
Bogner Ecstasy Blue Pedal – side view

The boost itself is INCREDIBLY powerful. The same feature on the Ecstasy head adds just enough gain to make parts punch through, or gives that extra bit of sustain or grease for solos. I’ve recorded it a few times and when I come back to the recordings I quite often find I can’t remember where the boost was off and where it was on. It’s almost more a “feel” thing than a “sound” thing. The pedal is completely different in this respect – the boost adds a healthy dollop of gain, even with its trim control at minimum. I felt the trim control could have been better judged – perhaps ranging from “no boost” to “lots of boost” – this is more like a “more… or EVEN more!” scenario. No matter though: with the gain boost at or near minimum, it was right where I wanted it. The volume boost trim pot (which is activated simultaneously) is much more sensibly calibrated; it ranges from “no boost” to an authoritative solo level over a wide sweep. Of course, if your amp is already distorted this control will work as another gain trim pot rather than as a solo boost. C’est la vie…

I should mention here that unlike some reviewers I had absolutely no problem setting the boost control where I needed it. Setting a healthy solo level with a useful gain bump is no problem at all. Likewise, setting two similar rhythm sounds with differing gain levels is a cinch. I simply would have liked the option for less gain (or even no gain) on the trim pot.

Bogner Ecstasy Blue Pedal - rear view
Bogner Ecstasy Blue Pedal – rear view

So, as I mentioned before, I found the widest range of effective lower to mid gain sounds was available not by lowering the gain control, but by switching over to Plexi mode. Plexi mode, in my opinion, is where this pedal really shines. By staying in 20th mode and disengaging the boost with all the controls around six or seven I was able to play Little Wing or Lenny with sparkle, dynamics and richness to spare. My right hand became my gain control, and digging in made the midrange bloom into a fruity sustain. Just like SRV Live at El Mocambo I could flip through my pickup settings with abandon and the differences in tonal response just jumped out of the speaker. When I ripped into some unison bends on the neck pickup the pedal screamed for mercy, when I laid off on an in-between pickup combination it wept. Flicking between b1 and b2 yielded similar levels of high frequency sparkle alongside two slightly different midrange textures; fantastic.

Engaing the boost while in Plexi mode simply takes all these attributes and heightens them. There is enough sustain for basic rock soloing or aggressive blues, there is enough burning, crackly midrange for AC/DC, and the individual strings just glisten with definition. The bass response is at that magical crossover point between loose and tight – low notes smoulder and bloom and yet palm muting can still be effective. For a looser feel with slightly less treble, engaging the Variac mode can be very effective here.

My one criticism of the Blue pedal is that no matter where I set the dials or switches, I cannot get the bottom end as tight as the blue channel on the 101b. On the 101b I could just about play ’80s metal on the boosted blue channel, or early Van Halen for days. I can get very close using the pedal in 20th mode and b2 with careful matching of the gain and bass controls in tandem with the bass control on my amp; but still not quite there. The bass remained punchy, woody and 3D realistic with a solid, controlled thump that rivalled the middle channel of my 5150 III, but it just wasn’t as tight on palm mutes as I would have liked. Which leaves just the right amount of breathing space for the Red pedal. Clever Reinhold…

This pedal is staying in my rig and has changed my mind about distortion pedals. Coming from an anti-pedal guy that’s a huge endorsement. Grab one!

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