Tech 21’s analog technology has always impressed me, especially their take on “modern” Marshall tones (Plexi and forward). However, their previous generation of SansAmp pedals generally didn’t cover more vintage JTM series nor provide uber gain for metal fans. Their SansAmp Character Series British pedal looks to provide a cornucopia of Marshal-esque tones, covering the history of the legendary British amp maker.
The pedal falls in line with the standard Tech 21 size spec at around 4.5 inches x 3.5 inches and ships in a very nice metal container. Besides the pedal, you also receive a very well written manual (with the typical Tech 21 personality, not your standard dry technical jargon), a quick start guide with several sample settings, and a nice Tech 21 sticker. Unpacking the pedal, I was extremely surprised at how light it is. I don’t mean fragile, the unit feels very sturdy; it simply weighs little. Six knobs adorn the face of the pedal: level, low, mid, high, gain, and the very curious character (more on this later). Inputs/outputs follow the industry standard side mount configuration and a DC power jack is located beneath the output jack. Like all Tech 21 gear, the unit is made in the USA.
Eager to put this puppy through the paces, I plugged the unit up direct into my EMU 1616M sound card and dialed in the JCM 800 sample setting from the quick start guide. With some very slight adjustments, the pedal delivered that trademark Tech 21 tone to which I’ve become very accustomed to over the years: a slightly compressed tone with a full low end and the perfect amount of high end bite. However, upon adjusting the gain knob, it became apparent very quickly that a far more usable gain range is on tap than Tech 21’s previous generation. On their Tri A.C. for example, settings with the gain below 12 o’clock can get a bit brittle (their manual even warns such). Not the case here, the full gain range is useable and very musical, offering everything from extremely subtle break-up to full on chunk.
The unique feature of this new generation of Tech 21 pedals is their character knob...I’m not sure exactly how it works, but the knob is pure genius and delivers on the media hype.
The unique feature of this new generation of Tech 21 pedals is their character knob. I curiously began experimenting with different settings. Per their manual, around 12 o’clock is Plexi range with counter-clockwise becoming increasingly vintage-voiced and clockwise more modern-voiced. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but the knob is pure genius and delivers on the media hype. At lower settings, the bass becomes “looser” and the highs become a bit sharper. I was able to nail early Clapton-like woman tones with the neck humbucker of an Indie Shape Total Natural. Plugging up an SX STL62 and dialing in a Plexi –esque setting yielded a great classic Zep vibe. At higher settings, the bass becomes even tighter with an upper midrange bump and smoother highs eliciting Angus’ grit to Van Halen’s brown sound and beyond. Sweet!
Satisfied with the performance in a direct setting, I tested it into the front end and effects return of Tech 21’s Trademark 60 and into the front of a VHT Classic 6 Class A tube amp. Into the front of both amps, the pedal sounded consistently good but definitely favors brighter amp settings. In both cases with the gain cranked, the pedal brought the pain transforming the mild mannered clean settings into full blown metal engines. However, for some reason I wasn’t able to achieve the musical feedback I normally associate with a higher gain pedal into the Classic 6. Perhaps it’s due to the unit’s slightly compressed nature or the speaker emulation circuit. As I was impressed with the direct tones, I was surprised that I didn’t like it into the effects return of the TM60 as much where the pedal sounded a bit dark, likely due to the pedal’s speaker emulation combined with the slightly darker character of the TM60 in this configuration.
The bass and treble knobs are both voiced very effectively and seem to be interactive with the character knob and each other, as adjustment seemed necessary whenever one knob is moved (very subtle changes in position can have some pretty significant effects). Per the manual, the mid range knob is voiced around 500. For fans of scooped mid aggression, dialing this back with the character knob and gain pegged is extremely effective in achieving monstrous chunk, which retains excellent clarity and presence. Though, boosting the mid knob on more subtle settings can get a bit muddy fairly quickly. I would have preferred a variable mid range which was voiced closer to 1K on more vintage settings. Even so, set neutrally there are some very good vintage tones on tap. The SansAmp Character British pedal isn’t a simple repackaging of the company’s previous pedals. It absolutely delivers on the hype, serving up a wide range of British flavored tones spanning decades and would be an excellent choice for a personal project studio where direct recording is required (or preferred). The fact that the pedal also sounds great into the front of an amp is an excellent bonus.
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Price: ~$150 USD
Pros: Wide range of classic British tones, excellent performance direct.
Cons: Mid knob voiced a bit low to be complementary to all settings.