Wampler may be a relatively small builder, but they have big ambitions, a big selection of pedals, and big sounds. I've had the pleasure of reviewing two of their products for this Marshall-in-a-Box Roundup, the Plextortion and the Super Plextortion. These two pedals sometimes perplex potential buyers, as evidenced from threads at places like Harmony Central and The Gear Page asking about the differences between these outwardly similar pedals. By the end of my review, my hope is that you will have all the information you need to determine whether one or both of these pedals is right for you, and why. They each have particular strengths and their own pros and cons, and though they do have similar names, boxes, and even prices, they each have their own distinctive characteristics and sounds. To discuss their similarities and differences, I have to start somewhere, so I'll begin by giving the Plextortion (which, in fairness, came first) its moment in the spotlight.
The Wampler site describes the Plextortion as having been originally aimed at getting tones similar to a Marshall JCM800 head into a Celestion Greenback cab. I find that description isn't too far off. The pedal as a whole is voiced darker than neutral, but with a really strong midrange bark that probably underwrites their claim to Greenback fame. There are five face controls and a two-position switch, including the usual Volume and Gain controls as well as a three-band EQ in a standard treble/midrange/bass arrangement. Unlike many three-band pedal EQ sections, the controls function with an appropriate degree of separation that ensures they will all be useful throughout their whole range, no matter where the others are set. In addition to the EQ controls, there is a characteristically cool, very Wampler feature (Brian's other designs feature similarly thoughtful “extra” features): a vintage/modern switch which adjusts between two overall voicings which do about what you would expect. I preferred the Vintage voicing, which has a somewhat more relaxed midrange, though not scooped by any means. However, both modes are perfectly usable, and which you prefer will depend on your preferences and your setup. The option is more than many pedals provide, and I appreciated it.
The Plextortion has a surprising range of available gain. When I first got it in, I spent a lot of time playing it with my strat with the pedal's gain at around 10 o'clock or so. At that level, I was getting great “strat into a Marshall” tone, from clean to crunch just by digging in harder. In the demo clip for this pedal I used my Schecter C-1 Classic with the bridge Seymour-Duncan JB coil-tapped to demonstrate some of the lovely lower gain tone the pedal packs. However, listen further in the clip and you too might be surprised by just how much distortion the Plextortion packs. To my ears, the range of gain goes from Plexi-era crunch and even before, all the way to '80s hot-rodded modified JCM800 distortion. With an EQ after the pedal to more precisely sculpt its frequency profile, you might even be able to play some of the 1980s metal that made use of Marshall amps. The stock EQ controls will do everything you need shy of metal, quite impressive for a three-band; don't take it as a blow that to do more extreme music, it might need a little help tone-shaping. There's a whole range from sizzle to scream that this pedal covers all on its own. Speaking of help, though, if you're like me and you like stacking overdrive pedals, you'll find this pedal to be extremely fruitful and fun; it is flattering to overdrives placed before it, and the right combination can sound absolutely incredible.
If you've ever wondered how guitar virtuosos get such clear, ringing tone even with high amounts of gain, a lot of it comes down to picking, and while you won't get clean-to-dirty with your pick at lower gain settings, the Super Plextortion will easily follow expressive pick attack when things are already roaring.
The Super Plextortion also has five face controls and a switch. Though its EQs share with the Plextortion the benefit of working well together regardless of how they're set, the tone controls are voiced brighter overall, with less thump and more chug to the bottom end, less sizzle and more edge in the top, and a more focused midrange adjustment resulting in a more modern voicing than the Plextortion. My observation there jives with the description on Wampler's site that the Super Plextortion was voiced for a more contemporary distortion sound. There's more to the Super Plextortion than just modern distortion, though: its switch has three positions, each of them a distinct gain pathway that changes the nature of the circuit fundamentally to give you what amounts to three pedals in one. On the lowest setting, you have a range of gain from practically clean boost up to a standard overdrive-pedal grit, while the highest setting ranges from crunchy to all-out, almost Soldano-ish high gain distortion. The middle switch position is extremely versatile, with a range from light grit to harder edged distortion. You can play anything from classic rock to grunge to modern hard rock with the middle switch setting. All three switch positions give you a whole pedal's worth of sound to work with, and virtually guarantee that you'll find some flavor of “your” sound in this easy to use but quite deep dirt pedal. The Super Plextortion has an interesting, highly textured character to its distortion that is smooth but gritty, the balance between them depending on how much gain you've got going. I think you'll be impressed by its dirt regardless of where you've got the switch and gain set.
You can probably tell that there are some real overlapping proficiencies between these two units. Take my word for it that their fundamental distortion tones are not identical, but they each have some things clearly in common. As they say, though, the devil's in the details, and in this case your decision to go with one of these pedals over the other might very well come down to the subtle differences between them. Of the two, the original Plextortion is the more dynamically responsive pedal, more easily going from clean to crunch with only your picking attack. Both can be controlled very effectively via your guitar's volume knob, and the Super Plextortion still has admirable dynamics for a modern-voiced pedal, but the Plextortion achieves something really special in its ability to clean right up but then really get down with some pressure on the strings. It will even pull that off with medium-high output humbuckers, which in my experience is genuinely something special.
While the Super Plextortion doesn't have the dynamics excellence of its brother (which, remember, in this context only means that it responds perfectly “only” to volume knob changes), it makes up for that in extreme versatility thanks to two things. First, the three distinct gain pathways available are all really useful, and you can get a good sounding, recognizably Marshall-esque tone in nearly any idiom. Second, its EQ, thanks to the generally higher focus of all three bands, plays nicely with nearly any amplifier or cabinet. It also wins out in how it sounds at higher gain settings, retaining clarity and cohesiveness with complex chords. At those higher distortion levels it also makes up some ground on the dynamics of the Plextortion, with great amp-like dynamics when you dig in with your pick. If you've ever wondered how guitar virtuosos get such clear, ringing tone even with high amounts of gain, a lot of it comes down to picking, and while you won't get clean-to-dirty with your pick at lower gain settings, the Super Plextortion will easily follow expressive pick attack when things are already roaring.
Both pedals succeed in the area that is most important for this roundup: they both sound immediately, recognizably Marshall. For the demo clips, I ran it into the '65 Twin Reissue model on AmpliTube Fender. As Wampler says on their site, running any pedal into a Marshall results in a “Marshally” sound, so I thought the best choice here would be to show how these pedals can take a Fender Twin clean sound and morph it into something very British in flavor. That, after all, is the goal: through the power of a little box (or two!), lend some of that classic Marshall magic to your beloved clean amplifier. Each of these Wampler pedals has some magic to contribute to your setup, though such magic has its price, substantial enough to keep all but the most dedicated seekers from enjoying the sounds of both. Take heart, though, and may my review help you make the decision which, if either, are for you.
PROS: Extremely dynamic; darker classic Marshall voicing; Modern switch gives you some more contemporary tones if you want them
CONS: Price might put it out of reach of some frugal guitarists; darker voicing might make it tougher to dial in for especially dark amps
PROS: Great versatility;distortion character really shines for crunch and higher gain
CONS: Also relatively pricey; the lowest gain switch position doesn't benefit as much from the pedal's strengths as the medium and higher gain switch positions